Rokinon, Samyang, and Bower Lenses – A Long-Term Quality Review

Gear Reviews March 18th 2014 12:02 PM 14 Comments

These three companies, which are actually one and the same, have emerged from Korea over the past few years as one of the hottest new lens makers on the market.  However whatever they may boast in optical quality, (sharpness) they lack in overall build quality.  In my opinion this is still a welcomed departure from the business tactics of yesteryears’ third party manufacturers, to be sure!

So, what’s the deal?  Should you buy one of these lenses?  Or is it a bad investment?  I’ve collected my thoughts in an attempt to create a definitive article on the situation.   Enjoy!

reflector-instead-of-umbrella-matthew-saville-6Nikon D5300, Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 @ f/5.6
(Click here to view the full image and read how it was made!)

100-percent-crop-template

 

rokinon-24mm-14-f16-sample-reviewNikon DF, Rokinon 24mm f/1.4, FotoPro C5i Tripod

rokinon-24mm-14-crop-sample-f16

 

rokinon-16-f2-review-astro-sampleNikon D7100, Rokinon 16mm f/2, FotoPro C5i Tripod
(Click here to read our full review of this lens!)

rokinon-16-f2-review-astro-sample-crop

 

Rokinon / Bower / Samyang’s Reputation For Amazing Sharpness

Accomplishing great sharpness both wide open and stopped down has allowed the Rokinon family of lenses to appeal to a wide variety of buyers, both photographers and videographers alike.  Their large, smooth focus rings have been a delight for many videographers as well as astro / landscape photographers, as is the “focus throw” of their zoom range.  (The more rotation a lens focus ring has, the easier it is to be extremely precise)

If that isn’t enough, videographers also get to benefit from the introduction of cinema-oriented lenses that include geared focus mechanisms which are compatible with various video accessories.  (Known only to me as “contraptions”, but I hear they’re called “rigs” by some?  ;-)

Yes, they’re manual focus, which does make their use a little more limited for active shooting conditions such as wedding photojournalism in the telephoto range.  I don’t care how sharp a 50mm or 85mm prime is, if I’m shooting photojournalism then I need autofocus.  However that certainly doesn’t stop me from buying these lenses for my hobby, of course, which is astro-landscape photography and general adventure photography.

Simply put, if you’re in the market for a sharp lens but you’re on a budget, any of these lenses should be at the very top of your list of options to consider.

rokinon-24mm-14-astro-landscape-timelapse-sample-reviewNikon DF / Canon 6D, Rokinon 24mm f/1.4
(Clip from a “drivelapse” timelapse, click here to view on Youtube)

Rokinon / Bower / Samyang Construction Quality

However, in case you haven’t been reading online reviews as avidly as I have, it is no secret that Rokinon lenses aren’t the greatest quality when it comes to their actual construction.  Simply put, plastic abounds.  And not only that, but the overall construction quality is, well, hit-or-miss.  Some would call it downright sloppy, I would just call it “low budget”.  You get what you pay for, and apparently this is what it costs if you ONLY pay for image quality alone.

Roger Cicala over at LensRentals.com puts it very nicely in this article here

I will note, this [Rokinon 14mm] is held together inside with plastic, glue, and small screws. You won’t be using it for years. But the price of a new one is less than the price of a repair on a 14-24 f/2.8.

Personally, I can confirm this in the real world.  No, I have not taken apart any Rokinon lenses.  I mean I can confirm that “you won’t be using it for years”.  You see, I like to go on adventures to very remote places, such as the Death Valley Racetrack, and visiting these places involves many many miles of very bumpy dirt roads.  Even stored inside a nice padded case, going 50-60 MPH down a dirt road for a few hours straight will subject 100% of your gear to a nice good rattling.  This is exactly what Rokinon lenses seem to hate most. (And for the record, Tokina ultra-wides don’t seem to like it much either!) In short, over the past few years my friends and I have collectively had to repair or completely replace numerous Roki-Bow-Yang 24mm f/1.4′s and 14mm f/2.8′s.  They just don’t stay together.

