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Gear Reviews

Rokinon 50mm f/1.4 Lens Review | Best Budget 50mm Manual Focus Lens?

By Matthew Saville on February 13th 2015

rokinon-50mm-lens-review-side-by-sideRokinon 50mm f/1.4 IF UMC, ($399 @ B&H) vs Canon 50mm f/1.2 L ($1549 @ B&H)
…Can you guess which lens is sharper?

Alrighty then, since I didn’t have very much time with this lens, I’ll get right to the point:  Here’s another killer lens from Rokinon!

Disclaimer / Spoiler Alert:

Of course, if you’re an active photographer who needs autofocus, or who needs all-metal equipment that you can use for self-defense in a war zone, you can probably skip this review.  However, if you’re into cinematography or any type of photography which allows for manual focusing, keep reading; this lens could be your best choice by far.

Sorry for the spoiler. By now it seems as if Rokinon / Bower / Samyang can do no wrong when it comes to delivering the sharpest images around, at an extremely affordable price.

[Related: Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 full-frame fisheye lens review]

rokinon-50mm-lens-review-4-f8 rokinon-50mm-lens-review-4-f8-cropIn my opinion, this lens is ready for a 50 megapixel full-frame sensor!

[Rewind: Gear Talk Episode 4 – Our favorite portrait lenses]

04-performance-5-stars

We gauge a lens’ performance mainly by its image quality and autofocus performance, but since this is a manual focus lens, we’ll ignore the lack of AF until we get to the “features” section below. Anyways with respect to image quality, the Rokinon offers results that are equal or better than lenses costing twice as much, including the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art and the Canon 50mm f/1.2 L.

rokinon-50mm-14-review-crop-sharpness-test rokinon-50mm-f2.0-review-crop-sharpness-testrokinon-50mm-f2.8-review-crop-sharpness-test

Sharpness is decently impressive at f/1.4, and downright stellar at f/2 even right up to the corners.  The extreme, extreme corners don’t get truly great until f/2.8 or so, but if you’re a cinematographer or street photojournalist who mostly cares about the general area around the rule-of-thirds points, you’re good to go even wide open on this lens.

Only a faint amount of contrast is lost wide open, and to be honest, it’s only noticeable because the Canon 50mm L and Sigma 50 Art are just so darn good at rendering impressive clarity and color.  More comparisons in just a minute!

Distortion and vignetting are noticeable, and chromatic aberration / fringing are present in certain harsh contrasty edges, but not in most conditions.  Flare and sunstars are great.

rokinon-50mm-lens-review-2 rokinon-50mm-lens-review-2-fringing-crop rokinon-50mm-lens-review-1 rokinon-50mm-lens-review-1-aberration-crop rokinon-50mm-review-barrel-distortion

[RELATED: Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art Review – Gear Talk Episode 2]

I must admit, I’m hard pressed to see serious differences between any of the three lenses I used to compare against.  So let’s just get the pixel-peeping / hair-splitting over with:

rokinon-canon-sigma-50mm-f1.4-review-crop-sharpness-test-center rokinon-Canon-Sigma-50mm-f1.4-review-crop-sharpness-test-thirds rokinon-canon-sigma-50mm-f1.4-review-crop-sharpness-test-corner rokinon-canon-sigma-50mm-f2.8-review-crop-sharpness-test-corner

As you can see, the Rokinon does, in fact, edge past the Canon 50 L in every sharpness test, and it gives the Sigma 50 Art a run for its money.  Especially in the extreme corners, at all apertures from f/1.4 to f/4, the Rokinon seems to be in the lead even!

There are a handful of other 50mm’s at the $400-500 price point which we didn’t test, but this lens would probably beat them all quite handsomely when it comes to image quality.  If you were previously using a Nikon 50mm f/1.4 G, a Canon 50mm f/1.4, or a Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX, you should consider this lens.  Again, however, only as long as you’re OK with manual focus.

