I knew it would happen eventually. As I gradually grew out of my telephoto lens bubble I was so happy to stay in for a few years, it came time to look around for a decent wide-angle lens for travel photography, wide street shots, and one-shot landscapes (constantly having to stitch together shots with my 32mm Touit anytime I wanted a wide shot got tedious fast). So, about three years ago I scrounged around for a deal on a used Rokinon 16mm f/2. Although it was APS-c only, 16mm is still decently wide and f/2 is a nice aperture for low-light handheld shots.
Unabashedly a “plastic-fantastic” lens, does the Rokinon 16mm f/2 hold up on the a6500? After three years of shooting, let’s find out! As always, if you are unfamiliar with my lens review style, check this post first!
Full Name: Rokinon 16mm f/2 ED AS UMC CS
Dimensions: 3.27 inches/84 millimeters wide, 3.42 inches/86 millimeters long, with a moderate weight of 20 ounces/571 grams. Another couple inches of length are added with the hood, but only about an ounce or so of weight. Lens is available in nearly every mount out there: Canon EF-S, Nikon F, Sony E, Sony α, Fuji X, Samsung NX, Pentax K, Canon M, and m4/3.
Close-Focus: Marked at .66 feet/.2 meters, though the focus ring turns a tad past that
Price: Currently runs around $320 on most photography sites, three years ago I bought mine used for only $270. This same lens is also currently sold under the Samyang and Bower brand names.
Miscellaneous: 8-bladed aperture stopping down to f/22, 77mm filter size, petal-shaped plastic lens hood, manual focus only, 80 degrees of focus rotation, metal mount, pinch-style lens cap, electronic contacts (F-mount version) for EXIF/focus confirmation
Closest Competition: As of this writing, none. There are few wide-angle primes out there for APS-c cameras, especially those with fast apertures. The upcoming Laowa 15mm f/2 Zero-D looks great, though it is substantially more expensive, is E-mount only, and also covers a full-frame sensor.
At its price point, and obvious plastic construction, I didn’t exactly expect to be blown away once I got this lens in my hands. The Rokinon 16mm is an SLR lens, after all, and with its fast aperture, I knew it would be a relatively large optic to put in front of my a6500 and NEX-7. I did, however, have decent hopes for its optical performance out in the field. With all this put together, how does this lens stand up to my four pillars of shootability?
- Small size? Definitely not. There’s a lot of bulkiness to the Rokinon 16mm that lends it to take up a big chunk in one’s camera bag. On the flip side, unlike a slower wide-angle prime (like Voigtlaender’s compact optics), the lens with its huge focus ring actually sits pretty well in the hand!
- Light weight? Almost. On the a6500, the lens is surprisingly balanced for its size, owing mostly to the generous use of plastic in its construction. Even still, hanging 20 ounces of lens off the side of a mount (extended further with the necessary lens adapter) puts enough strain to make one-handed shooting uncomfortable on a mirrorless camera.
- Smooth operation? Yes! Surprisingly enough, the large focus ring is buttery smooth and its short focus throw makes quick focus acquisition a breeze. In addition, there are half-stops in between each aperture click, and it too operates without fuss. The metal mount is a nice touch as well, though the plastic lens hood is finicky and doesn’t securely lock in.
- Generally favorable optical performance? For its price, there really isn’t much to complain about. Taken as-is, though, it does have its issues that can noticeably affect critical work.
The Rokinon 16mm is designed to be a budget-friendly, decent performing lens. Its manufacturers took many steps necessary to cut costs, though they still managed to pack in a decent optical formula that I still shoot with to this day. In spite of its plastic construction, the lens has survived hell and high water both in and out of my camera bag. As such, I can gladly say this is one travel lens that can safely easily be used, but hardly abused.
The process of testing a wide-angle lens’ sharpness can be pretty finicky, especially when shooting a resolution chart. Unless the chart is poster-sized, the lens will be so close that when the center is in focus, the corners are out of the center’s depth-of-field. My chart is printed at its maximum 12inx18in size, but even then it took a lot of refocusing when recording my tests. It doesn’t make it any better that even besides this, the Rokinon 16mm suffers from some mild field curvature. This effect is most noticeable at wide apertures, but can still be seen at the pixel level at f/5.6.
When a subject is within the plane of focus, however, this humble prime produces sharp results.
Starting wide open, there’s a good amount of center detail that is robbed by a bit of veiling haze–the lens doesn’t precisely line up all the wavelengths at this aperture, so there’s a “gray area” of in-focus that isn’t quite there. By f/2.8 the veiling haze is gone and a contrast bump helps perceived resolution greatly. Detail seems to peak between f/4-5.6, and diffraction sets in noticeably at f/16–great news for those wanting to squeeze as much depth-of-field as possible for complex landscape shots. All in all, centers show no serious issues. Nice!
