Rokinon is working to establish itself as the go-to budget brand for Sony mirrorless camera owners. It offers a decent catalog of affordable prime lenses for the system, and unlike its earlier efforts, the lenses support autofocus. The Rokinon 85mm F1.4 AF Sony E ($699), also sold under the Samyang brand name, is its take on Sony’s high-end 85mm F1.4 GM. It delivers strong image quality for a fraction of the price, but is held back by inconsistent autofocus accuracy. If you’re shopping in this price range, the Sony FE 85mm F1.8 is a better buy.
A Well-Made Lens
Some of Rokinon’s autofocus lenses are housed in light, cheap-feeling plastic barrels. That’s not the case with the 85mm F1.4 Sony AF. Its housing is matte black metal. Aesthetics are minimalist—there’s a red accent ring ahead of the focus control, and some plain white text to indicate focal length, aperture, and branding, but that’s really it.
Sony a7R IV, f/1.4, 1/5000-sec, ISO 100
The 85mm captures quite a bit of light, though, and covers full-frame image sensors, so it’s a little big for a prime. It measures 3.9 by 3.5 inches (HD), weighs 1.3 pounds, and supports 77mm front filters. A reversible lens hood, the only plastic component, is included, along with a carrying pouch and the standard front and rear caps.
Rokinon advertises the lens as protected from dust and splashes. I used it in the aftermath of an ice storm along with my Sony a7R IV, but was hesitant to take the pair out in serious weather. The lack of a rubber seal around the mount gives me enough pause to question how well it will hold up under heavy precipitation. I’d feel comfortable using the lens in light rain or a drizzle, but would avoid taking it outdoors without some additional protection when working in heavy rain or wet snow.
Sony a7R IV, f/1.4, 1/320-sec, ISO 6400
The only control of note is the manual focus ring. It occupies a big portion of the barrel, and is finished in knurled metal. It turns comfortably, but I can’t say I love the manual focus experience. The focus motor drives the lens in short spurts, rather than smooth transitions. It means that photographers may have a little trouble locking in focus on the first try when working manually.
The staccato action of the manual focus may be why we saw some inaccurate results both in lab tests and in the field. When the lens hits focus, results are outstandingly sharp, but too often it just misses its target. It’s a bit less of an issue if you use a 24MP camera, where absolute perfect focus isn’t as critical as with the 42MP and 60MP chips Sony uses in its a7R family.
Oddly enough, things are better in video mode. A rack from infinity focus to the close-up distance shows a smooth transition in focus. On the downside, you can see the breathing effect here—the framing changes along with focus—but it’s pretty common with short telephoto lenses.
Focus is available to about 3 feet (0.9-meter), good enough for 1:9 life-size reproduction. It’s definitely not macro, but a fine working distance for portraits, or more abstract nature shots—several images in this review were shot in the aftermath of a winter ice storm.
Sony a7R IV, f/1.4, 1/5000-sec, ISO 320
Optical stabilization isn’t included, but it’s an uncommon feature in this focal length, and most full-frame Sony cameras have it built into the body. If you absolutely must have it in an 85mm lens, the pricey Zeiss Batis 1.8/85 is your only option in E-mount.
Strong Resolution, With Caveats
I tested the 85mm F1.4 along with Sony’s highest-resolution camera body, the 60MP a7R IV, and software from Imatest. The pair nets excellent resolution at f/1.4 (4,880 lines), and is outstanding starting at f/2 (5,238 lines). It keeps that level of quality through f/8. Diffraction cuts into clarity at f/11, but results are still very good for the a7R IV (4,245 lines). At f/16 there’s a more noticeable drop in clarity, delivering just-okay resolution (3,500 lines).
Sony a7R IV, f/1.4, 1/8000-sec, ISO 160
Rokinon doesn’t include f/22 as an option—it’s not typically included in f/1.4 lenses. If you’re pairing the lens with a sensor with less resolution, like the 42MP a7R III or the 24MP a7 III, we expect you to see less of a drop in clarity at f/11 and f/16. I’d feel comfortable using it down to f/11 on pretty much any camera if I was going for a shot with a wide depth of focus.
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That is, when the lens hits focus. We had to redo some lab tests after the first round netted misfocused results at f/2.8 and f/4—the camera is set to AF-S with a self-timer enabled for these tests. In the real world, I typically use AF-C, and found that the lens would slightly miss its target often enough to be a caveat, but not to the point where it’s a deal breaker.
Sony a7R IV, f/1.4, 1/5000-sec, ISO 320
Chromatic aberration is also a concern—it’s visible at high-contrast areas, easily noticeable in tree branches against the sky. If you shoot JPGs, the in-camera corrections knock out false purple hues pretty well. If you work in Raw format, you may find that you’ll need to do more in Lightroom than click the Remove Chromatic Aberration checkbox—I had to dial in some manual removal to get eliminate the effect.
Distortion is well controlled, and if you work in JPG format you won’t notice a vignette at /1.4 and f/2. But there is a dark cast at the edges in uncorrected Raw images—you might like the effect for portraits, and if you don’t, it’s easy enough to ameliorate in Lightroom or Capture One.
For F1.4 Fans on a Budget
The Rokinon 85mm F1.4 AF Sony E has loads of appeal for full-frame photographers looking for a budget-friendly portrait lens. It’s built quite well, and while it’s bulky, it’s not excessively heavy. Balance on a full-frame a7 series body is great.
Sony a7R IV, f/1.4, 1/250-sec, ISO 800
Optics are strong, too. When the lens hits focus, it’s incredibly sharp. But there is some false color visible, a concern for Raw photographers, and autofocus isn’t as consistent as you get with name-brand alternatives.
If you absolutely love the f/1.4 look, but don’t want to spend thousands on the FE 85mm F1.4 GM, the Rokinon 85mm is a solid value option. But I’d steer most photographers to the $600 Sony FE 85mm F1.8 instead. It’s a better optical performer, and it’s smaller and lighter. The only thing you’ll lose is a little bit of light when shooting wide open, and with high-ISO performance on modern cameras as good as it is, you’re not likely to notice.
Rokinon 85mm F1.4 AF Sony E
The Bottom Line
The Rokinon 85mm F1.4 AF Sony E costs a lot less than Sony’s G Master 85mm and captures just as much light, but is held back by spotty autofocus accuracy.