Rokinon AF 45mm f/1.8 FE Review | More Than Just Another Average “Nifty Fifty” Lens?
Exotic lenses have been hitting the market non-stop in the last few years, but Rokinon (Samyang in some countries) are doing some interesting things with a new line of modest, diminutive lenses, too. First up, and the subject of this review, is a standard prime: the Rokinon / Samyang AF 45mm f/1.8 FE.
It’s tiny, it’s lightweight, it’s “plain” F-one-point-eight! (Rhyme not intended) So, what’s not to like? Well, there are already a half-dozen other full-frame Sony E-mount standard primes that are very similar, and over a dozen or more truly exotic ~50mm primes, too! Do we really need another one? Rokinon seems to think so…
Indeed, if you’ve outgrown your “nifty fifty” phase and have moved on to bigger, faster primes in this range, (or if you’ve “graduated” to a 35mm or 85mm prime!) …then you might be rather unimpressed by this particular lens.
However, if you’re looking for the most portable option possible, with well-rounded performance and a great overall value compared to the bigger, faster competitors, then there’s a chance you’ll really like this lens. Read the full review and find out!
Rokinon AF 45mm f/1.8 FE | Specifications
- FOCAL LENGHT & ANGLE OF VIEW: 45mm, 52.31°
- LENS MOUNT(S): Sony E-mount, (FE full-frame, E APS-C)
- APERTURE & RANGE: f/1.8 – f/22, 9-blades, rounded
- STABILIZATION: NO
- AUTOFOCUS: YES, linear STM
- MANUAL FOCUS: Electronically controlled ring, on-screen distance scale
- OPTICAL CONSTRUCTION: 7 elements in 6 groups, 2 aspherical elements, 1 extra-low dispersion element, ultra-multi-coating
- MECHANICAL CONSTRUCTION: Metal, plastic, no weather sealing
- MAGNIFICATION & FOCUS DISTANCE: 0.12x, 1.48 ft (45 cm)
- FILTER THREADS & HOOD: 49mm, plastic bayonet hood
- SIZE: 2.43 x 2.21 in. (61.8 x 56.1 mm)
- WEIGHT: 5.71 oz ( 162 g)
- PRICE: $329-$399 (B&H)
Rokinon AF 45mm f/1.8 FE Review | Who Should Buy It?
Simply put, this is a casual walk-around lens. Its angle of view, nearly indistinguishable from the most popular focal length ever, 50mm, is perfect for general photography of all types. Candid or professional portraits, casual or serious photojournalism, low-light action, events, nature, landscape, even nightscape photography… Almost the entire gamut of photography could benefit from a simple, modest lens like this!
Oh, and it makes a great ~70mm prime on Sony’s APS-C E-mount cameras, too.
But, is it the right lens for the job, when you’ve got dozens of alternatives on the market? Let’s talk about which types of photographers might want this particular standard prime, compared to the numerous alternatives…
From beginner/casual to serious/professional portrait photographers, everyone has a big decision to make when it comes to a standard prime. For me, the best advice I can give is to invest the most money into whichever prime lens you use the most for your type of portraiture.
If you absolutely love ~50mm, and use it for almost all your portraits, then you might want to save up for a higher-end model. Oppositely, if you really prefer something else like 35mm or 85mm, and you only rarely use ~50mm, then having such a tiny, lightweight lens in your bag to just “cover the bases” might be perfect.
Then again, going back to those who absolutely love ~50mm: …if you love it so much, why not have a backup? If you have a 50mm f/1.4 that you really love and use all the time, and especially if you shoot professional work, then having a backup of that bread-and-butter focal length is actually really important to consistently delivering your signature style of photography to your paying clients.
In other words, every portrait photographer should weigh their options, consider this lens as either a backup or a “fill in the gap” lens, …and maybe buy it based on their current needs and overall creative style.
The same thing applies to wedding photographers and all other types of event photographers: spend the most money on the lenses you use the most, and then fill in the gaps with “lesser” lenses.
Either way, this is not a heavy-duty workhorse lens. This is an incognito, unobtrusive lens for those wedding photographers whose style is likely described as “intimate”, and requires subjects to not be intimidated by an enormous lens being stuck in their faces all day.
Personally, as a wedding photographer for 15 years, although I wasn’t able to take this lens to a wedding this spring, I already know that this is exactly the type of prime lens that I’d love to own, because it fits perfectly between my two favorite focal lengths, 85mm and 28mm.