Unfortunately, as an APS-c lens, the corners share a different story:
Finding a sharp focus point at f/2-2.8 is next to impossible with this lens thanks to high vignetting, increased veiling haze, and and even higher inability to properly focus all the wavelengths of light together. F/5.6 gives the sharpest results, which actually turns out to be decently sharp, with good contrast to boot. Diffraction comes back again here by f/22. As mentioned before, however, it is unlikely one will even get corners this sharp out in the world due to field curvature.
For low-light work and shallow depth-of-field shots you won’t need to worry about the low corner sharpness, thankfully. That is, unless you are an astrophotographer. Even at f/2.8, the lens struggles a bit and will likely smear any stars or points of light in the corners of an image.
Sharpness at Infinity
The tests above put the Rokinon 16mm about a foot away from my test chart (yes, it’s wide!), so it stands to reason that the infinity performance may differ. In this lens’ case, infinity performance is a bit strange. Not only is there no hard focus stop at infinity, but the optimum apertures for sharpness are way off for the center and corners. Thankfully, the field curvature isn’t quite as noticeable at infinity. Below is a 100% crop of the same building used in last review’s infinity focus test.
Similar to the test charts, the center sharpens up the most at f/4, with f/5.6 only slightly behind. Oddly, the corners don’t reach peak sharpness until f/8, and even then it isn’t terribly sharp. Note that the building looks enlarged and skewed in the corner shot due to perspective distortion, common in all wide-angles. For practical purposes, and for the most even cross-frame sharpness, shoot at f/5.6.
Sharpness at Macro
One impressive feature of the Rokinon 16mm is its close-focus ability. At just under .66 feet/.2 meters, you can get really close to subjects for some interesting shots. With the lens hood mounted, subjects are practically touching the lens at close-focus distance. Click below for full-size crop embedded in the image.
As I should have expected following the strange infinity focus tests, sharpness peaks at close focus at f/8. Even at this aperture and focal length, there is still a fair bit of subject separation from the background. Dial it back to f/2.8-4 and subjects really “pop” with decent sharpness to boot.
The Rokinon 16mm doesn’t provide a very consistent performance as the focus distance changes. Throw in the field curvature and one can quickly find themselves finagling settings often in an attempt to get sharp images. This issue most noticeably manifests itself in panoramas, discussed further on in the review. Regarding basic sharpness performance, though, shoot at f/5.6 to guarantee decent sharpness, and if you want to shoot wide open, make sure those corners are out of the plane of focus!
A small disclaimer, to be sure: I have shot with the Rokinon 16mm for close to three years now, and it is possible that the bumps and scrapes suffered from multiple outings could have affected the lens’ optical formula a little bit. Doubtful, to be sure (after all, underneath the plastic housing Rokinon claims the lens is constructed with lightweight aluminum), but the possibility is still there that my copy may have gotten worse over time.
As a wide-angle lens on an APS-c camera, to expect noticeable subject separation at any focus distance will only set someone up to be disappointed. Even at its maximum f/2 aperture, the Rokinon 16mm only starts showing that depth-of-field “pop” when focusing about 10 feet or closer. When that distance is pushed closer, however, the lens at least puts on a decent show with smooth out-of-focus areas.
Close foregrounds are nice and smooth at all apertures, while backgrounds at f/2.8 fade away very well. There seems to be a bit of doubling going on at f/2 in the far backgrounds, but it isn’t too bad. Thanks in large part to the focal length, foregrounds and backgrounds near the focus point do not exhibit enough blur to really judge their bokeh character. Instead, they just look slightly soft compared to what would be a sharp focus point!
In regards to bokeh highlights, it is rare to run across them in photos with the exception of super-close focus. The story would be different if this were a 16mm f/1, but that is neither here or there. 🙂 Click below for full-size crops.
As a nice little surprise, out-of-focus highlights at f/2 and f/2.8 actually look pretty decent–the few times one may get to see them in photographs. By f/4 the aperture starts creating a hard ring around the outside of the highlight and at f/5.6 some annoying artifacts rear their head within most highlights.
Although it sports an 8-bladed aperture, the Rokinon 16mm produces generally circular bokeh highlights out to f/4. Even better, as you can see from the example above, there isn’t much in the way of a “cat-eye” effect as the highlights near the edges of the frame. As such, in the few instances where you can create some separation with this lens, the out-of-focus areas tend to look just fine, especially for a wide-angle lens.
As a fast lens at a low price, I expected the Rokinon 16mm to have issues with chromatic aberrations at wide apertures. Thankfully Rokinon corrects these pretty well.
In these 100% crops of a dead branch against a 2-stop overexposed sky (worst-case scenario for purple fringing), there is a slight tinge of purple at f/2, about 1 pixel wide. By f/2.8 it reduces to about a half pixel wide, and by f/4 it is completely gone. Provided you nail focus exactly–this can occasionally be difficult without magnification–purple fringing is nothing to worry about and is easy to correct.
