Rokinon AF 75mm f/1.8 Review | The Most Portable And Affordable Full-Frame Mirrorless Portrait Prime Lens!
Rokinon (AKA Samyang) has/have been making “tiny” full-frame lenses for a few years now, and they just keep getting better and better! This review of their first portrait prime in this compact line, the AF 75mm f/1.8 E-mount, can be summed up in just one word: TINY.
By designing the lens to be 75mm instead of 85mm, and by making a few other minor compromises that are to be expected for such a portable, affordable lens, Roki-Yang has achieved something that many casual, serious, and professional photographers may enjoy- a portrait lens that is so tiny, it can make you forget you’re even using a full-frame system!
Is it perfect? No, of course not. At least, it’s not perfect on paper, in lab tests. And yet, somehow, it might just be “the perfect lens” for you, if you’re one of the many photographers who has been waiting patiently for mirrorless systems to be “lighter and smaller”, as was promised when the systems first arrived.
In this review, we’ll talk about how the Rokinon/Samyang AF 75mm f/1.8 FE might be perfect to some photographers, despite its flaws, and then we’ll also discuss the alternatives for those who may have slightly different priorities (or higher standards) when it comes to finding “the perfect portrait prime lens”…
Rokinon/Samyang AF 75mm f/1.8 FE Specifications
- FOCAL LENGHT & ANGLE OF VIEW: 75mm, (32.9° on full-frame) ~110mm on APS-C
- LENS MOUNT(S): Sony E-mount
- APERTURE & RANGE: f/1.8 to f/22, 9-blade, rounded
- STABILIZATION: NO
- AUTOFOCUS: YES; linear STM motor
- MANUAL FOCUS: YES, electronically controlled, no distance/hyperfocal markings
- OPTICAL CONSTRUCTION: 10 elements in 9 groups, 3 extra-low dispersion (ED) elements, 2 high refractive index (HR) elements, ultra-multi-coating (UMC)
- MECHANICAL CONSTRUCTION: Metal & plastic, no weather sealing
- MAGNIFICATION & FOCUS DISTANCE: 0.13x, 0.69m (27 in.)
- FILTER THREADS & HOOD: YES, 58mm, bayonet hood included
- SIZE: 2.56×2.72 in. (65x69mm)
- WEIGHT: 8.11oz (230g)
- PRICE: $399 (B&H)
Rokinon/Samyang AF 75mm f/1.8 FE Review | Who Should Buy It?
When you first see a picture of this lens, let alone open the box and hold it, or mount it to a camera, you should already know one thing: the Rokinon/Samyang AF 75mm f/1.8 FE is meant for photographers who are looking for a lens that achieves maximum portability!
Whether you’re an aspiring beginner, a serious hobbyist, or a paid professional, you might be struggling with the decision of which camera system to invest in, especially when it comes to full-frame sensors versus crop-sensor alternatives. Because with full-frame, both price and size/weight are usually huge obstacles that hinder many folks without a big enough budget or enough space in their bag. This lens, simply put, brings crop-sensor portability and affordability to your full-frame Sony camera!
By comparison, on an APS-C system you would a 50mm lens with about an f/1.2 aperture in order to achieve equally shallow depth. Very few lenses offer this much shallow DOF to crop-sensor users, and the ones that do are significantly bigger and heavier. For example, there’s the Fuji 50mm f/1.0, a ~$1,500 lens that weighs 1.86 lbs (845g), or the two Fuji 56mm f/1.2’s, which are 0.89 lb (405g) lenses that range from ~$850 to ~$1,500, depending on if you get the APD version or not. That’s a LOT of money, for the full-frame equivalent of a “modest” f/1.8 portrait prime!
In fact, if you pair this 75mm prime with, say, Rokinon/Samyang’s other “tiny” f/1.8 prime, the AF 45mm f/1.8 FE, and maybe the AF 24mm f/2.8 FE, or AF 18mm f/2.8 FE, …then all of a sudden you have a complete set of full-frame primes that are lighter and smaller (and more affordable, collectively) than literally everything else on the market, and even lighter than quite a few APS-C options you might be considering!
So, for any beginner or serious hobbyist, this lens is a great choice. Portraits, candids, detail/food photos, travel & event photography, you name it! A compact 75mm lens is an attractive idea.
What if you’re a working professional, though? Is it too much of a compromise to go with such a budget-friendly option? On the contrary, in my opinion, quite the opposite is true: If ~85mm is your favorite focal length, then you should own this lens as your casual walk-around alternative to whatever massive, heavy 85mm f/1.4 you use to pay your bills.
