I've been shooting with Rokinon Cinema Lenses for the past few years and I've been quite impressed with the results. I've wanted to check these lenses for some time, but held back because I was missing a key lens in the kit – the 50mm lens that I just took. I can finally share my thoughts on the Rokinon Cinema Lens Kit with all of you …
In this test I refer to the 4 most important Rokinon Cinema lenses: 24 mm, 35 mm, 50 mm, 85 mm. There are a number of other great Rokinon cinema lenses out there (more on that later), but these four are the most important because they cover the basic focal lengths required for filming.
So let's jump back in time without further ado.
Given the price, these lenses are surprisingly well built. They are made of plastic and are certainly a long way from Zeiss CP2 or Canon cinema lenses. However, this is to be expected when you consider that some of these lenses only cost $ 270, while conventional cinema lenses can cost thousands. Sure, I would have preferred Rokinon to use metal instead of plastic (an SLR Magic style would have been fantastic), but on the other hand, I doubt they could have kept the same price if they had gone that way. The focus and the iris rings are very smooth and the lenses feel very solid … All in all, the build quality is above average and all defects (namely the plastic housing) are mitigated by the extremely low cost of these lenses.
Rokinon did a really great job with this cast to emulate the feel of real cinema lenses. From the unclipped iris to the focused focus / iris rings, these lenses feel as if they were designed for professional shooters. In reality, they are still images that have been remodeled for the cinema – which means that there are some differences. In particular, the focus throw is not nearly as long as with a conventional cinema lens (about 150 degrees versus 300 degrees), but I don't consider it bad at all. In fact, many shooters working with these lenses shoot as a one-man band, so a slightly shorter focus throw could actually make things easier on the set. Not to mention that the focus throw is still longer than with many standing lenses, which can only be 90 degrees. The 150 degree throw (more or less) on the Rokinon seems to be a sweet spot for the shooter for whom these lenses were developed.
3 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 a bit annoying as I would like to be able to use all of my 77mm filters on all lenses without having to use an adapter. But at the moment I always have a 72mm-77mm step-up ring on the 85mm lens that more or less solves this problem.
One of the main reasons I chose the Rokinon Cinema line was the speed of its lenses. All four lenses that I review here are rated T1.5, which is exceptionally fast. Some of the other lenses in Rokinon's lineup are slower (for example, the 14mm lens is a T3.1), but for the vast majority of my work, I will be able to use one of their standard focal length lenses and will be able to shoot at T1.5, which I do very pleased.
It is fantastic that Rokinon has been successful in this regard as it is obviously budget-conscious cinema lenses and therefore many of the DPs / directors who use it are likely to work with limited lighting and resources. The speed of these lenses makes them a dream for many low light situations and they work 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 very low light conditions:
There is a lot of misunderstanding about how sharp these lenses are, especially when shooting wide open. Personally, I have never had a problem with the sharpness of one of the Rokinons I use when shooting in the real world, but at the same time I have found that they are wide open, just like almost any other lens. Some of the Rokinons are definitely softer than others at maximum aperture (we'll look at that below), but again I can't stress enough that they're not soft lenses.
Even some of the highest quality cinema lenses can sometimes feel soft, but this is usually considered a good thing by other brands. For example, last week I took pictures with the Schneider Xenar PL Mount Cinema lenses on an Arri Amira and was overwhelmed by the image quality, even though these lenses are known to be very soft. I couldn't compare the Xenars and Rokinons side by side (maybe sometime in the future), but I wouldn't be surprised if some of the Rokinons were more 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 purposely did not color-evaluate any of the still images, because I also wanted to show the differences in contrast and color temperature, which we will discuss shortly. These were recorded 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 really focus on the headphones.
As you may see from these shots, some focal lengths are actually sharper than others. You won't notice a massive difference in an actual shoot, but once you start pixel peeping, there are some inconsistencies. Check out the same four shots that are now 300% inflated:
A closer look at the recordings shows that the 24 mm format is definitely the softest, at least wide open. The 50 mm seem to be the sharpest, with the 35 mm close behind and the 85 mm becoming soft again … Not quite as soft as the 24 mm, but definitely softer than the 50 mm and 35 mm. Obviously these are not scientific tests and I do not use a focus diagram, but I am sure that the same results will be achieved in a controlled environment.
If these lenses are stopped, they will become sharper than expected. At F4 or so there is a much smaller difference between the sharpness of all lenses. For this test and this review, however, I absolutely wanted to test the lenses wide open, because they perform poorly there and the biggest difference in sharpness can be seen.
Contrast & color
In general, I find that the Rokinon Cine lenses have a relatively low contrast, which can be a good thing depending on your perspective. Many of us strive for a look with a very high dynamic range, so naturally a low-contrast lens helps to achieve this aesthetic. That said, not everyone aspires to a low-con look, and for shooters who want a more punchy and vivid raw image, these lenses won't deliver this immediately. This is not a big deal as you can adjust your camera settings / picture profile at any time to compensate for this. However, keep this in mind when considering these lenses. For me personally, I like the low-contrast look, so this is actually a plus in my books.
