Negros Occidental using Manfrotto Element Traveller tripod

The Samyang 12mm F2, also marketed as the Rokinon 12mm F2 throughout North America, is an ultrawide-angle prime lens that has justifiably been on the receiving end of much praise since it was released.

Of the 103 lenses the South Korean manufacturer has pumped out in the past few years, the 12mm F2 is among their most popular. While you would expect its fixed, ultrawide focal length and its lack of autofocus to limit its appeal to a smaller niche, I would argue that the Samyang 12mm F2 could be a valuable asset to any photographer’s kit.

There are versions of the Samyang 12mm that are compatible with Fujifilm X-Mount, Canon M-Mount, Sony E-Mount and Samsung NX-Mount. For this review, I have been using and testing the Fuji X-Mount version of this lens mounted on my Fujifilm X-T2.

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Brief overview

 

The Samyang 12mm F2 is constructed of a total of 12 elements in 10 groups, of which two are aspherical lenses. Its aperture, controlled by 6 rounded aperture blades, ranges from a bright f/2 all the way to f/22, although in my experience the sharpest results are generally had at f/4 or f/5.6. That being said, even at other apertures, I’ve found that the 12mm F2 produces sharper results than almost any other third-party lens I have tested.

Buscalan Philippines with Samyang 12mm F2

Being a manual focus lens, the Samyang 12mm F2 can take some getting used to for those who primarily shoot using autofocus. When mastered, however, it can focus on objects just 20cm (or 7.87 inches) away which, when paired with the smooth bokeh achieved at its widest aperture of f/2, makes the 12mm a very capable camera for some moderately close-up photography.

Finally, the Fuji X-Mount version of the Samyang 12mm F2 that I’ve been using weighs in at just 260 grams (or 9.17 ounces). The 12mm F2 is an incredibly lightweight lens, especially when compared to one of the other lenses I always travel with, the Fujinon XF 55-200mm, which weighs in at well over double that weight.

 

The 12mm focal length

 

A 12mm focal length just about falls into the ultrawide-angle category of lenses. With the Samyang 12mm F2 being a prime lens, it is limited to this focal length only, which will make it unsuitable for some depending on the style of photography they practice.

While wide-angle lenses can be used for specific kinds of portraits, they are far from the most popular choice. Even photographers who deliberately shoot portraits with ultrawide-angle lenses to achieve a certain effect rarely choose to go as wide as 12mm.

Where the Samyang 12mm F2 come into its own, however, is with landscape, architectural and astrophotography.

Negros Samyang 12mm F2 astro

Thanks to its wide maximum aperture, astrophotography is a genre in which the Samyang 12mm F2 has become particularly popular. It’s so capable in this field in particular that I keep this lens despite already owning the Fujinon XF 10-24mm. While the XF10-24mm has the 12mm focal length covered, it falls well short of the Samyang 12mm F2 due to its maximum aperture of f/4.

 

What the Samyang 12mm F2 does well

 

Now we’ve given the Samyang 12mm a thorough introduction, let’s delve into the ways in which this lens arguably cements itself among the best third-party lenses on the market today, before discussing the ways in which it could be improved.

Compact and lightweight formfactor

 

An immediately obvious benefit of the Samyang 12mm F2 is its size and weight. These statistics present welcome news for travel photographers, or any photographer that likes to take their kit out and about with them.

I use the Fuji X-Mount compatible version of this lens, which weighs in at a negligible 260g (9.17 ounces) and measures just 59mm (2.3 inches) in length. In comparison to the other lenses that I travel with, the XF10-24mm and the XF55-200mm, the Samyang 12mm is barely even noticeable in my camera bag.

 

Wide maximum aperture

Samyang 12mm F2 next to XF10-24mm

As mentioned in this article, the Samyang 12mm F2 has a very bright maximum aperture of, you guessed it, f/2. This allows for the use of faster shutter speeds in low light situations, making sharp handheld shooting a much more achievable prospect even if, like me, you don’t have the steadiest hands. And with it being an ultrawide prime lens, the Samyang 12mm’s wide maximum aperture of f/2 is what makes it such a great option for astrophotography.

Its 6 rounded aperture blades also ensure that at its wider apertures, the Samyang 12mm F2 produces very soft and smooth bokeh to add additional depth to your images.

 

Sharp image quality

 

Of course, how compact and light a lens is doesn’t matter one bit if the results it produces aren’t up to standard. Luckily, this is another area in which the Samyang 12mm F2 punches well above its proverbial weight.

Samyang 12mm F2 Tangalle Sri Lanka

Price

 

Finally, something that we simply have to mention when covering this lens, is its price. While this is hardly a feature of the lens itself, it’s an additional bonus for every budget-conscious photographer.

I picked up my version of this lens in mint condition online for just £130, or approximately 160 USD at the time of writing. For a lens of this quality, this is an absolutely incredible deal. At the time of writing, you can pick one up on MPB for even less – the cheapest I found was being sold for just £99, or 124 USD.

 

What the Samyang 12mm F2 could do better

 

This wouldn’t be a very good review of this lens if it didn’t touch on its potential shortcomings alongside its strengths, so let’s discuss the ways in which this lens may not be right for some.

 

No autofocus

 

The first downside, and probably the most likely to be considered a dealbreaker by some photographers, is the Samyang 12mm F2’s lack of autofocus. It certainly takes some getting used to, especially since the majority of lenses available today have autofocus capabilities, even if these aren’t the fastest or most accurate. Fujifilm, for example, don’t sell a single XF-line lens without autofocus.

That being said, when it comes to the types of photography the Samyang 12mm excels in, autofocus is rarely needed. When it comes to shooting landscapes and astrophotography, you’ll likely just need to set your focus to infinity. If you were shooting portraits, however, it wouldn’t be quite as easy as that. In the end, whether the lack of autofocus is a dealbreaker for you all comes down to what you intend to do with this lens.

 

Build quality is not on the same level as camera manufacturer’s own lenses

 

While the Samyang 12mm F2 is not a badly built lens by any stretch of the imagination, my copy at least doesn’t quite live up to the exceedingly high standards set by Fujifilm and other manufacturers with the lenses they produce for their cameras.

On my copy of the Samyang 12mm F2, for example, the focus ring isn’t quite lined up correctly meaning that it shows my minimum focus distance to be a tiny bit shorter than 0.2m, while my maximum focus distance is just shy of the infinity symbol. While it doesn’t exactly ruin my experience shooting with this lens, it is immediately noticeable and something that you simply would not get with another camera manufacturer’s own lenses.

 

Wrapping up

 

So, there we are: a quick overview of the Samyang 12mm F2 and why we think it’s one of the best-value third-party lenses on the market today.

Kas Turkey with Samyang 12mm F2
Ella Sri lanka Samyang 12mm F2

Granted, there aren’t all that many directly comparable lenses on the market. Whether you’re on the hunt for a comparable Fujifilm X-Mount, Canon M-Mount or Sony E-Mount lens, you will have to compromise either in terms of focal length, maximum aperture or, most likely of all, both. If you’re on the market for a great value lens that’s fantastic for astrophotography, it’s difficult to go wrong with the Samyang 12mm F2. 

If you’re interested in picking up your own, why not check out the most recent prices on MPB or eBay?

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