And unless you’re utterly obsessed with bokeh and color reproduction, (or need weather sealing and AF on top of those other things), I wouldn’t hesitate to dump a Canon 50mm f/1.2 L in favor of this Rokinon, or even the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art if you’re on even more of a budget.

08-features-4-stars

I think many folks were hoping that this would be Rokinon’s first AF lens.  That’s really the only reason I feel obligated to give this lens four stars, even though I’d rather give it five stars as a MF lens (That stands for manual focus in this case, not medium format). But, since 50mm is by far the most common prime focal length, it would have been a smash-hit for Rokinon to make this their first AF lens, or even offer both an AF and MF lens.

I personally believe Rokinon ought to stick with MF lenses, so we’ll leave it at that. However, I also wish Canon users could enjoy the benefit of a “chipped” lens that transmits info to the camera body, for more complete EXIF data like on Nikon-mount Rokinons.

On the plus side, Rokinon’s other lens features are always right up the alley of anyone who is looking for manual focus glass: the focus ring is buttery smooth, with plenty of focus throw for easy follow-focus type needs.  It also does macro far better than any other non-dedicated 50mm prime I’ve ever seen, including the Sigma 50 Art which is very impressive!

rokinon-50mm-lens-review-7-macro

rokinon-50mm-macro-close-up-sharpness-test-sample sigma-art-50mm-macro-close-up-sharpness-test-sample

As you can see, the Sigma 50 Art is barely OK for macro work, and exhibits a significant amount of focus shifting when stopped down. Overall, it just isn’t as sharp as the Rokinon.  Color me impressed! (Note: At 1080p or 4K video even, I doubt this is an issue, of course.  I’m pixel-peeping a 22 megapixel file here and both lenses are much sharper than average.)

rokinon-50mm-review-bokeh-comparison

Bokeh on all of these top 50mm’s are beautiful, with Canon’s L glass (as usual) offering just a touch more creaminess.

In my experience however, that beautiful bokeh (in a controlled environment) is 90% about finding the right background in the first place, avoiding nasty things like chain link fences or branchy trees, and paying close attention to optimal subject/background distances. In other words, if you don’t do these things, a Canon L prime won’t be able to save your images.  ;-)

Rokinon 50mm f/1.4 Cine Version

By the way, if you’ve got another $200, you can get the Cine version of this lens for $599, with a geared focus ring and a de-clicked, geared aperture ring.  That’s a feature that Rokinon basically owns the market on, for budget-minded folks at least.

Warranty and Service?

If you’d like to call it a “feature,” I’d say that Rokinon’s warranty and service isn’t the greatest, to put it nicely. Some folks report good customer service (and their lenses actually getting fixed), while other folks report that, simply put, it seems unlikely that Rokinon’s service center owns the same optical bench calibration equipment that Nikon and Canon have.  As someone who reviews lenses for a living, of course, I’d love to hear word directly from Rokinon, but haven’t been able to make that happen yet.

All in all, I personally don’t consider less warranty options to be a deal-breaker, but others might.

14-design-5-stars

I suppose I already mentioned the important design aspects as part of the features section of my review, since these two often overlap on a lens. Generally speaking though, I have no complaints about this lens’ design. Everything is smooth; the hood fits snugly, the focus ring is just the right size, and the filter threads are the standard 77mm that pros love to see.

Also, bonus points for adding (useful) hyperfocal markings and lots of distance increments as part of the long focus throw! It is a shame that modern AF lenses completely gave up on such design elements many, many years ago. Most modern lenses don’t include hyperfocal markings at all, and the ones that do have such small focus throw that they’re basically useless (See the comparison against the Canon 50L above).

rokinon-50mm-lens-review-6-front-element

I did notice one thing that raised my eyebrow, and that was the way they designed the moving front element. If you look closely at the above image you can see an inner “lip” that moves with the glass, and around this lip there is an open space that looks, well, a little too open for my taste. Hopefully, the spaces between the glass elements are sealed off from the rest of the focusing mechanics, because otherwise, this lens could get dusty inside.  If you start hearing reports of this, go buy a clear / UV filter and slap it on whenever you’re shooting in extremely try / dusty areas.  Otherwise, don’t worry about it!

