Super-Wide Street Shooting w/ Samyang (Rokinon) 12mm F2.


I doubt there is a day that goes by, when on one forum or another someone is either asking about the Samyang 12mm F2 or someone is telling us how good it is. I fall into the latter. Often.

This lens is terrific value for money. Period. I think I paid £210 for mine. Brand New. I have no idea if its better or worse than the Fujinon 14/16/10-24 or the Zeiss Touit – and furthermore, I don’t care. I can manage expectations on a two hundred quid lens, and if it turned out crap I could always send it back. But I’ve had it three years now, and its going nowhere.

As I have alluded to, many times, on previous posts – street photography is what I love to shoot most. I’m a film maker by trade, so naturally, I want to shoot the polar opposite of the gruelling, mentally draining and highly regimented world of film production. Street photography is my release – I am alone with my thoughts, not relying on anyone else, yet still being creative and striving for that one ‘decisive moment’…sorry, Henri. And I cant blame anyone else but myself if I’m disappointed with the results…  🙂

I normally use my 23mm F1.4 for street. Sometimes the 18mm, sometimes the 35, but the 23 covers most of the subjects I like to shoot. The 23 offers *some* width, optical excellence and is pretty snappy on the X-Pro 2 – and 1.4 is pretty bright, so its good for most conditions, even without flash. Its a solid lens – the Angry Photographer is dead wrong about this glass, unusually.

I first started to use the 12mm for street a couple of years ago on my X-Pro 1. There were times when I got REALLY fed up with the AF (like we all did) on the early X bodies in certain conditions, and of course the great thing with ANY manual focus lens is a) there is no focus delay and b) hyperfocal shooting is a DODDLE – so easy on super wides. So I began to take the 12 out with me more, especially to events where I knew there would be packed crowds, as this focal length would allow me to fit a lot in without getting too far back. I also realised the 12mm has a REALLY short focus throw, especially from 1m to infinity, so you didn’t have to be super accurate with distances to subject. I would set it to 1-1.5 meters, and just snap. No delay, and pretty much always ended up with a sharp (sometimes sharp-ish) image.


The one drawback (some may not consider it a drawback) is you really do have to get in close. The 23 was perfect, 2-3 meters back, great. The 12? Nope, a meter…four feet, tops, or everything would just look miles away. In a bustling, large, crowd, this wasn’t really that much of an issue – there would be so much else going on, I was barely noticed at all. And I was quick. I may be getting on a smidge, but my reaction times are still pretty tasty – thankfully.

But on Brick Lane today? Not so easy.

I don’t know whats happened to Brick Lane recently. Its gotten really quiet. A couple of summers ago you could barely walk five steps in a minute. There would be fantastic street performers (Lewis Floyd Henry is really the only one left – thankfully, he’s amazing.), and incredible food vendors and colourful fruit and juice sellers all the way up to the High Street, both sides of the lane – there was an amazing atmosphere, any time of year. Now? There is barely anything happening…a lot of the food vendors have moved indoors in the nearby Trueman Building, the fruit sellers have gone, and today not ONE street performer…sad times. I hope its not the sign of things to come for East London. To a certain extent, the much maligned hipster has taken over this part of town (and a lot more vintage stores have opened as a result) – I hope the sadly depleted Brick Lane is not a by product of that.

I had to have my wits about me if I was going to make this shoot a success…looking ahead all the time, trying to spot (and prepare for) my next capture, and for the most part, it worked:


These were all shot on the X-Pro 2 at 1000ISO. The bottom ‘crossroads’ pic has about a 10% crop. And again, focus set to 1m, aperture at F3.5. A little more forgiving if my distances were a little off.

Also (and this is fairly rare these days, for me) these are all JPEGS, with minor adjustments in post. I REALLY enjoy Acros (R) +2 h/l +2 shadow. Gives me a look that reminds me of HP5 – on a good day.

And this, I think, was my pic of the day:


(I’m tempted to crop down to a square format, and try to get rid of some passers by…what do you think?)

I got bored pretty quick of the sparse looking Brick Lane, and moved down towards Liverpool Street station – it had a bit more bustle.

