I've spoiled myself with a new wide-angle lense: the Samyang 12mm NCS CS. It's a very capable lense, but with some big caveats.
What happened so far
About half a year ago, I bought two new lenses for my Sony NEX-F3 camera: a portrait lense (SEL-50F18 OSS) and a wide-angle pancake lense (SEL-16F28). I'm still in love with the portrait lense, but after a vacation in Paris I immediately sold the wide-angle lense on eBay. The image quality was just too poor. I guess there's a reason why this lense cost only a little more than 100€ in the first place.
Despite this disappointment I'm still sold on the idea of a wide-angle lense, so I started browsing online for a better one. I've stumbled upon the Samyang 12mm NCS CS, which is available for a variety of cameras.
The Samyang 12mm NCS CS lense is widely praised for its good image quality, but it has a few drawbacks. First, it's a so-called “prime lense” at 12mm focal length with no zoom. Second, it's a “manual lense”: the aperture and focus have to be set manually on the lense itself. Though the lense does mechanically fit the NEX camera body, there are no electrical contacts; the camera thinks it has no lense attached. Remember: you'll have to enable the “Release without lense” option in the camera setup to get this lense working at all! That's the reason why the Samyang 12mm lense sets you back only 300€: true e-mount wide angle lenses with autofocus can easily cost more than double that! And then we haven't even arrived in the zoom department.
There was some heavy snowfall in my area a few days after the lense arrived (quite a rare occurence these days due to climate change), so I took a break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and went out into the hills surrounding my town. The Samyang lense did a decent job in all settings: the images are sharp and crisp to the edges, and not blurred out like those taken with the old SEL-16F28. This obviously depends on the correct manual focus, but after a few tries I felt right at home with the camera's assist function. The Samyang lense also produces a satisfactory bokeh on wide apertures, and a great lense flare in direct sunlight.
However, there are a few downsides in image quality. There is some significant vignetting, which became very obvious against the mushy gray skies. I've also noticed some chromatic abberation, even the image center, when taking photos at the maximum resolution of 16 megapixel. Concluding my review, the Samyang 12mm NCS CS lense is a budget wide-angle lense that requires a photographer with above-average skills to handle a manual prime lense, and delivers an image quality that is better than expected. I'll use this lense not too often, but for those situations where I need a wide-angle lense, the Samyang lense is right in the sweet spot of good image quality and affordable price.