Introduction & build quality
The Samyang 85mm F1.4 AF for Sony E-Mount is a recent addition to the Samyang AF line, which is getting more and more complete, being at 7 AF lenses now and catering many different focal lengths (14, 24, 35, 50 and 85 mm) and shooting scenarios (e.g. 35/1.4 vs. 35/2.8). This is my first AF lens from Samyang, previously I owned the MF only 135mm F2, which was a great lens optically, but I needed AF at that focal length.
The 85 mm F1.4 AF is of similar squat format as the Sony 85mm F1.4 GM, but it is a bit smaller (88mm x 99.5 mm vs. 89mm x 112mm) and quite a bit lighter (568 g vs. 820g) than the latter. I briefly owned the Sony FE 85mm F1.8, which is again smaller and lighter, but it was a lens that I never warmed up with (already had the Batis 135mm F2.8 for outdoor family photography), so I passed it on to a friend a couple of months ago. Recently, I started to venture into studio (off-camera flash, soft-box) portrait photography and I realised a fast 85mm prime could be quite useful for that task and after some online reading, I took the plunge and ordered a Samyang 85mm F1.4 AF.
If you want to see a comparison of all 6 (!) 85mm AF primes currently available for Sony full-frame mirrorless cameras, I highly recommend to check out Dustin Abott’s great comparison effort on youtube.
As it is always a good idea to test each lens copy (sample variation), in the following I will present some of my own tests done with my copy of the lens. Build quality is quite nice, with a metal hull and a nicely damped manual focus ring (focus by wire only) and the signature red ring of Samyang lenses. The lens is supposed to be weather sealed, but does not have a rubber gasket at the lens mount to prevent dust and moisture coming in.
The lens is constructed using 11 optical elements in 8 groups and uses dual linear servo motors to move a rather small focusing group, which makes focusing quick and almost silent. It has a minimum focus distance of 0.9 meters, which results in a magnification ratio of 0.11.
The lens balances quite nicely on my A7III and for me, there is enough space between the grip and the lens body for my fingers, but I do not have very big hands…
The sharpness test below was done at infinity, the church in the middle is about 800 m away from my location. I manually focused on the center and then stopped down the lens without refocusing, and took one image at each full f-stop using a 2s self-timer on a sturdy tripod. All images are based on a 24MP Sony A7III.
While the center and mid-frame are sharp from F1.4 and only see a boost of contrast when stopping down,
the extreme corner is a bit softer at F1.4 and needs about F4 to reach the sharpness of the rest of the frame. At first I thought that the softer corner might be due out-of-focus, as the corner church is only about 500 m away from me (opposed to the church in the center at 800 m), but according to a DOF calculator, everything from 140 m to infinity should be in focus when focused at 800 m with a 85 mm lens at 1.4 on a 24 MP full-frame camera (Classic DOF calculator in PhotoPills, iOS app, highly recommended). I repeated the test using only objects at the same distance to the camera (~800m) and on my A7III, the Samyang is sharp from F1.4 across the frame. Only contrast gets a boost from 1.4 to 2 and vignetting gets less until F2.8 or F4, but the sharpness is there for all f-stops and in all parts of the frame. Excellent performance.
But the main application of a fast 85mm prime is likely not landscape, so it more relevant how the sharpness at closer distances is.
Sunstar & Lensflare
This tests reveals the size, shape and internal structure of bokeh balls at various distances and locations in the frame, both wide open at F1.4 (first image) and stopped down in an aperture series.
The observations can be summarised as follows:
- The bokeh balls are very clean, with no internal structure and no outlining, which should result in generally smooth bokeh.
- There is strong mechanical vignetting, resulting in cat-eye or football shaped balls towards the corners of the frame. We’ll see the effect of this behaviour in the next section.
- Stopping down, the shape of the balls gets more “round” across the frame (e.g. F2.8), but then revealing the nonagonal shape of the 9 aperture blades.
I took shots of this small wind-bicycle at varying distances to see if the bokeh remains smooth with larger distances to the object, even for this complex background. As expected from above, the bokeh is quite smooth (no outlining, lowish contrast), and the rather strong mechanical vignetting (cats eyes) cause a swirly bokeh. This becomes very apparent at larger distances from the object (e.g. images 3 and 4), in particular when viewed as thumbnails as below. It is a bit less obvious in the full-size images, but it is still very apparent.
Based on what I have seen online (e.g. here and here from the team at phillipreeve.net) of the 85 GM so far, the main difference seems to be the likely a little less smooth bokeh rendering and the stronger cat eyes in the corners, causing swirly bokeh at longer distances with complex backgrounds. If these differences are worth the difference in price (almost 2-3 times, depending on where you live in the world) and weight (250g), is up to you and your constraints and shooting scenarios for a fast 85mm prime. According to Dustin Abott’s test, the AF of the Samyang is actually faster than the GM and it is nearly silent, which again, might or might not make a big difference to you.