As is common with wide-angles, the Rokinon 16mm exhibits a bit of lateral chromatic aberration in the corners at f/2-2.8, but with the aforementioned field curvature, corners at this aperture will rarely be in focus to show this effect anyway. By f/5.6 the lateral aberrations are not as noticeable.
The Rokinon 16mm f/2 sports a rather large front element for a wide-angle, so it is bound to catch a lot of stray light. I recommend always leaving the lens hood on to help prevent as much unwanted reflection as possible. Thankfully, the lens puts on a decent show for its price.
Though the lens produces many reflections, they are always very small. In addition, there is very little loss of contrast through veiling flare. To get a better idea of the reflections in motion, check out this quick test at f/8 with the lens hood on:
I would prefer the lens produce less reflections (especially the ones that are multi-colored), but at this lens’ price point, the Rokinon does an okay job.
Fast wide-angle lenses often exhibit heavy vignetting. The Rokinon 16mm is no exception, especially being an APS-c lens.
Unfortunately the vignetting on this lens never really goes away, and it can be very difficult to correct in Lightroom. The included lens profile for the Rokinon 16mm improves vignetting slightly, but with straight manual corrections you’ll need to fiddle with the adjustment sliders a lot. At f/2, expect to start with a +85 amount and 10 midpoint, at f/2.8 a +60 amount and 20 midpoint, at f/4 a +40 amount and 25 midpoint, and any smaller aperture a +30 amount and 30 midpoint. To be fair, the vignetting falls off pretty gradually at f/5.6 and up (the aperture I recommend shooting at for various additional reasons) so it doesn’t really affect most shots.
Yet again, fast wide-angles tend to suffer from at least some distortion. Some more obvious than others. The Rokinon 16mm shows a fair amount of barrel distortion that isn’t quite uniform.
Lightroom’s built-in lens profile corrects this distortion quite nicely, however, so I recommend always turning it on for this reason alone. If you decide to manually correct it, a +6 correction should get you close enough to the lens profile. However, there are likely better options out there for architectural shots that don’t require as much editing.
Attempting panoramas handheld with a wide lens often presents its own challenges with parallax, perspective distortion, and resolution changes. After attempting many, many panoramas with this lens, I recommend staying away from the Rokinon 16mm as a panorama tool. In particular with this optic, the vignetting issues, slight distortion, field curvature, and lack of cross-frame resolution make multi-row panoramas all but impossible. Single row panoramas actually tend to turn out just fine with careful shooting technique. My advice though? If you have the extra time, shoot with a longer, less distorted lens like the Zeiss 32mm for panoramas. Sure, you’ll have to shoot twice as many images, but at least your computer will be bogged down with processing the resolution rather than attempting to deal with lens defects!
Now that this budget wide-angle has run through the gauntlet, let’s see how it stacks up as a whole!
Pros and Cons
- Relatively light weight for its size with a decent build quality
- Pretty smooth operation all around, though over time the focus ring may develop slack
- Great sharpness in the center at all apertures, corners sharpen well by mid apertures
- Very close focusing for a wide-angle lens
- Bokeh and out-of-focus highlights are smooth and non-distracting in general
- Longitudinal chromatic aberrations are well controlled even wide-open
- Minimal veiling flare
- Correctable distortion via lens profiles
- Decent at making single-row panoramas
- Very affordable price both new and used
- Some mounts like the F-mount version include electronic contacts for EXIF data/auto aperture
- SLR design makes the lens larger than it needs to be on a mirrorless camera
- Plastic construction may eventually lead to more mechanical failures than an all-metal lens
- Lens hood easily unlocks (usually while in camera bag)
- Noticeable field curvature and lack of sharpness in corners until f/5.6
- Inconsistent sharpness performance at different focus distances
- Susceptible to multiple small flare reflections
- Vignetting never goes away and is difficult to correct even with a lens profile
- Multi-row panoramas are a nightmare with this lens
- Fully manual lens aside from EXIF data/auto aperture for certain camera mounts
The Bottom Line
For review purposes, I needed to nitpick this lens just like I do every optic I review. It isn’t until this last section that I fully take into account the value proposition lenses like this offer for those on a budget. To put it simply, I got the Rokinon 16mm three years ago to learn how to work within the field of view of a real wide-angle lens. For the $270 I spent on it, it has been an invaluable tool for multiple events (both paid and volunteer), in-the-moment low-light shots, and general travel photographs that didn’t necessarily need to be perfect at the pixel level. Would I like better performance in general? In regards to field curvature, flare, vignetting, and distortion, you bet! But at this price point? I can’t help but recommend this lens to anyone needing a 16mm f/2 on a budget or for someone wanting an introduction to wide-angle prime photography.
That’s all for this much-overdue review, guys and gals. Thanks for dropping by! It’s time for a vacation in my neck of the woods, but you can bet I’ll take my camera with me for whatever I find along the way! My August website update will be a few days late due to this. Anyway, beyond that I’m looking forward to taking delivery of that Laowa 15mm f/2 in September! More to come on that unique lens soon. As always, have a great day. 🙂