Pros: Very affordable, extreme magnification, T-mounts available for most popular brands, no perceived pincushion distortion.
Cons: Very large, unwieldy, heavy, poor image quality, manual focus, fixed aperture.
What is it & why did I buy it?
This is a super long-range, telephoto zoom lens made by a Korean company called Samyang. Its main use is for capturing close up shots of objects that are at an extreme distance. It sells at a bargain basement price, compared to other similar popular brand name lenses. Recently I purchased the Canon EOS 10D digital SLR camera. Prior to this, my most used SLR camera had been a Minolta Maxxum 35mm. If you are a serious photography enthusiast or a prosumer, you soon learn to appreciate the fast primary lenses over the cheaper zoom lenses. However primary lenses are also more expensive. I had made a substantial investment in lenses or varying focal lengths between 17mm wide angle, to 300mm telephoto. I was still lacking a super telephoto lens in the 1000mm range. My typical shooting habits usually dont require this much magnification. But when I saw the price, my inner gadget geek just had to have one.
Design and specifications.
The lens housing is all metal and colored white with black trimming. The objective lens is very large and accepts a 95mm filter. It also has a screw on type lens hood, with a plug in cap. The lens has an inner focus and a fixed aperture. This means that the movement of an internal element achieves the focus for the lens. The focus ring is located in front of the tripod collar and has a checkered rubber grip which makes it easy to turn it. The tripod mount with collar and a lock bolt is located near the center just behind the focus ring. Behind that is the focal length adjustment (zoom) tube and the locking ring. The end of the zoom tube is threaded to accept a t-mount. T-mounts for most popular brand cameras are sold by Phoenix Corp. At the shortest focal length of 650mm the lens is about 18.5 long. At it longest focal length of 1300mm, the lens measures about 23. The total weight is 4.5 lbs.
I mounted the lens on my old Minolta Maxxum 3000i. Shot a roll at the park. Unfortunately the photo lab ruined all my shots. All the images came out green. A few weeks later when I had the time to go for another test run, I decided to take my new Canon EOS 10D along with the Minolta. I had purchased an EOS compatible t-mount from Phoenix Corp for $25. I wanted to really test the lens with both cameras to get a true idea of its quality and handling characteristics. I started with the Canon. Because I was not restricted by film, I took over 60 shots of objects at various distances and at various focal lengths. I then mounted the Minolta camera. I decided on a test subject at 100 yards. I took two shots each at 650mm, 800mm, 900mm, 1000mm, 1100mm, 1200mm and 1300mm focal lengths. I also took another roll of random objects and people at various distances.
I was quite surprised at the images. Because there is only a fixed aperture, you have to pay close attention to your exposure setting. The 10D was better suited to using this lens because it had the additional option to adjust the ISO from shot to shot. I got the best results when I left the camera in auto-landscape mode. The Minolta is a fully auto camera and did not allow for too many manual adjustments. The images from both cameras were washed out. They were somewhat better after I reduced the exposure level. I still had to make adjustments in Photoshop to make the images acceptable. All the images with the exception of a few were dull. Even the view in the viewfinder was exceptionally grainy. This is usually the case in lower quality lenses where the manufacturer uses more elements of cheaper quality, as opposed to fewer higher-quality elements to achieve the same optical results. More elements in a lens directly result in increased loss of light to reflection and refraction.
You can see some of my test shots over here:
Price, Price, Price.
This is one of the reasons why I decided to buy this lens. A 650-1300mm lens for $300 seemed like a bargain. I had done some comparison-shopping a while back, and had not seen anything even remotely in this price range. Here are some other brand name lenses, for comparison of focal lengths and prices.
Pentax 1200mm $11,000.00
Canon 600mm EF $6500.00
Nikon 600mm $7000.00
Sigma 300-800mm $5000.00
So why is there such a big difference in price? The Samyang is a manual focus (only) lens. It only has a fixed aperture and as such, the aperture appears smaller with increased focal lengths. It does not allow for any custom aperture adjustments. The other brand lenses all have automatic focus, are very fast and are capable of a wide range of apertures.
