Samsung 85mm f/1.4 ED SSA NX
Lab Test Results
May 22, 2014
by William Brawley
The Samsung 85mm ƒ/1.4 ED SSA lens is part of Samsung's premium, professional line of lenses and is the "crème de la crème" of portrait lenses for NX users. Despite being designed for a mirrorless camera, the 85mm ƒ/1.4 lens (130.9mm in 35mm eq.) is much larger and heavier than a typical mirrorless lens -- more similar to a DSLR lens, in fact. Regardless of its physical properties, the Samsung 85mm ƒ/1.4 lens boasts some impressive specs, including Super Sonic Actuator (SSA) for fast, silent focusing; Extra Low Dispersion glass; and a 9-bladed rounded aperture diaphragm, that along with the wide ƒ/1.4 aperture, makes for creamy, smooth bokeh.
So, how does this professional portrait prime stack up? Read on below for our full battery of tests, handling notes and conclusion.
The Samsung 85mm ƒ/1.4 ED SSA ships with front and rear caps, lens hood and a pouch for around $849. You can buy this lens, or any other product, from one of our trusted affiliates and your purchase helps support this site! -- Amazon; Adorama; B&H
As is often seen on ultra-fast lenses, wide-open sharpness can be a challenge, and such is the case here with the Samsung 85mm ƒ/1.4. Wide open, there is some obvious softness across the whole frame. A simple click on the aperture dial down to ƒ/2, however, and the lens sharpens up very quickly to an impressive degree. Stopping down to ƒ/2.8 or ƒ/4, and this lens displays excellent sharpness with barely any corner softness. Diffraction limiting softness is also quite minimal, with it only really having a minor effect at the smallest ƒ/22 aperture.
Looking at our test images, the softness at ƒ/1.4 is noticeable, unfortunately, but certain photographers might enjoy this softer, dreamier look. In real-world images, the softness at ƒ/1.4 is visible if you're pixel-peeping, but overall images look decent with an nice, razor-thin depth of field and smooth out of focus backgrounds. As mentioned though, if you want critically sharp portraits with this lens, it's best to stop down a bit.
Chromatic aberration is very well controlled on this Samsung lens, both in the corners and on average throughout the frame, and remains very low throughout the entire aperture range. Looking at our test chart images, CA in the corners at ƒ/1.4 is quite minimal, with only hints of purple-ish fringing on high-contrast edges, and at ƒ/8, CA is hardly visible at all.
Like CA, vignetting on the Samsung 85mm ƒ/1.4 lens is very minimal as well, showing a maximum amount of light falloff at ƒ/1.4 just shy of 0.25EVs. Stopping down doesn't have much of an effect at reducing vignetting. However, it remains steadily under 0.25EVs all the way to ƒ/22.
As you would hope from a professional-level portrait lens, the Samsung 85mm ƒ/1.4 lens displays impressively little distortion. Based on our tests, the average distortion is practically zero. In the far corners, though, we calculated just a hint of barrel distortion, but it's such a miniscule amount that it can be considered negligible.
As mentioned above, the Samsung 85mm lens uses an electronic Super Sonic Actuator (SSA) AF motor that's virtually silent and fast. However, it's not going to win any awards for its autofocusing speed, though is it nice and quiet. While the AF system is very snappy for short changes in focus distances, the lens takes over a full second to rack from minimum distance to infinity. Overall, the lens's AF performance is quick enough for most subjects, particularly with short changes in subject distance.
With manual focusing, there is an external switch on the side of the lens to enable full-time manual focus, however the SSA AF system allows for full-time MF override as well, so you can tweak focus manually even while AF is engaged. The focus ring has about 150 degrees of rotation for precise, accurate adjustments, and the nearly 1-inch wide, ribbed rubber ring is easy to grip and very smooth to rotate.
This lens is not designed for macro shooting due to its 82cm (32.3 in.) minimum focusing distance that provides only a 0.13x magnification.
Build Quality and Handling
The Samsung 85mm ƒ/1.4 ED SSA is a big, heavy lens, weighing in at over 1.5lbs and over 6 inches long if you count its deep lens hood, and its large diameter barrel is designed for 67mm filters. This NX-mount lens, for use with Samsung's APS-C mirrorless cameras, is a far cry from the small, lightweight lenses for other mirrorless systems, such as the Micro Four Thirds standard, for example.
Constructed out of an all-metal barrel with a smooth black finish and a metal lens mount, the Samsung 85mm has a substantial heft and a high quality feel. As mentioned earlier, this lens tips the scales at a little over 1.5lbs, so it's certainly not your everyday walk-around lens, though it's smaller and more portable than something like a Canon 85mm f/1.2L II. Inside the barrel, the optical layout consists of 10 elements in 8 groups, including one Extra Low Dispersion lens for better chromatic aberration control, which seems to have done its job well. The 9-bladed circular aperture diaphragm helps create smooth, pleasing background blur.
