Hands-On Review of the Samyang AF 85mm f/1.4 RF Lens For Canon EOS R
The 85mm focal length is most likely the portrait photographer’s lens of choice, as this lens combines both incredible image quality, artistic blur, and minimal distortion.
The minimum focusing distance for this lens is approximately 85.34cm from the intended focal point. This means that the photographer will have to stand further back than when using another focal length, such as the 35mm.
The depth-of-field has the potential for that bokeh and creamy background that many desire for natural headshots.
For whom is this lens?
The 85mm focal length is often a must for photographers who have the room to work with it, and who don’t want to be super close to their subjects while shooting.
For portrait lovers, the little distortion gives a slimming appearance to the subject. As an addition, the compression provided by the 85mm focal length, combined with the depth of field of fast f/1.4 or f/1.2 85mm lenses, produced a much lusted-after creamiest of creamy bokeh renditions.
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In other fields of photography, such as sports, an 85mm is a great intermediate length that can get the user closer to the action on the sideline without limiting the ability to shoot the rest of the action. Compared to other popular telephoto lenses, like 135mm or 200mm, an 85mm lens is a much less expensive, much more compact and portable option.
Why it’s worth to consider Samyang?
There are many 85mm lenses to consider on the market, and third-party lenses are getting very popular among photographers as they are capable of delivering excellent results with more affordable prices.
Korean lens manufacturer Samyang is best known for its range of manual-focus lenses.
However, and for some years now, the company’s attention has been diverted towards expanding its line-up of great quality autofocus lenses.
Samyang’s 85mm is the first objective from a third-party company that brings a lens of this focal length for the new RF mount from Canon, based on their long-based experience manufacturing similar lenses for other brands.
Its cost is also just a fraction of the Canon version, which has a price listed at around $2,700.00.
The company is clearly thinking ahead on the new EOS R system, a promise that will be the point of the spear for the years to come for this brand. We have seen the introduction of Canon’s first cameras – the Canon EOS R and RP – and the most awaited camera of the year, the Canon EOS 5R, with rumors rumbling on further models, such as the 6R. Therefore, Samyang looks forward to keeping developing quality objectives for this mount.
As Samyang specifies:
Samyang’s RF series is known for its outstanding image quality since the AF 14mm f/2.8 RF was awarded the prestigious TIPA award in 2020 as “best mirrorless prime wide-angle lens.”
The new AF 85mm RF also makes no compromise in image quality: A total of 11 elements in 8 groups, with 4 high-refractive (HR) optics and an extra low-dispersion (ED) lens, have been designed to create impressive image quality from corner to corner.
Build and handling
Typical of Samyang autofocus and manual-focus lenses, this version has a high standard of build quality. The metal mounting plate and up-market plastic barrel feel solid and well-engineered, complete with weather-seals. Inside, the optical path is based on nine elements in seven groups and includes a hybrid aspherical element. “Ultra Multi-Coating” is also applied to keep ghosting and flare to a minimum.
Easily manageable, the Samyang is only a fraction of the weight of the latest Canon 85mm.
As mentioned before, it is the first option from a third-company manufacturer and, therefore, the first point of comparison.
It is worth mentioning that the RF version is bigger and heavier than Samyang’s EF version. Something completely normal to adapt lenses to the 54mm RF mount. The RF mount’s large diameter allows wider lens elements to be placed closer to the sensor, reducing the need to bend the light rays as smaller-diameter lens mounts do. This causes the effect of minimizing aberrations and facilitating more effective lens arrangements.
Onboard controls boil down to a single autofocus/manual focus switch and a manual focus ring. The autofocus system itself is based on a Dual LSM (Linear Supersonic Motor), which is fast and virtually silent in operation.
However, unlike with an ultrasonic ring-type arrangement, the manual focus ring has an electronic rather than mechanical coupling. The upshot is that the focus ring only works when power is supplied from the camera, for example, after the shutter button’s light press.
Just as its EF counterpart, the RF lens is quick to autofocus with very good accuracy, even under dull, indoor lighting conditions. The fly-by-wire manual focus ring enables very fine and precise adjustments, especially when using a magnified preview in live view mode. Centre-sharpness isn’t overly impressive at f/1.4 but is rather better at f/2 and excellent from f/2.8 onwards, enough for portraitures. Lateral chromatic aberration is reasonably well controlled at f/1.4 but can be rather noticeable at narrower apertures.
Contrast is impressive even when shooting wide-open at f/1.4, and center-sharpness is pretty acceptable, although it drops off more than usual towards the edges. That’s no real problem for portraiture, and the noticeable vignetting can also be seen as a bonus and avoid this step-in post-production. When stopping down a little to gain a bit more depth of field, bokeh remains great, aided by a well-rounded nine-blade diaphragm.
Samyang is still new to the autofocus aspect of lens design. That has mainly been their Achilles heel to this point, especially considering that its line-up includes only two EF/RF AF lenses, and there is still a long way to catch up with other manufacturers for these mounts.
However, the company has 40 years of experience manufacturing great quality glasses, and corrections have been notorious, and firmware files are available for updates.
As an example, Samyang has begun to implement dual Linear Sonic Motors into its design, which results in dramatically quieter and more refined autofocus. There is a little sound associated with AF-S performance, and if you want the fastest speed for stills, that is the way to go.
There is a split-second pause where momentum spools up, and then focus happens very quickly. Overall, focus speed in AF mode is pretty fast. Its focus speed is about on par with many of the 85 mm lenses that are out there on the market.
What is outstanding is Eye AF. Samyang got a boost in that the release of the AF 85mm coincided with one of the most important highlights for the new Canon’s cameras. Samyang brought improved focus algorithms along with enhanced tracking in the form of Real-Time Eye AF and Real-Tracking, which makes it a perfect choice for portraitures.
What we liked
- Quite compact and lightweight
- Relatively inexpensive
- Good image quality
What could be better
- Centre-sharpness isn’t overly impressive at f/1.4
- No optical stabilizer
- Ring control, such as Canon’s original
The release of the Samyang AF 85mm / 1,4 RF is a pleasant surprise for Canon shooters. Especially for those who already moved to the mirrorless system or to those who are still considering and waiting for the new cameras to be introduced.
Many photographers can’t afford the lofty price tag of the only other option available on the market, the original Canon lens. Others don’t want to contend with its size and weight either.
Therefore, this new option from Samyang gets very attractive as it is smaller, lighter, and more affordable. The length is less than 10cm, and it weighs 582g without lens cap and hood.
It is perfectly sharp enough to capture the finer points of portraiture while delivering a soft and creamy bokeh and a smooth transition between focused and defocused areas. The Samyang 85 mm finds a nice balance with price and quality build, rendering good autofocus performance, and image quality that is, essentially, near perfect for portrait work.
In combination with the Samyang AF 85mm f/1.4 RF, I shoot the images in this review with the Godox AD200 Pro, the new AD300 Pro, Magbox, and other MagMod’s tools, a set-up that I recommend personally without hesitation for portrait photography.