Here we are again with a new lens review for my mirrorless camera. This time, we are switching brands and reviewing a lens that we decided to buy when we switched to mirrorless camera: the Samyang AF 35mm f/1.8 FE (also known as Rokinon in the US). After detailing the great Sony FE 20mm f/1.8 G, a premium wide-angle lens for full-frame camera owners, we are now testing what could be considered a more standard focal length. Samyang has been releasing what they call the “Tiny series” for some time now, i.e. compact and light lenses of good quality, of which this 35mm is part of, along with the Samyang AF 24mm f/1.8 FE, the AF 45mm f/1.8 FE and the small telephoto lens that everyone is talking about, the AF 75mm f/1.8.
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Indeed, a 35mm focal length remains for many photographers a “do-it-all” focal length, and I have to admit that it is more or less true: landscapes, portraits, various details… everything can be shot more or less. Let’s say it’s a rather versatile lens. In this review, we will not go into ultra technical details. I do not have a lab at home to test sharpness or chromatic aberration. However, I will give you what I like to call a field test.
I must point out that this is not a partnership with the Korean manufacturer Samyang and that I fully paid for my lens. My opinions and conclusions on this review are entirely mine. We also wrote a complete page with all the lenses available for the Sony FE mount (full-frame).
All the images in this article are from RAW files, post-processed with DXO Photolab 5 software. When it is not the topic of the image, I only enabled corrections for optical defects. If you don’t know the software yet, I invite you to download it and discover the free version for 30 days.
First I wanted to say a few personal words about why I chose this lens. I never owned a 35mm prime lens when I was shooting with a DSLR. I did own a wide-angle zoom lens, the Canon EF 16-35mm f/4 L IS, which came with this focal length, but I must say that I mainly shot at the shorter focal lengths, between 16 and 20mm. When I switched to my Sony A7III, I made the choice to buy a Tamron 20mm f/2.8 prime lens (linked above) and a Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 telephoto lens. Between the 20mm of my wide-angle lens and the 70mm of the telephoto lens, I somehow wanted to fill the gap. After some thought, I chose this 35mm focal length which I use mainly for portraits of my sons. There is a huge range of 35mm lenses available from Sony, for all tastes and all prices. Given my budget and after a lot of research, I considered that this Samyang 35mm AF f/1.8 FE was the right choice for me. So here is the review of the latter.
Let’s start with the basics in a review.
In October 2020, Samyang decided to release this beautiful 35mm AF f/1.8, which came with its hard carrying case and lens hood, joining the brand’s Tiny Series. Released at a fair price under 400$, it offers Sony camera owners a very nice 35mm alternative. It comes between two existing 35mm lenses from the brand, the Samyang AF 35mm f/2.8 (pancake format) and the Samyang AF 35mm f/1.4 (which remains heavy and without all-weather construction).
As mentioned above, the 35mm focal length offers a pretty standard angle of view and allows me to capture many subjects. I must admit that I bought it mainly to shoot environmental portraits. Indeed, the benefit of a 35mm compared to a 50mm, or even more to an 85mm, is that you will tend to keep more context in the background, since you will not need or want to move away from the subject. Since the focal length is shorter, even when shooting at full aperture, you’ll still get a relatively blurred background but it still gives away some of the context of the scene. In my opinion, this is a perfect lens for taking pictures of my children in everyday life (beach, house, garden, forest). This focal length will also be perfect for street photography, reportage photography where we often want to highlight a subject, a person, a detail as well as its environment. If you are looking for a longer focal length to take tighter shots, I also reviewed the Viltrox 56mm f/1.4 STM AF FE on my Sony A6000 (APS-C), a very nice lens for those looking for a portrait lens with a limited budget.
By the way, speaking of background and bokeh, this lens offers a relatively large f/1.8 maximum aperture that will allow you to perfectly highlight your subjects, whether they are people, everyday objects or other. Obviously, you will find brighter lenses, like the two Sigma (respectively at f/1.4 and f/1.2) or the Sony 35mm f/1.4 GM, but they are not in the same category of weight, size and especially price! In the end, the available aperture will already give great results. Generally speaking, we will often shoot with a large aperture on a 35mm, even if, as we will see below, it may be interesting to close a stop to improve the overall image quality. Finally, this large aperture also allows you to be more comfortable in low light conditions, even if you can consider relatively long exposure times, around 1/15-20th of a second (especially coupled with my A7III body and the sensor stabilization).
Let’s now talk about the lens itself. It competes directly with the Sony FE 35mm f/1.8 regarding its features. First of all, the lens is very light and compact: 210g and only 6.3cm long. It’s not much, and clearly, I think it’s a good thing compared to other 35mm lenses. This makes it a light and discreet lens to carry. This lens is non-stabilized, but has an all-weather construction with 4 seals. This Samyang 35mm lens has 10 elements in 8 groups, including 2 aspherical lenses, 2 high reflection lenses and 9 aperture blades.
