Following on from my slightly problematic purchase of the Samyang 8mm f2.8 fisheye lens, I am happy to report that I landed a good copy of that lens purchased from UK Digital. The 8mm lens impressed me enough to consider buying the 12mm f2 from the same company. I already have the Fuji 14mm lens, which gives me the classic and much-used 21mm equivalent, but 12mm is usefully wider where it is needed and the f2 aperture of the Samyang is both an optical engineering feat and unique.
Technical reviews again indicated that the Samyang 12mm is a really great performer in this class of lens at any price. What really attracted me is the unusual possibility of creative blur in a wide angle and the huge light gathering possibilities for Milky Way photography.
The lens has an almost identical build and style as the 8mm with a very solid construction and simplicity brought about by all-manual operation and the absence of any electronic communication with the camera. I love shooting manual lenses, especially at wide angle, so this is not an issue for me at all. The only annoyance is that there is no record of aperture in the image data, which is nice to know and is useful when test shooting to establish DOF etc. The focus ring is a bit stiffer than on my 8mm, but turns smoothly and evenly. Its great to have a nice wide filter thread as this enhances the possibility of getting creative with filters.
I noted that my copy clipped onto the lens mount of my X-E1 with almost no resistance and has a noticeable rotational play that causes the lens to shift slightly when reversing focus. There is no longitudinal play but its right on the limit of a proper mechanical fit. However, on the X-T1 its fits rather more snugly and well within the normal range.
I took the lens for a workout with my Fuji X-T1 and Lee filters down at the seaside. Remote release was by iPhone and Triggertrap.
The 12mm is very sharp in the centre from wide open at f2 and this extends a very decent way out into the image field making compositions requiring sharpness away from centre truly viable....a great result for such a fast lens. Here focus was on the nearest ends of the tubes about half way out from image centre and they are very sharp. You have to get quite close to a subject to achieve a clear fall off into blur but it gives a nice effect to highlight the subject and give perspective. Within the limitations of the focal plane falling in the right place, sharpness out to the edges and corners is actually very decent wide open. I do not see the inevitable vignetting as an issue, except as a positive one, as for me, it enhances wide open shooting.
Upon stopping down the image centre perhaps pops slightly more in contrast and outer field sharpness steadily improves across the frame. Even at f2.8 it has become very usable into the corners and peak global performance is achieved at f4-f5.6. I saw no improvement in stopping down further except in the instances where depth of field or extra exposure time may be needed. In fact, at f8 diffraction seems to soften things an almost imperceptible amount. The lens perhaps does not reach the absolute sharpness of the 8mm in the outer field, but its pretty stunning for a 12mm and really beyond criticism.
Distortion seems very well controlled with only modest curvature of straight lines and less "leaning " of objects close to the edges than I have seen in other lenses this wide.
Flare is also well dealt with, even when shooting into tricky light. Combined with the good performance of the 16MP sensor, really good dynamic range can be achieved, such as when shooting the deep shadows under the pier and bright sky.
I did note quite high colour fringing in test shots but less so in most real-world shooting. It is especially obvious around things like tree branches in the far corners but can be corrected in Adobe Lightroom. There is also some green/magenta longitudinal chromatic aberration in defocused zones but this is almost irrelevant in the real world due to the extreme depth of field offered by the lens at most apertures.
I was happy to note that when using a Lee wide angle adaptor ring in the standard holder, with 2 filters in use, there was no mechanical infringement in the image corners, with just a darkening of the natural vignette.
Here are some of the shots I took using the Lee filters. Most were shot at f5.6 or f8 to get some length into the exposures and suitable DOF. Sharpness into the corners is really impressive I think.
This one of the fishing lady was shot at f2 without the Big Stopper and shows a subtle fall away into blur. Note the overall very good performance over the frame for such a wide aperture.
This was shot at f2.8 and shows great performance into the corners on the subject, while giving just the falloff into blur I wanted.
I never seriously considered buying the Zeiss Touit 12mm lens, as although I love the Zeiss build and performance, it didn't add enough to justify purchase when I already had the Fuji 14mm. However, the Samyang appears to compromise nothing in performance (unless AF is important) while offering twice the light gathering power at a fraction of the cost. That has to be good value and was plenty to tempt me. It offers possibilities that I did not have before and so far I am very impressed.