18-quality-4-stars

On the one hand, I am definitely happy that Rokinon is sticking with their manual focus mantra and I actually think AF would be a mistake for them.  On the other hand, I would love to see a Rokinon lens that is built like a Sigma Art lens, or even a Canon L lens.  Heck, even Tamron might be a little better at using high-grade plastic and maintaining optical integrity under heavy abuse.  And then there’s Tokina, still making some of the heaviest lenses around, with all kinds of metal parts inside.

To be fair, I’ll admit that it does seem Rokinon has improved their build quality compared to earlier designs.  This lens should certainly hold its “edge” better than the likes of the Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 or 24mm f/1.4, which are much older and do have a distinctive “cheap plastic” feel to them, plus their glass elements seem to get out of alignment easily and cause serious edge softness / tilt-shift-y images…

rokinon-50mm-lens-review-side-by-side

Suffice it to say, as I mentioned in my Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 fisheye review, unless you have a taste for Canon L glass, or Zeiss lens construction, you’ll find this 50mm f/1.4 lens to be plenty good in the quality department.

[Related: Roki-Bow-Yang Lenses, a long-term quality review]

24-value-5-stars

At $399 for the regular version and $599 for the cine version, you can’t go wrong considering this is one of the sharpest 50mm’s we’ve ever seen.  Even if you’re horribly abusive with your gear, it’s not like dropping this Rokinon lens on concrete would cost you any more to replace entirely, compared to the cost of repairing a Canon 50L that hit the same patch of concrete.  So, just take care of your camera gear!

Conclusion

33-overall-score-4.5-stars

All in all, what we have here is yet another winner from Rokinon. At $399, the saying “you get what you pay for” is no longer 100% true. This lens competes well optically with lenses 2-3 times its price, and is built to operate beautifully smoothly as long as you take decent care of it.

rokinon-50mm-lens-review-5-macro-flower rokinon-50mm-lens-review-5-macro-flower-cropGorgeous bokeh, and fantastic wide-open sharpness- two must-haves for any 50mm!

Who Should Buy This Lens?

Rokinon clearly began with its target market being cinematographers, however it has grown to include many others.  Landscape photographers, both those who shoot wide open and stopped down (and who, like many cinematographers, don’t care about AF), will be hard-pressed to find a sharper 50mm. Astro-landscape photographers, who shoot wide open or only 1-2 stops down, will also love this lens.  Pretty much anybody who shoots “slow and steady” on a tripod, basically.

However, with the advent of focus peaking on mirrorless cameras like the Sony A7 mk2, manual focus lenses like this are becoming more popular even among portrait photographers, and even wedding photojournalists in some cases. You’d be surprised how easy it is to manually focus a 50mm f/1.4 lens, with the right focusing aides.

What Are The Best Alternatives?

If you’re OK with manual focus and you’re on a budget, this is literally the only lens for you, by a very long shot! Bokeh addicts or big spenders might consider the Canon 50mm f/1.2 though, or the Voigtlander 50mm f/1.1 on a camera like the Sony A7 mk2. But that’s it.

If you’re not OK with manual focus, or if you’re just not sure, here are a couple alternatives:

Nikon 50mm f/1.8 – Just about the only lens that is more affordable than the Rokinon 50mm f/1.4 (that I feel confident in recommending). This little bad boy is decently sharp wide open and amazingly sharp stopped down.  Plus, it weighs next to nothing and is built far more strongly than either the Canon 50mm F/1.8, or the older Nikon 50mm f/1.8 D. It even has a rear mount gasket!

