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Review: The Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS

A sharp, light and cheap option for mirrorless astrophotographers

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Can the new Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS compete with the Zeiss Touit 12mm f/2.8? Here are my thoughts on this unique lens.

A few months ago I showed readers how to pick a lens for milky way photography. In the conclusion of the guide, there was one particular type of lens that stands out above all the rest: the fast wide angle. Rokinon has been a particularly popular manufacturer for photographers interested in astrophotography because their lenses often outperform many of the more expensive offerings from Canon or Nikon at a much lower price. The lenses from Rokinon eschew the typical modern norm of autofocus or image stabilization, instead focusing solely on the optical performance. You can find the same lenses under other brand names too: the original manufacturer is Samyang and their lenses are available under the names Rokinon, Bower, Walimex and a few others.

The all new Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS is unique because it’s a lens design dedicated to mirrorless cameras. It’s made specifically for compact system cameras with a short flange focal distance and no reflex mirror like the Fujifilm X-Series, Sony Apha/Nex Series and the Olympus OM-D line. It’s also notable as the fastest 12mm lens ever made for APS-C sensor cameras. With a super wide field of view of almost 99° and a fast f/2.0 aperture, it becomes the highest scoring dedicated mirrorless lens on my astrophoto lens rating system to date with a score of 2176. It’s unique in that no other manufacturer offers a lens with as wide a field of view and as large an aperture for APS-C mirrorless cameras.

The announcement of the 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS lens is also significant in that Rokinon is finally expanding its support for mirrorless cameras. Rokinon has upheld a reputation for offering some of the best bang for the buck lenses for any camera system and by now offering such a competitive mirrorless lens design, they’re helping fuel the push towards mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras. Some manufacturers like Fujifilm and Olympus have completely abandoned the DSLR design for mirrorless cameras and now every major camera manufacturer has offered at least one mirrorless camera design. Mirrorless cameras like the Olympus OM-D E-M1 and Fujifilm X-T1 are directly competing with their larger DSLR cousins but offer smaller, lighter overall systems.

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B&H gave me the opportunity to review this lens, and once I received it, I didn’t put it down for over a month, shooting with it in Germany, Italy, and California. Here are the results:

First Impressions

If you have used the Rokinon 8mm f/2.8 Fisheye, this lens will feel remarkably similar and that’s a very good thing. It’s built out of high quality plastics with a metallic lens mount. It clicks firmly against the lens mount with no noticeable side to side play and only a slight amount of rotation play, no more than any of my other lenses. It feels rather dense for its size, presumably from the 12 element design. The lens hood also snaps in place with a satisfying click and has no noticeable play once installed.

The aperture ring feels very similar to other Rokinon lenses. It rotates with affirmative clicks at each half-stop from f/2.0 to f/22. The focusing ring is separated from the aperture ring with a red anodized aluminum ring. The focusing ring is plastic and has a broad grip and it rotates very smoothly and silently but with enough damping that it will stay where you want it. It requires just over 1/4 turn to focus from minimum distance all the way to infinity which is a very comfortable range for both fast and precise focusing. The lens has a rear focusing design so the front element and lens barrel do not move at all when focusing which makes the lens particularly nice for filter use.

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The lens has a very narrow diameter for most of the lens barrel and then it tapers toward the front element to a rather large filter thread size of 67mm. This is presumably for prevention of vignetting when using filters because of the lens’s wide field of view so it’s probably unavoidable by design (The Zeiss Touit 12mm has a very similar taper near the front element). It’s large enough that the camera will rest on the edge of the lens barrel when you set it on a table. In practice though, it’s still a very compact lens, especially for a fast retrofocal design. It’s almost the same size as Fujifilm’s XF 14mm f/2.8 R and actually smaller and lighter than Zeiss Touit 12mm f/2.8 despite being a full stop faster than both. It’s just the right size and weight for handheld use of small mirrorless cameras. It feels very well balanced on small camera bodies like the Canon EOS M. At a glance, it looks and feels like a very nice lens, more than worthy of its price tag.

