Rokinon (Samyang) 135mm f/2 ED UMC Lens Review
From a bokeh-per-dollar perspective, the Samyang 135mm f/2 ED UMC Lens is a top choice. The 135mm telephoto focal length combined with a very wide f/2 aperture can turn the image background into a creamy blur of colors with the viewer’s eye drawn to the isolated in-focus subject. This for a Samyang-characteristic low price with great image quality not forsaken.
Part of what you are not paying for in this lens is the inclusion of an AF system. This is a manual focus, manual aperture, manual exposure lens that does not report any information (not even the aperture used) to the camera.
Note that Samyang used to make their lenses available in a variety of brands, but market demand led to only the top-selling Samyang and Rokinon-brand lenses remaining in its product lineup. Also note that chipped versions of this lens are available, supporting some additional features including autoexposure and focus confirmation, potentially at a higher price.
The decision to buy this lens (or any other lens) should be made with strong consideration for the focal length and corresponding angle of view it provides.
The 135mm focal length shouts “portraits!” to me (and to many other photographers). The angle of view encourages a working distance long enough to provide modest feature compression that flatters faces even in tightly framed portraits. “Portrait” is a broad term and pictures of people can occur in an extensive range of situations, from a senior session to a wedding reception. This angle of view will work for group portraits, but … you may find wider angle options better-suited for this task, requiring less working distance. While 135mm can work well for sports and other people in fast motion activities, many will find the manual focus requirement a detraction for this use.
While the 135mm focal length is a bit long for use as a sole general purpose lens, it does have general purpose uses including for medium to large product images (how large may be limited by working space), for general studio work, for still life subjects and for artistic imagery. A 135mm lens can of course be used for landscape photography.
This is not a macro lens, but it can create very nice flower images.
While this is a full frame compatible lens, it works just as well on smaller-sensor cameras. Utilizing a smaller image circle means that APS-C sensor format cameras frame a scene more tightly, with 1.5x or 1.6x being the multiplier (FOVCF) used to determine the full frame angle of view equivalent. Multiplying 135mm by 1.6x yields 216mm, indicating the full frame angle of view taken in by this lens.
The uses for 216mm angle of view mirror those for 135mm with a longer working distance required for similar framing of similarly-sized subjects. With the tight angle of view afforded by the over-200mm-like angle of view, large and close wildlife photography becomes a more-realistic use for this lens (with MF-only limitations being considered).
An f/2 aperture is very wide for a 135mm lens – the widest available and 1 stop wider than the widest zoom lens covering 135mm.
A big advantage of a wide aperture is the amount of light transmitted to the sensor, allowing for shutter speeds capable of stopping both camera and subject motion blur in low light. A perhaps more commonly appreciated wide aperture advantage for a manual focus lens is the shallow depth of field availed, permitting background distractions to be reduced or eliminated via blur. With a minimum focus distance subject, we see the maximum blur potential of this lens along with the difference between apertures in the following example.
Is there a difference between f/2 and f/2.8? Absolutely. And, if you are using a lens with an f/5.6 max aperture at 135mm (including some of the kit lenses), the difference is huge. The strong f/2 background blur never grows old and sets images apart from the crowd.
As mentioned in the beginning of this review, this is a manual aperture lens. While the camera’s autoexposure system can still be used, the aperture is *always* manually set via an aperture ring located near the lens mount. The camera’s Tv mode will work the same as full manual mode. You can change the shutter speed, but the aperture ring will also have to be manually turned to affect the final exposure. Note that the (unchipped) lens will not report the selected aperture to the camera and the aperture setting will not be recorded in the captured image’s EXIF information.