Of course, that’s not to say this Rokinon/Samyang 75mm isn’t capable of professional results, or that you should only consider it for casual, un-paid photos; it certainly is capable of professional results, whether you shoot landscapes at f/8, or nightscapes or shallow-depth portraits at f/~2.8…
Either way, whether it’s your main “casual/candid” lens, or a BTS/backup to a more high-end 85mm prime, you’ll really enjoy having the 75mm around!
What types of photographers is this lens NOT made for?
Having said all that, what types of photography, or photographers’ styles, might lead to deciding NOT to buy this lens? Well, to spoil the rest of this review, here’s the dirt on the Rokinon/Samyang AF 75mm f/1.8 FE: First, as you can imagine, its physical construction is not extremely high-end flagship status. Second, the other inherent nature of such a tiny, portable lens is that it’s not optically perfect, especially in the corners.
So, if you’re a pixel-peeper who needs corner-to-corner sharpness at wide-open apertures, or if you plan to do a lot of work in truly abysmal conditions such as rain, snow, or dust/sand storms, then you should probably save up for something with a bit more robust construction, weather sealing, and optics that deliver jaw-dropping image quality for even the highest-resolution full-frame sensors.
Can the 75mm do these things, in a pinch? Yes, absolutely. In fact, check out our image samples below for an example of sharpness in pitch-dark nightscape conditions; the Roki-Yang is no slouch! Still, for truly “flawless” image quality, you owe it to yourself to also consider decently affordable options (relative to name-brand flagship options) such as the Tokin 85mm f/1.8 ATX-M, ($429 to $499, compared to Sony’s $598 FE 85mm f/1.8) or the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DN Art, which is $1,199 compared to Sony’s $1,798 85mm f/1.4 GM.
We’re getting ahead of ourselves, but lastly, if you decide that this 75mm lens just isn’t right for you, another close alternative is, of course, Rokinon/Samyang’s own AF 85mm f/1.4 FE, which comes in at just $699, or $599 whenever its (relatively frequent) rebate is ongoing.
85mm Versus 75mm: Which Is “Better”?
One thing we need to discuss before we go any further is, why 75mm? Why not 85mm? Well, firstly, going from 85mm to 75mm definitely helped make this lens more portable. For that benefit, you might be OK with losing a slight bit of your “reach” compared to a traditional 85mm lens, especially if you are/were already familiar with using a 50mm prime lens on an APS-C camera. (50mm X 1.5 crop factor = 75mm)
Personally? I really like 75mm, and here’s why: I actually don’t use 50mm very much; I’m a bigger fan of two-lens 35mm and 85mm kits, however, I’ve always felt like 85mm was a bit longer than I’d usually like. Now, with the 75mm paired with, say, the new Rokinon/Samyang AF 35mm f/1.8 FE, another portable lens, I feel like I’ve got a perfect two-lens kit for all types of photography. (Or, don’t forget the AF 35mm f/2.8 FE, which is almost a “pancake” style lens!)
Also, by bumping from 85mm down to 75mm, I feel like other telephoto focal lengths like 105mm and 135mm become a little more useful, too. In the past, it would feel highly redundant to bring both an 85mm and a 105mm prime to a wedding, but now I find myself wondering and waiting to see if Rokinon/Samyang will soon deliver a highly portable AF 105mm f/2.8 FE or an AF 135mm f/2.8 FE, to complete their portable lineup of full-frame autofocus lenses!
Rokinon/Samyang AF 75mm f/1.8 FE Review | Pros & Cons
The Pros and Cons of this lens can easily be summed up with just a few bullet points. So, instead of drawing it all out, let’s get right to the verdict!
Rokinon AF 75mm f/1.8 FE Pros:
- Good image quality throughout most of the image frame
- Fast, silent, accurate, reliable autofocus in most conditions
- The most portable lens in its class
- The most affordable (autofocus) lens in its class
Rokinon AF 75mm f/.18 FE Cons:
- Image quality at wide-open apertures slightly behind its competitors
- Image quality in image corners significantly behind its competitors
- Build quality is “budget-friendly” (no weather sealing, some plastic parts)
- Autofocus can randomly hunt/rack focus in poor lighting conditions
- FN (Custom Mode) switch requires anaccessory USB lens dock ($59) for better customization
Now that we’ve outlined all the pros and cons, let’s talk about the various aspects of performance and go more in-depth. First and foremost, image quality is, well, average. However, that’s saying a lot considering the standard of modern-day optical designs! In other words, image quality is actually great, until you really pixel-peep.
In terms of sharpness, the Rokinon/Samyang AF 75mm f/1.8 FE is quite decent, even with the aperture wide-open at f/1.8, throughout most of the image frame. If you’re photographing portraits and hoping for nice background blur, then as long as you keep your subject’s faces away from the extreme corners of your image frame, you’ll love the results you get.
