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01-10-2009, 04:56 PM - 4 Likes   #1
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REVIEW: Samyang 85mm F1.4 Aspherical IF

Review of Samyang 85mm F1.4 Aspherical IF lens

In keeping with the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” I’ve included images in my review much as possible. Pictures of the lens are taken on a point & shoot so they aren’t the world’s greatest images. I don’t own a d-SLR.

I’ve never done a lens review so some of you may not be happy with this. But I've focused (pun) on how I evaluate a lens, namely (a) how is the handling and appearance (ergonomics) and (b) does it take nice pictures? Your mileage may differ.

As near as I can tell from pictures on the internet and the Vivitar/Sakar press release, this lens is the same as the Polar, Sakar, Walimex and new Vivitar Series 1 lenses.


1) If you are used to the petite FA77 you may be surprised at how big and heavy this lens is (I mean this in a good way). Check out the relative sizes. The Samyang is a bit smaller than Pentax’s 85/1.4’s and the Nikon 85/1.4D, but they are all similar in size as dictated by the laws of physics.

You see a FA77 Limited, FA*85, Samyang 85, A*85 and Nikon/Nikkor 85/1.4 AF-D. Not shown is a silver FA77 and another 85/1.4AF-D. Yes, I like fast lenses. Did you notice?

2) What’s in the box? It comes with a hood, cloth lens bag, and instruction sheet/manual.

The hood is round and is not a screw-on hood. It is not very deep. If you want something with better shading maybe we can use hoods that fit on other lenses since the hood is a simple snap-on type. Or you can get a metal screw-on hood.

3) This is a P/KA mount. Some of the internet pictures don’t show the “A” setting but it does have one. Here are the specs that came with the lens. The minimum focus distance is about 1 meter/3 feet, so this is not a macro lens. This lens can be used for “full frame” and 35mm film cameras. There is an aperture ring.

This lens is mostly metal and glass. What is plastic is the hood and the front filter threads. But the body looks metal. If you are concerned with the plastic collar cracking or breaking, a UV/skylight filter will mitigate this risk. If you don’t like using filters, just get a cheap 72mm filter, remove the glass and screw the metal filter ring onto the lens – simple and easy. If this causes any angst, let me point out my Tamron 90mm F2.8 Macro also has a plastic front collar (albeit thicker) and I’ve never read any complaints about it.

The aperture ring’s click stops snap in place. The aperture blades move freely. The “A” setting locks in place nicely and unlocks with a metal pin where it’s easy to access. The focus ring stops nicely and firmly at infinity, unlike some modern lenses that go a bit past infinity.

This lens is internal focus. The front optical element does not rotate and the body does not rack in/out when you focus. A very nice feature. We’ll come back to this shortly.

This is a manual focus lens. As you can see from the first pictures there is a nice, wide rubberized grip that is 2cm wide for turning the focus ring. All the fast 85s have this rubber grip.

The throw from closest focus distance (1m/3ft) to infinity is almost half a turn, which is quite acceptable. By this I mean the lens barrel has a large diameter, approximately 21-22cm, so the focus throw is about a pretty decent 9cm.

The focus ring is nicely damped; if you have used any of the Pentax manual focus lenses you’ll know what I mean. So if you are concerned it’s not autofocus, don’t be – manual focus is easy with this optic, especially with that large F1.4 aperture.

Let’s compare the design of the Samyang to my existing lenses. But as you can see there is nothing to complain about.

• A*85/F1.4 has a focus throw of about 10.5cm (1/2 turn). But it does rack in & out for focusing. Front optical element doesn’t rotate. There is also a nice rubberized grip for manual focus.

• FA*85/F1.4 has a focus throw of only a short turn since it is autofocus. But it does not rack in/out (internal focus design). Front element does not rotate. There is a rubberized grip for manual focusing. It has the handy AF/MF clutch none of the others have.

• FA77 Limited/F1.8 has focus throw about a turn. But it’s an autofocus lens so the manual focus ring is small and a bit harder to use. It does rack in/out when focusing. Front element does not rotate.

• Nikon 85/1.4D has a focus throw of 1/3 a turn. It does not rack in/out (internal focus). Front element does not rotate.

4) The seller said this has 9 blades but I count 8, I think. See for yourself. We’ll take a look at the bokeh in another picture but 8 (or 9?) blades should make for nice, smooth out of focus backgrounds.

5) At f1.4 it lets in lots and lots of light...

