The Yongnuo Trio

yongnuo trio

It's difficult not to notice them. At US$70 to US$90 MSRP: three small primes currently available from Yongnuo for the Canon EF and Nikon F mount, plus a pair of slightly more expensive telephoto primes (85mm and 100mm) for the Canon EF mount that come in still well below US$200. There's also a US$500 14mm wide angle in the Canon EF mount.

I decided to take a look at the three Nikon mount candidates that were available, the 35mm f/2, the 40mm f/2.8, and the 50mm f/1.8. These are all small primes that cover the full 35mm FX frame, with somewhat surprisingly the 35mm being the largest of the three lenses. 

All are autofocus and have full Nikon F-mount contact information. All have internal focus motors. All have a simple AF/M switch and DOF markings for the smallest aperture. 

The original Yongnuo lenses—the 35mm and the 50mm—appear to be close knockoffs of older Canon lens designs. The 40mm has an aspherical element in it and a USB port for installing firmware updates, and seems to be a very different optical design, though still probably patterned off of someone else's lens. 

I'm going to go about this review a bit different than usual and mostly ramble through various things I noticed rather than following my more formal review process.

Curiously, these are the first lenses I've seen that have a thin plastic film you have to remove from both the front and rear element before using them. That's despite coming with very nice pinch front and substantive rear caps. It's a bit of a pain to get that film off the front of the 40mm and 50mm lens, despite there being a little pull tab. I'm not sure I see the point. It's more likely that I'll have to clean the lens after pulling that film off than it would be if that film wasn't there.

So, the visual inspection: a similar build to the older Nikkor primes with a polycarbonate body surrounding the internal goodies. I partially disassembled one of the lenses and found more polycarbonate inside, with only a bit of metal in key places. Relatively thin focus rings are on all three lenses, and the one on my 40mm sample feels a bit on the loose side for manual focusing, the ones on my other samples are fine. Nothing really problematic, but I get a slightly different build sense from each of the three lenses, which could indicate some level of manufacturing differential.

Indeed, looking through and testing the aperture diaphragm, I see one clear difference: the 40mm has very nicely symmetrical six-blade apertures. The 35mm and 50mm? A seven-blade one that gets very misshapen near wide open (they're fine stopped way down). So much for near wide-open bokeh.

You're probably asking why I'd even be interested in such lenses. Well, sometimes I set up remotes where the lens is quite exposed to the elements or animals or volcano fumes. Some of you may remember my dirt track shots, where I ended up filling half of a lens hood with mud when I remote fired a camera set up literally at the apex of a corner (see the 14-24mm f/2.8 review). What you want in some of those situations is use a lens that works decently on the optical side, but is cheap enough that you aren't worried that the front coating might get peeled off or the front element damaged. Think gas fumes near lava flows, remotes on a dirt track, ocean wave shots at tide line, and places where a horse or animal might kick the setup when it goes click. 

So the real bottom line for me is do these lenses even work optically? Let's cut to the chase: for most uses, sure, within some boundaries.

bythom yongnuo 40mm

Center sharpness is actually quite good on all three (40mm used in above example). Indeed, the 35mm f/2 reminds me a lot of the old Nikkor 35mm f/2D: very good center sharpness, but with some strong fall-off into the corners. Wide open, all three lenses struggled to match other (much more expensive) primes I've got sitting around in terms of contrast, but the Yongnuos pulled in pretty darned good center sharpness and contrast stopped down. Indeed, they remind me a lot of the way many of the old film-era primes perform on digital: some loss of contrast wide open, good center sharpness (especially stopped down), some issues out at the corners.  

Stopping down is the name of the game with these lenses if you want good performance. With the 50mm, f/4 is the best center performance (and excellent), while on my D850 I didn't hit peak corner performance until f/11, where it was very good (the above example is at f/11, and the grass at the two edge frames is nicely held). Vignetting was reasonably high, but chromatic aberration was surprisingly low even without corrections applied; barrel distortion was noticeable, but lowish in quantity. 

One of my three lenses (the 35mm) had a bit of side-to-side variation. Given that it looks like Yongnuo glues elements into some of the inner cylinders, I suspect that there's an element that's slightly out of alignment. Given the prices, I don't think there's a lot of time spent assembling them and running constant and careful alignment procedures. 

Focus performance seems to be about the same as most older Nikkor primes: not wicked fast, not terrible slow. The one thing to note is that the focus ring rotates even when the lens is in AF mode. These are not AF-S lenses where you can "override" focus with the ring, but you can impact focus if you get your fat fingers in the way when autofocusing.

Overall, I was actually pleasantly surprised by all three. Certainly considering the pricing, it can't hurt to have one or two of these lenses in your quiver for those times when you're worried about what might get to the front element of the lens. The 50mm even makes a pretty good portrait lens for DX users (you're generally not worried about the corners, but even they are decent on DX crop). 

Conditionally Recommended (2019) Not for use on FTZ adapter, though

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