A wedding shooter, unfortunately, may find themselves in the same predicament. Especially if you use a rolling hard case such as a Pelican, which are notorious for giving all your gear a nice “gentle” rattling over time.

They might not fall apart in your hands, but your lenses may eventually get soft around the edges.  This is a classic sign of a de-centered lens element, which is very common among poorly constructed lenses that are susceptible to light but repetitive bumps etc.

Benefits Of A “Disposable” Lens?

Still, the fact that Rokinon lenses are incredibly sharp is a delightful departure from the norm of yesteryear’s third party lenses, which were neither well-built NOR sharp.  The low-budget, cheaply made Sigma / Tamron / Tokina etc. lenses of olden days are what gave third party lenses such a horrible track record in the first place.

At least now we can see all the cards on the table.  If you’re looking to achieve the most sharpness possible, and you’re on a budget, you can now buy a third party lens with the assurance that it is just as sharp (or even sharper!) than its name-brand equivalent.

All you have to do, of course, is take really good care of your lenses! Also, inevitably, you’ll probably wind up replacing a well-used lens after a few years.  Again however, as Roger points out, the cost of buying a completely new lens is still less than the cost of optically re-calibrating a name-brand pro-grade lens!

 

Recent Rokinon / Bower / Samyang Quality Improvements?

2013 however, seemed to be an interesting year for “Roki-Bow-Yang” as we call it.  A year of improvements in the quality department?  Possibly!

First off, we have the Rokinon 24mm f/3.5 Tilt-Shift lens, which Roger Cicala and Aaron Closz took apart in this review here.  To my own surprise, they didn’t have many complaints about the mechanical longevity of the lens!  It seems to be well constructed overall, though still too many plastic parts, but from what I can tell it might be less prone to “rattling soft” over the years.

The Rokinon 16mm f/2, which I personally reviewed, was another lens that came out in 2013 and in my opinion it was built decently well.  It seems mechanically sound, and smaller / more simple in design compared to some of the others, so there might be a chance that it survives a little longer.

However, I simply have not had an opportunity to own these lenses for long enough to “abuse” them.  (I do try and take the best care of my gear, honest, however if I own something personally it does seem to eventually get a little abused…)

rokinon-14mm-28-astro-landscape-timelapse-sample-review(Rokinon 14mm f/2.8, far left)

That reminds me, I need to finish my article on how to de-frost camera gear safely!

But I digress.  Last but not least I also wanted to point out that late last year Rokinon announced a 10mm f/2.8 crop-sensor lens, a lens which (for crop-sensor shooters only) would essentially match their 14mm f/2.8 full-frame lens.  Yet it is listed as being heavier, and much more expensive.

Surely many photographers would complain about this- a crop sensor lens that costs and weighs more than it’s full-frame counterpart?  (Plus, 10mm on a 1.5x or 1.6x crop sensor is “only” 15-16mm, too, not a true 14mm like the full-frame 14mm is.)

However personally I’m hopeful about this.  Maybe it means that they’re building the lenses a little more solidly now!

By the way, I’m not one to speculate but there was recently a rumor that Rokinon was developing a new 50mm lens, possibly f/1.2.  If this lens also boasts a noticeably higher price and weight, it is safe to say that Rokinon is indeed “stepping it up” all across the board.

Rokinon / Samyang / Bower’s Long Term Goals

What might be happening here is something that seems to be a common tactic for low-budget third-party manufacturers in the photography industry.  Sigma, Tokina, and Tamron are all fine examples of companies that used to cater 100% to the low-budget crowd; their main sales goal was most certainly to just sell as many cheap plastic kit zooms as they possibly could, and to manufacture them as cheaply as possible.  I for one bought a cheap plastic Sigma 70-300 in 2004, and it did not survive 12 months before literally falling apart in my hands.  (The zooming barrel, well, zoomed right off…)

Yet in the past year or two Sigma has re-invested the money they made from selling cheap “disposable” lenses, and started producing very high-end, pro-quality glass that gives even Canon’s L engineers (and Canon’s sales dept.) something to worry about.

