Field Review: Rokinon 85mm F/1.4 (Day 3- Portraits with Flash)

In Day 2 of the field review, I concluded that stopping down a lot would often making focusing with the Rokinon 85mm F/1.4 much simpler. And then the portrait test came. With me often stopping down to F/2.8, F/4 or F/5.6, I’d need to really ensure that my focusing was spot on.

And oh man, was this difficult.

Gear Used

Canon 5D Mk II

Rokinon 85mm F/1.4

Canon 580 EX II

ExpoImaging Ray Flash

Impressions of Focusing Manually

If you remember from Day 1, I stated that focusing this lens is very smooth and you’ll need to be careful about placement of your subject and pay attention to the distance meter on top of the lens. I really, really have to say that focusing this lens through the viewfinder was a pain and I often didn’t totally nail accurate focusing. So I needed to figure out a way to remedy the problem:

– By turning the camera’s Live View on, I still got a dark image showing up. Raising the ISO or slowing down the shutter speed would cause me need to reset the settings again. While this is a route one can take, it’s a bit of a pain to do.

– First off I needed to ensure that Steph stayed absolutely still when I was shooting her. So when I shot, I told her to keep her pose and that I’d show her the images right after when I would tell her that I’m all done.

– I needed to use the distance meter up top very carefully and really pay attention to the distance between me and Steph.

– I needed to pay very close attention to what was in my viewfinder.

After trial and error, I finally nailed the focusing to be pretty spot on.

With the Ray Flash

The Ray Flash is extremely fun to use and perhaps one of the best ring flash attachments I’ve used for on-camera flashes. The opening image of this story was shot with the Ray Flash and the Rokinon 85mm F/1.4. What’s notable is the way that this lens not only flattens the perspective (the way all longer focal lengths do) but also allows you to have quicker control over the flash exposure due to the aperture ring around the lens. It’s quite easy to use and I actually prefer it to the back dial of the 5D Mk II for studio use.

What becomes difficult to do is changing your position and then having the refocus. Actually, focusing up close (about 3.5 feet) is amazingly difficult to do: especially at the wider apertures.

Once you get focusing down to a system, though, you’ll see that the results are absolutely worth it. It also helps to know what you’re doing with manual flash usage because the Ray Flash wasn’t playing so nicely with Canon’s E-TTL system when mounted on the 580 EX II.

With Bounce Flash (And My Failure)

I failed. I failed to achieve absolute and perfect focusing with the Rokinon 85mm F/1.4 and the Canon 5D Mk II for these next couple of photos.

This setup required Steph to be on the piano in her room, play, and look back at me. While she’s playing though, she is moving ever so slightly: whether or not she realizes it.

I was by her door shooting vertically and aiming my 580 EX II towards a wall to my right: therefore illuminating Steph evenly and softly. It took so many photos to get her in focus or even close to it. So when shooting, I’d take a photo, inspect everywhere to see what was in focus and adjust accordingly.

I usually am able to get the perfect photo that I want in one to three shots, but this time it took around 10 to even get close. As stated previously in the review, a split focusing screen would have been a godsend at this point.

In the end, I was never able to get the photo perfectly focused on her face, but I was able to get it fairly close.

So How’s the Image Quality?

Human error aside, the image quality from the Rokinon 85mm F/1.4 is absolutely, positively breathtaking and when used with flashes, it can render not only human flesh tones, but other colors very well. Any photographer would love to get their hands on this lens providing that they can tame the focusing problems associated with it. After this test, I started to actually believe that this lens may have been specifically designed for studio photographers minus the lack of autofocus. However, if I had a modelling light with off-camera lights, it might have been easier to focus if I had just taken more time and care into doing so.

There’s still more to come in the review so stay tuned!

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Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.