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX – If you’re on a sub-$500 budget, but want the best without losing AF, this is the best lens for you in my opinion, especially Canon shooters, until Canon updates their decades-old 50mm f/1.4

Nikon 50mm f/1.4 G – Compared to the Sigma EX, this lens is actually still a winner.  It’s decently small and light, but not jaw-droppingly sharp nor does it have the greatest bokeh (for that, Nikon die-hards would want the Nikon 58mm F/1.4 G N).

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art – This is the only sub-$1,000 lens that is on par with or better than the Rokinon 50mm, pain and simple.  It’s built like a rock, it’s got AF, and the images are basically identical to the Rokinon (with the one major exception being macro, in which case the Rokinon is surprisingly sharper than any other 50mm I’ve tested).

That’s it, I’m finished!  Please comment below if you have any questions about my experience with this lens, or any input of your own!

Take care and happy clicking,
=Matt=

Terms: #Manual Focus

Matthew Saville is a full-time wedding photographer at Lin & Jirsa Photography, and a senior editor & writer at SLR Lounge.

Follow his personal wilderness adventures: Astro-Landscapes.com

See some of his latest wedding photography featured on: LinandJirsa.com

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Rashid Yusoff

    Hi. Bought the cine version of this lens yesterday in the guise of Samyang 50mm T1.5 for Canon FF and cropped-sesnsor EF mounts. Been doing this with other cine lenses as 14mm, 35mm and 85 mm. Son is into film-making and was enamoured by Russian Jupiter3 500mm lens as well. That lens is remarkable for its unique old-world/vintage characteristic it renders on the image quality. But getting a good unit is not easy. Getting a unit that can fit on an EF cam is another nightmare. We settled for two vintage lenses, an East German… Meyer-Optic and a Russian… Zenit (Helios). Had to get an M42 adaptor to mont to my EF cam. Each has its own beautiful rendering of bokeh and sharpness and lens flare. With these three 50mm lenses, I can now shoot scenes for a good, warm and clean video footage with a creamy bokeh on the Samyang, as well as maybe a flashback scene on these vintage lenses. Thank you, Matthew for your vote of confidence in the Rokinon. It is indeed a good manual focus lens that gives eye-candy portraits with its own unique set of characteristics.

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  2. Pancho Villa

    Excellent! I shoot pretty much exclusively manual with FD glass so i am good and with the A7ii stabilization then its even better. :)

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  3. Pancho Villa

    This review really got me interested in this Rokinon as an upgrade to my current FD 50mm 1.4
    While this FD is the sharpest 50mm I have gotten at 1.4 after many tests, its still is a bit too glowy for my test when I want to do a 1.4 environmental portrait.
    The choices are a LOT though.
    First I thought about the FD 50mm 1.2L as well, the L lenses have that allure to them and I love FD lenses for the most part (all but one lens I own are FD lenses).
    Still the 1.2L seems pretty glowy as well and CA plus bad corners.

    Then we got something like the Mitakon 50mm .95 which has that crazy aperture which could be fun and I am assuming at 1.2, 1.4 it should be pretty sharp hopefully.

    Then we also have something like the Sony FE 55mm 1.8 which is a lot more money but people claim is as sharp as it gets for lenses….but somehow paying so much for such a slow 50mm (slow in the 50mm world that is), just seems wrong to me unless it is REALLY that good.

    Hope you have some experience with all those so you can comment about it. :)

    The main issue I have with the Rokinon is that there are some awesome reviews like yours with evidence showing how good it compares to others and yet there are others with charts and what no that claim it is good/average but nothing special (maybe a hidden agenda there?).

    Please comment :)

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    • Matthew Saville

      I haven’t personally tested / reviewed each of those lenses, but have at least seen numerous images created with each.

      To answer your question as briefly as possible, yup you’re better off with the Rokinon if what you want is sharpness, no “glow” effect wide open, and without breaking the bank.

      IMO the Sigma 50 1.4 Art might be its closest competitor, if shooting wide open at 1.4 is important to you; any other lens IMO is just a bit too far beyond the threshold of value for me. (The Canon 50 L’s, and the Sony FE, are just a little too pricey considering they either cannot match the Rokinon’s sharpness, or cost a fortune yet deliver less aperture.)