The lens has essentially a polycarbonate (plastic) barrel on a metal mount (with gasket) and comes with a 58mm filter size, which is still relatively common and especially cheap. The lens is black, with a red ring and a silver ring on the back of the focus ring. However, the lens hood sold with the lens looks a bit “cheap”, in light plastic. The reference of the lens is also mentioned on the barrel. The lens has a custom button that allows you to configure, through the Lens Station from Samyang (not sold with – 60€), the custom switch. Basically, mode 1 allows setting the focus on a subject (in MF) and mode 2 is dedicated to the aperture settings. Using the “Lens Station”, you can for example configure the switch as an AF/MF button, very practical.
On the lens, there is only one ring that works as a focus ring or as an aperture ring. I find the ring of very good quality personally (much better than the one on my Tamron 20mm for example), rather large, just what is needed to place the fingers. The aperture changes are a bit rapid for my taste, but you get used to it every day, and I finally enjoy using this aperture ring instead of the dial on my camera. It does not make any noise, which is ideal for changing scenes during video, for example.
In conclusion, I find that the lens offers a very good handling with this compact and light side. The design is simple, neat and the lens is in perfect balance in my opinion with my Sony A7III. Note that the minimum focusing distance of 29cm is still within the standards for a 35mm, but the magnification ratio on this lens is only x0.17, which is lower than the x0.24 of the Sony 35mm 1.8 for example. All in all, it’s a nice small lens that Samyang offers here and will be perfectly suited for a small body like my A7III, or even better, an A7C. Of course, you can fit the lens on an APS-C body (type A6600), getting the equivalent of about 52mm on a full-frame body.
This Samyang AF 35mm f/1.8 FE has the classic Samyang linear autofocus (STM), as on all other FE lenses. In my opinion, the autofocus is really good. It is fast, quiet and works really well. I don’t think I’ve had any issues with the AF at all since I’ve been using this lens. I mainly use this lens for portrait photography, mainly my kids and my wife. I can also use it for various detail shots, street shots and even the occasional landscape image. Although I often find it too long as a focal length, and you don’t really need a good AF for landscape anyway. Compared to my Tamron 20mm f/2.8, the AF is really far superior.
For still photography, there is really no problem. The AF is fast, catches perfectly, I have nothing to complain about. No problem even to focus on small subjects.
Regarding moving subjects (with AF in AF-C mode), the lens works very well for eye tracking, both on my children and on animals (my cat for example). Obviously, you’ll have to be relatively close to the subject to get the eye (it’s a 35mm!). If you are a little too far away, there is anyway the face tracking that is displayed. I once had a problem with the camera not detecting the eyes of my children correctly, but the reason was simple: I had selected “animal” tracking instead of “human”. Once adjusted, everything worked fine. In fact, without doing it on purpose, I realized that the AF was even tracking the eyes and faces of the pictures hanging on my fridge. I even did some tests on flowers with wind or moving branches, without any problem.
Finally, in manual focus (MF) and even in low light, I did not really face any particular problem. In my opinion, Samyang managed to produce a quality AF that works well.
Regarding the image quality, I must say that I was very pleasantly surprised by the overall good quality of the images produced by this Samyang AF 35mm f/1.8 FE. I agree with what I have read in technical reviews as well as in the lab, compared to the few personal tests I have done. The sharpness is already very good in the center at full aperture, but not so good on the edges and the extremes. Closing the aperture by one stop at f/2.8 really improves things on the whole image (for the center, f/2.8 is already excellent, no need to close further). To improve the edges and especially the extremes of the image, you will have to close at f/4. Beyond that, the image quality is identical on all parts. Overall, I found the lens slightly less sharp at short focusing distances.
The image quality decreases from f/8 where the diffraction starts to have an effect.
Here is a 100% crop in the center of an image with my A7III at different apertures.
And on the edges:
Here are some pictures to illustrate what kind of pictures you can get with this Samyang AF 35mm f/1.8 FE.
With its large constant f/1.8 aperture and the ability to get up to about 29cm from the subject, it is quite possible to create nice bokeh in the background. Overall, I find this one very soft.
Here is an example of a shot to show the evolution of the bokeh.
Regarding bokeh balls, they are nice and round in the center of the image, but chromatic aberrations can be seen around the balls, at full aperture (problem that is solved in post-processing). The 9 blades diaphragm allow to keep the bokeh balls relatively round even if you close at f/2.8. From f/4 to f/5.6, we can see the shape of the diaphragm appearing around the bokeh balls. On the edges, the bokeh balls have a slight cat’s eye shape.
