A Closer Look at Rokinon’s New ‘Special Performance’ Line of Primes

I know… Another Rokinon post. What can I say? They’re in high gear and don’t show any signs of slowing down anytime soon. Samyang, the magicians behind the Rokinon line of photo and cinema lenses have another new line of primes. Several months ago they announced their native E-mount auto-focus lenses which I completely ignored since they don’t really interest me (google it if auto-focus E-mount primes interest you), but Rokinon has just begun shipping two primes in a new line they’re calling “Speical Performance” or “SP” for short. Currently, these two lenses consist of a 14mm f/2.4 and an 85mm f/1.2. I spent a few weeks with the new 85mm so let’s give that a closer look

I ordered a pair of these from the factory as soon a I could (yes, I buy my own review gear… It’s not given to me like some other blogs out there) since I had always considered Rokinon an average option in regards to image quality, and I wanted to see what they could do when they aim high. I was walking down the hall at my office with Phil Holland who coincidentally had been hanging out earlier and noticed the box had just been dropped off by FedEx but hadn’t been checked in yet. I couldn’t help it… I snagged it and tore it off open out of sheer curiosity and excitement which I’m sure will get me in trouble with Caitlin. You see… nothing gets by Caitlin at Duclos Lenses. Every. Single. Lens goes through her and is recorded into our system, regardless of who or what it’s coming in for. But Phil and I snagged them both and ran! (Don’t worry. I brought them back later so she could check them in. I’m not that much of a risk-taker…) Let’s begin with image quality.

Testing the Rokinon 85mm f/1.2 on our lens projector.
I started with the 85mm on the projector, recording a center resolution of 200 lp/mm – something I expect from any decent lens. What was impressive was that I observed this resolution, even wide open at f/1.2 which is indeed an accomplishment on behalf of Rokinon/Samyang. Well done fellas! As expected, focus does fall-off into the field, dropping to about 100 lp/mm, and then back up to about 140 lp/mm in the very corner of the FF35 frame. To summarize: resolution is great. Not OTUS great… But comparable to other lenses two to three times the price of this Rokinon. Moving on… Distortion is minimal (didn’t take the time to actually measure it yet). The 85mm does breathe a notable amount, but not any worse than other high-speed portrait primes. Chromatic aberrations are present, but well controlled. Other than sheer resolution, this is where the OTUS primes will outperform the Rokinon SP. The OTUS primes have held their crown for so long because they’re nearly unbeatable when it comes to controlling aberrations. Coma is also present in the Rokinon SP 85mm, but only noticeable in the far corners of the frame and again, relatively well controlled, even wide open.

Moving on to mechanical attributes. Similar to the optical performance, this is where the SP line leaps far beyond the original Rokinon primes. Where the original Rokinon primes had a cheap feeling plastic shell, the SP primes have a very nice, anodized aluminum housing with a smooth, easy-on-the-digits lumpy rubber grip. The focus grip is this sort of peculiar circumference of a tumor. It’s a bit odd to look at – almost as if someone at the factory stuffed some extra tape underneath an otherwise flat a rubber grip… Still not sure how I feel about this feature from an aesthetic perspective, but in practical application it performs very well. The focus rotation is about 200ΒΊ and has plenty of distance marks on the scale in both metric and imperial units. No individual witness marks which means accuracy is a very horseshoe/handgrenade affair, but I don’t expect more from a photo lens. The 85mm also weighs a good deal more than it’s older, cheaper Rokinon cousins at a little over 1000 grams. I ordered the lens in Canon EF mount, which I believe is the only option at the moment. Unfortunately this means that it has an electronic aperture that is controlled exclusively by an active EF mount camera. So no full manual aperture control. Not a deal-breaker these days with tools like Fool Control or Canon’s iris jog in the C300 MkII. …but still it would be nice to see a fully manual option. I don’t know if Rokinon plans to release these in additional mounts like Nikon which could potentially have a manual aperture ring.

The duo: Rokinon SP 14mm and 85mm out for some field testing at the beach.
After a few days of testing out the SP primes I have quite a few thoughts. A lot of folks already asked me about additional mounts… As I mentioned before, I could see Rokinon releasing this in a native Nikon F mount, but I really hope they don’t give this lens a silly “tube fix” Sony E mount model. They did this with just about all of their regular primes that were obviously designed for reflex systems. It’s just silly for the manufacturer to put these giant tubes on the back of a lens just to add more mount options to their marketing material. Most of the mid-range Cine prime manufacturers do this (CP.2, Xenon, XEEN, Sigma, etc.) and I think it’s sort of desperate… In the setup I did most of my testing on, I used a Sigma MC-11 Canon EF to Sony E mount adapter which communicates EXIF data and electronic controls perfectly (most of the time). If I NEEDED to use an EF mount lens on a Sony camera, I would rather just use an adapter if my alternative was a weird, empty tube at the back of my lens. Speaking of the MC-11 and this setup, it did give me a few odd quirks during my tests – the first of which occurred when I switched off the camera and the iris in the Rokinon SP went a bit nutty and started having a blade seizure on me… And again when the camera reads the aperture as f/1.3 when in fact it’s set wide open to f/1.2. This may just be a firmware issue with the adapter. This is the first electronic lens for Canon EF mount from Rokinon so I don’t think Sigma would have included support in an adapter that precedes the new SP line. Regardless, everything worked well from a usability standpoint and these quirks never inhibited my acquisitions in any way.

I’ll continue to add more sample photos as I shoot more with the pair of SP primes. The primary weekend I took these out for field testing I was on a family vacation. So most of the photos are of my children and our friends. I didn’t want to post a bunch of samples of little kids. Cause… you know.

Below is a few shots taken with the 14mm SP. No distortion or sharpening applied in post. Just a few exposure corrections. Click the “full size” link in each photo and enjoy some pixel peeping.

And here’s a couple of shots with the 85mm SP. Again, I’ll add more later so be sure to check back soon.

So who is this lens for? It’s certainly not for the action pro or wedding snapper… The fully manual focus movement and ultra shallow depth of field make it an extremely deliberate lens that requires an experienced hand when it comes to accurate focusing. I rarely use auto-focus lenses and was pretty confident racking focus on the Rokinon 85mm SP, but for someone who’s spent their life or career working with AF lenses, this’ll be a difficult lens to love. It’s electronic aperture will also alienate the Rokinon SP from most cinematographers. With the lack of manual aperture control, this lens will mostly be picked up by enthusiasts who are looking for high quality, ultra shallow focus, that perhaps can’t justify spending the extra cash for a Zeiss OTUS prime. The 14mm Rokinon SP will be an easier sell as it’ll appeal to astro-photographers quite a bit. With it’s corner to corner accuracy and relatively fast aperture of f/2.6, I’m certain it’ll become a popular option for those that aim higher than the rest of us.

I fully expect Rokinon to add additional focal lengths to the SP line. I’d love to see a revised ultra fast 35mm as this is among my favorite focal lengths for APS-C bodies. And who knows… Maybe we’ll see this glass make it’s way into a XEEN-style housing with enhanced features. Fingers crossed!

Published by

Matthew Duclos

A connoisseur of fine motion picture lenses, Matthew has spent over half his life servicing, refining, selling, manufacturing, and collecting cinema lenses from around the world. Chief Operating Officer of Duclos Lenses and Founder of TheCineLens.com, Matthew has been contributing to the motion picture industry for over 15 years, and to this site for over 5 years.

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