A tale of three lenses, one camera and a curious photographer. How do the old Nikon 55mm Macro lens the 16mm Rokinon lens and the 85mm Rokinon lens do in the real world? Let's find out.

I am always curious how the real world matches up when compared to web or coffee shop hyperbole. When I buy lenses I like to take them out for a spin (no matter what the weather) and see what they do in my own hands with my own exposure techniques. This article is about three recent lens acquisitions that I wanted to get to know a bit better. The first is the old, used Nikon 55mm f2.8 macro lens. This is an older, ais, manual focus lens. The better Nikon bodies allow you to mount the lens and dial in the focal length and maximum aperture and then when you shoot the camera can read out exif information about the shot. With the information keyed in the camera knows what aperture you are setting when you shoot. I've owned plenty of variants of this lens and had high expectations for it. I shot it handheld on a gloomy day with a Nikon D7100 body. I let the camera choose the ISO up to 3200. 

What I noticed very quickly with this combo is how easy it was to achieve sharp focus in spite of the camera's smaller finder and smaller focusing screen. The "green dot" confirmation method was pretty much perfect. And I thought the lens performed very well. The two images above are from the same file. The top one is the full, uncropped frame and the second image is an approximate crop of 100%. Pixel peeping territory. I think the lens does a great job from f2.8 to f8.0 (and maybe beyond---I didn't test it there).  Certainly it's sharp enough for any use I can think for it.

All the images above are done with the same combination described above. It was a cold and rainy day and the light was low. I kept the camera and lens in a neoprene ever-ready case and pulled it out to make images as I went along. I was happy with everything I shot on that particular afternoon. 

Next up I put the Rokinon 16mm f2.0 on the front of the same camera because I had only had the opportunity to shoot inside the museum and to make a few twilight shots the first time I took the combo out. Today we had glorious sunshine and a high temperature of 63 degrees (f). All of Austin was outdoors running, biking, walking or gawking. I was right there with them.  Here are a selection of the images I took with the 16mm.

As with the Nikon macro lens above I wanted to show off how sharp the 16mm f2.0 lens could be in actual use on a high resolution camera. So the two shots just above come from the same image file. The upper frame is the full frame as captured. The frame just above is a 100% (approx.) of a detail on the right side of the wall. I was shooting in the range of f5.6 in full sun. It's the sweet spot of the lens but what it tells me is that the combo of the D7100 and the Rokinon 16mm is perfectly suited for corporate work where wide angle shots are needed. These would include factory interiors, sweeping conference room shots and many exterior location shots. The images below are sample made, handheld and focusing with the "green confirmation dot" method. The lens is a manual focus only lens but in the Nikon version it has a focus confirmation chip and the aperture ring can be set to the minimum setting which allows the user to set the aperture using the camera control dials. Nice. And it works.

 Finally, as luck would have it, I wrote about the Rokinon series of lenses yesterday, extolled the virtues of their inexpensive 85mm 1.4 and put it on my list of "lenses I want to acquire" only to stumble upon a "like new" sample in the used equipment case over at Precision Camera. With a modicum of haggling (didn't break a sweat....) I was able to purchase the lens for $200. The universe works in mysterious ways.  I didn't use it as much as I would have liked to this afternoon but I did stick it on the front of the D7100 and take it for a little spin the in the downtown area. I also have a full frame versus 100% of the same frame example right below so you'll see what I'm talking about when I say that the lens is adequately sharp. Go ahead, take a look.

Close to wide open it's looking pretty good to me. I'll know more when I put this particular sample to the test in the studio with a wonderful and patient model. But for right now I have two different 85mm lenses and I'm anxious to see the difference between them. I do know that I like using manual focus for some portraits where narrow DOF is part of the concept. It allows me to get the area of sharp focus exactly where I think it should be instead of dancing around it with the AF squares of the cameras.

Here are a few more images from the 30 minutes or so I spent with the lens. Would I buy it again? In a heartbeat. But this doesn't necessarily mean you need one...

The holes in the two images above are the impact of assault rifle rounds aimed at a guardhouse at the federal court building here in Austin. Last month an individual shot multiple rounds at various buildings in Austin before being killed by the police. It was a sad and tragic affair. I had presumed that the bullet proof glass would be repaired within the week but it's been nearly a month now and it's still in this condition. Be careful out there.

More to come.


David Mayerhofer said...

These look really good!!! I own Nikon's updated version of the 55mm macro (60mm) and use it daily for work, but I've often wondered about the 55mm. The 60mm is an absolutely superior piece of glass but I prefer the lower contrast of the older lenses.

Anonymous said...

Nice photos. I like the rendering from the macro, but do wonder if that's because it's a length I prefer.
The coffee shop window and the architectural shadows from the wider lens are great. The bullet context shot also has nice colours.
Looks like a nice set of primes which meet the discussion of your earlier post on great lenses being more than just metrics.

I'm now pondering replacing my lumix 20mm, which I love, with the newer m Zuiko 17mm. The rendering of the lumix is great, but the af performance is garbage for catching kids in low light (important for me). Annoying.

Anyway, I'll be interested to see more shots with the longer lens (portraits).

Happy new year,

Wolfgang Lonien said...

I've seen incredible results of the Rokinon (Samyang) 85mm/1.4 lens used on Olympus cameras, by Justin Bonaparte (jfinite if you search for him). Never tried it, but on my small Olympus DSLR a Nikon 85mm/1.8D lens was really hard to focus. I wonder how accurate that green dot in Nikon cameras is, some people say 'not exact enough', or 'too much wiggle'. Do you have to AF-adjust it, even if these are manual lenses?

Anonymous said...

If you ever go to Finley's Barber Shop to have your hair cut, please ask them where they (stole) got inspiration for that lion logo. Just for the heck of it.

The logo looks way too familiar to be their own original design. Looks like it's only missing a sword, and a twist in the lion's tail from a certain 100 years old state logo.

Not that it's such a big deal, just saying. As they say, copying is the highest form of flattery, or something along those lines.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Kirk. Once again clear, concise examples of the real world use of equipment likely to be bought and used in combination. Lab reports etc. are of little use to me; their intention is understood, their application not so much. Please do continue your offerings.

ps: should you get to the "How & why" electronic portrait book, count me in. Howard

Carlo Santin said...

I find the Nikon green dot focus confirmation much easier to use and much more reliable than Sony's focus peaking. I've pretty much given up on using manual focus lenses and adapters with the Nex 6, it's too much of a hassle to get good focus. Focus peaking isn't very accurate for me, I always have to zoom in to be sure, especially for portraits, where I experience a lot of near misses with focus peaking. I have taken countless photos where focus seems to be good, and focus peaking indicates it is, but when I process the photo the focus is just not exactly right, just a little off, just barely noticeable. Though I do have problems with my eyes, and I need to get bifocals very soon...perhaps that's all it is. But I seldom have a problem with the Nikon green dot, bad eyes and all. I'm more of an AF guy now anyway, my aging eyes just don't enjoy MF. Luckily there are plenty of very nice AF lenses to choose from in all systems and formats.

Mike Rosiak said...

Austin has bluer sky than we have in the Mid Atlantic region.

Anonymous said...

I am always amazed at your exposure. Do you mind sharing your technique? (No search on your blog to try and find past posts about this.)