Samyang 85mm f/1.4 AS IF UMC
The most compelling reasons to buy the Samyang 85mm f/1.4 AS IF UMC M4/3 lens are its affordable price tag and the fact that it is the fastest medium-telephoto lens on the market for M4/3 cameras.
It’s also the fastest medium-telephoto prime lens for Sony’s E-mount and Fujifilm’s X-mount cameras.
Samsung has an 85mm f/1.4 autofocus lens for its NX cameras but it’s more than double the cost of the Samyang 85mm f/1.4 lens.
The main drawbacks of this lens are manual focusing only (no autofocus) and the lack of electronic contacts that can be ‘read’ and used by the camera. If you can live with these, this lens represents very good value for money.
Samyang’s 85mm f/1.4 AS IF UMC is a fast prime lens that was originally designed to work with Canon, Nikon, Pentax and Sony full-frame and APS-C DSLRs. It has recently been released with mounts for Sony E-mount, Samsung NX and Micro Four Thirds (M4/3) system cameras. The M4/3 version, which we for this review, is the fastest telephoto prime lens for this sensor format.
Angled view of the Samyang 85mm f/1.4 AS IF UMC M4/3 lens showing the large front element and cylindrical lens hood. (Source: Samyang.)
The optical construction comprises nine elements in seven optical groups, including one aspherical lens. Anti-reflective UMC coatings have been applied to minimise internal reflections, thereby reducing flare and ghosting and maintaining image contrast colour vibrancy. A eight-blade iris diaphragm produces smooth background blurring.
The optical diagram for the 85mm f/1.4, showing the position of the single aspherical element (orange coloured). (Source: Samyang.)
Who’s it for?
While this lens provides a popular focal length for portrait photography on cameras with 36 x 24 mm sensors, on the M4/3 camera we used for our tests, the focal length is equivalent to 170mm, which is a little too long and tends to have a compressing effect on facial features. It’s not totally unsuitable for portraiture; just slightly sub-optimal.
The f/1.4 maximum aperture is the fastest available in a medium telephoto lens for the M4/3 format. It should be useful for photographers to shoot in low-light conditions and will provide greater scope for shooting with a shallow depth of field than zoom lenses that cover the same focal length.
Manual-only focusing could be an issue for some potential purchasers, although the f/1.4 maximum aperture provides a nice, bright image that makes accurate focusing relatively easy. In addition, the EVFs in CSC cameras can be adjusted to provide a brighter view in low light levels.
The main reason for CSC users to buy this lens is likely to be its very affordable price tag. It’s roughly half the price of the nearest competitor, the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 75mm f/1.8 which is slightly shorter in focal length and has the advantage of autofocusing but is 2/3 EV slower.
The Olympus 75mm lens is also 260 grams lighter but it doesn’t come with a lens hood, which costs AU$79 extra. Zoom lenses covering this focal length typically have maximum apertures of f/4 or smaller, which makes them three stops (EV) slower.
Build and Ergonomics
Build quality is similar to the other Samyang lenses we’ve reviewed. The 85mm f/1.4 lens is made from a combination of metal and polycarbonate plastic, with a solid metal mounting plate, shown in the illustration below.
Angled rear view of the 85mm f/1.4 AS IF UMC lens, showing the metal lens mount. (Source: Samyang.)
Unlike the fisheye lenses, the 85mm f/1.4 has a traditional lens cap that clips onto the front of the lens and can be fitted with or without the supplied lens hood in place. The cylindrical lens hood reverses over the lens barrel for transport and storage.
The focusing ring begins roughly 22 mm behind the front of the lens. It’s approximately 30 mm wide with a 20 mm wide double band of ridged rubber that starts about 5 mm behind its leading edge. The focusing ring turns smoothly and is well damped.
Stamped in white (metres) and orange (feet) on the trailing edge of the focusing ring are distance settings that range from one metre (or four feet) to infinity. The metric distance intervals range from 0.2 metres up to two metres, extending by 0.3, 0.5, 1.0 and 3 metres to 7 metres and then jumping from 7 metres to 15 metres before reaching the infinity setting.
A depth of field scale is engraved on the thin, non-moving section of the barrel just behind the focusing ring. A narrow red band separates it from the aperture ring, which carries.