Focusing

The Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 is a manual focus design so it inherits all the quirks of use that come with using manual focus. Unfortunately, the lens does not have depth of field marks which is disappointing for a fast wide angle prime. As a result, hyperfocal shooting is a little more difficult and likely requires use of some sort of digital focus aid like focus peaking or magnified live-view.

The focus distance scale markings on the lens are also inaccurate on my copy: a problem that I’ve found to be common with Rokinon lenses. The same was true for my review of the Rokinon 14mm f/2.8. Simply put, infinity is not at the infinity mark; on my copy it’s actually slightly past it. This means that users should probably ignore the distance marks if they’re worried about critical focus when shooting wide open and instead rely on their camera’s focusing aids like magnified live view or focus peaking. I really wish that the focusing distance marks were more accurate and that the lens included a hyperfocal depth of field scale.

Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS at f/2.0 -- Anza Borrego Desert State Park, California

Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS at f/2.0 — Anza Borrego Desert State Park, California

Image Quality

I, along with most other photographers, am probably most interested in the performance of the lens when used wide open at f/2.0 because it’s the only 12mm for APS-C sensors to offer such a fast aperture. I had a lot of skepticism that Rokinon would be able to keep the performance acceptable when shooting at f/2.0. While all my experiences with Rokinon lenses in the past (14mm f/2.8 and 24mm f/1.4) have shown spectacular performance wide open, the new 12mm f/2.0 is a rather extreme design. It’s a very short focal length with a large relative aperture in a very compact package. Usually, something’s gotta give when lens designs are pushed to such extremes. Luckily, that doesn’t seem to be the case with the Rokinon 12mm: its performance wide open is exceptional, making it a perfect lens for astrophotography.

Sharpness Test: Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS versus Zeiss Touit 12mm f/2.8

The obvious competitor to this lens is the Zeiss Touit 12mm f/2.8. Both of these lenses are very good but the Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS has three distinct differences: it’s manual focus only, it’s faster by one full stop (f/2.0 vs f/2.8) and it’s about half the price (unless you count the recently announced deal on the Zeiss Touit 12mm f/2.8 and 32mm f/1.8 kit).

Comparison: Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS vs. Zeiss Touit 12mm f/2.8

Comparison: Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS vs. Zeiss Touit 12mm f/2.8

The two lenses are very similar looking from the front but the Zeiss is a bit larger than the Rokinon. Neither is a particularly big lens but it’s curious how much bigger the Zeiss is, even though it’s a full stop slower. I presume this is because the Zeiss needs room for the autofocus mechanism. I tested these lenses side-by-side while visiting Anza Borrego Desert State Park in California. This is the full view of the test shot:

Sharpness Test Shot for the Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS vs. Zeiss Touit 12mm f/2.8

Sharpness Test Shot for the Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS vs. Zeiss Touit 12mm f/2.8

Even wide open at f/2.0, the Rokinon 12mm has excellent sharpness. It’s sharper at f/2.0 than the Zeiss at f/2.8, a real accomplishment. The Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 starts very sharp in the center wide-open, with good performance in the corners. Both lenses peak in sharpness at about f/5.6 and remain very good until about f/11 after which the sharpness drops due to diffraction. I don’t recommend using either lens at f/22 if you’re concerned about the best sharpness. Right click the sample images below and choose “Save Link As… or Save Target As…” to save and view the full size images.

Center Performance Comparison: Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 vs. Zeiss Touit 12mm f/2.8 (Right Click > Save Link As… for full resolution.)

Center Performance Comparison: Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 vs. Zeiss Touit 12mm f/2.8 (Right Click > Save Link As… for full resolution.)

Corner Performance Comparison (Bottom Left): Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 vs. Zeiss Touit 12mm f/2.8 (Right Click > Save Link As… for Full Resolution)

Corner Performance Comparison (Bottom Left): Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 vs. Zeiss Touit 12mm f/2.8 (Right Click > Save Link As… for Full Resolution.)

Frankly, both lenses are very good performers and I enjoyed using both of them very much. I’m not particularly a pixel peeper in most situations so in terms of sharpness I think they’re both great. The real attraction for me is the extra stop that the Rokinon offers. The fact that it’s also sharper than the Zeiss wide open is just a bonus. If you have no need for autofocus, the Rokinon 12mm is sharper and a better performer in low light, making it a very attractive tool in your photography kit.