While the camera’s autoexposure can be used, I found it to be inaccurate at stopped down apertures (overexposing) using the unchipped lens. When performing lens tests, I am frequently stepping through the available apertures to identify image quality changes. Using Av mode (I pick the aperture and the camera selects the shutter speed) often makes this process easy, but not in this case. The site’s standard vignetting results are captured utilizing Av mode and the brightness difference showing at f/8 is especially obvious. My Samyang 135 experience has been great using manual exposures, though AE mode can be successfully used if +/- exposure compensation and a very narrow range of apertures are being used. Keep in mind that using manual exposure mode can be challenging if shooting under rapidly changing light conditions.
The aperture adjustment is easy (simply turn the aperture ring), but you need to know that click stops are in 1/2 stop increments. If you are used to making 1/3 stop adjustments in-camera (often the default), care must be taken to match manual exposure adjustments (shutter speed and ISO) to those made on the lens. Adjusting three clicks on the camera and three clicks with the ring is what my mind wants me to do.
Note that there is one exception to the half stop aperture settings – the half stop between f/16 and f/22 is not available. I’m guessing that few will care about this missing half stop setting, but for those that do, stopping the ring in between the click stops is possible. The “cine” version of this lens, with its de-clicked aperture, may make more sense for those requiring higher aperture precision.
Depth of field preview is always enabled on the Samyang 135. With a manual aperture implementation physically closing down the aperture, the viewfinder (or Live View) is always showing the stopped down view (unless f/2 is selected of course). While seeing the actual depth of field at the selected aperture can be advantageous, a certain downside is the darkened viewfinder provided at narrow aperture settings. At f/2, the viewfinder is bright. At f/5.6, there is noticeable darkening and it continues to darken as the lens is stopped down further. My preference is to compose (for the brighter viewfinder) and focus (better precision with a shallower DOF) with the aperture set to f/2, then adjust the aperture to the desired setting prior to photographing.
When picking up a lens that I am unfamiliar with, I am always anxious to see how sharp its images are, especially at the widest aperture. In this case, the results were sweet to the eyes. At f/2, images are very sharp in the center of the frame and incredibly sharp in extreme full frame corners. Stopping down to f/2.8 results in only minor improvement in sharpness. More surprising is that, using a flat target perfectly aligned in the center of the plane of sharp focus, practically no change is seen over the entire aperture range until the softening effects of diffraction are reached. I could even make the argument that the results at f/5.6, still wider than the DLA, appear slightly softer than the f/2.8 results. While the f/2.8 results are excellent, I expected to see at least a small amount of improvement.
Further testing and an in-the-wild subject helped identify what is going on. Following are some examples designed to show the sharpness of this lens. These images were captured in RAW format using a Canon EOS 5Ds R. Raw conversion was done using in DPP with the Standard Picture Style selected and sharpness set to “1” (very low). Shown are 100% resolution crops. The first set of examples are from the center of the frame.
Look for the center of the depth of field in these crops. Typically, finding the details that change the least between the widest two apertures gives us a good idea of where the center of the DOF is. When stopping down, details in front of that plane should sharpen similarly to those the same distance behind it. In this case, the details in the foreground show little change while the background details show significant sharpening as depth of field increases.
What we are seeing here is some focus shift. While the focused-on subject remains in good focus, the increasing depth of field goes strongly behind that plane as the aperture is narrowed. Going back to my preference of composing and focusing using a wide open aperture … that may not be such a good idea with this lens. Focusing while stopped down will account for the focus shift that comes with doing so. Fully-zoomed Live View and a tripod of course make this task easier.
Let’s next take a look at some amazing corners. The first set of images are taken from the extreme bottom left of the frame.
I can find nothing to complain about in these samples. If every one of my lenses delivered corner performance like that, I’d be … ecstatic.
Here is an example set taken from the extreme bottom right corner of the frame.
Again, this performance is quite remarkable.
As usual, when looking at corner results with a wide open aperture, the effects of vignetting are going to show. There is roughly 3-stops of darkening in this lens’ corners, an amount modestly stronger than the competing models. By f/2.8, about half of the shading is gone and a just-noticeable 1-stop remains at f/4. The .4 stops of corner shading will seldom be noticed at f/5.6 and rarely (never?) will the .2 stops at f/8 be recognizable.