6) It is multicoated. Obviously it isn’t Pentax’s SMC. I can’t comment about flare control. It has been snowing all week and the sun hasn’t made an appearance.


7) Sample pictures are below. Here are the technical details: MZ-S film camera, tripod mounted, mirror lockup, ISO400 film. Scanned to jpg via Epson V500. Lens hood used for all images, no filters (except as noted below).

There are 2 things to draw your attention to. Firstly, apologies for the dust in the photos. It’s the middle of winter and it is extremely dry, dust sticks to everything. In the interests of getting this review out, some dust got left in.

Secondly, all three 85/1.4’s clearly demonstrate their awesome ability to handle low/difficult lighting. It was very dim (early morning) when I took the photos of the colored markers. Yet I could still use a 1/250 second shutter speed and manual focusing was easy. Cool. Very cool.

Test Pictures - Part 1

Here is a brick wall at minimum focus distance, taken at 1/3000 sec @ F1.4 (wide open).

For larger photo click here: User Photo Gallery - Miscellaneous

Now let’s look at corner performance. Taken at infinity distance at F1.4. The sky was overcast and (relatively) evenly lit. That’s pretty good performance, in fact it is better than I expected, so I am impressed. Don’t forget that with the digital crop factor corner performance isn’t much of an issue (if it bothers you). Obviously if you stop down a bit the dark corners will be gone. EDIT: Upon re-reading my notes, the sky was not completely even, the bright spots you see in the middle of the image were actually there in the sky and not some artifact.

1/6000 second @ F1.4

For larger picture click here: User Photo Gallery - Miscellaneous

Test Pictures - Part 2

Now let’s look at bokeh, color, contrast. The next pictures have all been gray carded, all taken at minimum focus distance, all at wide open apertures. I have focused on the red marker, 2nd from the left.

Samyang lens - 1/250 sec, F1.4

For larger image click here: User Photo Gallery - Miscellaneous

Pentax A*85 – 1/250 sec, F1.4

For larger image click here: User Photo Gallery - Miscellaneous

Pentax FA77 LIMITED – 1/125 sec, F1.8. (Oops. Made a boo boo. I left a KR1.5 filter on the lens, so the color cast may be a touch warm.)

For larger photo, well you know... User Photo Gallery - Miscellaneous

Pentax FA*85 - 1/250 sec, F1.4

Larger photo here... User Photo Gallery - Miscellaneous

Summary of test shots:
I am looking at the prints in front of me (I told the photo lab to not make any adjustments). To be bluntly honest I can’t tell much difference between any of the 4 lenses. If I didn’t keep detailed notes I would have a hard time telling you which lens took what picture. In other words, this Samyang takes very nice pictures.


8) So, is this a lens you should buy? That’s your call, not mine. It is your money after all. But as someone who owns a small flock of fast portrait lenses, here is my opinion.

This lens is a quality optic that represents good value. When it comes to photo gear, you can have it cheap or good – pick one. Once in a while you get both and I think this is one of those times. Don’t be put off if this is an unfamiliar brand, there are some Asian names that produce high quality gear at good prices. My 2 excellent Feisol tripods are made in Taiwan. I own 2 superb Markins ballheads made in Korea. My Cosina made 180mm F4 is a jewel.

• Is it as good as the A*85 or FA*85? Well, probably not. But you have to pay 2 to 3 times more (at least) for one of the fast Pentax 85s, and they are no longer made. So the point is kind of moot.

• The closest Pentax lens still available is the FA77. Is it as good as the 77? Well, the Samyang is almost a stop faster (note shutter speed of 77 in test pic), slightly longer in focal length, is manual focus. The FA77 is autofocus, has Pentax’s SMC, is smaller, is all metal, but is more expensive. I can make a case for owning both as they can have different applications but really this is a decision you need to make for yourself.

• What I can say is this. Under normal usage most people will be happy with this lens. If you have never used a F1.4 short telephoto lens you are going to be in for a very pleasant surprise. They are fantastic low light optics (where you will often be manually focusing anyway) and they offer tremendously creative shallow depth of field opportunities (remember, the longer the focal length the more shallow the DOF).

• I’m not a pixel peeper. If I were inclined I’m sure I can torture any lens until it fails. How often have we seen someone on the ‘net proclaiming XYZ lens is bad and they can prove it with a picture of dark tree branches against a bright white sky? So if you buy this lens, use it, enjoy it, and have fun taking pictures.