The large 7/8th-inch wide focus ring has a nice, smoothly rotating action to it, with about 150-degrees of rotation and hard stops at at minimum and infinity focus distances. The deeply ribbed rubberized coating makes it easy and comfortable to grip. The lens features a built-in focus distance window and a depth of field scale (though it only has DOF markings for ƒ/22).
Typically, prime lenses have a single ring around the barrel -- the focus ring -- but the Samsung 85mm includes a second thinner ring back toward the rear of the lens, called the i-Function ring. This multi-use ring, when activated by the "i-Fn" on the left side of the lens (above the AF/MF toggle switch), allows you to adjust all sorts of camera exposure and image quality settings. Simply press the i-Fn button to toggle through settings like ISO, exposure compensation and white balance presets or even effects and filters -- depending on the camera model used -- and then rotate the ring to adjust as desired. It's a very handy feature, especially when paired with sleeker cameras like the Samsung NX300 that do away with a front control dial -- since there's extra space on the lens, you might as well utilize it!
The alternatives to Samsung's own NX lenses are fairly limited. However, another Korean optics company, Samyang, makes NX-mount lenses. Samyang also offers 85mm ƒ/1.4 lens, but in a manual-focus only style. Other than the lack of autofocus, this Samyang fast prime produces similarly sharp images with very low distortion. The Samyang also displays less CA wide-open, though at the smaller apertures, it's quite similar to the Samsung. There's also much less vignetting from ƒ/2 onwards on the Samyang. Obviously, the biggest downside to this lens is the lack of AF, but if you're primarily shooting portraits of still subjects, or shooting video, perhaps that's not a issue after all. It's also a heck of a lot cheaper at around US$300!
The Samsung 85mm ƒ/1.4 ED SSA is an impressive lens for those NX-camera owners wanting a high-performance, professional-class fast portrait prime that's also well built and solid. The lens produces super sharp images, though not tack sharp at ƒ/1.4 unfortunately -- things are bit soft -- however, stopping down just a little bit and sharpness ramps way up. The other optical qualities of this lens are top-notch: low CA, low vignetting and practically zero distortion. The addition of Samsung's i-Function ring for added camera controls is a very cool feature, especially on certain NX cameras that lack a lot of physical dials and controls.
The all-metal construction makes this lens very solid and well built. However, building an 85mm lens with a fast ƒ/1.4 aperture takes a lot of glass, making this a wide, heavy lens weighing in at over 1.5lbs. It's certainly not lightweight or compact, but a serious lens for serious photographers. The high price tag also clues you into to its seriousness. All in all, despite the unfortunate lack of wide-open sharpness, the Samsung 85mm ƒ/1.4 ED SSA is fantastic portrait lens for Samsung shooters.
The VFA target should give you a good idea of sharpness in the center and corners, as well as some idea of the extent of barrel or pincushion distortion and chromatic aberration, while the Still Life subject may help in judging contrast and color. We shoot both images using the default JPEG settings and manual white balance of our test bodies, so the images should be quite consistent from lens to lens.
As appropriate, we shoot these with both full-frame and sub-frame bodies, at a range of focal lengths, and at both maximum aperture and ƒ/8. For the ''VFA'' target (the viewfinder accuracy target from Imaging Resource), we also provide sample crops from the center and upper-left corner of each shot, so you can quickly get a sense of relative sharpness, without having to download and inspect the full-res images. To avoid space limitations with the layout of our review pages, indexes to the test shots launch in separate windows.
Samsung 85mm f/1.4 ED SSA NX User Reviews
7 out of 10 points and not recommended by arconovum (4 reviews)good bokeh effect, good DOFextremely heavy, poor auto focus and speed, no warranty
This will be a review in two stages, I will return in 1 week to complete the review when the weather gets better.reviewed April 23rd, 2012 (purchased for $1,000)
I chose NO to the question"Would you recommend this lens?" on the review submission form, primarily due to warranty issue for this lens (see the first part of the review for more details).
So as all lenses from Samsung , the warranty is a major drawback, especially in this case when 1000.00 dollars is at stake. As I have said before if it gets damaged, breaks, or fails Samsung will not repair nor replace it because they have categorized a lens as an accessory and the product is shipped without a warranty in the box.
Again this lens does no better as all other major lenses in the Samsung NX line when it comes to auto-focus , The auto focus is slow and often will fail to focus at all, and numerous retries and repositioning of the camera are required to allow the camera to achieve focus. But the manual focus works better than other lenses I have reviewed, far less effort is required to focus properly.
The lens's auto focus also does poorly when using the video option of the camera (nx200) , not that you would use this lens for that purpose , but in reality nothing stops you from using it.
The minimum focus distance for this lens is 2.7 feet in manual and auto focus, but you can reduce that to 2.5 feet in manual , but auto focus cannot. In that minimum distance you can fit a subject 7 inches wide, and 5.5 inches high, nothing bigger than a short coffee mug.
The weight is also a drawback to this lens, It is very heavy, I feel very uncomfortable hanging this expensive warranty-less lens from the cheap camera strap provided with the nx200 camera.
As I said I will be back in one weeks time to review the optics, and to make my final say about this lens.