The aperture ring is stamped with nine f-stops, ranging from f/1.4 to f/22. As you turn it, it passes across 14 click stops, which occur at 1/2 EV intervals, except for the two widest and two smallest aperture settings, where the intervals are 1 EV steps.
Between the trailing edge of the aperture ring and the lens mount, the lens barrel steps inwards. No control surfaces are located on this section of the lens.
Internal focusing keeps the length of the lens constant for all distance settings and the front element doesn’t rotate, enabling angle-critical attachments to be used. Unlike the fisheye lenses, this lens accepts filters via a 72 mm diameter screw thread.
On the Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera we used for our tests, we found the best option was to shoot with the camera’s Aperture priority (A) mode. The camera was able to detect changes in image brightness as the lens was stopped down and adjust exposures accordingly. In very dim lighting, we found it useful to increase the brightness level of the EVF, although under most conditions it was simpler to focus at full aperture (albeit with a slightly bright view of the subject) and then stop down. Adjusting the ISO setting also allowed some control over image brightness in low light levels.
Our Imatest tests showed the lens came very close to meeting expectations for the 16-megapixel sensor in the OM-D E-M5 camera. As expected, the highest resolution occurred in the centre of the field at around the f/5.6 aperture setting, where edge resolution was also good enough to satisfy most potential users.
Centre resolution at f/1.4 was good but the edges and corners of the frame were relatively soft. This isn’t an issue for portraiture where interest is concentrated on the centre of the frame and edge softening can help to direct viewers’ attention there.
Both centre and edge resolution increased steadily to a peak at f/5.6, after which diffraction began to take effect. The graph below shows the results of our tests, based on JPEG files from the E-M5.
Lateral chromatic aberration remained within the ‘negligible’ band at all aperture settings, as shown in the graph of our Imatest result below. We found no evidence of coloured fringing in our test shots with this lens.
Rectilinear distortion was also very low, as you would expect with a medium telephoto lens. The very slight barrel distortion was barely detectable and would present no problems in normal usage. No significant vignetting could be seen in shots taken at f/1.4.
Bokeh was generally smooth, thanks to the eight-bladed iris diaphragm, which produces an octagonal aperture. Samyang makes no claims about circular apertures but at apertures between f/1.4 and f/2.8, the octagon produced quite attractive out-of-focus blurring with no obvious outlining or coloured fringes.
The most compelling reasons to buy the Samyang 85mm f/1.4 AS IF UMC M4/3 lens are its affordable price tag and the fact that it is the fastest medium-telephoto lens on the market for M4/3 cameras. It’s also the fastest medium-telephoto prime lens for Sony’s E-mount and Fujifilm’s X-mount cameras.
Samsung has an 85mm f/1.4 autofocus lens for its NX cameras but it’s priced at AU$1200, more than double the cost of the Samyang 85mm f/1.4 lens. That’s a high price to pay for autofocusing.
The main drawbacks of this lens are manual focusing and the lack of electronic contacts that can be ‘read’ and used by the camera. If you can live with these, this lens represents very good value for money.
Picture angle: 28.3 degrees
Minimum aperture: f/22
Lens construction: 9 elements in 7 groups (including one aspherical lens element)
Lens mounts: Canon EF, Four Thirds, Nikon F, Pentax, Sony E, Sony A, Samsung NX
Diaphragm Blades: 8
Focus drive: Manual focus only
Minimum focus: 1 metre
Filter size: 72 mm
Dimensions (Diameter x L): 78 x 100.1 mm
Weight: 565 grams
Standard Accessories: Cylindrical lens hood, front and end caps, soft carrying pouch
Based upon JPEG files taken with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera.
Vignetting at f/1.4.
Portrait shot at f/1.4; ISO 500, 1/100 second.
Close-up at f/1.4; ISO 200, 1/1000 second.
ISO 200, 1/1000 second at f/2.8.
Crop from the centre of the image above, enlarged to 100% to show centre-of-frame sharpness.
ISO 200, 1/160 second at f/11. (Taken on a wet and windy day.)
ISO 200, 1/1000 second at f/4.
ISO 200, 1/125 second at f/8.
ISO 200, 1/160 second at f/9.5.
ISO 200, 1/125 second at f/5.6.
ISO 200, 1/125 second at f/3.3.
ISO 200, 1/2500 second at f/2.
RRP: AU$499; US$299
- Build: 8.8
- Handling: 8.5
- Image quality: 8.5
- Versatility: 8.2