Samyang T-S 24mm f/3.5 ED AS UMC review – Introduction

Tilt-and-shift lenses feature the film-plane-movement control normally associated with large-format monorail or studio cameras. They are considered to be very specialist kit designed for architectural and landscape photography where adjustment of the plane of focus and distortion control are key elements. Traditionally, tilt-and-shift lenses have been so expensive that the casual snapper hardly dare touch them. However, at under £1,000, Samyang’s T-S 24mm f/3.5 ED AS UMC is the most inexpensive of its type currently available, and includes features comparable with the benchmark Nikon and Canon tilt-and-shift lenses. Available in a range of mounts, it brings tilt-and-shift capability to a wider audience of DSLR users.

Samyang T-S 24mm f/3.5 ED AS UMC review – Features

In common with all other Samyang DSLR lenses, the aperture on the T-S 24mm is set manually on the lens ring in 1⁄2 stops from f/3.5-22. You won’t find the f-stop value recorded in the camera metadata unless you set it up specifically. Focusing is manual only, but this has always been the case with tilt-and-shift lenses – the considered and precise workflow dictated by these lenses would never suit autofocus anyway. Also, focusing down to a minimum distance of 20cm means the lens is well matched to studio close-ups and confined shooting conditions.

The optical design is nevertheless advanced, and consists of 16 elements arranged in 11 groups, including two aspherical and two extra-low dispersion (ED) elements, designed to reduce chromatic aberration. The UMC coating on the front element is a multi-coating designed to minimise reflections and increase contrast.

The tilt-and-shift ranges are substantial and provide all the adjustment needed for normal operation, shifting 12mm in each direction in the axis parallel to the sensor, and tilting 8.5° each side of neutral. The alignment of the tilt-and-shift settings in relation to each other can be adjusted by rotating the lens mounting in 30° steps. In simple terms, the adjustments allow you to shift what the sensor is seeing within the covering area of the lens, and tilt the plane of focus so areas that wouldn’t normally be in focus at the same setting are sharp (or unsharp as required).

The Samyang T-S 24mm f/3.5 ED AS UMC lens will fit a wide selection of current DSLRs from Canon, Nikon, Pentax and Sony, and adapters could expand the repertoire to include mirrorless and micro four thirds models.

Images: The wagon wheel has been brought into focus by 4° of tilt

Samyang T-S 24mm f/3.5 ED AS UMC review – Build and handling

Image: This Canon 24mm prime lens is dwarfed by the Samyang 24mm T-S

The Samyang T-S 24mm has a very satisfying chunky and workmanlike feel to it. The texture and finish of the metal coating, and the high-quality plastic and rubber finishing are a delight and quite clearly give the impression of great build quality at this price point. Weighing 680g, it is quite a beast and dwarfs our trusty Canon 24mm studio lens, but with the scope of adjustment available and two setting knobs, their corresponding locking nuts and two rotation switches, the functionality is well accommodated and as compact as it possibly could be.

The lens has a very large rubberised focusing ring with a good grip and a smooth, damped operation, and once set it will not slip out of focus readily. Focusing with the aperture fully open and then remembering to stop down to the working aperture before shooting takes some getting used to, and inevitably mistakes will be made. Although the knurled aperture ring is proud of the focus ring, I found I was catching the focus ring when stopping down, which altered my set focus on occasion, so that is something to watch out for.

I found the tilt scale adjustment rather loose – it is advisable to support the weight of the lens when adjusting this scale, as it can drop of its own accord. I was inclined to use a tripod with this lens set-up, as setting the adjustment scales is a two-handed process that requires practice and dexterity. I did experiment with a handheld approach and there is in fact plenty of scope to use it in this way, as the lens and body combination is not too heavy for extended shooting sessions.

The lens isn’t an internal focus design and extends 4.3mm when focused to the closest distance. The filter thread, however, remains stationary and the extension is so small as to have little practical impact. The lens pouch supplied is little more than a drawstring bag for protection from dust, so extra protection in the camera bag is necessary to avoid damaging the controls and switches that protrude from the lens body.

 Image: The slide handrails have been brought into focus by 3° of tilt

Samyang T-S 24mm f/3.5 ED AS UMC review – Image quality and resolution

The resolution chart at each full aperture shows the best performance at f/5.6, which is significantly better than wide open or fully stopped down – a problem with a lens designed to enhance sharpness and likely to be used at small apertures. Enlarge resolution chart

Image: Grey card vignetting test

Samyang’s prime lenses are well respected for their image quality and performance. Indeed, we awarded the firm’s 35mm f/1.4 AS UMC lens five stars in AP 27 August 2011, so I was particularly excited about putting this slightly niche product through its paces.

Resolution testing was carried out using a 24-million-pixel Nikon D600 on our reference Applied Image Chart. At f/3.5, centre sharpness was good, falling off towards the edge of the frame with slight chromatic aberration becoming apparent at the outer extremes. Stopping down to f/5.6 and f/8, centre sharpness becomes exceptional and is excellent right to the edges of the frame, only falling away in performance at the smaller apertures of f/16 and f/22. With full shift applied to the lens, edge sharpness is still good right out to the edge of the frame.

Optically, this lens is best used at f/5.6 or f/8, when its performance equates to that achievable with a prime 24mm lens – the main difference being that a prime lens would resolve superbly at f/3.5.
Edge resolution is the acid test of lens sharpness and this lens is not fully capable of extending its excellent centre performance to its boundaries.

Minor barrel distortion is apparent as indicated in the bowing of the lines in our chart, but this is reasonably easy to correct. That said, any distortion in a lens used for architectural projects is undesirable.

Control over vignetting is very good: it is visible at f/3.5 and f/4 but has virtually disappeared at f/5.6, and is intrinsically far less apparent than I would expect in a prime 24mm lens at any level.

In the centre of the frame it is difficult to find any chromatic aberration as modern ED glass technology largely deals with this distortion. At aperture extremes and full tilt-and-shift, however, there are certainly traces present towards the edges of the frame.

Image: 24mm view

 Image: At f/3, significant vignetting is visible at this maximum degree of shift

Samyang T-S 24mm f/3.5 ED AS UMC review – Our verdict

Images: The shift scale has been used to throw the hands out of focus (above right)

The Samyang T-S 24mm f/3.5 ED AS UMC is constructed to a very high standard. It has the feel and demeanour of a scientific instrument and should survive the rigours of location photography well. In technical tests, it gives a good account of itself and, although not absolutely top notch, is comparable at its best apertures with the higher-priced opposition, putting in a fine performance in real-life tests.

The number of uses to which a tilt-and-shift lens can be put is quite staggering – everything from portraiture and product still life to architecture and landscapes. Once you’ve experienced the luxury of the control and versatility it can bring to your photography, it soon becomes a must-have lens.

A serious architectural photographer working in this specialist field won’t take cost into consideration when choosing a tilt-and-shift lens, as quality and performance are paramount, and small distortions and any inadequacies in resolution are too obvious in the sharp detail and straight lines of urban buildings. The Samyang T-S 24mm is neither affordable enough nor of sufficient quality to tempt any serious buyer away from their established kit. In truth, I consider this to be a creative lens at a price aimed at photographers wanting to expand their horizons and sample the delights of tilt-and-shift photography without taking a leap into hyperspace.