A similar evolution took place with the tripod brand Giottos; I remember when they first appeared on the market (or at least, in a big way) and I bought one of their tripods back in 2004 or 2005.  Once again, if tell apart after about one year.  Since then however, they have upped their game each year until today when they have become a decently reputable  brand among the sea of “generic” models where a new company seems to pop up every week.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, I am very curious to see how Rokinon / Samyang / Bower perform this year.  They are a known factor at this point, with a reputation for very sharp lenses that simply don’t last as long as a pro quality option.  With those pro quality options costing 2-4 times as much, I’d say they could keep on doing what they’re doing and still sell lots of lenses.  However here’s to hoping that in 2014 we see an improvement in quality construction from these makers!

Take care, and happy clicking,
=Matt=

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About

Matthew Saville is a full-time wedding photographer at Lin & Jirsa Photography, and a senior editor & writer at SLR Lounge. Connect with him on Google Plus

14 Comments

  1. Vipul

    That’s a great article. I am tempted to buy these lenses for concert shoots that i do.

    5
  2. Kishore Sawh

    great breakdown and useable insight.

    2
  3. Sean Goebel

    It should be noted that the “1-year warranty” that comes with the lenses is essentially nonexistent. Elite Brands Inc. (yes, that’s the actual name of the company that re-brands its products as Rokinon, Samyang, and Bower) will essentially search for reasons to deny your warranty claims.

    When my Rokinon 24mm f/1.4 corner sharpness turned to utter rubbish, I sent it in to them. They said I had “modified” the lens and thus voided the warranty by putting a sticker on it. Absurd, I know. My experience is confirmed by the LensRentals team, which said in a post about repair centers “We have no cost figures for Voigtlander or Rokinon because we haven’t managed to get anything back from repair.” (Source: http://www.lensrentals.com/blog/2012/09/lensrentals-repair-data-january-july-2012)

    Matt, I think it would be worthwhile to mention in your article that you can’t count on their warranty service. Buying a Rokinon/Samyang/Bower lens is basically the same as buying a used name-brand lens; there will be no free warranty repairs.

    1
  4. alex corona

    Samyang has been around for decades, I have some 30+ year old lenses by them that still work like new. Such as their 135mm 2.8 and 60-300mm 4-5.6 zoom lens.

    0
    • Matthew Saville

      That is interesting to know, Alex, I too seem to remember the Samyang name from much longer ago than their recent ventures in the whole “three names, same lens” thing.

      What did they make their lenses out of, 30+ years ago? Were they solidly constructed? From what I can tell, pretty much EVERYTHING made in the 80′s was mostly all metal, so yeah… I think something changed in the last few years, when Rokinon / Bower came onto the scene. (Actually Bower is another company that has been around for a lot longer, but I just can’t put my finger on exactly when these three companies became one company.) To Wikipedia, I go! :-D

      =Matt=

      0
    • David Burckhard

      While steel is real, the structural plastic used in modern cameras and lenses is not your grandfather’s Bakelite. Consider how polycarbonate holds up in high-impact, high stress situations and it’s no wonder it’s used in bullet-proof “glass” and in precision applications in mechanical pieces for high-reliability space missions. Also, since plastic doesn’t take or hold a “set,” it can be slightly deformed and return to its original form without damage. A lot of dropped pieces of gear encased in polycarbonate bounce and look like new rather than being dented forever. I’m not an opponent of substituting plastic for steel when it’s done smartly.