Lateral (transverse) CA (Chromatic Aberration) is very well controlled and is only slightly recognizable even when trying to find it. Here is a worst case example showing meridional lines having very strong contrast running through the top left corner of an ultra-high resolution 5Ds R image (100% crop).
Very little fringing color is seen here. Although it will seldom need to be corrected, this aberration is easily correctable with a relatively low amount of pixel-level destruction.
Axial (longitudinal, bokeh) CA and spherical aberration (along with spherochromatism), are also present in very low amounts (especially low for a wide aperture lens). In this first example, selected to bring out the worst of these aberrations, only minor color fringing shows in front of and behind the plane of sharp focus.
Notice the blur outline colors changing from the foreground to the background? Here is another example showing the same:
Again, although present, the amounts are not strong.
The night sky can bring out the worst in the corners of the frame. While even a relatively short exposure will show some star trails at 135mm, the stars remain small, sharp streaks in Samyang 135 f/2 images. This example was taken from the top right corner of the frame where signs of coma are hard to find.
Telephoto lenses seldom like bright lights within their angle of view and this one is not different in this regard. With the sun in the frame, a strong veiling flare will be present.
From a linear distortion perspective, this lens is straight line-ready.
The above example shows an entire top of a full frame image border. Beautiful is that the lines all remain parallel, indicating negligible distortion.
Also beautiful is this lens’ bokeh. We have established that this lens can create a strong amount of background blur, but the quality of that blur appears very nice. Here are some f/5.6 examples of out-of-focus specular highlights.
While the normal concentric rings can be seen around the borders of specular highlights, the outer transition is not harsh and the centers are very smooth. With an aperture blade count of 9, distant point light sources captured with a narrow aperture and showing a star-like effect will have 18 points.
Here is another look at the blur this lens can create:
Overall, the Samyang 135mm f/2 ED UMC Lens is a very strong performer from an image quality perspective. I wish that focus shift was not present, but … with a manual aperture lens, that is a relatively easily surmountable obstacle. Especially when the price is considered.
The focus speed of this lens is … completely dependent on how fast you can turn the manual focus ring. As already noted, this is a manual focusing lens – autofocus is not available. While MF-only simplifies a lens from a design and construction (and testing) standpoints, it limits the lens’ usefulness for certain applications. Most will find focusing a 135mm lens at f/2 using the viewfinder to be challenging (and viewing the results will likely be frustrating) – at least if not using a viewfinder MF aid such as a split prism.
While some versions of this lens include a focus confirmation chip, I do not find DSLR focus confirmation lights to be accurate enough to count on for manual focusing. Fully zoomed Live View manual focusing or the equivalent (such as using a tethered laptop) is the ideal way to focus this lens.
Of primary importance in a MF-only lens is the manual focus ring. The Samyang 135mm f/2 Lens’ MF ring features a significantly long 200° of rotation, making very precise focusing easy. This lens is very easy to precisely focus at minimum focus distance and also at infinity. The focus ring is slightly stiffer than I would prefer, but it is smooth with no play.
Focus distances are printed on the focus ring (in both ft and m) and a DOF scale covering f/11 and narrower apertures is provided. The MFD (Minimum Focus Distance) and most-infinite (past infinity focus usually) focusing distances are hard stops, making focus setting marks repeatable. Subjects change size modestly over the focus distance range, especially over the closer distance range.
I’ve already talked about the focus shift issue, but I’ll share an example with you, hopefully clarifying what is happening.
In the f/2 example, we see the plane of sharp focus running through the Datacolor SpyderLensCal’s “0” line. As the aperture is stopped down, the center of the plane moves backward slightly, effectively shifting the focus distance rearward.
