Review: Rokinon 300mm f6.3 ED UMC CS (Sony NEX)

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Before I say anything about this lens, I’ll say that I don’t normally work in the long telephoto range, and I’ve never had any experience with a mirror lens. Having said that, what I expected this lens to look like and what it actually looked like were two completely different things. When I heard that I’d be reviewing a 300mm lens for the Sony NEX-6 I have on loan from Chris Gampat, I thought I’d be lugging around a beast, but I was delightfully mistaken. The Rokinon 300mm has a curious optical design that I’ll talk about later which is known as a mirror lens for those of you never aware of them, and it has a penchant for doughnut-shaped bokeh. With a fixed aperture, fixed focal length, and no autofocus, this lens sits in a niche. Herein lies my review.

Pros and Cons

Pros

-Lightweight

-Doughnut bokeh

-Affordable price

-Given the optical design, there isn’t any chromatic aberration

Cons

-Not the sharpest lens in the bag

-Image quality is mostly mediocre

Gear Used

I used the Rokinon 300mm f6.3 ED UMC CS with the Sony NEX-6.

Tech Specs

Tech specs courtesy of B&H’s listing:

Focal Length 300 mm
Comparable 35mm Focal Length: 450 mm
Aperture Maximum: f/6.3
Camera Mount Type Sony (E Mount for NEX)
Format Compatibility Sony NEX (APS-C)
Angle of View 5.5°
Minimum Focus Distance 2.95′ (90 cm)
Magnification Not Specified By Manufacturer
Groups/Elements 9/9
Diaphragm Blades None
Filter Thread None
Dimensions (DxL) Approx. 2.6 x 2.9″ (65 x 74 mm)
Weight 11.2 oz (318 g)

Ergonomics

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This lens’s optical construction is what gives it its characteristic lightness. What happens with a lens like this is that light passes through the front element around the black disk and is reflected off the mirror at the back, closest to the camera itself. The reflected light is then reflected off the mirror at the front (that black disk you see), and that light then hits the sensor, thus rendering your image. That front mirror also gives images a distinctive doughnut-shaped bokeh, but we’ll get to that later in the image quality section.

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The focusing ring is where all the magic happens, and like all of Rokinon’s optics, it’s wonderfully large. Just below the lens is the depth of field scale, which is helpful to a degree. The minimum focusing distance is around 3 ft, and you have to keep the 300mm focal length in mind. You won’t be taking any portraits three feet away. The focusing ring is the only control you have with this lens as the aperture is fixed at 6.3. Adjust your ISO and shutter speed accordingly.

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The lens comes with a plastic hood that nearly doubles the length of the lens, and it can be reversed. You’ll still be able to focus with the lens hood reversed.

Build Quality

The Rokinon 300mm f6.3 is a sturdy little thing with a metal body and rubberized focusing ring. Its compact and lightweight which is perfect for the paparazzo who can only afford to shoot at a distance, and given the price of the lens, it is far easier to replace if you happen to get in a tussle with your starlet of choice. It feels good in the hand, and while it is very affordable, it doesn’t feel cheaply constructed.

Focusing

Focusing is strictly manual, as with all of Rokinon’s lenses, and given that it’s an NEX lens, you’ll have to rely on either the LCD or the EVF. The trouble is that everything is very delicate at this focal length, and the slightest twitch can throw it way off. Fortunately, the NEX-6 has focus peaking which is a major boon if the LCD or EVF proves too troublesome for your eyes, like it can for mine on occasion. The focusing ring is smooth, but once you’re close to your focusing point, you’ll have to move the ring a bit slower to get it just right, lest you should throw it off.

Ease of Use

Mount it, aim, and focus. That’s all there is to it, really. The focal length may take some getting used to if you don’t typically work at this distance, but you’ll get over that quickly. The focusing can be a bit tricky, but it’s a study in steady hands.

Image Quality

If image quality isn’t at the very top of your list, then this lens will work for you. Photographs are not wonderfully sharp, nor do the colors really pop. Mirror lenses have been bemoaned by the photography community, but they’re a mixed bag of advantages and disadvantages.

Minor tweaks were done in Lightroom 5.

Bokeh

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The bokeh is probably this lenses largest selling point, if you’re into unique bokeh. Given the mirror at the front, your bokeh comes in the shape of doughnuts which can be a bit confusing at first, but once you get past that, it’ll give your images a distinctive look. Granted, you’ll have to do some work in post to get the image to where you want it to be.

Sharpness

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You’re not buying this lens for its sharpness. That’s not to say it can’t render crisp images, but traditional lenses with similar focal lengths will probably give you sharper results. Remember the image in this lens is reflected twice, whereas it’s refracted with traditional lenses. Some sharpness will be lost.

Color Fringing

This isn’t an issue with this lens. What you lose in sharpness, you gain in chromatic aberration. That is to say there isn’t any. At least, none that I could see, which if you’re using this lens in the capacity as a paparazzo is a major benefit.

Color Rendering

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Colors are muted at best. You can make them pop in post, but don’t expect the lens to reproduce the color spectrum beautifully in camera. You’ll have to do a bit of work to get what you want.

Extra Image Samples

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Conclusions

This lens is unlike any I’ve used, primarily in the way it renders images. It’s a super-telephoto for a super-low price, and if you want a lens this long in a traditional construction, you’ll have to shell out a lot more. If you’re a paparazzo looking for something affordable, and replaceable in the event of a fisticuff, you’ve found your answer in this lens. This could even work for astrophotography if you’ve got the time and ideal location. There are tradeoffs with a mirror lens (most notably in overall image quality), but if you don’t mind them, then it’s definitely worth the purchase.

You can pick it up from Amazon.

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