Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 Lens Review: Your Search for a Wide Angle Lens Ends Here

Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 Lens Review: Your Search for a Wide Angle Lens Ends Here

The Rokinon 12mm f/2 is a manual focus wide angle lens manufactured specifically for micro four-third bodies. It's the fastest, widest lens available for the price – but exactly how good are the optics, and how detrimental is the lack of autofocus?

 The Rokinon 12mm f/2. Image courtesy of  B&H .

The Rokinon 12mm f/2. Image courtesy of B&H.

Most photographers these days have never touched a manual focus lens. After all, it's a scary proposition: who wants to spend hundreds of dollars on a piece of gear they might not be able to use adequately?

Over the past year of playing with vintage lenses, here's what I've learned: with the advent of electronic viewfinders and 'focus peaking', manual focus can be nearly as quick – and sometimes more accurate – than autofocus.

As I found out in my review, there's no better lens to dip your feet in to manual focusing than the wide angle Rokinon 12mm.

Note: I use use a Fuji X-mount Rokinon lens, but the below review will be applicable to any mirrorless shooter.

Technical Specs of the Rokinon 12mm f/2

  • Focus Length: 12 (effectively 18mm on a micro four-thirds body)
  • Aperture Range: f/2 - f/22
  • Minimum Focusing Distance: 0.2 m
  • Number of Aperture Blades: 6
  • Lens Mount: Manufactured for every camera system (Sony, Fuji, Panasonic, Olympus, Canon, Nikon, and more).
  • Weight: ~16 ounces
  • Weather sealed: no

 

This is a fully manual lens – which means not only is the focusing manual, but the aperture is controlled manually as well. The aperture ring is click-y and fun to use, although mine spent most of the time nestled to the right at f/2. The focus ring is buttery. It has a wonderful amount of resistance, and I never felt the ring shift while I was adjusting the aperture or repositioning my camera.

This lens is itty-bitty, and totally discrete (not an easy feat for a wide angle). On a micro-four-thirds body, you're going to have one incredibly compact camera.

Shooting with the Rokinon 12mm f/2 and the Fuji X-pro1

To those new to wide angles like myself, shooting with the Rokinon 12mm f/2 is an initially disorienting experience. The focal length is so much wider than the human eye that finding an interesting composition without looking through the viewfinder is a difficult task.

 George Washington Bridge in Manhattan. Fuji X-pro1, Rokinon 12mm f/2.

George Washington Bridge in Manhattan. Fuji X-pro1, Rokinon 12mm f/2.

I'm not a natural born wide angle shooter. The first lesson I had to learn? You have to get very, very close to your subject to create a strong and clean photograph. Aside from my own inexperience, this lens turned out to be an absolute dream.

One of my first photos with the Rokinon 12mm f/2 was a quick snap of a friend while walking down the street. Unless you're going for a cartoonish caricature, this is certainly not the lens you want to use for a tight headshot

 Allison on 8th Avenue in Manhattan. Fuji X-pro1, Rokinon 12mm f/2.

Allison on 8th Avenue in Manhattan. Fuji X-pro1, Rokinon 12mm f/2.

Lesson learned. This focal length is not ideal for the traditional portrait photographer. That is... unless you're going for a silly look. In which case, you'll have a whole lot of fun.

 Alisa waiting for a train. Fuji Xpro-1, Rokinon 12mm f/2.

Alisa waiting for a train. Fuji Xpro-1, Rokinon 12mm f/2.

Much to my surprise, the Rokinon 12mm f/2 could almost be described as a jack of all trades: environmental portraits, weddings and nightlife, architecture, street, astrophotography, interiors, and more are all accomplishable with this lens.

With such an intense focal length, I expected more of a specialty, gimmick shooting experience – but the focal length suits so many diverse circumstances that you'd rarely need to swap it off your body.

 Interior shot of my apartment. Fuji X-pro1, Rokinon 12mm f/2.

Interior shot of my apartment. Fuji X-pro1, Rokinon 12mm f/2.

Don't get me wrong – the 12mm focal length can be a pain to use. You're not always going to have your ideal composition.