Samyang does not publish the MM (Maximum Magnification) spec for this lens, but some observations can help us get close to that value. First, the Samyang 135mm f/2 Lens shares a 31.5″ (800mm) MFD (Minimum Focus Distance) spec with the Zeiss 135mm f/2 Lens. The Zeiss precisely frames our test target from a slightly longer distance than the Samyang (though this difference may not necessarily be reflected at MFD). Still, with the Zeiss having a 0.25x MM spec, we can guess that the Samyang has a close-to-that spec. And, that is a nice number for a non-macro lens.
Here a comparison table showing the MFD and MM specs of similarly-spec’d lenses along with a set of 135mm-covering f/2.8 zooms.
ModelMFDMM Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM Lens35.4″(900mm)0.19x Nikon 135mm f/2D AF DC Lens48.0″(1220mm)0.14x Samyang 135mm f/2 ED UMC Lens31.5″(800mm)n/a Zeiss 135mm f/2.0 Apo Sonnar T* Lens31.5″(800mm)0.25x Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens47.2″(1200mm)0.21x Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G AF-S VR II Lens55.1″(1400mm)0.12x Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Lens55.1″(1400mm)0.13x Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Lens51.2″(1300mm)0.13x
The wildflower images shown in the two aperture comparisons presented above are examples of this lens’ MFD and MM capabilities. The pictured flowers measure about 3″ (76mm). While not a macro lens, this lens and the background blur it can create can certainly be used for flower photography.
To reduce the MFD and thereby increase the MM, mount an extension tube behind this lens. Infinity and long distance focusing are sacrificed with an ET in use.
Build Quality & Features
By default, a 135mm f/2 lens design requires a lot of glass. Glass is heavy and this lens is dense. It feels substantial when you pick it up.
While the Samyang 135mm f/2 Lens does not change overall size when focusing, the front and rear elements both shift backward within the lens barrel at infinity and forward at MFD. The rear element travels a significant distance. In use, you will not likely notice any of the movement as the camera covers the mount and the lens barrel shields the front element’s movement.
This lens is basic in appearance and very similar to the other Samyang lenses. There are no buttons and no functions available that could make use of such.
The lens hood and other exterior barrel parts are made of quality plastic with exception of the aperture ring. It is also made of plastic and it has worked fine for me, but I’m not yet ready to give that ring the “quality” qualifier. The focus ring consumes much of the lens barrel and much of the focus ring gets the standard ribbed-rubber cover treatment.
As generally determinable by the lack of a gasket at the lens mount, this lens is not weather-sealed. The moving front element design could certainly be aided in this regard by a filter. Even with that added protection, the lens should be covered if wet or dusty conditions possible.
While Samyang provides a mount alignment mark under the rear cap, I would appreciate this mark being visible from the side of the lens or when the cap is on.
As mentioned, 135mm f/2 lenses, due to their optical requirements, are not going to be lightweight additions to the kit. Still, they are easily manageable and not too large. And, the competing models are all similar in size and weight. I included some 70-200mm lenses in the table below as these are a very popular options for covering the 135mm focal length, though with a 1-stop narrower max aperture.
ModelWeightDimensions w/o HoodFilterYear Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM Lens26.5 oz(750g)3.3 x 4.4″(83.0 x 112.0mm)72mm1996 Nikon 135mm f/2D AF DC Lens28.8 oz(815g)3.1 x 4.7″(79.0 x 120.0mm)72mm1995 Samyang 135mm f/2 ED UMC Lens29.3 oz(830g)3.2 x 4.8″(82.0 x 122.0mm)77mm2015 Zeiss 135mm f/2.0 Apo Sonnar T* Lens32.8 oz(930g)3.3 x 4.3″(84.0 x 108.0mm)77mm2012 Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens52.6 oz(1490g)3.5 x 7.8″(88.8 x 199.0mm)77mm2010 Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G AF-S VR II Lens54.4 oz(1540g)3.4 x 8.1″(87.0 x 205.5mm)77mm2009 Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Lens50.5 oz(1430g)3.4 x 7.8″(86.4 x 197.6mm)77mm2011 Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Lens51.9 oz(1470g)3.4 x 7.4″(85.8 x 188.3mm)77mm2012
For many more comparisons, review the complete Samyang 135mm f/2 ED UMC Lens Specifications using the site’s Lens Spec tool.