I stopped off to eat at a new place called The Diner in Spitalfields. They do chilli cheese fries. And they were superb:


Then a slow amble towards the station:


Overall, I was pleased with the shoot today. It was cold, surprisingly quiet – but there was still a character or two to make things interesting.

And what of the 12mm Samyang? Well,see for yourself. Its good. Sharp, and with all those long words like vignetting and  chromatic aberation either under control or a non-issue. In truth, there IS a little purple fringing in bright light/high contrast areas, but I only found this out when I was on vacation somewhere sunny. Not such a problem in London, in November.

edit: AND NO DISTORTION! 🙂 This is quite a big deal. None of these images were corrected at all. Its a standout feature of this lens, and I cant believe I overlooked it! Sorry…

It is worth mentioning build quality too. The focussing is buttery smooth, the aperture ring has a pleasant, purposeful ‘click’ to it, and it has a decent heft to it too. A good blend of metal when you need it (mount) and high quality plastics to keep the weight down. It doesn’t feel like a cheap lens.

Depending on where you live, this Korean made optic is available (and branded) as Samyang, Bowens, Rokinon, Walimex and even Vivitar (now theres a blast from the past!), but they’re all the same so you’ll be happy with any of them.

So hopefully, now, you’ll have some idea of why these incredibly good value lenses get mentioned on those forums so much. I know I wont stop posting. I do recommend these optics for street, but only if your the sort of photographer who has no problem getting really close to your subject, and doesn’t mind the possible flack that comes with it. Today, I was lucky. But this being a famously grumpy London, I could just as easily have been confronted with choice anglo-saxon and a threat of violence. It happens rarely, but it does happen.

But I like this focal length for street. Its different and fun, and forces you to think differently about composition and speed. Don’t worry about it being manual focus only – its really easy on this lens, even without focus peaking. I suggest you set your distance, and see how brave you are…. 🙂 go on, whats the worst that could happen?

Please do say hello on Instagram if you get the chance (or if you have Instagram!):

Any questions, do let me know. Have fun, stay safe, and keep shooting. Cheers!



  1. Dave · November 22, 2016

    Hiya – thanks for the article and the inspiration! I’m quite taken with the possibilities of this lens. Are you shooting from the hip ‘anonymously’ or are you shooting through the viewfinder and getting properly noticed at close range? I’m using an X Pro 1 at the moment and looking to add another lens (or 2 – don’t tell my wife). I think I’d like the 35mm F2 but this 12mm is becoming a more real prospect with each passing article. 🙂


    • jezmouk · November 23, 2016

      Cheers for this Dave, good to hear from you. In actual fact, I shoot very little from the hip – its too speculative, and normally leaves too much negative space, which looks silly sometimes. I normally shoot from the collarbone, shoulder, or, if Im using the 23, the chest. The great thing about these cameras is theyre so inconspicuous that I rarely get noticed, even a metre away, and secondly, people are so wrapped up with themselves that they rarely even notice… I recommend the 12, totally, and I promise I’ll say nothing to the missus if you opt for a cheeky 35 as well… 🙂


      • Dave · November 23, 2016

        Haha, thanks! I’ll wait and see how benevolent santa is feeling. I think I’d pick up the 35mm first given I only have the 18 & 27 presently that came in the ‘kit’ with the X Pro 1. The 12mm is cheap enough to perhaps blag in the near future. Maybe Black Friday or the new year sales will come up with something irresistible? Cheers again, Dave


  2. Laurence · February 17, 2017

    Great review and photos. I got this lens as a birthday present, intended use a bit of astrophotography when I head in to the sticks, but I’ll carry this with me on the street with my xpro2 from now on. I used to own a samyang 8mm for a canon years ago and was awesome fun. If it’s not good enough, you’re not close enough, especially with these lenses.


    • jezmouk · February 17, 2017

      Cheers for this Laurence – have fun with it on the streets. Remember, provided you set it right everything can be sharp, and no lag time..its a really fun lens on the street. Let me know how you get on!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s