Fashion & Editorial Photographers
This lens will probably be a hard pass for really serious fashion, commercial, or other editorial work. In the next section of our review, we’ll talk about the overall image quality and the build quality.
Lifestyle, Candid & Street Photographers
If you like the idea of always having your full-frame camera with you for casual snapshots, or being able to just stuff your whole camera in a large jacket pocket for a casual outing, then this lens should be near the top of your list.
Also, like wedding photojournalism, being incognito (even with a full-frame body) is a huge help. Of course, a large full-frame camera is going to attract attention no matter what, but with a little bit of gaff tape over prominent logos on your camera, you’ll attract the least amount of attention of any other photographer around you, probably, and your subjects will be kept at ease in general.
Videographers & Vloggers
Many videographers may opt for a more exotic standard prime that hits f/1.4 and is flawlessly sharp at fast apertures, however, anyone who has to hold a full-frame camera on a gimbal for a few hours will appreciate the extremely lightweight nature of Rokinon’s entire family of full-frame primes.
Of particular note, this 45mm f/1.8 and the 18mm f/2.8 are so physically similar that, on stronger gimbals you should be able to swap lenses without having to rebalance, or maybe with just a fore-aft adjustment of a millimeter or two. The same thing goes for the 24mm f/2.8 and 35mm f/2.8; they’re not just tiny, they provide that added convenience in overall simplicity.
Action Sports, Stage, & Theater Photographers
While a standard prime isn’t exactly the first lens you think about when it comes to NFL or NBA sports, it’s great for stage events such as concerts and theater, or other types of low-light action.
However, most low-light action sports, and any distance, are better off with an f/2.8 mid-range zoom. Before you even consider a prime, save up and get a 24-70mm f/2.8!
Most types of outdoor and nature photography will also be better off with a mid-range zoom, usually a good sharp 24-105mm f/4 will serve you very well. You would only want a small prime lens like this if, of course, you were looking for something lightweight and compact for quick snapshots while you’re out hiking or traveling.
Once again, get yourself a good mid-range zoom first. Even at f/8 or f/11, the best f/2.8 and f/4 zooms will be just as sharp as, or sharper than, this prime.
Many landscape photographers like shooting with primes, of course, but that’s usually for superior sharpness, which is not something you can expect from this tiny little lens. Even if you’re planning to shoot at apertures like f/8 or f/11 all the time, you’ll still see better results from other, more expensive and large lenses if you really pixel-peep your corners.
Nightscape & Astrophotographers
One of the most demanding types of photography in terms of image quality is nightscape and astrophotography, and once again, I’m going to have to recommend the bigger, pricier lenses for the absolute best image quality in this realm. Even if you stop down to f/2.8, most f/1.4 primes will still blow away this optic.
The biggest reason a nightscape photographer would choose this lens over any other is, once again, if they have to hike up a mountain first before they start taking pictures, and aren’t interested in lugging around a monstrous beast of a lens.
In summary, if you haven’t figured out, this lens is good enough for both casual and serious photographers who aren’t likely to be pixel-peeking the corners of their images very much, and who specifically want a small, lightweight lens.
Rokinon AF 45mm f/1.8 FE Review | Pros
I’ve reviewed a lot of lenses lately that were so incredible, it was hard to find any flaws in them. Besides being enormous, heavy, and expensive, that is. (Speaking of which, our review of the Sigma 35mm f/1.2 for Sony E-mount is coming soon, too!)
The Rokinon/Samyang AF 45mm f/1.8 FE unabashedly runs in the opposite direction. It’s not perfect, in fact, it’s a compromise in almost every way. This might sound like a dead end, but, honestly? It has been an absolute delight to carry around this lens for the last couple of months. After all the gigantic f/2.8 zooms and f/1.4 (and even f/1.2) primes that I’ve been reviewing lately, a compact setup like this helps me enjoy the simple craft of photography again.
Having said that, let’s talk about the pros and cons of this lens.
For such a modest standard prime, image quality needs to be at least moderately good, otherwise, a half-dozen other lenses will immediately present a better alternative. Such is the case with the Rokinon/Samyang AF 45mm f/1.8 FE, thankfully, and despite its tiny size, it delivers some rather good images that hold up even on the high-megapixel beasts like the Sony A7R III and Sony A7R IV.
