by Basil Yeo (@basilyeo)
This review was first published on ClubSNAP, and was made possible by ClubSNAP and Alan Photo Trading. The filmmakers have no affiliation or relationship with Samyang, or any other brands featured in this review.
We’ve had the brand new Samyang XEEN Cinema Prime Lenses on loan for a while now and we have been shooting a bit with them. Although they are certainly not the best cine glass out there, the quality they deliver is amazing for the price.
Coming from a DSLR background, we have shot mostly with still lenses, and the few opportunities we have had to shoot with cinema glass (the Zeiss CP.2s), has exposed us to the usefulness of using cine lenses for video, which resulted in our recent decision to purchase the Samyang VDSLR IIs, the Korean manufacturer’s top-of-the-line range before the XEENs appeared on the market. While we are happy with them, we have seen their limitations and understand that some shooters require something a little more...
The XEENs are professional grade cinema lenses have a full frame image circle and are suitable for 4K production. They are also versatile - coming in several popular mounts, and for the first time ever, the Arri PL mount. Their presence on the market fills the void for filmmakers looking for a set of quality EF/PL glass that doesn’t cost more than SGD4K per piece.
For a quick look at how they fare, here’s a video we shot with the 85mm:
What we think:
We ended up shooting a lot more stuff with the 85mm T1.5 because out of the three XEEN lenses that were loaned to us, this was the only one which we didn’t have a VDSLR II counterpart to, and we are strongly considering picking one up by the end of the year.
The XEENs aren’t still photography lenses and therefore have the common “bowl” shape with a consistent build size across all focal lengths. With a solid all-metal body, the XEEN lenses felt premium to the touch, yet surprisingly light when compared to its nearest competitors from Zeiss and Canon. They are also completely manual lenses with no electronic parts, so no autofocus or metadata readings, which aren’t important in filmmaking at all.
Lens apertures are in the industry standard T-stops as opposed to F-stops, for precise accuracy and consistent exposure on a film set, and the dual scale focus and aperture markings, which were first implemented in the VDSLR IIs, are clear and distinct.
We were very impressed with the smoothness and light resistance of the focus and aperture rings, which made it easy to pull focus even without using a follow focus. However, do take note that these are lenses that should be used with a dual rail follow focus instead of a single rail one, due to their size.
On the topic of pulling focus, you might have noticed that still lenses breathe when pulling focus. This can slightly alter a well-framed shot, and Samyang’s previous cine offerings have a notorious reputation for breathing. Though this may not be crucial to most shooters, Samyang has fixed it for their top-of-the-line release, and the XEENs breathe noticeably less than the VDSLR IIs.
Image quality-wise, these lenses shine at T5.6-8 (as most lenses do), and when scaled to 165% (as one of the shots in the above video was), it still retains quite a fair bit of sharpness. They don’t do very well wide open at T1.5, but lenses are rarely sharp at maximum aperture.
One peculiarity we've noticed is that the 24mm exhibits some ghosting effects wide open when compared head to head against the VDSLR II 24mm. Not sure why this is so. On the 50mm they look extremely similar, but you can still see the ghosting around the edges, especially in the shadowed areas.
Some have attributed the Samyangs to be as sharp as the vastly superior Zeiss ZE/ZF.2 range when stopped down, with differences only noticeable when you enlarge the frame to pixel peep. Your audiences are never going to do that.
The XEENs also come with 11 aperture blades, the most for a Samyang lens yet (VDSLR IIs have 9 and the Zeiss CP.2s have 14), which deliver a pleasing bokeh look. Subjective, we know, but we like it. The lenses also feature new coating for better colour consistency and flare reduction (yet the ghosting in the earlier photos tell a different story).
Here's another video, shot with the 24mm T1.5 and 50mm T1.5, this time at night:
Overall, the XEENs performed to expectation, and while they provide nothing exceptional, for the price you pay they are still a decent set of glass that any serious filmmaker looking to make a step up to a proper cinema camera should consider. One thing is for sure, they aren't merely rehoused lenses from an existing range, and are good enough for most work. I figure these lenses will eventually become very popular with Blackmagic Ursa Mini EF users, whenever Blackmagic decides to ship the cameras.
If you're accustomed to shooting on Canon or Nikon still glass, you should give these lenses a go if you ever have the opportunity to. They might surprise you in a pleasant way!
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