In order to mount the lens on most popular brand SLR cameras, you must first install the t-mount on the lens. This is a simple screw-on type installation. Then the lens can be mounted on your camera as usual. The manufacturer sells t-mounts for the following camera mounts:
Pentax 42 thread PU
Pentax K/Ricoh PKR
Yashica / Contax
They are priced at $25 each and can be purchased directly from their US distributor, Phoenix Corp at www.pcaol.com. I particularly liked this feature because it let me use both my Minolta Maxxum and the Canon 10D, without any major installation issues.
No perceived pincushion distortion.
There are two most common forms of optical distortion in lenses. One is barrel distortion that is usually noticeable on wide angle lenses. This is why fisheye lens images look round. The other is pincushion distortion that is usually found on telephoto lenses. The image appears to be pinched towards the center. This is caused by the spherical shape of the lens elements. Manufacturers try to minimize this effect by using aspherical lenses. The Samyang lens does not use aspherical lenses. However the images did not show any obvious pincushion distortion. I had to overlay a grid, and even then the distortion was minor.
Fixed Aperture Only.
The more advanced lenses sold by Canon, Nikon, Pentax and Sigma, have built-in electronics that along with the camera, allow for fine control over the aperture and focus. The Samyang lens does not have such electronics. This means that you will need to have a good working knowledge of controlling the exposure with ISO and shutter settings on the camera. The fixed aperture will appear smaller with increased focal length. As you slide out the focal length adjustment tube (zoom), the aperture or the F-number is marked next to the focal lengths. They are calibrated as follows:
These are only marked on the lens, to help the photographer decide the appropriate exposure and shutter speed on the camera.
The first thing I observed was the bad ergonomics of the lens. This lens along with an SLR camera mounted is just very heavy. I used a mini tripod mounted to the lens collar. That allowed me to take shots holding the camera and lens like a rifle, with the tripod feet against my shoulder. This allowed for decent point-and-shoot on the 650mm setting. But it proved to be too shaky at anything longer. When set on a table or with a full size tripod, there was too much movement even when the tripod was locked in place. This is because the camera makes the whole assembly back heavy. The problem with this is that your frame composition gets thrown off due to the weight of the camera. I resolved this by using two tripods. One mini tripod mounted to the lens, set atop a park bench, and a full size tripod on the ground, mounted to the camera. This eliminated all the shakiness and frame composition issues. But it is not a practical solution. Another issue was the focus ring. The full range of motion for this ring is only about 40 degrees. This means you have to constantly go back and forth trying to narrow down the focus. Either they should have increased the range of motion, or they should have included a fine adjustment ring. The focus ring is almost out of reach at the longest focal length (1300mm). You really have to stretch your arm out while keeping your eye in the camera viewfinder. Also at this setting, the zoom tube displayed a slight lateral movement. It did not affect the captured images, but this could have been designed sturdier like the rest of the lens. The lens came with a nylon carry case with shoulder strap. However its large size and weight mean that you will most likely leave it at home.
Fair to Poor Image Quality.
I will preface this section by saying that an optical zoom, however bad, is always better than digital zoom or cropping a higher resolution image. On my test shots page, ( http://www.fortunecity.com/greenfield/porton/464/id37.htm ) the first two images of a clock atop a building, perfectly illustrate my statement. These were taken from over one mile away. I took one shot with my Canon 200mm lens and cropped it down to the comparison area. I took another shot with the Samyang at 600mm and also cropped it down to the comparison area. The image with the Samyang is far superior to the Canon. The next two images were taken at a 1/2 mile range. The last two shots were taken from over a mile away. However the peak performance of this lens is below 200 meters. This is evident in the following shot: http://www.fortunecity.com/greenfield/porton/464/id43.htm. This was taken from about 100 yards, and was the best shot of the day.
The Bottom Line.
This is a very affordable lens that provides extreme magnification or close-ups. It has sturdy construction but poor ergonomics. The manual focus and fixed aperture will be severe limitations to all but the most advanced photographers. It is priced to appeal to the average photographer, but its lack of auto focus and auto aperture makes it less user friendly. Besides, you will rarely if ever require this much magnification. I get more enjoyment from my Sigma 28-200mm, and my Canon 75-300mm lenses with auto focus and fast variable apertures. Overall I cannot recommend this lens without reservations.
Another thanks to Howard, for getting this lens added to the Epinions.com database.