If you're in the market for a wide angle lens that will reliably and perfectly complement your compositions, my highest recommendation goes to the Fuji XF 16mm f/1.4. Unfortunately, it's quite a step up in terms of price – so if you're looking for a budget lens, stay with me.

Is the Rokinon 12mm f/2 Fast Enough?

With all our accessibility to super-fast f/1.2 lenses, it's easy to scoff at a minimum aperture of f/2 – but the fact is, this little lens puts in work in dark spaces. With such a stupidly wide focal length, you can bring your shutter speed down to 1/30 or even 1/15 and still get a crystal clear, shake-free image. 

The Rokinon 12mm f/2's Secret Weapon: Focusing Distance

For me, one of the most entertaining things about using this lens was its macro lens-esque minimum focusing distance: .2m. Paired with the Rokinon's wide focal length and shallow aperture, you'll be able to get absurdly close to your subject and fill the frame for an incredibly unique isolation.

Better yet, once you get down to that macro range, there's almost no distortion to be found.

Lens flare, Ghosting, and Vignetting on the Rokinon 12mm f/2

Lens flare can be very problematic, but the provided lens hood, while bulky and cumbersome, does a decent job at preventing flaring. When the flare hits, it usually only drops the contrast a bit – which can be a nice stylistic touch. 

You can expect to see a lot of ghosting when shooting with the Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 in broad daylight – even with the lens hood. On my copy, the ghosting is oblong and magenta tinted. Check out the upper left corner of the below image to get a better idea.

 The steps of the post office in Midtown Manhattan. Fuji X-pro1, Rokinon 12mm f/2.

The steps of the post office in Midtown Manhattan. Fuji X-pro1, Rokinon 12mm f/2.

The vignetting is significant, and while it's easy enough to correct in post, you can end up with noisy corners as Lightroom pushes your photo up to 2 stops to correct the more extreme vignettes.

Manual Focusing with the Rokinon 12mm f/2: How Hard Is It?

The lack of autofocus is what makes this lens such a steal, so you shouldn't let it deter you.

It's incredibly easy to manually focus this lens due to the focal length: the depth of field is much, much greater than it would be on a longer lens. It's difficult to miss critical focus unless you're wide open and focusing 7 inches from your lens! After 30 minutes of practice, I was intuitively nailing 90% of my shots.

 Old friends meeting by chance near Penn Station, Manhattan. Fuji Xpro-1, Rokinon 12mm f/2.

Old friends meeting by chance near Penn Station, Manhattan. Fuji Xpro-1, Rokinon 12mm f/2.

 A park in Washington Heights, Manhattan. Fuji X-pro1, Rokinon 12mm f/2.

A park in Washington Heights, Manhattan. Fuji X-pro1, Rokinon 12mm f/2.

The best part? Learning the basics of manual focus and getting a feel for the technique will open you up to a world of vintage and manual focus lenses available for pennies on the dollar, like the legendary Helios 44-4 58mm f/2.

Bokeh on a Wide Angle Lens with the Rokinon 12mm f/2

 Flowers in Midtown. Fuji X-pro1, Rokinon 12mm f/2.

Flowers in Midtown. Fuji X-pro1, Rokinon 12mm f/2.

 Flowers in Midtown. Fuji X-pro1, Rokinon 12mm f/2 (50% crop).

Flowers in Midtown. Fuji X-pro1, Rokinon 12mm f/2 (50% crop).

Let's be honest: you shouldn't pick up a wide angle lens for the bokeh. Even at f/2, you'll rarely attain the dreamy bokeh we're accustomed to seeing to with a longer lens – and if you've seen ultra wide shots with tons of bokeh on the Internet, it's likely that the photographer used the Brenizer method to achieve those results.

Here's what it really comes down to: subject isolation. Can the Rokinon's depth of field get shallow enough to separate the subject from the background? 

Subject isolation is tricky with wide angle photography, but at f/2, the Rokinon really helps you out. If you keep your subject within a few foot of your lens, you'll quickly throw the back of the scene out of focus, giving you a pleasing separation of tack sharp vs. creamy blur that other, slower wide angles would be hard pressed to replicate. 

