Rokinon 12mm f/2 Review
Are you looking for a great, affordable wide-angle lens to add to your kit, one that doesn’t take up much space yet still delivers amazing images?
Spoiler alert: You’re reading the right review, if you own a mirrorless camera with an APS-C (1.5x or 1.6x crop) sensor!
The Rokinon 12mm f/2 NCS CS lens is indeed one of the best examples of a great thing that comes in small package.
It’s downright tiny, and yet it offers many things that a very professional wide-angle lens should: sharpness, durability, and an impressively fast aperture.
Don’t believe me? Keep reading; the images will speak for themselves!
Rokinon 12mm f/2 NCS CS | Specs
- Focal Length: 12mm (18mm full-frame equivalent)
- Aperture: f/2-22
- Filter Size: 67mm
- Length: 59mm (2.3″)
- Weight: 245g (8.6oz)
- Available Mounts: Canon EF-M, Sony E, Fuji X, Micro Four Thirds
- Price: Click here
Of course, different photographers have different priorities when looking for the perfect lens.
For example, sometimes autofocus is absolutely required, while other times, manual focus is actually useful, or even preferred.
If such details are a deal-breaker for you, then let’s make sure everybody is aware of this before we go any further: The Rokinon 12mm f/2 is a manual focus prime lens.
In addition to lacking autofocus, the aperture is controlled mechanically via a ring on the lens, not through your camera’s command dials.
So, unfortunately, the camera doesn’t know what focal length or aperture you are shooting at.
(You may have to go into your camera’s menu and turn on the function that allows images to be taken “without a lens mounted”, by the way.)
With that said, almost all photographers do have certain things in common when it comes to lens shopping: for example, sharpness is usually towards the top of the list.
Here is the rest of my lens review criteria:
- Sharpness & Image Quality
- Build Quality
- Autofocus (or Manual Focus & EXIF, for manual lenses)
- Handling & Portability
- Value for Money
Sharpness & Image Quality
When any lens is extremely compact, oftentimes it sacrifices quite a lot of image quality and/or build quality. The same thing goes for very affordable lenses; there’s no free lunch, right?
Considering how tiny and affordable this Rokinon 12mm f/2 is, you might expect it to have relatively terrible image quality. Maybe even in the center of the image.
So, is it a soft lens? Nope.
Surprisingly, not only is the Rokinon 12mm f/2 impressively sharp, even wide-open at f/2, but it also boasts very decent image quality in other aspects as well. Here’s the breakdown:
I usually never worry about distortion, because it can be easily corrected with a lens profile (for still photos, not so much for video).
I’m not shooting real estate interiors or too many scenes with lots of perfectly straight lines.
However, it’s worth noting that the Rokinon 12mm f/2 has decently low distortion, but its distortion has a “mustache” shape, so it’s not easy to correct manually.
Your best bet is to use the lens profile that is available in Adobe Lightroom and Camera Raw (Bridge), which can correct distortion perfectly.
Not bad, considering the focal length and aperture, but neither is it impressive.
The extreme corners don’t get too severely dark. Rather, most of the image (everywhere except the dead-center) is not an entire EV brighter than f/2.8.
In other words, you could consider the lens to actually be an f/2.2 or f/2.4 lens, as far as actual light transmission is concerned, instead of an f/2 lens.
(Indeed, the “Cine” version of this same lens is, in fact, T2.2.)
Unfortunately, the Rokinon 12mm f/2 does suffer from some pretty wicked chromatic aberration in the corners, even when stopped down to f/5.6 or f/8.
However, this can be almost perfectly corrected by turning on the default “Remove Chromatic Aberration” tool in Adobe Lightroom or Camera Raw, and fine-tuned using the manual “Defringe” sliders if necessary.
Coma/Astigmatism (Corner Sharpness)
This is one of the most important aspects of image quality for a nightscape photographer, and wide open at f/2 the Rokinon 12mm f/2 does not disappoint.
Coma/astigmatism is certainly present, however, it is relatively faint. In a 1080p or 4K timelapse, stars will essentially appear as nearly perfect dots even in the extreme corners.
You’ll see a little bit of degradation if you’re shooting with one of the most high-resolution 24+ megapixel APS-C sensors.
Still, the bottom line is that this lens’ performance rivals that of some full-frame f/2.8 ultra-wide lenses that weigh and cost many times more.
Not perfect, but impressive, indeed.
On the one hand, ultra-wide lenses aren’t known for their bokeh. If you really want to blur a background, you’re better off with a mid-range or telephoto prime lens with an f/1.4 aperture or something.
On the other hand, if you do place a subject very close to the lens, on the Rokinon 12mm the fast f/2 aperture allows for much better depth-of-field control than an f/3.5 or f/4.5 aperture “kit” lens.
Rokinon, like all third-party lenses, won’t give you as perfectly neutral, vibrant colors as the name-brand lenses.
However, that’s not really a big deal for most photographers who understand raw image processing.
A tweak to the Tint slider, or a boost to the Contrast or Dehaze sliders, will usually do a decent job of making your images pop.
