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Field Review: Rokinon 85mm F/1.4 (Day 2- Street Photography with the 5D Mk II)

by Chris Gampat on 06/15/2011

After wrapping my fingers around the Rokinon 85mm F/1.4 and becoming comfortable enough to shoot with it, I ventured out around downtown Manhattan with a co-worker one day after work. Since I’m a visually impaired photographer, I thought that shooting with a manual focus lens would be tougher than normal. With that in mind though I remembered the great Cartier-Bresson’s words, “Sharpness is overrated.”

So I went out and just tried to create great images.

Gear Used

Canon 5D Mk II

Rokinon 85mm F/1.4

Out of Camera (Without Editing)

Straight out of the Canon 5D Mk II, the Rokinon 85mm renders some of the best skin tones I’ve ever seen while muting other colors very slightly. However, the colors aren’t terribly muted or look bad at all. Also keep in mind that the Canon 5D Mk II has very good color depth, so the colors can be saturated and the luminance can be adjusted to however the photographer pleases.

Street Portraits

With the Rokinon attached, I honestly feel like the Canon 5D Mk II’s metering suddenly became the best I’ve ever used. Each image I shot was done with exceptional accuracy that required little editing later on. I’ve almost never experienced this with Canon’s own lenses.

The image above looks like the entire scene is blown out, but according to Lightroom it really isn’t. Evaluative metering was used while shooting and I also worked to balance the light between the man on the right and the rest of the scene. With that said, the calculations that I’ve been taught previously in college worked perfectly fine.

Sunny 16 Rule

While I’m on the subject of calculations, it should be noted that since focusing manually with a lens like this can be difficult, I relied much upon the sunny 16 rule of photography: which states that at F/16, a good exposure in bright sunlight can be taken with your shutter speed being set to the reciprocal of your ISO.

So that means:

100 ISO = 1/100th

1000 ISO = 1/1000th

Using this rule, I was often able to nail great street photos with the Rokinon. However, almost every image looked better after some editing.

With that said though, let’s once again keep in mind that I’ve stated that this lens renders skin tones the best of almost any lens I’ve used, and so street photography may not necessarily be its forte, but the colors it can give still don’t totally knock it out of the market. In fact, it bests nearly any L zoom lens that I’ve used—even the new 70-200mm F/2.8 L II by Canon.

If it bests that, it wipes the floor with the Sigma version that we reviewed.

When shooting, it’s nice to have the distance scale at the top of the lens: which proves to be very accurate at times.

Shooting Random Stuff Totally Randomly

Ready for the killer part? This lens is very, very sharp wide open at F/1.4. Sure, focusing at that F-stop will be hard unless you’re in Live View or unless you have a split focusing screen, but when you nail it you’ll be floored by what it can do. It’s too bad that the lens doesn’t have a focus confirmation chip of any sort.

For street photography, shooting with a fast 85mm lens like this will force you to require your brain a bit when it comes to shooting. For starters, it’s all manual glass, so you can’t rely on autofocusing: something that Canon has worked hard on especially with their latest camera models.

Second, you’ll need to make the decision of whether you want to shoot wide open to get that gorgeous bokeh but risk not getting the image in focus or whether stopping the lens down will be more beneficial to you. And if you stop the lens down, the viewfinder will become very dark. Either way, it forces you to make more conscious and painstaking decisions. And with that in mind, you may not always get your subject sharply in focus.

Even if you don’t get your subjects sharply in focus though, do note that the bokeh on this lens is wonderful and may steal the show in your images.

Color Rendering

As stated earlier, the color rendering from this lens is muted and therefore renders skin tones very well. But if you’re going for a particular look (like if you’re trying to photograph a dark and grungy scene) you’ll appreciate what this lens can do for you.

With that in mind though, during my time I’ve also noticed that the cooler end of the color spectrum tends to be rendered much better than the warmer end. The image above wasn’t edited very much. However, there was quite a bit done to the image below to make the colors pop more.

 

So far, I can’t make any finite judgements yet on the Rokinon, but for the money it seems to be very much worth it.

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