Many camera manufacturers choose to support, or at least turn a blind eye to, third-party lens makers. Some even wholeheartedly embrace them. However, Canon has infamously taken a stance to deny third-party manufacturers access to its RF mount. The fascinating twist is that many companies were beginning to produce manual and autofocusing lenses before the crack-down, creating an exclusive market of very rare lenses that hit the streets before the curtain fell.
We decided to take a look at a couple of 85mm lenses that came to us through back channels. Jordan Drake primarily tested the Samyang 85mm f/1.4 AF and I got my hands on a Yongnuo 85mm f/1.8 DF II.
The former lens did have a limited release before the shutdown, however, the latter never even made it to market. Despite the fact that few people will ever get the chance to shoot these optics, we thought it would be fun to share with the world what these forbidden lenses are capable of.
Samyang 85mm f/1.4 AF
The Samyang 85mm f/1.4 AF, originally announced in 2020, comes across as a very well-built lens despite its relatively light weight. At just over 20 ounces (585 grams), the Samyang is easy to carry even with its bright aperture. The lens is fully weather-sealed and solid, with the only complaint being the sloppy feeling manual focus.
The main issue with the Samyang really comes down to its ponderously slow autofocusing experience. This is something we’ve seen before on many manufacturers 85mm f/1.4 lenses and although it’s fine for portrait photography, it does have issues with faster action photography.
Luckily the bokeh is quite beautiful. Exactly what you want out of a portrait telephoto. Sharpness is not stellar at f/1.4 but I don’t mind a bit of a softer rendition when it comes to portrait pictures. The Samyang 85mm f/1.4 certainly delivers beautiful portrait shots at a fraction of the price.
Yongnuo 85mm f/1.8 DF DSM
I had the opportunity to test out the Yongnuo 85mm f/1.8 DF DSM, which while announced in 2021 never made it to market. I love f/1.8 lenses because they tend to be very portable and compact.
I also love that the lighter-weight glass elements are easier for the autofocus motor to drive, and the Yongnuo focuses fast enough for any situation. The lens is weather-sealed and built well, with a well-machined metal housing. There is an AF/MF switch but also a very curious button to dismount the lens from the body rather than relying on the one on the camera itself — I don’t think I’ve ever seen that setup before. The normal lens release button on the Canon RF bodies does not serve any purpose when this lens is attached.
I tried shooting the lens towards the bright sun and was pleased with how well the Yongnuo maintains contrast. There is some minor ghosting present which becomes somewhat obnoxious when the aperture is stopped way down. However, lenses like these are meant to be shot wide open, so this is a non-issue.
The bokeh exhibits some cat’s eye at f/1.8 and a harsher polygonal shape when stopped down but I found the bokeh to be really beautiful with smooth transitions and silky backgrounds. There is a character to this lens that has a vintage feel to it, and the color rendition is warm and pleasant. As a portrait lens, I think this 85mm excels, and it’s a shame that it won’t be available to Canon shooters.
Forbidden Fruit Always Tastes Better
There is definitely a selection of autofocus and manual focus lenses available for RF mount but you have to hunt them down and they are finite in quantity. Perhaps it is because they are so hard to acquire that makes them so fun to shoot.
Regardless of whether these lenses appeal to you or not, it’s a shame that Canon chooses to deny its users access to these third-party options. If you are on the lookout for some affordable portrait lenses with character, let the detective work begin.