This lens lacks the pricey, exotic coatings of name-brand lenses. Still, Rokinon’s own NCS (Nano Coating System) and ED elements seem to do a pretty good job of keeping most types of flare at bay.
As with most lenses, if the sun (or another very bright light source) does hit the lens directly, you can expect a few flare dots, and a slight loss of contrast.
Rokinon’s trademark 6-bladed aperture is in full effect, creating 6-pointed sunstars that aren’t really “spikes”.
If anything, they look more like flower petals. It’s not my favorite type of sunstar/starburst, but it’s a unique and pronounced look just the same.
If you’re looking for the perfect wide-angle astro-landscape lens for your APS-C crop-sensor mirrorless camera, look no further.
It really is that simple!
There are very few lenses that achieve an aperture of f/2 at a 12mm focal length, and that’s a fantastic combination for nightscape photography on a 1.5x or 1.6x crop factor camera.
If you don’t mind carrying a much bigger, heavier lens, then there are some great fast-aperture, ultra-wide alternatives to be found in Tokina’s latest APS-C (DSLR) lenses, the Tokina 11-20mm f/2.8 and the 14-20mm f/2.
Both are wicked-sharp, great for astro-landscape photography, and offer the range of a zoom instead of a prime.
However, both lenses are approximately double the price, or more (depending on which lens has a rebate or “instant savings” at the time) …and both are significantly bigger and heavier.
In other words, if portability is a priority, the Rokinon 12mm f/2 is indeed one of the only choices.
We’ve already covered the coma and vignetting tests, so at this point, we’ll just let these sample images speak for themselves!
The Rokinon 12mm f/2 feels like a sturdy, nearly indestructible little lens that is ready for a lot of abuse.
It is constructed quite well, and despite the abundance of plastic in the barrel parts, the lens overall feels professional and smooth to operate.
Be sure to take good care of it, though, because heavily abused lenses can still be prone to optical degradation over time.
Rokinon lenses are generally a bit more prone to long-term build quality issues compared to the name brands.
Metering (EXIF) & Focusing
Since this lens doesn’t have any electronic contacts to communicate with the lens, you’ll be focusing everything manually, and you’ll also be setting your aperture manually.
This is a good thing for most landscape, nightscape, and general travel photographers, though, because precise focus and consistent aperture control are usually both very important.
The focus ring on the Rokinon 12mm f/2 is nice and stiff, yet smooth, making it easy to rack focus smoothly, and yet difficult to accidentally bump your shot out of focus.
The overall rotation (focus throw) is nice and long, making it easy to slowly transition in and out of focus if you’re shooting video, and easy to nail pin-point focus on the stars if you’re shooting nightscapes.
Simply put, if you need autofocus, then you’ll have to look elsewhere, but if you actually like manual focus lenses, you’ll be really happy with this one.
Handling & Portability
Well, we already know this lens is one of the most portable lenses in its class, and it’s generally a delight to handle. Ten out of ten stars.
(Before we move on, a word on focal length: If you do ever find yourself in tight quarters, whether it’s a slot canyon like the one above or just indoors, you’ll be very grateful to have a lens that goes much wider than your 18-55mm kit lens, trust me!)
Value for Money
The Rokinon 12mm f/2 is frequently on sale, so just keep an eye out and pounce on it when the time is perfect.
It would still be worth it even if you paid full price, but whenever it’s on sale, it’s an absolute no-brainer.
If you want f/2 at this focal length, and don’t mind the manual focusing, buy the Rokinon 12mm f/2. There are only a few instances in which I might recommend something else.
If you need autofocus, for action sports or photojournalism, then you could consider any of the lenses with a focal length around 12mm that do offer autofocus.
Most of the other lenses that do offer autofocus, though, won’t have as fast an aperture as the Rokinon 12mm f/2.
Any of the ultra-wide zooms that go all the way to 10mm will only have an aperture of f/3.5 or f/4 at the wide end.
Or, in the case of the Panasonic 12mm f/1.4 (which is only available for Micro Four Thirds) …you’ll have to pay about five times the price!
Maybe you don’t care about autofocus, but you want a zoom lens instead of a prime.
This is a very awesome zoom range that is perfect for travel, landscapes, and all sorts of in-your-face types of compositions.
Unfortunately, as mentioned, most of these lenses have a much slower aperture, some of them being f/4 or even f/4.5, and all of them cost quite a bit more than the Rokinon 12mm f/2.
For example, the Sony E 10-18mm f/4 OSS does include autofocus and image stabilization. However, it’s two whole stops darker, and costs $750-850.
I think the decision is pretty obvious — partly due to how few other options are out there — but also definitely due to just how great the Rokinon 12mm f/2 is.
If you want a fast-aperture lens that is both portable and affordable, look no further. If you’d rather have a zoom lens and/or an autofocus lens, get ready to pay a little bit more.
Personally, the Rokinon 12mm f/2 is almost permanently attached to my camera for timelapse and video work, and casual snapshots too.
I’m never disappointed, and you likely won’t be, either.
Disclaimer: All recommendations are impartial and based on user experience, with no bias to the products or the brand. The products in this post may contain affiliate links.