Samyang AF 18mm f/2.8 FE Review
In August, the new Samyang AF 18mm f/2.8 FE lens was announced. It’s one they claim is the smallest and lightest full-frame on the market.
So who are Samyang? While they may be somewhat new to the autofocus game, they’ve been making lenses for a long time.
For our friends in the USA, you’ll be more familiar with the name Rokinon.
Rokinon (based in New York) has exclusive rights to rebrand and sell Samyang products in the US, but the hardware is essentially the same.
It’s been three years since Samyang produced their first autofocus lenses for Sony, and they’ve since gone on to extend this to Nikon AF and Canon AF lenses.
I believe that autofocus lenses are critical to their success. A large portion of Samyang’s market is likely to fall into the amateur camp. Manual focus lenses scare many amateurs.
In this post, we’re going to look at how Samyang’s new 18mm autofocus lens fares in the real world.
Just a small note: If you see Zeiss Batis in the EXIF data, we’re not trying to pull the wool over your eyes. The lens profile applied by Capture One seems to get pushed into the export EXIF instead of the actual lens.
Now onto the review…
Samyang AF 18mm f/2.8 FE Specs
- Light weight
- Plastic hood quality
- No weather sealing
- Soft edges wide open
- Focal Length: 18mm
- Maximum Aperture: f/2.8
- Minimum Aperture: f/22
- Lens Mount: Sony E
- Format Compatibility: Full-Frame
- Angle of View: 100.1°
- Maximum Magnification: 0.09x
- Minimum Focus Distance: 9.84″ / 25 cm
- Optical Design: 9 Elements in 8 Groups
- Diaphragm Blades: 7
- Focus Type: Autofocus
- Image Stabilization: None
- Filter Size: 58 mm (Front)
- Dimensions (ø x L): 2.5 x 2.38″ / 63.5 x 60.5 mm
- Weight: 5.11 oz / 145 g
Build & Ergonomics
Given the low price tag of the Samyang, you’d be forgiven for setting yourself low expectations of a poor quality lens with mediocre optics.
Open the white box, and you’ll find a nice semi-hard case to help protect the lens. Open that up, and you’re presented with the second surprise, a reasonable quality Samyang 18mm lens that weighs virtually nothing.
The Samyang AF 18mm f/2.8 FE is less than half the weight of the Zeiss Batis 18mm, weighing just 125 grams/4.4 ounces (not a typo) which is similar to the weight of the Sony 35mm f/2.8.
While the lens construction is plastic, the construction is still good.
It’s not in the same league as some of the premium plastic lenses like the Tamron 28-75mm, but it’s reasonable given the price point.
As expected, the lens has to make compromises to keep the pricing down.
The lens hood is flimsy and has a cheap plastic feel to it. You can feel it bend when you mount it on the lens.
Other than the manual focus ring, you will not find any controls on the lens. That includes a lack of manual focus switch.
The light weight and low cost come at the expense of weather sealing, which may be a deal-breaker for some buyers. If you’re planning on shooting waterfalls where your camera gets soaked, this is not the lens for you.
Conversely, for travellers who want to put a wide-angle in their bag without the hefty weight of a larger zoom, this lens is perfect.
You could pair this with a Tamron 28-75mm and still come in under the weight of a 24-70mm.
As a travel wide-angle, this lens proved ideal. I had a three week trip to Europe and putting this lens in my bag was easy.
With the depth of field on an 18mm lens, it’s pretty hard to test autofocus conclusively. Even if it were 3 feet out, it would still look in focus.
That said, given some of the autofocus market is likely to be sports, I took it down to the local skate park to take some action photos. I found that the autofocus performs very well, and the lack of “keepers” never left me feeling like it wasn’t up to the job.
Even shooting at f/2.8 with objects suddenly appearing in frame, the lens performed as required. There weren’t any lack of keepers due to autofocus, only my crappy composition.
Shooting closeups of dogs and children, which are challenging at the best of times, proved to be no problem.
Hint: Puppies and kids look cute with a wide-angle close-up; don’t try it on your spouse unless you want to get death threats.
For an AF, noise levels are quiet. While I don’t shoot video professionally, the Samyang seems reasonable.
Most people would be expecting some mediocre optics with the price tag, and that is not the case with this lens.
Maybe I got a good copy, but the image quality is excellent. Compared to the Batis 18mm, which is an amazing lens, centre sharpness is almost comparable.
It’s only when you start to look at the corners that the difference between the Batis and the Samyang is noticeable. At f/8, the corners sharpen up substantially making it harder to distinguish them.
Vignetting was better than I expected, no worse than the Batis 18mm and the Batis lens profile in Capture One removed some of the distortion (but it can’t produce miracles).
If you want distortion-free lenses for architecture, the Laowa Zero-D lenses tend to be a better option.
Chromatic Aberration is well controlled; however flaring does occur on occasion.
Value for Money
It’s hard to give the Samyang AF 18mm f/2.8 FE anything less than a 10 out of 10 in value for money considering what you get.
Excellent optics, good construction, light weight and a price tag of around $350. What’s not to like?
I think the Samyang AF 18mm f/2.8 FE is priced at a point that opens the door to any Sony user and it doesn’t compromise on image quality to do it.
Samyang 18mm f/2.8 FE Review | Conclusion
I haven’t used many Samyang lenses to date but I have to admit the Samyang AF 18mm f/2.8 FE has been an eye-opener for me. It’s hard not to recommend this lens.
You’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference in image quality between the Batis and the Samyang, and the latter is nearly a quarter of the price. That’s an impressive feat from Samyang.
I would personally have liked to see weather sealing for a slightly higher price tag but that’s probably the only real criticism I can come up with.
In conjunction with this, the light weight will make it a great option for travellers.
If you’re carrying a Tamron 28-75mm or Sony 24-105mm, having access to a lightweight 18mm will provide some extra width when needed.
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.