Over the past couple of years I’ve been shooting with Rokinon Cinema Lenses, and have been quite impressed with the results. I’ve been wanting to do a review on these lenses for a while, but held back because I was missing a key lens in the kit – the 50mm, which I just recently picked up. So finally, I’m able to share my thoughts on the Rokinon Cinema Lens Kit with all of you out there…
Throughout this review I’ll be referencing the 4 most essential Rokinon Cinema lenses: 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm. There are a number of other great cinema lenses from Rokinon currently available (more on that later), but these four are the most crucial to have as they cover the basic focal lengths needed for cinematic work.
So without further ado, let’s jump into the review.
These lenses are surprisingly well built considering the price point. They are plastic and are certainly a far cry from a Zeiss CP2’s or Canon Cinema Lenses, but that’s to be expected considering some of these lenses cost as little as $270, while traditional cinema lenses can costs thousands. Sure, I would have preferred that Rokinon used metal instead of plastic (an SLR Magic style build would have been fantastic), but then again I doubt they could have kept the same price point if they went down that path. The focus and iris rings are very smooth, and the lenses feel really solid to hold… All in all, the build quality is above average, and any shortcomings (namely the plastic housing) are mitigated by the extremely low cost of these lenses.
Rokinon have also done a really great job of emulating the feel of true cinema lenses with this lineup. From the de-clicked iris to the geared focus/iris rings, these lenses feel like they were designed with professional shooters in mind. In reality, these are stills lenses that have been rehoused for cinema – meaning that there are some differences. Specifically, the focus throw isn’t nearly as long as it would be on a traditional cinema lens (about 150 degrees vs. 300 degrees), but I don’t see that as a bad thing at all. In fact, many shooters working with these lenses are shooting as a one man band, and therefore having a slightly shorter focus throw might actually make things easier on set. Not to mention the focus throw is still longer than what you might get on many still lenses, which can be as little as 90 degrees. The 150 degree throw (more or less) on the Rokinon’s seem to be a sweet spot for the type of shooter that these lenses are designed for.
3 out of the 4 lenses in this kit have a 77mm thread size for filters, but unfortunately the 85mm lens has a 72mm thread size. This is slightly annoying as I would love to be able to use all of my 77mm filters on all lenses without having to use an adapter. But for now, I just keep a 72mm – 77mm step up ring on the 85mm lens at all times which more or less solves that problem.
One of the main reasons I opted to buy into the Rokinon Cinema line was the speed of their lenses. All four of the lenses that I am reviewing here are rated at T1.5, which is exceptionally fast. Some of the other lenses in Rokinon’s lineup are slower (for instance the 14mm is a T3.1), but for the vast majority of the work that I do I am going to be able to use one of their standard focal length lenses and shoot at T1.5, which makes me very happy.
It’s fantastic that Rokinon was able to deliver on this front, as these are obviously budget conscious cinema lenses and therefore many of the DPs/Directors using them are likely working with limited lighting and resources. The speed of these lenses make them a dream for many low-light situations, and they perform very well even when used wide open.
Here’s a shot from one of my films, taken with the 35mm T1.5 lens at maximum aperture in a very low light situation:
There is a lot of misconception about just how sharp these lenses are, especially when shooting wide open. Personally, on a real world shoot I have never had an issue with sharpness on any of the Rokinon’s that I’ve used, but at the same time I have noticed that wide open they will be slightly softer, just like almost any other lens. Some of the Rokinon’s are definitely softer than others at maximum aperture (we’ll look at that below), but once again I can’t stress enough that these are not soft lenses.
Even some of the highest quality cinema lenses out there can feel soft at times, but typically that is thought of as a good thing with other brands. For example, I was shooting with the Schneider Xenar PL Mount Cinema Lenses last week on an Arri Amira and was blown away by the image quality, even though those lenses are known to be very soft. I wasn’t able to do a side by side comparison of the Xenars and Rokinons (maybe sometime in the future), but I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the Rokinons are sharper wide open.
To illustrate the sharpness of these lenses, I took 4 test shots in my office with all four lenses set to T1.5. I intentionally didn’t color grade any of the stills because I also wanted to show the differences in contrast and color temperature, which we will touch on shortly. These were taken on my Blackmagic URSA (click to enlarge):
It’s worth noting that I had to move the camera back for the 50mm and 85mm shots to focus on the headphones properly.
As you might be able to tell from these shots, some focal lengths are indeed sharper than others. You won’t notice massive difference on an actual shoot, but once you start to pixel peep there are some discrepancies. Take a look at the same four shots, now blown up to 300%:
Looking at the shots this closely makes it quite apparent that the 24mm is definitely the softest of the bunch, at least wide open. The 50mm seems to be the sharpest, with the 35mm trailing close behind, and the 85mm starts to get soft again… Not quite as soft as the 24mm, but definitely softer than the 50mm and 35mm. These are obviously not scientific tests and I’m not using a focus chart, but I am certain that the same results would be found even in a more controlled environment.
When stopped down, all of these lenses become sharper as you might expect. By F4 or so, there is much less of a difference between the sharpness of all of the lenses. That said, for the purpose of this test and review I really wanted to test the lenses wide open as that is where they will perform at their worst, and where the biggest difference in sharpness can be seen.
Contrast & Color
Generally I find the Rokinon Cine lenses to be fairly low contrast which can be a good thing depending on how you look at it. Many of us are chasing a very high dynamic range look, so naturally a low contrast lens will help to achieve that aesthetic. That said, not everyone is going for a low-con look, and for shooters that want a more punchy and vibrant raw image, these lenses aren’t going to deliver that right out of the box. This isn’t a big deal as you can always adjust your camera settings/picture profile to compensate, but it’s something to be aware of when considering these lenses. For me personally, I like the low contrast look so this is actually a plus in my books.
