Photography is a wonderful hobby (and for some like me, a great profession). But the more you get into photography the more expensive it gets. It starts easy - buy a nice camera that comes with a lens. You start taking photos, but then you begin to learn about other equipment options. All of a sudden that kit lens doesn't feel so special anymore.
Third party brands have been making great lenses for a long time, and those off brands continue to improve their quality. Although I still use some Nikon lenses (and formally Canon), I've found myself being more and more impressed with brands like Sigma, Tamron and Rokinon (quick note: Rokinon is the same as brand names Samyang and Bower).
The Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 wide angle lens is an absolute steal for the price. It is also a very unique perspective, ultra-wide without the effects of a fish eye lens. If this is a type of lens that interests you, read on...
Nothing is more important to me than sharpness. I ache and groan over lenses that cannot produce in this category. I once owned the Canon 50mm f/1.4. Overall, a nice lens with beautiful bokeh, but when wide-open at f/1.4 I would cringe at its softness. I just cannot tolerate a lens that is not sharp.
The Rokinon 14mm is very good at center sharpness wide-open at f/2.8. The lens stays sharp throughout most of the frame, tapering into some distortion at the corners. This tapering into distortion is very common for wide angle lenses. The wider the focal range, the more you will begin to see distortion in the corners. But the sharpness level where it matters most rivals both Canon and Nikon equivalent lenses. In fact, I would venture to say that the Rokinon slightly outperforms the other lenses I have tried (I once owned the Canon 17-40 and borrowed the Canon 16-35).
Overall, a thumbs up for this lens in sharpness and controlled distortion in the context of the wide angle focal range.
This may divide some photographers when looking at this lens. There is no auto focus here, manual only. This never bothered me. First, this lens is very wide, which leads to a greater depth of field. Had this been an 85 or longer lens the lack of manual focus would be a sticking point for me. I have a large margin of error in my ability to manually focus when shooting at 14mm. The other factor for me is how I use it. For me, this lens is great for landscapes, creative portraits and wedding receptions. The first two, landscapes and creative portraits, provide adequate time to set up and focus - no need for auto focus here. For wedding receptions, this lens provides some great, fun photos of the dance floor. I typically will set this lens at f/4 to provide a little extra depth of field and then shoot close to the crazy dancing subjects. The result is some fun angles and the ability to shoot overhead without the need to focus through the viewfinder.
There are two other aspects of a manual only lens. The first is in the aperture. This lens has an aperture ring which you physical turn on the lens to select. Your camera viewfinder will display f/00, as there is no electronic communication between the lens and the camera. The other side of this is the effect it has on the light meter in the camera. Since the camera cannot read the aperture, it cannot calculate what it believes is the proper exposure setting. This, to me, is not that big of a deal. I have found my Nikon exposure meters to be somewhat ficky anyways. I use it as a starting point, but I am always adjusting my exposure accordingly. The second aspect of a lens without electronic communication is the focus confirmation. In the Canon version, the camera cannot communicate with the lens to determine if focus has been achieved, meaning that little focus confirmation light is not going to illuminate. On the Nikon version, however, there is a special chip for focus confirmation. Again, with such a wide angle lens and large depth of field this is a non-issue for me personally.
A wedding reception photo I took with the Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 ultra wide angle lens
Since it meets my stringent sharpness requirements, the price of this lens is absolutely its greatest strength. The Rokinon 14mm competes very well with the big boys - the Canon 14, Canon 17-40, Canon 16-35 and all the Nikon equivalents. These big boy lenses may have auto focus, but their price tag is 3-6 times higher. For as often as I use an ultra wide angle lens and in the contexts that I use them, going with the Rokinon is an absolute no-brainer. I can save $1,000 and use that to purchase another lens I might be wanting.
First and foremost, you have to decide if a 14mm angle of view is right for you. Even at its very low price, purchasing an ultra wide angle lens that you end up never using is a waste. I have been guilty of purchasing value lenses because, well, they are high quality and relatively low in price. But then I end up carrying them around in my camera bag and never finding the right application to use them. The Rokinon 8mm fisheye lens is a good example of this - a great wide angle fisheye, but I just couldn't find the right application to make it worth keeping.
If you have a legitimate use for a 14mm lens, next decide if you're okay with one that is manual only. Do you really need auto focus? If you say yes, I would challenge you to think harder. If you still say yes, then look at the Canon and Nikon equivalent lenses. If you can get away with manual only, there should be nothing holding you back from giving the Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 a try.