As photographers, we tend to be highly visual and a comparison image makes size differences especially clear to us.
Positioned above from left to right are the following lenses:
Zeiss 135mm f/2.0 Apo Sonnar T* Lens Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM Lens Nikon 135mm f/2D AF DC Lens Samyang 135mm f/2 ED UMC Lens
The same lenses are shown below with their hoods in place.
Use the site’s product image comparison tool to visually compare the Samyang 135mm f/2 ED UMC Lens to other lenses. I preloaded that link with a comparison that you might find interesting.
The Samyang 135mm f/2 Lens utilizes the ultra-popular 77mm filter size. While not small, these filters are frequently able to be shared with other lenses in the kit if necessary.
Samyang includes the lens hood in the box. This seemingly very durable matte plastic hood (inside and out) is substantial in thickness, making it quite rigid. The hood provides significant protection to the front element, including from light, impact, finger prints, etc.
Samyang also includes a simple lens pouch in the box.
And, here is that box:
Price and Value
At half the price of the Canon 135mm f/2L, less than half the price of the Nikon 135mm f/2 and roughly 1/4 of the price of the Zeiss 135mm f/2, it is easy to call the Samyang 135mm f/2 a bargain. With its focal length and wide max aperture, this lens, as mentioned in the beginning of the review, is one of the highest bokeh per dollar lenses available. For a relatively low price, it can create a great background blur.
The Samyang 135mm f/2 Lens is available in Canon (reviewed), Nikon, Sony/Minolta and Pentax K mounts along with versions for Fujifilm X and Four Thirds mounts. I always include a disclaimer in third party lens reviews, explaining that there are potential compatibility issues with these, typically involving a new camera and an older lens. However, the risk of incompatibilities between a fully manual lens and a DSLR is very minimal. I see this risk being very low. Samyang warrants this lens for 1 year.
The evaluated Samyang 135mm f/2 Lens was sourced online/retail.
Alternatives to the Samyang 135mm f/2 ED UMC Lens
I have already addressed the Samyang’s price advantage over the competition, but I’ll mention this again as price is a very strong differentiator in the marketplace. The Canon and Nikon 135mm lenses hold the very-often-important autofocus advantage. Of course, the Zeiss 135 is also a manual focus lens, though it has far superior build quality, a value that will be immediately recognized by professionals.
In the Canon vs. Samyang image quality comparison, we see the Samyang competing very strongly at f/2 with better corner performance. By f/4, with the Samyang’s focus shift coming into stronger play, the Canon pulls ahead in the center of the frame performance (without making adjustments for the focus shift). The Canon has about 1 stop less vignetting in the corners at f/2 but it has slightly more LatCA.
The Zeiss 135mm f/2 lens, aside from lacking AF, is near perfection. Perfection from both image quality and build quality standpoints. It is an amazing lens. In the Zeiss vs. Samyang image quality comparison, The Zeiss is noticeably sharper in the center of the frame at f/2 and the advantage grows even stronger as the lens is stopped down. If these lenses were equally priced, there would be no question which I’d buy. But, they are not and that is the Samyang’s advantage.
The 70-200mm f/2.8 class lenses have a versatility advantage over the Samyang 135mm f/2. Advantages include AF, a wide range of focal lengths and sometimes image stabilization, but … those features come at a price (size, weight and cost) and the f/2 aperture is one stop wider.
If you are looking for a value-priced fast telephoto lens, the Samyang 135mm f/2 ED UMC Lens is a good option to consider. At review time, it is the only value priced 135mm f/2 lens available. For a low price, this lens can deliver excellent image quality and imagery that garners attention.
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