Ergonomic summary: The overall feel of the lens is solid with a nice hefty feel in the hand. There is nothing loose or wobbly (helped by the internal focus design). Manual focus is smooth and easy, helped by the large F1.4 aperture and design.

• A final suggestion. If you get this lens, mount it onto a tripod and take a head & shoulders portrait wide open. Focus either on the bridge of the nose or slightly in front of the eye. This way the zone of sharp focus ends right at the eyes and everything quickly blurs immediately thereafter. Nice, isn’t it?

Last edited by tranq78; 01-12-2009 at 06:26 PM. Reason: minor formatting only, clarify Nikkor lens
01-10-2009, 06:24 PM   #2
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First of all, thank you very much for doing this. I can see the amount of effort you put in, and we all appreciate it very much, and this brings good news for those looking at that lens.

Also, very curious - all those quality optics, but you don't own a DSLR? I know many people still prefer film, but don't you even want a K-M or K100D to try stuff with? A DSLR body like that would cost abut 1/3 the cost of that A* 85!

Do you have an objection to digital, or is it just something you've just never got around to?

But again, thanks for the review!

01-10-2009, 06:57 PM   #3
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Great review. I didn't know this lens was out there- where can it be found?
01-10-2009, 07:31 PM   #4
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Yes, thanks for this review. Well-done and thorough.

If this is representative of the new Series-1 lens, then I should be in line for their 85 f/1.4. I just hope they make it fast enough (fast in production) since I'm guessing there would be a sizable initial demand for this lens if it does fall to $400.

The all-metal construction (plus minimal plastic) sounds very good to me. Let's hope Sakar puts out more quality optics and be the cheaper Zeiss option - metal lenses, manual-focus only.

01-10-2009, 07:57 PM   #5
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Awesome review! Thank you

01-10-2009, 08:09 PM   #6
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Thanks for the review (I think) I already own the 77 ltd and now I want this one too!

NaCl( I can resist this lens, I can resist this lens, I much? )H2O
01-10-2009, 08:17 PM   #7
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thanks for the test! now how about some not test pictures
from the markers pictures, it's hard to tell the lenses apart imo
01-10-2009, 10:06 PM   #8
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Thank you for all of the work involved in your review. I'll be looking forward to some more images once others have gotten their lenses.

Anyone carrying this lens in the U.S.?

01-11-2009, 01:19 AM   #9
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Pretty impressive! I'm happy to hear that the build quality is good, and even better, the images look just like the more expensive ones.

Thanks for taking the for thought for a few of us
01-11-2009, 02:54 AM   #10
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Thank you very much for the review!

I have one more question:
How is the light transmittance?
When you have the camera on the tripod and change the lens from the Samyang to the FA85, do you get the same time at f1.4?
Sometimes those cheaper lenses are a bit "darker".
Would be interesting to compare the histograms.
01-11-2009, 04:21 AM   #11
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This is quite a bit of effort and thanks for doing this. This is very helpful for my future purchase of these 85mm...

I can see the common flaws of bokeh in 85mm f1.4 in pentax line up.
01-11-2009, 06:09 AM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by vinzer Quote
Yes, thanks for this review. Well-done and thorough.

If this is representative of the new Series-1 lens, then I should be in line for their 85 f/1.4. I just hope they make it fast enough (fast in production) since I'm guessing there would be a sizable initial demand for this lens if it does fall to $400.

The all-metal construction (plus minimal plastic) sounds very good to me. Let's hope Sakar puts out more quality optics and be the cheaper Zeiss option - metal lenses, manual-focus only.
it IS less than $400. I got mine for $295
01-11-2009, 09:43 AM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by tranq78 Quote

Thanks for taking the time to share these results George - and quite an impressive set of glass you have in the short tele range!

Of course, at net sized, its hard to pass judgement, but it looks like the right/bottom is sharper here than the left/top. I'm inclined to think that the target wasn't totally flat to the lens and the dof at 1.4 is very unforgiving. Did you note this trait in other shooting?

I'm eager for this lens to be proven a strong competitor in the manual field. More competition and selection in this niche would be wonderful.

01-11-2009, 10:04 AM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by solar1 Quote
Thank you for all of the work involved in your review. I'll be looking forward to some more images once others have gotten their lenses.

Anyone carrying this lens in the U.S.?
A quick bit of googling did not show up anyone carrying the lens or any details.
01-11-2009, 10:19 AM   #15
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Thank you very much, I really appreciate your tests and the effort that went it to it.

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