Flare, Bokeh, Coma, Vignetting

Contrast drops a bit in harsh light and the flare spots can be a bit distracting, but performance is acceptable in high flare conditions. It’s an easy situation to avoid as long as bright light sources are away from the edges for the frame. In most cases the lens hood does an adequate job at blocking most stray light from outside the frame. Here’s an example of the flare spots at f/5.6:

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As such a short focal length lens, it’s rare that you would think about the quality of the out of focus highlights since the depth of field tends to be rather large, even at f/2.0. But at short focal distances, it’s possible to throw the background nicely out of focus, and bokeh quality is very nice wide open. The curved 6-bladed aperture gives rounded hexagon shaped bokeh when slightly stopped down. Here’s a test shot wide open:

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One of the most important traits of the lens for night photography and astrophotography is its comatic aberration performance when used wide open. At low f/ratios many fast lenses often distort pinpoint light sources at the edges of the frame, creating stretched looking shapes called coma. All of the past Rokinon lenses that I’ve used have all shown excellent performance with coma and the Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS is no exception.

Coma Performance: Even at f/2.0 the Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS has very low comatic aberration.

Coma Performance: Even at f/2.0 the Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS has very low comatic aberration.

Levels of coma are very very low at f/2.0 and practically non-existent by f/2.8. I have no hesitation to use this lens wide open for astrophotography. This is very exciting for photographers with mirrorless systems that want to try their hand at astrophotography and want a great lens for the job. The crop below shows a 100% view of the top right corner. There’s a tiny bit of purple fringed coma at the extreme corners, but overall it’s very mild by most standards.

Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS Coma Test: Corner Crop

Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS Coma Test: Corner Crop

Vignetting or light falloff at the corners is apparent at almost all apertures and can be quite strong wide open at f/2.0. I expect it might be as much as 2 EV stops of light drop at the very corners when wide-open. Personally, I don’t mind a little light falloff, it’s pretty typical of fast lenses and I like it for the dramatic effect it creates. Here’s an example shot with some heavy light falloff in the corners from shooting wide-open:

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Sample Photos

In just one month, this lens has been with me to the deserts of California and through several historical cities in Europe. I’m a wide angle junkie so most of the time I just left this lens on my camera the entire time. It has fulfilled almost all of my photographic needs, from street photography to architecture to landscapes to astrophotography. Here are some of the photos from the last 30 days with the Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS.

Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS -- Anza Borrego Desert State Park, California

Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS — Anza Borrego Desert State Park, California

Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS -- Simi Valley, California

Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS — Simi Valley, California

Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS -- Piazza Duomo, Milan, Italy

Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS — Piazza Duomo, Milan, Italy

Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS -- Milan, Italy

Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS — Milan, Italy

Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS -- San Marino

Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS — San Marino

Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS -- Venice, Italy

Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS — Venice, Italy

Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS -- Eraclea Mare, Italy

Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS — Eraclea Mare, Italy

Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS -- Berlin, Germany

Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS — Berlin, Germany

Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS -- Berlin, Germany

Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS — Berlin, Germany

Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS -- Anza Borrego Desert State Park, California

Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS — Anza Borrego Desert State Park, California

Conclusion

Optically, the Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS is very good. It’s very sharp at almost all f/numbers, even sharper than the much more expensive Zeiss Touit 12mm f/2.8. I have no reservations recommending it to anyone looking for a nice sharp lens. For astrophotographers, its excellent coma performance, fast aperture and an ultra-wide field of view make it a prime tool for shooting the stars.

It’s not without a few operational quirks, though. It’s manual focus only, which already makes for a completely different shooting experience that adds an extra level of difficulty to using the lens. Unfortunately, the inaccurate distance marks on the focusing ring and no useful depth-of-field markings make manual focusing that much more difficult, particularly when using it wide open. It’s probably not a huge issue for photographers already familiar with using manual lenses, but it’s something that I feel the manufacturer could improve.

Overall, I really love this lens. I’m enthralled that it performs so admirably for astrophotography, a subject that usually requires large heavy lenses. It offers something unique for mirrorless shooters and delivers photos that don’t disappoint. Its small size and small price tag make it that much more enjoyable.

