If you’ve been in the market for a telephoto lens for Sony FE-mount, you’ve likely noticed that tight focal length lenses are quite expensive.
However, there is one major exception: the Samyang 135mm F2.0. For those who are willing to give up AF, this is a mighty manual focus lens for under $500. Note: this lens is also branded as Rokinon, they are exactly the same.
Can this budget lens stand up to its OEM Sony counterparts? Let’s find out. (spoiler alert: yes it can!)
Looking for just a quick summary before jumping in?
- Huge but well built
- Manual focus is fun and concise
- Gorgeous bokeh rendering
- A great budget telephoto option
Size & Weight
To start, I want to note that this lens is HUGE. The (Rokinon) Samyang 135mm F2.0 measures a lengthy 4.8 inches (12.2cm) and weighs a very hefty 30.4oz. Attaching the lens hood adds almost another inch, making for a rather massive lens.
That being said, many other lenses around this focal length are also on the bigger end, so we can’t really fault Samyang on this one. However, this is the type of lens that, most certainly, does not fit in my Tenba BYOB 10.
Is the lens well built?
Luckily, a lot of that weight translates into build quality. Although it’s not metal, the Samyang’s lens barrel is made of entirely high-quality plastics which feels durable and sturdy enough. It’s no Zeiss lens, but it’s more than adequate, especially considering the price.
Even the included lens hood, despite being plastic, feels sturdy. As a bonus, it’s easily reversible for storage. As a bonus, Samyang even includes a cute little drawstring bag. It’s little things like this that can make a budget lens feel just a bit more premium.
There is no weather sealing, which is a bit of a damper, but it’s not very surprising given the price. Luckily, being an entirely manual focus and mechanical lens, there’s not as much damage potential should moisture or dust get into the lens.
Overall, the lens certainly feels built to last. Although it may not sport an all-metal build, the high-quality plastics feel quite durable and the heavyweight of the lens certainly lends itself well to a premium and sturdy feel.
Aesthetics & Ergonomics
Aesthetically, the (Rokinon) Samyang 135mm F2.0 looks great. It has a gorgeous distance scale and the sleek black barrel contrasts well against the red and white text engravings.
A large ribbed rubber focus ring adorns the barrel, and a nice red ring around the mount ties together the entire look, making for a beautiful and premium looking lens.
As for ergonomics, the lens is quite heavy and long, but the nice rubberized focus ring makes for a nice gripping point for stability.
After a while, though, you’ll start to notice some serious hand fatigue due to the beefy weight of this thing. Definitely bring a camera bag so you can occasionally give your wrists a rest. It feels massive on my Sony a7.
Next up, let’s talk about sharpness. The Samyang 135mm F2.0 is no slouch, rivaling even with more expensive competitors.
When completely wide open, this lens is razor sharp. Even the far corners are practically flawless. It’s very hard to find a flaw here, even if you pixel peep to the extreme.
Stopping down, weirdly enough, actually reduces quality very slightly, but not to the point where it’s remotely noticeable.
Overall, absolutely insane performance, especially considering this is a “budget” piece of glass.
Optical Quirks & Flaws
When it comes to optical flaws, this lens has very few. Distortion is non-existent and chromatic aberrations are incredibly well controlled. There is a slight vignette, but it’s easily fixable in post.
The lens does flare a bit when shooting directly into the sun, but it can make for a bit more of an artistic look. I’m a fan of dramatic backlit portraits, so I actually prefer a bit of flaring at this focal length.
Since most photographers will use this as a portrait lens, I want to talk about just how amazing the bokeh is.
It looks absolutely spectacular. It’s bubbly, smooth, and the sense of subject isolation is fantastic. The contrast between the focused and defocused areas of an image is great.
Getting precise focus, even for still subjects, was quite difficult, however, since the depth of field is so razor thin. More on that in a minute.
Already interested in buying?
Focusing & Other Notes
As stated prior, the (Rokinon) Samyang 135mm F2.0 is an entirely manual lens. The aperture ring is clicked and the large focusing ring is well dampened and feels great to use.
The depth of field is razor thin, however, so it can be a bit of a challenge getting precise focus, but that comes with practice. Luckily, the focus throw is huge, so locking down precise focus is made a bit easier with that.
This is the type of focusing ring that definitely requires some practice, and I suspect even seasoned manual focus users will struggle for a while, as every manual lens has a different learning curve.
Overall, quite the pleasant MF experience. Challenging, but rewarding and fun. I especially liked the inclusion of a physical depth of field scale.
Another interesting note is that Samyang actually has cine/video version of this lens.
The video version uses T-stops instead, and features a geared focusing ring along with a declicked and geared aperture ring.
I’m not a videographer so I can’t really speak on whether that lens would be good or not, but I thought it was interesting that they made a stills version and a video version of this lens.
Finally, I want to mention astrophotography. A lot of astro enthusiasts swear by this lens. I don’t have a ton of knowledge of shooting the night sky, so I’ll just refer you to this article from my friends over at astrobackyard.
All I can speak on is that coma performance is great, and the lens has a long enough focal length to apparently capture nebulas and other large deep space objects.
My Final Thoughts
I generally like to give recommendations of alternatives at the end of my articles, but it’s hard to beat this lens if you’re shopping on a budget.
The Sigma 135mm F1.8 or the Sony 135mm F1.8 are obviously going to win in build quality and they, of course, offer autofocus. The Sigma, however, is almost triple the price while the Sony is quadruple the price.
As stated prior, the Samyang 135mm F2.0 simply cannot be beat for the price.
If you’re OK with manual focus and the lack of weather sealing, there’s very little reason to purchase the more expensive alternatives. Combining the excellent sharpness with the beautiful bokeh and solid build quality makes this a very mighty lens at quite the thrifty price.
If you’re interested in picking one up for yourself, I’ve included purchase links below. Thanks for reading. 🙂
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