Rokinon 12mm f/2 for Video

This lens is a favorite for many vloggers. The optics are, of course, outstanding, and the massive field of view provided by the small focal distance enables you to keep your moving subjects in focus quite easily.

The wide shots in the below video were taken with a Rokinon 12mm f/2:

Is the Rokinon 12mm f/2 Right for Your Shooting Style?

Here's what the Rokinon won't do for you:

  • It's far too wide for flattering portraits.
  • It's far too wide for dreamy explosions of bokeh.
  • It's far too wide for any wildlife photography.
  • It's a bit too wide for product photography.
  • It's a bit too wide for street photography (unless you're inches away from the action).
  • Manual focus can make high speed photography like sports or journalism difficult.

That said, the 18mm equivalent is a fabulous focal length for almost every other use case.

If you're new to wide angle photography, there will be a steep learning curve: you'll have to learn to get close (no, closer). You'll have to learn that the focal length isn't meant to simply get more of the scene in frame, but to dramatize the nuances of your subject.

 A girl on the train at Fulton Street, Manhattan. Fuji X-pro1, Rokinon 12mm f/2.

A girl on the train at Fulton Street, Manhattan. Fuji X-pro1, Rokinon 12mm f/2.

The Rokinon 12mm f/2 is lightweight, discreet, and just fast enough for low light. This is a lens you'd bring to a house party, a camping trip through Yellowstone, and a stroll through downtown Manhattan – without ever missing a shot.

Not to mention, the Rokinon 12mm f/2 is regarded as the absolute best wide angle prime for mirrorless astrophotography. Ian Norman from Petapixel is only one of the many astrophotographers who have raved about this lens' prowess when shooting stars and planets.    

Final Thoughts on the Rokinon 12mm f/2

I'm the first to admit that I'm not a wide angle guy. When I photograph things, I try to isolate and exaggerate subtle details. This lens is the polar opposite of that shooting style: you have to get in close, guns blazing, and work your entire scene – or end up with a cluttered and aimless photo.

But the Rokinon 12mm f/2 changed the way I thought about shooting, and ushered in a new wave of excitement and passion back in to my photography. The kinds of photographs you can take with this lens are endless – sprawling landscape scenes, moody environmental portraits, isolated detail shots with plenty of bokeh, or even astrophotography. 

You're truly limited only by your own creativity.

 Cityscape in Washington Heights, Manhattan. Fuji X-pro1, 12mm Rokinon 12mm f/2.

Cityscape in Washington Heights, Manhattan. Fuji X-pro1, 12mm Rokinon 12mm f/2.

The optics are lovely: sharp, true to life, and a gorgeously subtle bokeh in the lower apertures. The color rendition isn't as poignant as the Fujinon 35mm f/1.4, but it's nothing a little bump in Lightroom can't solve. 

But my absolute favorite part? The price.

Let's say you're a Fuji shooter. If you're looking for a comparable wide angle with autofocus, your best option is to pick up the Zeiss 12mm f/2.8 for $659 – but then again, you're out an additional $300 and an aperture stop. Looking for something faster? You'll have to spend $900 on the Fujinon 16mm f/1.4 (a legendary lens, but almost $600 more expensive than the Rokinon  – and for some, completely unaffordable).

After a few months of shooting with the Rokinon 12mm f/2, the humble little thing has entered my holy trinity of budget lenses for the Fuji system: the Helios 4-44 58mm f/2, the Fujinon 35mm f/1.4, and the Rokinon 12mm f/2. For under $650, you'll have a suite of unique lenses that cover almost every kind of assignment or session.

 Foggy dawn on Wall Street. Fuji X-pro1, Rokinon 12mm f/2 (50% crop).

Foggy dawn on Wall Street. Fuji X-pro1, Rokinon 12mm f/2 (50% crop).

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Digital strategist, writer, and image maker based in Manhattan working with clients in the tech and entertainment industry.