You can find the Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS available online at B&H for a whole range of lens mounts, in either silver or black:


About the author: Ian Norman is a photographer, engineer and entrepreneur based out of Los Angeles, CA. He is deeply passionate about photography, and takes great joy in teaching others what he has learned over the years. You can follow him on his website, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, Vimeo and Flickr. You can also support him by purchasing his online Skillshare class on photographing the Milky Way. This review originally appeared here.


 
  • mitchellhamilton

    Thanks for reviewing this lens, I can’t wait for mine to arrive!

  • http://www.urbanphotola.com/ Chris Tamayo

    No Pentax :(

  • Kaktus Kontrafaktus

    It’s designed for mirrorless cameras…

  • http://www.urbanphotola.com/ Chris Tamayo

    Oh yeah….not sure how the hell I missed that. Ok well….. No APS-C :(

  • http://italobrito.tumblr.com/ Ítalo Brito

    As an X-Pro1 user, I’d be all over this if the camera wasn’t so bad handling manual focusing. Sure, there’s the peaking Fuji introduced some time ago but Fuji’s implementation is lacking at best. The peaking can only be displayed in white and it’s far too weak. In bright situations it’s almost useless. The EVF is also laggy (not sure how much better it is on the newer models) and doesn’t have enough resolution. My girlfriend’s X-E1 isn’t much better in this department also. Finally, the OVF is obviously useless with a MF lens.

    Too bad.

  • Graf Almassy

    APS-C versions:

    – Sony-E
    – Fujifilm X

    Micro Four Thirds:

    – Olympus
    – Panasonic
    – Blackmagic

  • Jim Bennett

    I’m debating getting this on my e-pm2 vs the 14mm f2.8 rokinon on my d5200. Any thoughts on which would give me better results for Milky Way photography?

  • Ian Norman

    More APS-C versions:
    -Canon EF-M
    -Samsung NX

  • Ian Norman

    It’s kind of a toss up actually. It’s a little weird trying to compare different lenses across sensor sizes so I would probably base the decision on how much I liked one camera versus another for manual focus. The field of view of each lens on those cameras will be close but still different (the 12mm is a 24mm equiv. on the E-PM2 and the 14mm is a 21mm equivalent on the d5200). I personally would prefer the 12mm because of the fact that it’s physically so much smaller and lighter than the 14mm but that’s more of a personal priority of mine. The 14mm/2.8 is also made for Full-Frame sensors too so the 10mm/2.8 might be a better choice for the d5200 if you’re looking for something super wide. I hope I’m not making your decision more difficult.

  • Jim Bennett

    Thanks Ian! No actually I appreciate all the info and feedback I can get. I’m trying to get use to the D5200 and honestly I just am not feeling that camera for some reason. It could be partly that I am coming from 8 years of Canon DSLRs to that but I just don’t enjoy using it much. Good feedback on the weight difference, I didn’t realize it was that much different, and I can use filters on the 12mm to boot. The only thing I am a little curious about is how well I will do with high iso on the e-pm2 but it does have a pretty decent sensor I must say. Probably not quite d5200 level, but quite good I think.

  • Ian Norman

    Yeah for reference the 12mm/2.0 is 255 grams while the 14mm/2.8 is 814 grams, more than three times as massive!

    ISO performance between the bodies is definitely a consideration and what probably makes comparing lenses across sensor sizes so difficult (and controversial). Even though the 12mm/2.0 might let you expose at lower ISO on the E-PM2, the noise levels will probably be similar to higher ISOs on the D5200. If we just use the clear aperture size as a gauge for light gathering performance lens to lens, the 12mm comes out just a tad bigger than the 14mm: 12mm/2=6mm vs. 14mm/2.8=5mm so it should theoretically perform a little better in low light.

  • Poki

    I have the 12mm Touit since it launched, so this lens didn’t even exist back then. I’m still very happy with it, so I won’t switch. Although if I had the choice today, this lens looks like a mighty good one.

  • Zos Xavius

    Just get the 10mm.