Having said that, it’s definitely not stellar, let alone “flawless”, so it’s not going to blow away any of the pixel-peepers who would rather photograph lab test scenes than real-world moments…
Let’s put it this way: you’re looking to shoot portraits, on a 24, 42, or even 61-megapixel Sony body, then you’ll be happy with the level of detail that the Rokinon/Samyang 45mm f/1.8 delivers wide open, and certainly when stopped down.
However, if you’re looking to shoot very clinical images of highly detailed subjects, especially with important details in the edges and corners of the image, then image quality won’t get truly acceptable until about f/2.8, and even then, you might not be thrilled with your corners until f/5.6.
I would consider this a fair trade for such a portable lens, for most types of casual and even professional photography, except demanding things like astrophotography. But, as I said earlier, you’re probably buying this lens for walk-around candids and portraits, in which case, you’ll likely be more than happy with its overall image quality.
I’d argue that bokeh is one of the most important things for a lens like this, since it is a standard prime that will likely be used for a lot of casual portraits and low-light candid work. The 45mm f/1.8 delivers very beautiful bokeh, especially when getting close-up to subjects.
It’s not as buttery as a Canon L-class f/1.2 prime, or a Zeiss f/1.4 prime, but it’s still very flattering.
Even in “nasty” test conditions with lots of twigs and harsh sunlight, background blur remains nice and smooth. It doesn’t get distracting when stopping down to f/2.8 or f/4, either; it gets a little “busy”, but does stay decently soft, with good roll-off from sharp in-focus subjects to out-of-focus blur.
Colors & Contrast
This a simple optical formula that prioritizes portability, with budget-friendly optical coatings that prioritize a low price, so hopefully your expectations are low. If so, they’ll be met or exceeded by the good overall colors, saturation, and contrast found in images from the 45mm f/1.8 AF/FE.
In hard light with sharp contrasty edges, you’ll see a faint bit less “pop” in your images compared to the truly exotic standard lenses. This lens could definitely use an extra bump to the Contrast slider, or the Dehaze slider, in Lightroom, but for most people, that’s no big deal.
Vignetting & Distortion
There’s not much distortion, and there’s a normal amount of vignetting. Turn the in-camera correction profiles to “auto”, and you’ll enjoy minimal issues with either.
Sunstars & Flare
Since “casual” photography with a standard lens will likely involve a lot of shooting fun snapshots and experimenting with things like lens flare and harsh light portraits, it’s a good thing that the flare for this modest 45mm prime is usually flattering. A standard “warm wash of haze” happens at wide-open apertures when the sun really starts hitting the lens, but when obscured, at f/1.8 there are some neat sunbeam effects. However, there can also be a large purple blob, in the other direction. When stopped down, there are a few prominent purple dots of flare.
Sunstars are decent but not too exciting, which is normal for Rokinon’s AF lenses and their 9 rounded aperture blades.
Color Fringing, Aberration, Coma & Astigmatism
Don’t get too excited; this is where such tiny, lightweight optics begin to stumble. Having said that, the 45mm f/1.8 isn’t abysmal. There’s just a bit of color fringing or chromatic aberration, and in truly harsh light even the default removal tools in Lightroom won’t get it all., but it’s gone by f/2.8.
Coma/astigmatism isn’t as ridiculous as some of the truly terrible f/1.4 primes that have come out in years past, but it’s definitely there. As we already said, if you’re into serious nightscape photography, or if you’re just a huge pixel-peeper in genera then you probably want a sharper lens, but if you’re traveling extremely lightweight, it’s a viable option.
Macro & Close-Up Photography
When getting down to the minimum focus distance, image sharpness is not very compromised at all in the center of the image, but of course, there’s some loss towards the edges and corners. You’re probably not buying this lens for lots of close-up photography, though, because its minimum focus distance is pretty average, and a dedicated macro alternative such as the Sony FE 50mm f/2.8 makes a much better standard prime that doubles as a macro lens.
Autofocus is a breath of fresh air, in comparison to the troublesome AF on third-party lenses that I remember from my DSLR days. It’s about as fast and snappy as any competitor, even the expensive options, however, it’s not as precise or reliable overall compared to a Sony G or GM lens.
The difference is minuscule, though, and you’re more likely to miss focus due to user error in a complex scene than the sheer performance advantage of a Sony GM flagship.
In other words, it’s more than enough for any type of casual photography, and most types of serious work too.
Manual Focus Performance
Manual focus on these modern Rokinon/Samyang AF lenses is decent, and roughly on par with any other third party AF or Sony “G” class lens, though maybe not as perfectly smooth as a Sony “GM”, or an exotic Zeiss or similar manual focus optic.
