What can I compare you to? Shall I compare thee to a Samyang 14mm? Thou art more panoramic and more divergent. Shall I compare thee to a fish’s eye? Thou art commensurately wide, yet in fashion rectilinear. 

Like a woman dressed as a man in a forest, I find myself musing “Can one desire too much of a good thing”? Unlike (or perhaps like) Rosalind, I’m pondering width: practitioners of wide angle photography know there comes a day when wide isn’t wide enough. Recently, it came to me, cantilevered precariously over a rooftop in central London, trying to cram a six-storey facade into frame from a distance of 4m.

Unlike normal people, proper wide-angle photographers – astrophotographers, landscape artists, the architecture crew – barely qualify 20mm as a wide-angle: quite often I’m shooting interiors at 14 or 15mm, and occasionally reaching for the once-unique Sigma 12-24mm. If I was shooting Canon these days, I would doubtless have and relish the 11-24mm. And now there’s this: the Samyang 10mm: wider than the widest; more than the most. But is it too wide? Is it any good? And wither what shalt thine compareth it to?

Enough preamble. The Samyang 10mm isn’t remotely as sharp as the Canon 11-24mm at 11mm, but it’s clearly wider. Centre-frame performance becomes acceptable by f5.6, but even at f11 corners are barely serviceable. It’s beautifully made, but hard to focus: there’s no AF, and the combination of f3.5, massive depth of field and weak microcontrast at maximum aperture make it hard to see what’s going on until after the image is taken.

The smooth rubberised focus ring is a pleasure to use, but gets grubby fast.

This sample, which came from Samyang’s UK importer Intro2020, didn’t seem to be as sharp as captures I’ve seen elsewhere, for instance at Digital Picture, but this was the only copy I’ve assessed.

On the upside, chromatic aberration is absurdly well corrected for a lens this wide. Geometric distortion is also very low straight out the box. This combination of attributes – and the very fact of its existence – earns props ab initio. And yes, shoot enough things for long enough, there will be a time in your life when you need 10mm. However, it’s hard to imagine ‘new creative possibilities’ this lens opens up . . . we have several options in the 11-14mm range (103-117° HFoV) that appear to hoover the world in a single capture, with all the attendant distortion dictated by physical laws of rectilinear projection.

As the following images show, fisheyes go wider than the Samyang 10mm’s 122° horizontal field of view, and maintain proportions in the outer image circle at the expense of correct perspective in the frame centre. De-fishing a 180° fisheye tends to yield a useable rectilinear image in about the 120-125° HFoV range, but with still-significant volumetric distortion in the outer field. By comparison the Samyang is better corrected. But this is a pretty small niche for a lens design.

So, for bragging rights, full marks to Samyang: the 10mm is a desirable piece of glass: it’s mechanically superb and very well corrected. It’s not, however, remarkably sharp – particularly in Zone C. It has good flare resistance, but gives murky, badly-defined sunstars.

Compared to the best 14mm options (see below) it’s conspicuously softer. Compared to the Canon 11-24mm, it’s hugely cheaper, but also doesn’t resolve as well. Compared to the Sigma 12-24mm – well, it has the misfortune to meet the Sigma at its sharpest focal length, and, again, the comparison doesn’t favour the Samyang. Compared to a de-fished fisheye, it has a similar field of view with less volumetric distortion, and the advantage of a much larger file size (mindful of the lossy nature of defishing in post). Turns out you can compare the incomparable Samyang 10mm after all.