Large-sensor cameras, especially video-enabled DSLRs with APS-C or full-frame sensors, have changed low-budget filmmaking forever. Like HD or 24p capture, the ability to use fast prime lenses to capture cinematic shallow depth of field was a huge breakthrough for filmmakers used to shooting with camcorders that contained 1⁄3-inch CCDs and fixed zoom lenses.
But, obviously, nothing is perfect, and perhaps the biggest drawback for most shooters working with DSLRs has always been focus. As you probably know, achieving critical focus is one of the most difficult skill sets to acquire, especially when shooting wide open on a moving subject. But, when using SLR lenses with autofocus, it makes it even more difficult due to the lenses’ short focus throw, which is the distance you need to turn your focus ring while focusing from zero to infinity.
For those of you on a shoestring budget, but who still want to capture professional-looking images, a great solution for DSLR shooters are Rokinon VDSLR lenses. Rokinon has been in the lens business since 1979 (sold as Samyang in Europe and Asia), but now they’re making a big push, targeting low-budget shooters with their manual-focus lenses. I recently got to try out three of their EF-mount VDSLR lenses, which included the 14mm T3.1, 35mm T1.5 and 85mm T1.5. Rokinon also manufactures their VDSLR lenses for Nikon F, Sony A and E, and many others mounts.
All three lenses I tested had full-frame (24x36mm) coverage, geared focus and aperture control rings, and depth-of-field markings. The geared focus and aperture rings have teeth that are easy to grip with your hands or with a follow-focus device and are almost impossible to slip. And, although the lens bodies are predominantly made of plastic, they still have a solid, heavy feel to them.
The Rokinon 14mm lens had a 115.7º angle of view on my 5D Mark III, a built-in petal-type lens hood and a minimum focus distance of only 0.9 feet. The 35mm was my go-to lens most of the time (for some reason, Rokinon doesn’t offer a 50mm in their cine lens range) and performed great. The lens has multilayer coating to reduce flares and has a minimum focusing distance of only 12 inches. The 85mm T1.5 has an angle of view of 28.3º and a minimum focusing distance of 3.6 feet, and features a "de-clicked" aperture to reduce noise while focusing. One important thing to remember is that the Rokinons provide no electronic communication to your camera, so you’ll need to set your exposure manually on the aperture ring of the lens instead of setting it in the camera.
In terms of performance, especially for 1920×1080 motion capture, the lenses performed quite well. The images were very sharp, and even with the 14mm, the corners didn’t vignette. Obviously, you’re not shooting with Zeiss Master Prime or Leica Summilux-C glass, but when you’re dealing with the H.264 compression during motion capture on a DSLR, the Rokinons will do the job more than adequately.
I’ve always been a big believer in acquiring lenses and accessories that are priced in line with your camera body. For me, the Rokinons’ biggest drawing power is their price. The 14mm T3.1 retails for only $449, the 35mm T1.5 is $599, and the 85mm T1.5 is only $399, which is less than half and almost a third of the price of the equivalent Zeiss ZE SLR lenses. Although the Zeiss lenses have a much better build, the Rokinons have a better focus throw because of their larger barrel and protruded focus ring teeth.
The Rokinon VDSLR primes are the perfect solution for filmmakers who are priced out of the cine lens marketplace, but need more focus control. Now, if they would only offer a 50mm.
Contact: Rokinon, (800) 441-1100, www.rokinon.com.