Value – Versus More Expensive Options
Considering its respectable-but-not-perfect image quality, the value is present when comparing this lens against some of the other options which are double the price, or more. In other words, the Rokinon/Samyang 45mm f/1.8 isn’t as optically incredible as the Sony Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA, but it comes close enough that you really should think twice about spending ~3X more money!
Unfortunately, there aren’t just ~$1K alternatives, of course, so next when we get to the “cons” section, the first thing we’ll have to admit is that there is some strong competition on the affordable end, too.
Rokinon AF 45mm f/1.8 FE Review | Cons
Value – Versus Other Affordable Options
While there is value compared to bigger, heavier, more expensive options, that’s only half the story, of course. There are also a handful of other lenses in the affordable, portable range of standard primes that present a very good value, too. We’ll list a bunch of those lenses next, but for now, we’ll just mention that the existing Sony FE 50mm f/1.8 is a tried-and-true “nifty fifty” which is not just cheaper at just $248, but also a little more likely to stand the test of time thanks to Sony’s overall design and quality control, making it a two-fold better value if you’re willing to carry a marginally larger, heavier lens, and give up a faint bit of image quality.
Despite having a metal mount and a bit of metal in the main barrel of the lens, a Rokinon or Samyang lens is certainly no Sony GM flagship when it comes to durability. The plastic hood and front filter threads feel kind of cheap, and the main metal barrel feels like its really just extra-thick tinfoil.
I’ve already seen numerous lenses from Rokinon and Samyang with similar body construction that show dings and dents in the lens bodies themselves, which although they don’t seem to affect the operation of the lens, they speak to the likelihood that you’ll be replacing the likes of the 45mm f/1.8 sooner than you would a name-brand (or even a Sigma, etc.) alternative.
Having said that, to be honest, you have to really abuse a lens like this before it will actually break. The simple construction, and tiny size, mean that it could still provide years of trouble-free operation, as long as you aren’t dropping it on rocks or pavement.
Bottom line- although I have to ding (no pun intended) Roki-Yang for such average build quality, I’m still very happy that lenses like this are being made, for those photographers who want such lightweight, portable lenses.
Near-Identical Appearance To Other Lenses In The Family
This last one is a bit of a nit-pick, but if you hold this 45mm f/1.8 lens side-by-side with the Rokinon/Samyang AF 18mm f/2.8 FE, (review coming soon!) …then the two are virtually impossible to tell apart, aside from the minor scallops on the 18mm’s hood and of course the numbers printed on the lenses. (Which may very well wear clean off from a year or two of heavy use!)
It probably won’t be a problem for most photographers, though. In fact, if you’ll recall, for videographers/vloggers who use a gimbal, these lenses are so virtually identical that you can switch them without having to rebalance your rig! You might even be able to get away with swapping all five lenses in Rokinon’s “tiny family”- the 18mm, 24mm, and 35mm f/2.8’s, and the 45mm and 75mm f/1.8’s, all require either zero or only the faintest amount of rebalancing.
Rokinon AF 45mm f/1.8 FE Review | Compared To The Competition
As you can imagine, as the oldest full-frame mirrorless camera system, (nearly 6 years old at the time of this review) Sony’s E-mount has what I suspect is by far the largest assortment of standard prime options. There are about a dozen brands making such lenses, and dozens of different models of lenses that hit either 45mm, 50mm, or 55mm.
In order to break down this incredibly difficult buying decision, I will categorize the competition into different groups based on what your priorities as a photographer might be. Do you care about autofocus? Do you care about image quality? What is your budget? Answering these three questions, plus a few other caveats should lead you right to the exact lens (or three) that is perfect for your type of photography…
First, though, let’s talk about focal lengths. You might be asking yourself, “should I be comparing this lens against other 45-55mm lenses, or against 35mm lenses?” Indeed, both are valid comparisons. We’ve pictured a few other 35mm lenses above, just for the visual representation of the vast range of lenses that are out there.
Whichever focal lengths you are considering should depend on your own personal style as a photographer. If you like to get up-close and personal with your subjects, a large 35mm f/1.4, or a tiny 35mm f/2.8, might be a great idea. For now, we’re going to count the Rokinon/Samyang AF 45mm f/1.8 FE as a “normal” focal length, and compare it against other 45mm, 50mm, and 55mm lenses.