For me the most high contrast lens of the 50mm. The 35 mm come in second place and the 24 mm and 85 mm are bound for the least contrast. In a way, you have to treat the 24 mm and 85 mm almost equally (either with your settings in the camera or with the lighting on the set), since both are softer than the 35 mm and 50 mm and both have the least contrast.
The bigger difference between all of these lenses is the color accuracy. The 24mm lens in particular appears to be the least compatible with the rest of the kit. Look at the 24 mm compared to the 35 mm with the same pictures from above:
The 24mm is obviously more saturated and feels a bit warmer. If you look at the color of the desk or the orange case on the hard drive, you can easily see the color differences. The white speaker / Marshall logo also makes the difference in color temperature pretty clear. It's nothing that can't be corrected in the post, but there is definitely a difference. The other lenses all seem to be in the same range in terms of saturation / color temperature, but of course they have some minor differences as they are all different pieces of glass.
The bokeh you get with the Rokinon is more or less what you can expect from lenses at this price. Opened wide, the lenses create a soft circular bokeh pattern, as you can see in this shot below (taken at 85mm at T1.5):
However, once you close the lenses a bit, you will see more of an octagonal shape. Here the same lens is stopped on F5.6:
Of course, every lens with different apertures gives slightly different results, but generally I find that once you set it to T3.5 or below, you'll see this octagon shape on all lenses. Of course, this is a result of the shape of the iris, which consists of 8 blades (hence the octagon):
Distortion and chromatic aberration
I am really impressed with the accuracy and performance of these lenses. Like most other lens kits, the Rokinons have some distortion (especially the 24mm shows this most clearly), but none of them distort beyond an acceptable point. Some of the other Rokinon lenses that are not discussed here (like the 14mm T3.1) suffer from much more distortion, but the four in this kit are actually quite good in this regard.
The same applies to chromatic aberration (CA). Usually, CA is not a big problem for me when recording videos because the video resolution (compared to still images) is so low that edges are usually not noticed. Still, it's still something you have to look out for with any lens, as some lenses can suffer from such a bad CA that it is even noticeable when recording video.
The good news is that I found the Rokinons very strong in this area. The 85mm lens seemed to show the most chromatic aberration, but even then it wasn't nearly as high as it would be problematic for professional shots. Below is an enlarged photo that I took with the 85mm lens and that has some purple and green edges on the edges of this plant. Remember this was a still image and I still had to blow it up to make the CA stand out.
What lenses do you need?
If you're just getting started and don't have Rokinon lenses, I highly recommend starting with the four lenses I've reviewed here. The 24 mm, 35 mm, 50 mm and 85 mm cover all important focus areas that you need for 95% of your work (if not more). I would like to make a full movie with these 4 focal lengths, and if you don't use a camera with an extremely small sensor (like the Blackmagic Pocket Camera), these 4 are an excellent cinema kit.
If you don't want to invest in all four right away, the two most useful focal lengths in my opinion are 24mm and 50mm. Ironically, I think the 50mm is the best of all Rokinon cine lenses and the 24mm is the weakest (at least of these 4), but both look good together and can be easily matched. I personally started with the 35mm and 85mm lenses and then got the 24mm and 50mm lenses separately, so this is also an option.
If you already have these four and would like to expand your kit even further, I would recommend two more lenses: the 16mm T2.2 and the 135mm T2.2.
The 16 mm format is of course helpful if you need a width of more than 24 mm but do not want to lose too much light. Your other option (in the Rokinon-Cine family) is the 14mm format, but as I said before, it has a 3.1 T-stop and I find it very distorted too. The difference in focal length of 2mm is negligible, so I definitely recommend the 16mm versus the 14mm based on speed and overall quality.
The 135mm lens is another great lens to consider when shooting a lot of long lens material. Rokinon also offers a 100mm lens, but like the 14mm lens has a 3.1 T-stop, making it less desirable in many situations. Luckily, the 135mm is a T2.2, which is much better suited for shooting in low light, and the additional 35mm makes a significant contribution to achieving an even more obvious telephoto look.
Rokinon has done a really great job of offering inexpensive cinema lenses to the masses. Even the most expensive cinema lens kits have their quirks, and some lenses in each kit are always stronger than others. The pictures you can take with these lenses are quite remarkable considering the price and can easily hold a candle for many cinema lenses that cost many times their price. You'll never perform as well in a test situation as a $ 25,000 cinema lens, and that's to be expected. But the fact that they can get that close is pretty amazing.
My favorite among all lenses is the 50mm lens because it is so sharp and accurate and doesn't have many quirks to complain about. The 24mm lens is definitely the softest and most in need of improvement (especially due to the different colors and contrasts), but it's still a very usable lens and I wouldn't hesitate to use it wide open. If you add a touch of sharpness to the post, you can adjust the 24 mm to match the other lenses. A simple color balance can help compensate for slight differences in color temperature.
All in all, I think these lenses offer the best price for your current lens kit, and I highly recommend them.
If you'd like to buy all 4 lenses, I would recommend getting the T1.5 package from B&H to save about $ 350:
Rokinon T1.5 4 Lens Cinema Kit – $ 1996.00 at B&H
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Noam Kroll is an award-winning filmmaker from Los Angeles and founder of the boutique production house Creative Rebellion. His work can be seen at international film festivals, on network television and in various publications around the world. Follow Noam on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more content like this!