The lens is characterized by a very slight barrel distortion, easily fixed on any post-processing software. For those who shoot in JPEG, the camera will correct this without any problem.
We find chromatic aberrations on this Samyang AF 35mm f/1.8 quite visible at full aperture, especially on the edges of the image. As soon as you close to f/2.8, the green and purple colors visible in some situations disappear. If you shoot in RAW, this is something that is easily corrected in post-processing, no worries there.
We find a quite pronounced vignetting at full aperture on this Samyang AF 35mm f/1.8, about 2 stops. Closing at f/2.8 already improves things. Between us, in everyday life, this will surely not be a problem. Especially since, as we saw in the paragraph on sharpness, it will be interesting to close at f/2.8 to improve sharpness and also depth of field. Those who shoot in JPEG won’t have to worry about this as the camera will correct it automatically. In RAW, this is easily rectified in post-processing. No big deal here… (and between us, tests show that it is already much better than the Sony 35mm f/1.8, which costs much more).
I did some simple tests to see what do sunstars look like. It is still possible to get a nice star from f/11, but it lacks definition and the result is not magical… Here is the same image shot at f/1.8 and f/11, to show the difference.
I would say that this is the negative point of this lens, even if in everyday life, I did not necessarily realize it before really trying to create flare. However, the results are really very average, and at full aperture, facing the sun, it will be quite easy to see flare and ghosting effects. This results in a strong loss of contrast on the image, halos effects, etc..
As for coma and astigmatism, the results are not extraordinary for the time being, and we can see at full aperture that the stars appear stretched.
As a conclusion on image quality, this Samyang is not perfect, especially on chromatic aberrations and on the very average flare control. But for the price announced (less than 400€), it offers a very good image quality.
As we have just seen above, this Samyang remains a very good lens for people looking for a compact, lightweight 35mm with good image quality. However, there are other alternatives that may be more interesting depending on your needs and budget.
I would say that there are 3 possible alternatives to this Samyang if you have a bigger budget and are looking for a brighter, sharper, better built lens with less optical defects. This Samyang is more in the entry level (let’s say mid-range) compared to the three lenses below.
- The Sony 35mm f/1.4 GM remains the best at the time of writing. It offers an excellent construction, a larger aperture, a very good optical defect control and an image quality above the rest. Of course, the price is also very high-end, since at this price, you can buy 4 Samyang 35mm AF f/1.8 FE (the lens is around 1700€).
- The Sigma 35mm f/1.2 DG DN Art is a beautiful beast that Sigma offers, the only lens opening at f/1.2. We are facing here a very good quality lens, but very heavy (1kg), long and expensive. The image quality is also superlative and few optical defects are to note. The lens is at a softer price than the Sony, even if it is close to 1200€.
- The Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG DN Art remains in my opinion one of the best, if not the best alternative to the Samyang AF 35mm f/1.8 mentioned in this article. Released in May 2021, it offers excellent image quality as well. The lens weighs half as much as the 1.2 version and comes in at a fairly sweet €700/800. Sure, it’s still well beyond the budget of the Samyang, but if you can afford the extra 300€, I think you’re making a great choice!
On the contrary, if your budget is smaller and you don’t necessarily have the interest of a large aperture, the Tamron 35mm f/2.8 Di III OSD M 1:2 is a possible alternative offering an image quality below the above mentioned lenses (but still good), a slightly soft AF, but especially macro possibilities with the 1:2 ratio (it is the only one of the 35mm mentioned above).
Finally, for a slightly higher budget, against the Sony 35mm f/1.8, Sigma also offers a 35mm f/2 that offers good image quality with a very elaborate bokeh and a high-end metal design, as well as an aperture ring.
I am coming to the end of this Samyang FE 35mm f/1.8 review. In conclusion, I would say that Samyang has provided in my opinion the best value for money for a Sony 35mm. The optical quality is there, the construction is good and the images delivered on a full-frame sensor are very good when closed at f/2.8. The maximum aperture at f/1.8 will allow you to get nice background blur and will prevent you from increasing the ISO level. Of course, there are better and brighter builts, but you’ll have to get the money out. The lens is still really compact and light, and it’s a real pleasure to shoot with it.
While I had never bought a 35mm fixed lens when I had my DSLR, I really don’t regret my purchase for a price that remains acceptable. I really recommend it 100%. If you are a beginner and/or you don’t want to break the bank when buying a 35mm, I think it’s a very good choice.
As we often say now, if you liked our field review, feel free to go through the links in the article (or the ones below) when purchasing. This way, you support our work and ensure that more articles like this one are produced. Of course, it won’t cost you anything extra.
If you want to continue reading more reviews, I invite you to read the one about the Tamron 24mm f/2.8 Di III OSD M1:2, an interesting and affordable lens, perfect for capturing landscapes, architecture and even environmental portraits.
See you soon,