Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Rokinon 24mm Tilt shift lens review. Is it any good? (Nikon mount)

Shot with the Canon 24mm TS-V1
My degree is in architecture, not photography.  
Since becoming a professional about 20 years ago, I have shot every tilt shift (TS) lens made for the Canon and Nikon system. I have shot buildings and resort rooms all across America and in Hong Kong. Those TS lenses are essential if you are to make "proper" building photos - no tilting the camera - all vertical lines should be parallel to each other. It is with great anticipation that I purchased and now review the new Rokinon 24mm Tilt Shift lens, Nikon mount. I believe that this lens can be found with the Rokinon branding or Samyang. They are the same Korean made lens. The list price of the lens is $869 at Adorama.

First Impressions:

The lens is packaged in a no frills way. The lens comes with a lens bag, but no lens hood. That is slightly annoying. The build feels pretty good. There is a good weight to the lens. The lens is 82mm for filters. The locking screws are in grey and are plastic. The lever to rotate the lens is also plastic. These are the things that worry me about the lens construction. Long term durability may be an issue with people who are rough with their gear. Good thing is that since these TS lenses are all manual, there is no issue with a motor or some other electronic going bad.
Another positive - you can rotate the lens so you can tilt the lens on the same plane as the shift occurs. Although I do not tilt that much, it is a good option that the Nikon 24mm PC-E f/3.5 lens does not offer.

The competition:
Shot with the Canon 24 TS - VII
The problem is that this Rokinon lens will be compared to the Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II Tilt-Shift LensFor all intents and purposes, that is a perfect lens. Great glass, sharp edge to edge at all f/stops, smooth focus and rock solid. I also owned the original Canon 24 TS lens and used it for years. I bought it when I had a big resort photo shoot. It was a good lens, but it did have issues with chromatic aberration and I though it wasn't as sharp edge to edge. If I were to grade the Canon and Nikon TS lens on a 1-10 scale, the Canon 24mm TS-E VII would no doubt be a 10. The original would be a 7.5. Although the Nikon 24 PC-E is a good lens, I do not like how large it is. It feels a bit clumsy compared to the Canon. However, optically, it is good. Very sharp and no obvious barrel distortion that I found. Sharp edge to edge even wide open. The Nikon would rate as a 8.5.

Shot with the Nikon 24mm PCE 
(All these lenses are manual focus)

Rokinon 24 TS, wide open at f3.5, focus at infinity. Shifted up a few notches. 
The first thing you'll notice is that the camera (in my case the Nikon D800) will not know what aperture you are using. It will show a f/0. You'll have to rotate the f/stop ring manually. The meter didn't work as usual, so I would highly recommend shooting RAW files. Also, you are going to have to focus the camera with the lens wide open so you can get focus confirmation in camera (this Nikon mount lens has a chip to do this) then stop down after. Of course, the view will get very dark in the viewfinder. A way to avoid this of course is to just shoot with Live View. I personally didn't like doing this because of the battery drain. I have been a pro for a long time, so manual focus and then stopping down the lens is no big deal to me. I shot the first set of pictures wide open (at infinity) . The results were not good.
I really could not find a sharp line anywhere. Very poor showing.
(I did some tests wide open at 3' focusing distance and the lens was much better. It may be that it doesn't focus that well at infinity -wide open).
However, as I stopped the lens down, the lens got progressively sharper. When I got to F/11, the frame was very sharp. It produced a nice image.

Rokinon 24 TS, shot at F/11, focus at infinity.
Rokinon 24 TS, f/11, focused at infinity. 

I shot more tests and the sharpness is very good at F/11. These photos show that this lens is very capable of producing professional results.
Rokinon 24 TS, f/11, focused at infinity.
I tried to use the lens in the same I way I would when shooting a job. I don't understand MTF charts or all those other scientific methods that lens reviewers use. I just know that I have to do what I do, and I look at the results.
I tend to shoot these images full frame, not too loose or tight. I want the image to have a good amount of space around it so the client has the ability to crop and change proportion if they need to. This kind of shooting will "protect" the lens from critical examination though. The lenses tend to distort at the edges, so in order to see that, I shot a photo tighter than I ever would.

Rokinon 24 TS, shot at f/11, full frame in camera

This image is very tight - you'd never shoot a photo like this but it shows a fair amount of distortion. The image bows on top and in the corners  It is easily corrected in photoshop, but the distortion is there. I know that the Canon VII and Nikon PCE doesn't have this issue.

Final Thoughts:
Would this lens be able to produce professional results?
Absolutely. But of course, only if you shoot at f/11 or smaller. In all my years as a pro with a TS lens, I have never shot a photo of a bldg wide open. I almost always set it at f/11. The Canon 24mm TS - VII and the Nikon 24mm PCE lens are great but they also cost more than twice as much as this Rokinon. If I shot them next to each other, I believe that the results would be virtually the same at f/11. If money were no object, buy the Nikon or Canon. If you are like the majority of people, you have to understand each piece of gear you use and know its strengths and weaknesses.
(Sometimes each lens copy may vary. It could be that this particular lens is just weird at infinity, wide open. If I ever get another copy of the Rokinon 24mm tilt shift lens, I will test it again. )

The Rokinon 24mm Tilt Shift lens is a good value lens. I would rate it a 7. If it were sharp wide open, it'd be closer to an 8.

Good value for the money
Sharp at F/11 and smaller
Decent build
You can produce professional images

Not sharp at F/4 or F/5.6
Plastic levers and dials
May break down if handled rough
Moderate Barrel distortion
DSLRs will not know what aperture you are using
Need to focus wide open, then manually stop down lens to shoot


  1. Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
    thank you :)

  2. Hello,

    I agree with your review. I have the Samyang version.
    Not sharp at infinity/wide open, good af f/11.

  3. At F8-11 (or smaller), it becomes super. 1/3 price with N and C.

  4. It is an excellent value. SInce all the architecture shoots I do are shot at f/11 or so, this works well.

  5. Back in the 1990's in the film era, I used to love shooting with a PC-Nikkor 28mm f3.5 shift lens. I recently rented a D600 with a Sigma 35mm f1.4 Art lens for a trip, and tried out the old 28mm PC just to see how it would do.

    What I found was that I was better off using the modern 35mm with stitching software (Hugin 2013, it's free!) and digital perspective correction than the old 28mm PC. The old PC always introduced a few pixel widths of blur.

    The modern lens gave me very sharp shots effortlessly, and stitching gave me as large a field of view as I could want. The only caveat is you have to be careful to minimize parallax between the different stitched shots, and that might be a problem in some interiors (although there exist tripod attachments that allow you to swivel around the nodal point of your lens; I've never tried one).