If you jump from 24 megapixels to 61 megapixels, then you’ll start to see a faint amount of image quality issues at f/1.8, but they’re a fair trade-off for such a portable, affordable lens. Sharpness itself still has plenty of fine detail even on a high-megapixel sensor.
Other aspects of image quality, such as bokeh, colors, and contrast are also impressive. Considering the modest f/1.8 aperture, and an optical formula that has prioritized compactness, it’s actually quite impressive to see how smooth the background blur is. One thing is for sure: it’s going to make your full-frame sensor worth the investment compared to, say, a 50mm f/1.8 lens on an APS-C sized sensor!
Distortion and vignetting are also surprisingly low for such a compact lens. They’re present, of course, but with the in-camera correction profile turned on you won’t really notice them, and the correction process does not cause softness or noise in the corners, which can be a risk with more severe correction profiles.
What about the very obscure, pixel-peeping nuances of image quality, things like color fringing, and other aberrations? This is where the Roki-Yang 75mm is, let’s say, “nothing to write home about”, but also, it is still up to par for modern standards. (Older 85mm optical formulas from the DSLR and film SLR eras were much, much worse in these regards!) If you’re a huge pixel-peeper, stop the lens down to f/2.5 or so before you start obsessing over something like coma or astigmatism, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the results.
Last but not least, in terms of image quality, the more creativity-related aspects- flare, sunstars, and close-up focusing… Once again, the real-world test results we were able to come up with all indicate “very impressive, for the compact size.”
Its closest focusing distance of 27 inches or ~0.7 meters can be a bit frustrating if you were expecting to be able to do anything remotely resembling “macro” photography with this lens, but that is totally in keeping with other portrait primes’ maximum magnification.
Design & Durability
Not only is the Rokinon/Samyang 75mm prime very small, as we’ve already mentioned many times, but the design and materials are also a bit on the budget-friendly side. The mount itself is metal, and some parts of the barrel are also made of lightweight metal. However, there are also a few plastic parts to the overall construction, and they don’t have that same high-grade feel that the latest name-brand flagship lenses have when they use plastic for things like switches, filter threads, or bayonet-style hoods.
All in all, for durability I would have to give the 75mm a passing grade, but it’s still the type of lens you shouldn’t abuse too heavily. To get the most out of your investment, do take decent care of it, and maybe avoid the more torrential downpours, splashing waves, or other such harsh conditions.
The “Custom Mode” (FN) Switch (And the Rokinon/Samyang USB Dock)
One other unique thing about the 75mm is a new concept, something that Canon has also begun using with their entry-level RF mirrorless lenses–the focus ring can be made dual-purpose, thanks to a switch on the lens.
By default, Custom Mode 1 is set to either do nothing when the camera is set to Autofocus, or do to do manual focusing whenever you switch the camera body itself to “MF”. Then, flip the switch to Custom Mode 2, and the focus ring switches to aperture control! This is a pretty neat way to add functionality to a single control ring, however, there are a few caveats…
One issue with this unique Custom Mode function is that when you switch to Mode 2 for aperture control, you can’t focus manually at all, even when you set the camera itself to “MF”. You must flip the lens’ switch back to Mode 1 if you want to focus manually.
Also, when you switch to Mode 2, you can ONLY change the aperture via the lens’ focus ring; you actually lose control of your aperture on both of your main command dials on the body of the camera.
It would be much better if the default customization was just slightly different: First, the most common thing people would expect would be for the switch to do the most simple thing: autofocus in Mode 1, and manual focus in Mode 2, without the need to switch the AF mode on the camera, too.
Alternately, it could be useful to have Mode 1 be able to perform both AF and MF, by controlling that function on the camera body, and then having Mode 2 be able to turn on the aperture control. Then, switching the camera body itself to MF could still override the lens’ setting, allowing manual focus instead of aperture control, plus of course allowing the command dials on the camera to continue controlling the aperture too.
We’ll have to do a separate review of the Rokinon/Samyang USB dock, but for now, suffice it to say that with a price tag of $59, it’s a bit of an annoying investment since pretty much all other AF lenses don’t have this Custom Mode switch; you’re basically buying the USB dock as a customization tool for the 75mm alone, plus the brand-new 35mm f/1.8 AF/FE, too. Considering the low price (both are $399) for either lens, $59 is still worth it, but I also think more functionality needs to be added, too.
One thing that even budget-minded shoppers cannot compromise on is, of course, autofocus performance. If you’re buying an AF lens, then chances are you want the AF to work very well!
Rokinon’s earliest autofocus lenses, from 2016 and 2017, had decent but slightly slower, less reliable autofocus. Today, in 2020, their latest AF lenses are not just fast and silent, but quite reliable. The AF 75mm f/1.8 FE is pretty reliable even in difficult low-light conditions, and only “hunts” every now and then compared to a name-brand Sony lens like the FE 85mm f/1.8 or FE 85mm f/1.4 GM. So, unless you’re photographing extremely fast action, or shooting video and using autofocus to continuously track faces or other subjects around the viewfinder, you’ll be totally satisfied with the 75mm’s AF performance.
