I can say I’ve got my invitation into the world of photography by those fascinating astrophotos. Seeing our Milky Way galaxy coming alive on a long exposure landscape shot is a true bliss.
Back in a day I was still using my Nikon D5300 APS-C camera, that turned out as a very good choice as a first camera. I have bought the camera in a kit, with two Nikkor lenses: a 18-55mm and a 55-300mm one. These lenses are good starters as well, but I have realized soon, that they have their limitations. For example, the 18mm itself is a good focal length, but the f/3.5 maximum aperture is far from what you need for proper astro shots. That was the point when I decided I need a proper lens for this purpose.
I made an extensive research on the best available lenses for astrophotography on the market, and I decided to choose the Samyang 24mm f/1.4 ED AS IF UMC lens. This lens has the best combination of the required features for an astrolens and for me as photographer. These features are: focal length, maximum aperture and price.
The 24mm is a great focal length. It is wide enough to capture an extended area (important for landscapes and Milky Way photos) but on the other hand it is not too wide to create an extremely perspective distorted image.
The f/1.4 maximum aperture does the magic. It is an extremely wide aperture, which is capable of collecting a lot of light. Lately I tried to shoot astrophotos, using f/1.8 or f/2. You still get enough light, but your image quality increases rapidly by using slightly higher f-numbers. The great thing is, that with this lens you have the opportunity to shoot at f/2 which is already one full stop above the widest setting. Take into consideration, that the most common maximum aperture for many high-end lenses is f/2.8. Okay, these are usually zoom lenses, what sets some boundary regarding the widest aperture. You basically need a prime lens to be able to achieve these extreme f-numbers. The difference between f/1.4 and f/2.8 is actually two full stops, which means a lot of light.
The actual price of the Samyang 24mm f/1.4 ED AS IF UMC lens for a Nikon camera at bhphotovideo is 459$.
Here is a link to bhphotovideo site: https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/868735-REG/Samyang_SY24MAF_N_24mm_f_1_4_ED_AS.html
Just for comparison a similar Sigma lens costs 849$, and you can get the fancy Nikkor glass “only” for 1997$.
I remember when I decided to buy this lens it actually seemed a bit pricy, compared to the fact that my Nikon D5300 kit costed around 1000$ - a body, with two lenses. However, when I started to take photography more seriously, I had to realize that less than 500 bucks for a lens is a very decent price. I’ve alredy replaced my D5300 with a D810 full frame camera, which back in 2017 costed around 4000$ - just the body.
Another big advantage of the Samyang 24mm f/1.4 ED AS IF UMC lens is, that it works perfectly with both of my camera bodies. It is compatible with the APS-C, as well as the full frame camera body. No severe vignetting, no painful resolution adjustments, it does a perfect job on both cameras.
Many people are afraid to buy a manual focus lens, because they think it is nearly impossible to achieve properly focused images by looking through the viewfinder and rotating the focus ring. I hope after reading my thoughts about this topic, it will become clear for many of you that this is something you don’t need to worry about at all. There is only one case when you really need autofocus: shooting action. However this lens is clearly not designed for that purpose so there is nothing much to discuss on this topic.
In any other cases you are good to go out with this lens. Additionally just think about the “good old times” when autofocus wasn’t an option at all. People were still able to make perfectly focused images. This has not changed either.
All you need is to know your lens, your camera and yourself. Take your time, use a tripod (it gives a hell lot a confidence), try different aperture settings, and see how the depth of field changes and how you can control the focus my using the focus ring. I am satisfied with my Samyang lens’s focus ring – it is big enough, rotates smoothly, and makes it easy to use. In case you are shooting astrophotos, even using an autofocus lens, you need to find the focus manually.
Here are a few tips how to do it:
Put your camera on a tripod.
Know where your subject is (mostly the Milky Way) by using smart phone apps. My personal favorite is Sky Guide. It costs a few bucks, and provides you a detailed and accurate night sky with position updating and real time view using the compass mode, plus a whole library is packed into the program about stars, planets, constellations, history and many more.
Switch you camera on live view
Now comes the focusing. Technically you need to focus into the infinity, however it doesn’t usually match with your lens’s infinity marker (if there is any)
Initially point your camera towards a bright object (a star, or for Milky Way shots the Saturn works pretty well)
Zoom in fully using your magnifier button – now the bright object is most probably very blurry but still visible on your camera’s LCD screen – and lock the position of your camera on the tripod.
Set your aperture to the widest position possible (lowest f-number)
Start to move the focusing ring slowly. You find the focus where the bright object is not anymore a big blurred spot, but reduced in size into a relatively sharp point and most likely, it has four spikes around it. Kinda looks like this: l
Now try not to move the focus ring when you move the camera to change compositions. Since you are focused into the very far, it doesn’t matter if you change the position of the camera fore and aft.
Don’t be afraid about the shallow depth of field by using f/1.4 or similar very wide apertures. Your foreground will not be crispy sharp, but you have options to correct it. Personally, I have some images where I didn’t do anything with the foreground, because I liked the slightly blurry silhouette of it. If you want sharp images throughout the whole focus range, you can use focus stacking, or simply change the foreground by merging two images using layer masks.
I like to use this word to define a photographic category in which I put all my images that are shot under low-light conditions. The Samyang 24mm f/1.4 ED AS IF UMC lens is a great choice for these type of images as well. I write more in details about my nightscape photography in a separate article, where I introduce you the legendary Italian pearl: The Cinque Terre.
Some of my most beloved images I’ve shot with my Samyang 24mm f/1.4 ED AS IF UMC lens. First of all it has fantastic image quality features. Very low chromatic aberration and ghosting, close to zero distortion and vignetting. Personally, I quite like vignetting as it often adds an artistic touch for the images or helps to point the attention on the scene. If we are shooting in daylight conditions, the f/1.4 is not really required, unless we would like to reduce the depth of field and nicely put our subject in focus while the less interesting parts of the image get a beautiful blur. In case you want to shoot using “usual settings” – I mean mid-range apertures, with enough light, this lens delivers exceptionally clear and sharp images.
Artistic images created with the Samyang 24mm f/1.4 ED AS IF UMC lens.
The Samyang 24mm f/1.4 ED AS IF UMC lens is undoubtedly one of the favorite member of my line-up. It delivers outstanding low light performance and capable of capturing stunning astrophotos, but on the other hand it is a great tool to create art by using very wide apertures. In my opinion, Samyang is developing rapidly by creating higher and higher performance prime lenses, with better and better image and build qualities. The new versions are already equipped with autofocus option, however as I presented above, it is not a big deal at all to use manual focus. Samyang lenses are definitely competitors of the big brands not just because they are considerably cheaper, but also because they perform at least as well, but in my opinion even better than those legacy glasses.