To my eye, the most contrasty lens in the 50mm. The 35mm comes in second place and the 24mm and 85mm are tied for the least contrasty. In a way, you almost need to treat the 24mm and 85mm the same way (either with your in-camera settings or lighting on set) since both are softer than the 35mm and 50mm and both have the least amount of contrast.
The bigger difference between all of these lenses is the color accuracy. The 24mm lens in particular seems to be the least consistent with the rest of the kit. Take a look at the 24mm compared to the 35mm, using the same shots from above:
The 24mm is obviously more saturated and has a slightly warmer feel to it. If you look at the color of the desk or the orange case on the hard drive, you can easily spot the differences in color. The white speaker/marshall logo also make the color temperature difference fairly apparent… It’s nothing that can’t be corrected in post, but there is definitely a difference there. The other lenses all seem to be in the same ballpark with regards to saturation/color temperature, but naturally have some minor differences as they are all different pieces of glass.
The bokeh that you’ll get with the Rokinon’s is more or less what you might expect from lenses at this price point. Wide open, the lenses produce a soft circular bokeh pattern as you can see in this shot below (taken on the 85mm at T1.5):
Once you close the lenses down a bit however, you start to see more of an octagon shape. Here is the same lens stopped down to F5.6:
Naturally each lens with yield slightly different results at different apertures, but generally I find that once you’re stopped down to T3.5 or below you’ll start to see this octagon shape on all of the lenses. This is naturally a result of the shape of the iris, which is comprised of 8 blades (hence the octagon):
Distortion & Chromatic Abberation
I am really quite impressed by the accuracy and performance of these lenses. Like most other lens kits, the Rokinon’s will exhibit some distortion (the 24mm in particular shows it most obviously), but none of them distort above and beyond an acceptable point. Some of Rokinon’s other lenses that are not being reviewed here (such as the 14mm T3.1) suffer from much more severe distortion, but the four in this kit actually do quite well in that regard.
The same goes for chromatic aberration (CA). Typically CA isn’t a huge concern for me when shooting video as video resolution is so low (when compared to stills) that any fringing is usually unnoticeable. That said, it’s still something you need to look out for on any lens as some lenses can suffer from such bad CA that it will even be noticeable when shooting video.
The good news is that I found the Rokinon’s to be very strong in this area. The 85mm lens seemed to show the most chromatic aberration, but even then it wasn’t nearly at the level where it would be problematic for professional shooting. Below is a blown up still that I took with the 85mm lens which shows some purple and green fringing on the edges of this plant. Keep in mind that this was a still photo and I still had to blow it up to make the CA noticeable.
Which Lenses You Need
If you are just starting out and don’t have any Rokinon lenses, I highly recommend starting with the four lenses I have reviewed here. The 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm cover all of the major focal ranges that you will need for 95% of your work (if not more). I would happily shoot an entire feature film using those 4 focal lengths, and unless you are using a camera with an extremely small sensor (like the Blackmagic Pocket Camera), these 4 will make for an excellent cinema kit.
If you don’t want to invest in all four right away, the two most useful focal lengths would be 24mm and 50mm in my opinion. Ironically, I think the 50mm is the best of all of the Rokinon cine-lenses and the 24mm is the weakest (at least out of these 4), however both look great together and can easily be matched to each other. I personally started with the 35mm and 85mm lenses and then got the 24mm and 50mm separately, so that is an option too.
If you already have these four and want to expand your kit even further, there are two more lenses I would recommend: The 16mm T2.2 and 135mm T2.2.
The 16mm is obviously going to be helpful for those situations where you need to go wider than 24mm, but don’t want to lose too much light. Your other option (in the Rokinon cine family) is the 14mm, but as I stated earlier that has a T stop of 3.1 and I find it to be very distorted as well. The 2mm difference in focal length is negligible, so I definitely recommend the 16mm over the 14mm based on speed and overall quality.
The 135mm is another excellent lens that you might want to consider if you are shooting a lot of long lens material. Rokinon also offers a 100mm lens, but like the 14mm lens it has a T stop of 3.1, which makes it less than desirable in many situations. Thankfully the 135mm is a T2.2 which makes it far more suitable for low light shooting, and the extra 35mm will go a long way in achieving an even more obvious telephoto look.
Rokinon has truly done a great job of offering budget friendly cinema lenses to the masses. Even the most expensive cinema lens kits will have their quirks, and some lenses in any kit will always be stronger than others. The images that you’re able to capture off of these lenses are pretty remarkable considering the price point, and can easily hold a candle to many cinema lenses that cost many times their price. They will never perform as well in a test situation as a $25,000 cinema lens package, and that’s to be expected. But the fact that they are able to come so close is pretty amazing.
My favorite of all of the lenses is the 50mm as it is so beautifully sharp and accurate, and doesn’t have many quirks to complain about. The 24mm definitely is the softest and has the most room for improvement (especially because of the difference in color and contrast), but it is still a very usable lens and I wouldn’t hesitate to use it wide open. Adding a touch of sharpening in post will help to match the 24mm to the other lenses, and a simple color balance can help to offset any minor differences in color temperate.
All in all, these lenses offer the best bang for your buck of any lens kit out there right now in my opinion, and I would highly recommend them.
If you’re interested in buying all 4 lenses, I would recommend getting the T1.5 bundle through B & H to save some $350:
Noam Kroll is an award-winning Los Angeles based filmmaker, and the founder of the boutique production house, Creative Rebellion. His work can be seen at international film festivals, on network television, and in various publications across the globe. Follow Noam on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more content like this!