Manual Focus Performance
Focusing manually on these modern mirrorless AF lenses is almost always done electronically, and this means both the AF motors and the focus ring itself need to be capable of extremely fine sensitivity. If not, the lens will “jump” when focusing manually, and you’ll quickly be frustrated when trying to nail perfect focus at faster apertures.
The Roki-Yang 75mm has a very smooth focus ring, both in terms of its physical feel when rotating, and in the electronic sensitivity. There is a faint bit of “jump” to the plane of focus itself, however, the increment is so fine, you can always achieve perfectly sharp focus, even on difficult subjects like stars/planets in a nightscape or astrophotography situation.
At $399, it’s pretty easy for this lens to be seen as a great value. As long as you don’t heavily abuse it, you’ll get a lot of life out of it, and the performance is good enough for not just casual but even serious, professional work.
The nearest competitors may only be $100-200 more expensive, but compared to the 75mm’s incredibly low price, that’s a 25% and a 50% increase! In other words, you can’t beat this value. Just about the only thing that comes close is the Tokina 85mm f/1.8, which, at $499 is still very affordable. Or, even better: the Tokina is sometimes on sale for $429, making it a mere $30 more than the Rokinon/Samyang. Considering the Tokina’s truly robust build quality and incredible image quality, it’s definitely a value worth considering, if you’re looking for an incredible value but don’t mind the added size and heft, in exchange for fantastic optical results.
Rokinon/Samyang AF 75mm f/1.8 FE Review | Compared To The Competition
What other options are out there? Mostly, a bunch of 85mm primes that cost quite a bit more than this 75mm f/1.8. The next-cheapest one is the Tokina 85mm f/1.8 ATX-M, which, as we mentioned ,can be found with a rebate for as little as $429; it’s the normal price being $499.
Aside from the Tokina, the competition jumps up in both price and size quite a bit. Even the “modest” Sony FE 85mm f/1.8, which is not a G lens, let alone a GM lens, is about $600. Speaking of ~$600, Rokinon/Samyang also make an AF 85mm f/1.4 FE, which costs $599. That is, when it has its $100 instant savings; most of the time it’s actually a $699 lens.
From there, you jump up quite a bit more to the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DN Art, which is $1,199 and 1.38 lbs (625g), compared to Sony’s 85mm f/1.4 GM that is $1,798 and 1.8 lbs (820g). At this point, you’re in a completely different league in every way. (Again, for comparison, the Rokinon/Samyang 75mm f/1.8 is barely 0.5 lbs, or 230g!)
NOTE: Rokinon/Samyang also make an 85mm f/1.8, HOWEVER, this is an APS-C only, manual-focus lens, it is NOT a full-frame lens! So, don’t accidentally buy that lens if you’re looking for a full-frame and/or autofocus portrait prime lens.
Of course, if you are shooting with an APS-C camera like the Sony A6600, and don’t plan to upgrade to full-frame any time soon, then you certainly could consider both the 75mm and 85mm f/1.8‘s. The 75mm makes a perfect ~110mm portrait prime, and offers the convenience of autofocus, while the 85mm f/1.8 will offer better manual focusing smoothness, and a little bit longer of a focal length. They’re both downright “tiny”, and the manual focus 85mm f/1.8 costs only $299, when it has its $100 rebate.
Rokinon AF 75mm f/1.8 FE Review | Conclusion
The Rokinon/Samyang 75mm f/1.8 is a winner both in terms of portability and affordability, there’s no denying that! If you’re okay with the slightly different focal length compared to 85mm, and if you’re not going to scrutinize the corners of your images on a 42-61 megapixel full-frame camera sensor, then you’ll be thrilled with this lens.
If you’re a more discerning photographer who demands superior optical performance and “indestructible” build quality, then this probably isn’t the right lens for you, however, if ~85mm is your absolute favorite focal length, you might still really enjoy this lens as a portable alternative for more casual shooting, and an affordable backup to the expensive “workhorse” 85mm prime you might already have.
So, in conclusion, we highly recommend this lens to anyone who is interested in a portable, affordable option. It is one of the very few full-frame lenses that realy delivers on the promise of mirrorless systems being highly compact and lightweight, which is something that a lot of people have been eagerly waiting for!
Check Pricing & Availability
Samyang is the global company, and Rokinon is just the name they operate under in the USA, but you can purchase either version through B&H for $399. You can also buy either version of their USB dock, which is useful for firmware updates, autofocus calibration, and assigning different functions to the FN switch on the side of the 75mm
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