  • Graf Almassy

    Yes, I forgot those systems. But anyway… mirrorless doesn’t means the sensor size smaller than APS-C.

    Olympus and Panasonic use MFT, Nikon use the 1″ format and every other manufacturer use APS-C or Full Frame in their mirrorless CSC systems.

  • Bariti Bariti

    can you compare this lens to oly 12mm f2?

  • Chris Matthiae

    Any clue what the performance would be on a Sony Alpha 7? The designed for APS-C sensors has me worried it wouldn’t take advantage of the full frame sensor.

  • deadlock

    I agree with the review – the lens is tack sharp for point light sources, making it very useful for night sky photos. Also, whenever I’m going downtown later in the evening I don’t even bother taking another lens – it’s great for night city-scapes and street shots and you can just snap away because of the near hyperfocal distance. Autofocus would likely cause me to miss more moments – I don’t miss it on such wide-angle lens. One important note for M43 shooters – the field of view is slightly narrower than Olympus 12mm or SLR Magic 12mm and obviously very different from APS-C. Overall, I’m very satisfied with the purchase.

  • Carlini Fotograf

    Get a Fuji XT1.. EVF is fantastic.. almost no lag and it works great with manual lenses. I do have an X Pro1 too and I dont have any issues manual focusing on it. Both cameras have the Focus Assist, where is zooms in 100%, so you can focus. I use all manual Zeiss lenses.

  • deniisrodmon

    Are we sure the compare shot with the Touit is a good comparison? Idk if it is just me, but the touit shot seems to be a misfocused shot. It’s center sharpness correctly focused can’t be that bad.

    I have the Touit as well and I am fairly disappointed…….not because I think it is bad or anything, but because of the fact that none of the Zeiss for emount have been anything special so far. Cost a ton, but none of them seems to deliver what one would expect from them. I’ve three native emount zeiss’s and none of them are particularly great compared to sony, sigma, or even rokinon or samyangs.

  • Cody Schroeder

    Well, I may have found the first EF-M lens I’ll buy to join the 22mm kit offering. Also, with the Rokinon lenses, I’ve found sorting the hyperfocal distance out with some zoom peaking and then marking the point on the lens with a fine tipped pen can help immensely.

  • Ronald Raharjo

    Did u use tripod for most of your day shoots with the Rokinon 12mm? I’m choosing between the Rokinon 12mm f2 vs Sony 10-18 f4 and Touit 12mm f2.8 for my travel landscape shots. Due to budget constraints I may have to choose Rokinon, but concerned about the manual focus and no DOF markings. It’s been more than 17 years since I shoot with manual focus. Any thoughts?

  • myNameIsCondor

    very nice review. however there is not one single word about distortion. or did i miss something..?

  • Ronald Raharjo

    Hi there, would you still recommend this lens for landscape and lowlight other than astrophotography, when I can only use it handheld?

  • Szabolcs

    Dear Norman,

    Could you be so kind and say that to me wich was the camery with you took this fantastic night pictures?

    THX Szabolcs

  • http://www.arcticexposure.no/ Alexander Evensen

    I seriously recommend you try the X-T1. I’ve been using it with K-mount lenses since I got it this summer, and the EVF with its peaking has served me well with action photography (my fast dog on the beach), belly dancing and a lot of concert photography. Also astro photography. You won’t be disappointed.

  • http://www.arcticexposure.no/ Alexander Evensen
  • http://www.arcticexposure.no/ Alexander Evensen

    I think it’s the Canon EOS M. The EXIF data says 20 seconds exposure at ISO 6400 (I used an EXIF plug-in in my browser, Firefox).

  • Bernardo Pérez

    Hi, i ´m very glad to read your article because i´m still looking for a sharp and fast wide angle lens. My question is about if that lens is useful in a red one camera with nikon mount. I never used a mirrorles lenses already because i have doubts about flange focal distance. Thanks.

  • SF_10th_Grp

    I don’t know why they make this for Micro Four Thirds. It becoms a 24mm on MFT vs 18mm on an APS-C camera. That’s a HUGE difference in view. To get an 18mm FF view on MFT you need a 9mm lens.