      1
  5. Missy

    I actually own the Rokinon 8 mm fisheye lens and love it. A few of the other local photographers around here have it as well with the same result. Sure its plastic and manual, but the effects and clarity we get out of it are amazing. If it ever decides to die on me, i’d definitely grab another one. The low price point is a plus as well.

    http://www.missyfantphotography.com/Landscapes/Architecture/i-WQvbZ78/A

    1
  6. David Burckhard

    I purchased a Bower 85mm T 1.5 cinema lens for video work. My primary use is for talking head shoots. So far I’ve been impressed with the build and more than impressed with the image quality and the look that big aperture on a longish lens provides.

    Testing it as a still photo lens, it’s easy to see the lens is no hero in the corners when wide open (which is no big deal for my video uses.) The lens quickly ups its game, however, when stopped down to f/4 and is at least as sharp as the Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 at 85mm.

    So far I’ve not had any issues with build quality. It appears to be every bit as solidly built as my latest third party lenses but is far smoother in focusing. Its detentless aperture control is equally smooth and allows me to make adjustments during shooting without upsetting the camera.

    At its price, I won’t be too sad if it gives up the ghost. I do have a 24-70mm f/2.8 or 70-200mm as its backup so I’m not risking much. So far, I’m recommending this particular lens and if the build and optical characteristics are similar for other lenses, the entire line. I do think Nikon and Canon need to respond accordingly.

    2
  7. mcandee

    Huge fan here. I thought they were junk, until I noticed quite a few people were using them. I got the 14 for interiors. Love it!!!!! BTW I also had a Nikon 14 on loan- side by side they were pretty even lenses, with the exception of the Nikon being over 1000.00 more. I later sold my 85 1.8 Nikon lens to pick up the “Roki” 85 1.4. This too was a great buy and a great lens. Count me in as a fan. I take care of my stuff, so it should not be a big problem, but still at the price- very reasonable to just replace. http://www.firstlightcreative.com

    2
  8. Gogu

    To be honest, I am a bit surprised of this article. I have been using a Samyang 85mm 1.4 Nikon mount on my D3 for the past 3 years pretty heavy, and I do change my lens VERY often. The results were always stunning but other thing I loved about it except the absolute stunning image quality was the fact that it was built VERY VERY GOOD. So I am very surprised to hear about “bad” quality build on your side. At least the 85 seems very solid and well put together, I can’t relate very much on the others. It’s built a lot better and feels very solid compared to most of the primes Nikon/Canon is selling for a lot more money. I sold it to a friend some months ago who’s using it for video work on a D800 and still kicks ass.

    Here are a few shots with it :
    https://plus.google.com/photos/103164952044402035615/albums/5788482721974655985?banner=pwa

    3
  9. Robert

    I have the cinema version of the 14mm f2.8. I liked it very much but the aperture ring stopped working and got stuck wide open. It should be under warranty so I sent the lens back to Elite for repair, but have not heard back yet. The Canon 17-40 f4 is now my low cost wide angle lens. I also have the 85mm 1.4 which is too soft (dreamy) wide open but very sharp closed down, but at that point I’d rather use my Canon 70-200 L II f2.8 so the 85 does not get much use.

    0
    • Heather

      Have you heard back yet on this repair?

      0
  10. Emilio

    I’ve stopped reading the article right at the beginning. “they lack in overall build quality” Totally BS!!! I’ve tested the 24mm 1.4, 35mm 1.4, 85mm 1.4 and the 8mm fisheye and the all have a build quality that other companies like Nikon and Canon can only dream of!!!! Solid built, metal lenses, great glass!!! I’m happy that Rokinon/Samyang/Bower are making those lenses, and I can welcome Tamron and Sigma for their wonderful new lines of lenses, that should be a wake up call for Nikon and Canon who all depend on same ol’ lenses for 55 years and selling them for an arm and a limb.
    I don’t even care what else is written in the article, as long as you call an all metal lens a “lacking build quality”.

    0
  11. Zirconia Starfighter

    I wish Rokinon succeeds in making sharp well-built lenses!

    0

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