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Samyang 35 mm f/1.4 AS UMC Review – Part 2

In the first part of the review , we had a look at the build quality, general look and feel of the Samyang 35mm f/1.4 AS UMC lens. We also included some real world unedited samples shot with this lens.

Now we’ll have a closer look and examine the photo quality. When we were taking the real world samples, we already noticed the lens has excellent optical quality so we want to see how good it actually is by comparing it with one of the best 35mm f/1.4 lens available, the Nikon AFS 35mm f/1.4G. The autofocus Nikon AFS 35mm f/1.4G’s price tag is more than 3 times that of the manual focus Samyang so can the Samyang give the Nikkor a good fight?


The Sharpness Test
First let’s look at the sharpness.

We’ll compare both the center image qualtiy and corner image quality. Red rectangle is the centre crop area, Blue rectangle is the corner crop area.

All test photos were shot with a D700. Camera on a Manfrotto 055 MF3 tripod with 804RC2 head. Manual Focus with liveview at maximum magnification. Camera in timer mode to minimise camera shake. Fine JPG.

Let’s look at center image quality first. Below is the 100% crop at different aperture. Left is from the Nikon AFS 35mm f/1.4G, right is from the Samyang 35mm f/1.4 AS UMC

Both lenses are excellent and output great quality images even at f/1.4. The Samyang seems to be slightly better at wide open, a little bit sharper than the Nikkor and also less CA as well. The image quality improves when we stop down. The best image quality seems to be at around f/5.6.

Now what about the corner image quality? Below is the 100% crop near the image edge.

Surprisingly, the Samyang is still the better performer at the corner. Even at f/1.4 the image is very sharp with lots of details. The Nikkor’s f/1.4 corner image quality is actually quite good when compare to most other fast prime lenses. Stop it down to around f/4 and we get very good image quality. But even at f/8, the Nikkor still can’t matches the Samyang’s ability to resolve fine details at corner.

So I think we can say the Samyang is the slightly sharper lens, but a lens isn’t just about how sharp it is, what about the out of focus i.e. bokeh quality?
The Bokeh Test
For this test, we set the focus distance to 1 m and took the same set of photos with these two lenses, and there is a 100% crop to show the difference in bokeh.

The Nikkor’s bokeh is beautiful. It’s quite smooth, round (thanks to it’s rounded 9-Blade Diaphragm) and bokeh remain round even when stop down to f/5.6. The Samyang’s bokeh is not bad at all, but it’s slightly nervous. And while the bokeh is quite round at wide open, once you stop down to f/2.8, the bokeh from the 8 (slightly curved) blade aperture is not round anymore. The transition is also not as smooth as the Nikon. It’s not horrible, just not as good as the Nikkor.
The Vignetting
So how about the vignetting? Here are the results.

Both lenses has very noticeable vignetting at f/1.4 (but normal when compare to other fast prime lenses), you have to stop down to f/2.8 for the vignetting to become not so visible. And comparing the two lenses, it appears to me the Nikon AFS 35mm f/1.4G has slightly less vignetting at wide open than the Samyang. But the difference is so small that i don’t think it really matters under normal use.
The Rest
The Nikkor has a big golden “N” label on the lens. It means Nano coating, Nikon’s secret weapon to reduce flare and maintain good contrast when you are shooting towards bright light source. It makes a huge difference when you are shooting towards a strong light source and you get very very little lens flare and contrast remains very high. The Samyang doesn’t have the Nano coating but surprisingly the flare resistance is still very good. I have took at least a dozen photos where there is a very strong light source visible and shinning towards the camera but I never get much flare and contrast never drops too low. If you have check out the sample photos from part 1 of this review, there is one photo that i shot directly towards the sun and i only get very little flare and the contrast is still quite good. It’s clearly that the Nikkor is definitely the better in this area but the Samyang is not bad at all when there is a strong light source in front of the camera. It’s flare resistance performance is probably one of the best among all the non-Nano coating lens I’ve ever used.
The Nikkor seems to be slightly better than the Samyang in terms of light transmission. When I compare the photos from each lens with exact same settings, the image from Samyang appears to be slightly dimmer. The difference is actually quite small, but is enough to be noticeable when you put two photo side by side.
The Conclusions
The Samyang 35mm f/1.4 AS UMC is simply an amazing lens! The build quality is good, i love how smooth the manual focus ring and it feels very solid when you hold it in your hands. But not only does it feel good when you hold it, the image quality is also excellent as well. Even when we compare it to the Nikon AFS 35mm f/1.4G, one of the latest and best 35mm f/1.4 lens, the Samyang’s performance is on par in almost every single area (and better in some areas!) Bokeh is probably this lens’s weakest area but having said that, it’s weakest only because it’s exceptional performance in all the other areas and there is not much else i can complain.
Obviously for a lot of people, there is one biggest short coming with this Samyang lens, it’s a manual focus lens. But if you don’t shoot too many fast moving objects, and want a wide fast prime lens with first class optical quality, a pretty good build quality and don’t want to sell a leg and an arm to pay for it, you really have to have a look at the Samyang 35mm f/1.4 AS UMC. Currently it’s the #2 lens at DxoMark’s lens ranking chart, beating all those expensive Sony Zeiss, Canon L, and Nikkor gold ring lenses! And I think our test results definitely agree with that.

And before we finish, here are a few some more real world samples, all shot at wide open (f/1.4), again all are unedited JPG straight from camera.

For comments and discussions, please go to the forum:

Reviewer: Richard Wong

Richard is an award winning wedding/portrait Photographer based in Auckland, New Zealand. Richard’s website is www.photobyrichard.com and his facebook page is http://www.facebook.com/pages/Photo-by-Richard/113755425305636

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