Highly Portable Alternatives To The Rokinon/Samyang 45mm f/1.8
If your biggest priority is finding the smallest, most portable lens possible, then there are indeed a few other lenses that are about this small, or even smaller, but they are from more exotic, niche brands such as Zeiss, Voigtlander, Meyer-Optik, and Meike, all of which are manual focus lenses, and most of which are incredibly expensive.
For those who are curious, on the low end of the range, there’s the Meike MK-50mm f/1.7 lens for a mere $110, but again it’s manual focus and likely even lower build quality and QC than the Rokinon/Samyang. In our opinion, it’s a no-go. Speaking of poor build quality, there’s the “need for speed” champion, the Mitakon Zhongyi 50mm f/0.95, which is surprisingly small and relatively affordable at “just $699-799, but again, despite its metal parts, its build quality is rather low.
Oppositely, on the top shelf, there are lenses like the Zeiss Loxia 50mm f/2, which is an incredible optic, but it’s $950 for a manual focus lens. Or, if you’ve got all kinds of money to spend, and you’re still in the “tiny” category of ~50mm lenses, then the Voigtlander APO-LANTHAR 50mm f/2 takes the cake, at ~$1050, and the Voigtlander Nokton 50mm f/1.2 for $999. Both of these lenses are great, but again they’re also very expensive and manual focus.
Portable E-mount ~50mms With Autofocus
If you want autofocus, you have a few much more reasonable options, if you’re willing to pay a bit more. Both the existing Sony FE 50mm f/1.8, at a mere $248, and the Sigma 45mm f/2.8 DG DN Contemporary, at $549, are solid performers with good overall build quality and great autofocus. They’re not as “ridiculously tiny” as the Rokinon/Samyang 45mm f/1.8, but fitting a whole camera+lens into a large jacket pocket is still do-able without the lens hood attached.
[Related Reading: Samyang & Rokinon Release a 14mm f/2.8 Autofocus Lens for Canon RF Mount!]
Other Sony E-Mount 50mm Competitors
What if you don’t care about size or weight, and are simply on a $300-500 budget for a great standard prime? Well, your options include a huge range of great lenses, including Rokinon/Samyang’s own AF 50mm f/1.4 FE, or their manual focus 50mm f/1.4 AS UMC, for just $299-349!
What if you’ve got a little more than $500 to spend, say, up to $1000? If portability is important again, there’s no question- get the legendary Sony/Zeiss 55mm f/1.8. It’s an incredible lens in a relatively portable, durable package.
At the higher end of things, if your budget is ~$1K or more and you also don’t mind bigger, heavier lenses, you can get the incredible Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art for Sony E-mount, at $949. Or, if you’re shopping for the truly exotic, luxury options, a Zenitar 50mm f/0.95 would set you back ~$1250, or a Sony/Zeiss Planar T* FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA would set you back ~$1500.
But, honestly? If you’re still reading this review of the $330-400 Rokinon/Samyang 45mm f/1.8, then you’re almost undoubtedly NOT in the market for such exotic glass. The final verdict line is, for the sub-$400 budget, the 45 1.8 is a great lightweight choice, but it’s also pretty similar to the even cheaper Sony FE 50mm f/1.8.
Rokinon AF 45mm f/1.8 FE Review | Conclusion
All in all, the Rokinon/Samyang AF 45mm f/1.8 FE is a delightful addition to the Sony E-mount family, even if it may feel redundant to some photographers. Indeed, if your main priority is not portability above all else, then you might want to just keep saving up for the Rokinon/Samyang AF 50mm f/1.4 FE, or, save some money and just get the Sony FE 50mm f/1.8.
However, the overall package is an attractive one, especially when you pair it with one or two of Roki-Yang’s similar lenses, such as the 18mm f/2.8 FE, the AF 24mm f/2.8 FE, and/or the new Rokinon/Samyang AF 75mm f/1.8 FE. In their cute little hard-shell carrying cases, they make the perfect set of walk-around primes, for the photographers who would rather have a couple of tiny primes instead of a big heavy zoom.
For casual photographers of all types, and even for serious photographers who may already own a massive, expensive standard prime that they just don’t want to lug around in their spare time, I can totally envision this lens being your favorite walk-around-prime whenever you just want to snap casually yet still get professional quality results.
So, whether you love ~50mm so much that you want a lightweight alternative/backup, or you barely use the focal length so you’d rather take up as little space in your bag as possible, we highly recommend the Rokinon/Samyang AF 45mm f/1.8 FE.