      Unless you’ve got more money to spend than you know what to do with, get the Rokinon and simply get great at manual focus. Which on a Sony A-series is very easy to do, with focus peaking and MF assist zooming. Just move that focus point around to keep it over your subject’s eyes, and you’ll nail perfect sharpness every time in portraiture environments where they can hold relatively still…

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  4. Jesper Ek

    Amazing quality for the price.

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  5. Phil Bautista

    So I’m guessing legacy lenses don’t even come close?

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    • Matthew Saville

      Phil, which lenses are you thinking of? And, do you shoot mostly wide open, or mostly stopped down a tiny bit, or mostly stopped down a lot?

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    • Phil Bautista

      Just in general. Are there any legacy 50mm lenses that compare favorably or closely, specifically for value? FWIW I tend to favor a wider focal aperture for shallower depth of field.

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    • Matthew Saville

      For shooting wide open, neither of Canon’s affordable 50mm’s come close, as they’re just abysmally soft wide open until about f/2.8.

      Nikon’s own 50mm f/1.8 G and 50mm f/1.4 G are decently sharp wide open, but they still fall short if you have extremely high priorities for all standards, including sharpness and bokeh but also CA and stuff like that. Same goes for Sigma’s 50mm f/1.4 EX: (not art) It’s decently sharp wide open, but is not an all-around winner like the Rokinon.

      In other words, do consider the Nikon 50mm’s or Sigma’s cheaper 50mm, if you’re just “filling a gap” in your lineup and if AF would be nice. However if 50mm is your bread and butter, AND you don’t mind manual focus, then the Rokinon is impossible to beat. (Save the out-of-range Zeiss Otus, of course)

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    • Phil Bautista

      I was referring to the legacy manual lenses. The FDs, Ai-Ss, MD/MCs, Vivitars, etc. The more affordable ones. Not the Leicas, Voigtlanders, etc. But thanks for your input. I appreciate it.

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    • Matthew Saville

      Phil, I do enjoy some Nikon AI-S or even Pre-AI lenses, indeed. (You can actually mod a Nikon pre-AI lens quite easily, if you’re good with a metal file…)

      The Nikon 55mm f/1.2 that I tested, while obviously not as sharp wide open, did have gorgeous bokeh in its favor, and fantastic sunstars even by f/2.8 for astrophotography. I’d love to own one someday, especially since 50mm is a bit of a specialty focal length for me, meaning that it’s something I rarely use and so I wouldn’t necessarily need the most versatile, well-rounded lens. Besides, those old Nikon lenses look so sexy, with their scallopped metal focus rings!

      So, if you shoot stopped down a lot and care about things like sunstars, then I can highly recommend any of the older manual primes, especially from Nikon. But they’re expensive these days, even used on Ebay, so it’s definitely a specialty item. The Rokinon 50mm is still a king / champ when it comes to what most folks are looking for in a lens…

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  6. Peter McWade

    I own two Rokinon lenses and can’t say any thing bad at all about them. Im a manual lens person for all my shooting.

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  7. Chuck Eggen

    Matthew, my stepson just picked up a Rokinon 24mm Cine lens for video and loves it. I must admit, I’m looking at them for video as well. You can’t beat the price for a set of decent dslr video lenses.

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    • Matthew Saville

      Chuck, especially if you’re into video at all, I cannot recommend the Rokinon’s highly ENOUHG. They’re superbly suited for this. Not only is focus amazingly smooth, but the focus throw is just fantastic compared to any modern AF lens. This makes a huge, huge difference for anyone who shoots video and/or astro-landscapes.

      Honestly if I were only a landscape photographer exclusively, I’d only own Rokinon lenses, period. I only own modern AF lenses for my day job and personal around-town stuff…

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  8. Aaron Cheney

    That Sigma Art is looking pretty good

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