There are tons of portrait lenses out there. The 50mm, 70-200mm, 24-70mm, etc… that are fantastic options for photographers. The standard options are clearly great ways of starting out with, and before buying a wide-angle or super telephoto you should buy a standard lens. The lens I will talk about here is a super-wide lens that lets me get a different and very unique look with portraits, and it happens to be the Rokinon 14mm f/2.8.
The TLDR (Too Long Didn’t Read) of it is that the Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 is a fantastic performer in its category. Otherwise, I have broke it down into four major categories.
The sharpness of this lens is completely fantastic. It is extreme in the center of the lens, and it holds up exceedingly well in the corners as well.
This includes any chromatic colorations in high contrast as well as flaring issues. With the time I have had and used this lens there have been very limited issues with these things. I haven’t found any real chromatic aberration issues, but if there is a significant light source in the shot (ex: the sun) it will flare out across the frame. This is a common problem with wide angle lenses, and the flaring is not bad. I like to use the flaring as an effect in photos as an effect.
The lens comes up with results in the camera that are very good in the RAW files. This means that I don’t need to add much saturation or contrast into the photo after the fact because the lens keeps the scene very real without major edits!
This is the biggest “problem” with this 14mm lens. I can’t really say it is a problem because it is an ultra wide lens. The wideness of the lens causes it to naturally pull out at the edges, which is fine, but there is also a weird moustache-like distortion across the frame. All of this distortion is fixable in Photoshop or Lightroom with some patience and the right plug ins (Lightroom has a lens profile downloader you can use).
This is a full-frame lens which makes it rather large, bulky, and heavy. These traits may be an issue for some people, but if you already own a full-frame DSLR you understand these tradeoffs already, and the ultimate verdict will come down to that.
I say that the Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 is heavy, but honestly for what you are getting it’s not bad. To manufacture a lens at such a fast aperture as f/2.8 is a major feat in itself! In the end, the lens actually balances nicely with the camera body as a counterweight to a large DSLR especially if you have a battery grip.
Sure, the 50mm f/1.8 from Nikon is significantly smaller and lighter, but the ultra-wide lens requires itself to be quite a bit bigger just to be able to capture such a field of view. The lens will stick out from your camera like a sore thumb, but the size allows for a good amount of grip to wield the combination.
This is a Rokinon. It is made out of metal and high-grade plastics that combine for a bit of old-fashioned quality that will last you for a long time. It could never be more true that this lens will last you from camera body to camera body many years from now just as the prime lenses that people still use from 50-60 years ago (except maybe even better).
The large focus ring with a large throw has a perfect amount of resistance to it, and the new aperture control allowed in-body makes for an awesome combination. I used the 12mm Rokinon on a micro-four-thirds camera over last summer without this feature, and it made changing the aperture to any specific value a painful task especially in the dark. Focusing the lens can be a bit annoying if going for ‘perfect’ sharpness as the numbers on the focus ring are inaccurate. I tend to put it at f/5.6 and pull back from infinity to around 3ft. The lens makes for a great use on and off of tripod as far as size and weight go. I have yet to find a situation where the Rokinon 14mm is not well suited for.
All of the stuff from above being said why it is just a great lens I now get to explain why it is possibly the ‘best’ portrait lens. This is my opinion, and as I said earlier it is not the first portrait lens I pick up. I use it as a way of telling a story about a person and about a day in a unique way.
A wide-angle lens emphasizes things close to the camera. This is part of why landscape photographers like to use it as a way of telling a story. Using something in the foreground to connect to a mid-ground, which is in front of a background. All of these connect to tell the viewer a story in a single photo.
I arrange portraits with this lens in a similar way. I get low to make the person seem important, powerful, and dominant in the frame. They will break the horizon line with their body making them seem even taller. I may put something in the foreground to lead the viewer’s eyes to the person. The portrait is done in the mid-ground, and the background is a sunset, nature, or cityscape to add to the photo’s epic feel.
The background and foreground combination make for the environment of a photo. I will try to connect the person to something they really enjoy being in. For example, if someone says that they really like sunsets then I will try to get them into a sunset photo out in nature somewhere. This part really gives a great open and hugeness feeling in the photo that makes me want to print each one huge to fill a wall space.
The Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 allows for a huge amount of depth-of-field in photos even when shot wide open at f/2.8. I can get everything from a foot in front of me to the background in focus easily allowing for the entire frame to be used in telling a story.
This has to do with how a wide-angle can be used to pull attention to a subject, around the frame, and back to the subject. Leading lines, flash, and fantastic light all combined with the use of an ultra-wide lens make for an incredibly dynamic and exciting photo.
This was a long review for such an ignored lens by most people. It scares many away because of it being an unrecognized brand, manual focus, and ultra-wide nature. You should not be running away from this lens. In fact, you may want to pick a copy up if only to just try it out! It definitely competes performance wise against the big brand names of Nikon and Canon, but the Rokinon 14mm costs only around $350 compared to $1800 for a Nikon version of a comparable lens (that is not as sharp).
If you are bored with the way your portraits look, are looking for a landscape/astrophotography lens, or just need an excuse to buy a new lens then you just cannot go wrong with the 14mm Rokinon f/2.8 for your full frame or maybe even crop sensor camera!