If you’ve never had the pleasure of trying out a fisheye lens, then the most descriptive word to use is ‘fun.’ The ability to capture almost 180 degree images is pure joy, but it can have limited applications. Due to the very stretched out perspective, it’s not the most flattering lens to use for portraits, but for scenarios like ultra-wide-angle shots, you can’t go any wider. Thus, we are checking out the Nikon AF-S FISHEYE NIKKOR 8-15mm f/3.5-4.5E ED with added zoom ability.
The Nikon AF-S FISHEYE NIKKOR 8-15mm f/3.5-4.5E ED was the first fisheye zoom to come to the full-frame (FX) format, but it also works equally well on DX cameras. The only downside on the DX format is that full circular fisheye images are not possible, only full-frame images.
The Nikon AF-S FISHEYE NIKKOR 8-15mm f/3.5-4.5E ED is quite a compact lens coming in at 77.5 x 83mm, weighing in at 485g. It’s immediately recognizable from the bulbous front element. The lens has a simple layout with two rings around the barrel, the larger of the two being the zoom ring. The zoom ring has markers from 8-15mm, with a small white line between 10 and 12mm to indicate the ideal focal length for DX cameras. The thinner manual focusing ring provides just enough resistance to feel your way around, which is very helpful without any hard stops.
The usual distance scales has been included, along with a ‘M/A M’ switch to swap between auto and manual focusing. Turning the manual focus ring overrides auto focus at any time.
Inside the lens are 15 elements arranged in 13 groups, with a seven-blade rounded diaphragm. Apertures range from f/3.5-4.5 to f/29, with a 175-180 degree view and a minimum focusing distance of 16cm. There are also two aspherical and three extra low-dispersion elements to reduce things like chromatic aberrations.
Along with Nano Crystal, the Nikon AF-S Fisheye 8-15mm f/3.5-4.5E ED is built with Super Integrated Coatings and Fluorine coating on the front element to reduce ghosting, flaring, and reflections. These things can be a big problem with fisheye lenses.
The lens also uses a Silent Wave Motor for focusing duties, with all focusing being internal. Lastly, the lens is supplied with a petal-shaped lens hood, but is only useful at 15mm, otherwise it can be seen in the shot.
The Nikon AF-S FISHEYE NIKKOR 8-15mm f/3.5-4.5E ED In Use
Auto focusing on this lens is quick and quiet, not the fastest out there, but fast enough for posed shots or general wide-angle views. Zooming from 8-15mm provides a circular image in the middle of the frame at 8mm, while 15mm covers the whole frame. Initially it may seem very strange to point the camera forward and still get your feet in the shot, but with up to a 180 degree angle of view, this look is the norm.
‘Bulbous’ is the operative word for all images, turning straight lines into curves even at the center of the frame. This warped perspective can give an otherworldly look, which is why it was used on many 60’s album covers, such as The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Are You Experienced cover (plenty of ideas here for people shots).
Due to the domed front element of a fisheye lens, images can display anomalies far higher than traditional lenses. Chromatic aberration shows up the most at 8mm in high-contrast areas, but is very minimal at 15mm. At 8mm, CA is mostly displayed as blue fringing, but the effect can easily be reduced to next to nothing in post-processing. Vignetting is virtually non-existent, even at the widest aperture, so no complaints in this department.
When it comes to distortion levels of the Nikon AF-S Fisheye 8-15mm f/3.5-4.5E ED, this is a positive feature rather than a negative. The most barrel distortion can be seen at 8mm, with straight lines becoming less bowed at 15mm. Even when using Photoshop to straighten out any curves, objects can still have a bulbous look or feature curved lines. It’s just the nature of the beast if you want super wide-angle images.
Bokeh is usually a talked about point on any lens. But, as a fisheye has such a naturally large depth of field, even with close-up subjects, bokeh or background blur is hard to achieve. The lens also handles flaring very well. Just a hint of sun in the frame can easily create light streaks with a fisheye lens, but in this case lens flares and light streaks only appear when the sun is right in shot. Commendable in this respect.
Although this isn’t a macro lens, fish eyes can get relatively close to a subject and still stay sharp, in this case down to 16cm. The closer you get to a subject, the more rounded the look, which can make for extremely interesting images, especially with close-up and faraway subjects.
When it comes to sharpness, my own experience with fisheye lenses is to keep it at 8mm at all times. However, this was with a fisheye prime lens that was as old as time and things have moved on a bit. On this lens with the aperture wide open, center sharpness is extremely good through to the edge of the frame, with the best results coming in at f/5.6 to f/11. Edge softness creeps in after this point, along with diffraction. The same results come be found at the 12mm range.
At 15mm, sharpness levels are again the best between f/5.6 and f/11, but soften up more across the frame after f/16. There are also no complaints about the general rendition of images, coming in extremely detailed and full of contrasts. Even at the edges of the frame where there is the most distortion, detail can be easily seen. As with any fisheye lens, your main subjects need to be in the center of the frame for the most clarity.
How Does the Nikon AF-S FISHEYE NIKKOR 8-15mm f/3.5-4.5E ED Compare?
Fisheye zoom lenses are thin on the ground for the Nikon F mount, but there is the Tokina AT-X 107 10-17mm f/3.5-4.5 DX NH. Coming in at nearly a third of the price of the Nikon, the Tokina offers more at the telephoto end, but is less wide-angle. Thus, it cannot get a fully circular image like the Nikon. The optics on the Nikon are far superior, but the Tokina is the cheapest way to get hold of a fisheye zoom.
|Nikon AF-S FISHEYE NIKKOR 8-15mm f/3.5-4.5E ED||Tokina AT-X 107 10-17mm f/3.5-4.5 DX NH|
|Optics||15 elements/13 groups||10 elements/8 groups|
|Diaphragm blades||7 rounded||6|
|Min. focus distance||16cm||14cm|
A Fisheye lens isn’t your everyday walkabout solution, as it’s very stylized. However, for what it does, it’s very sharp across the focal lengths and the ability to zoom from a completely circular to full-frame look expands the creative possibilities. On a DX camera, your limited to a full-frame look and a small range of focal lengths, but the images come out with just as much quality.
The Nikon AF-S FISHEYE NIKKOR 8-15mm f/3.5-4.5E ED is also quite small and compact, but as with all fisheye lenses, the domed front element needs more care and attention due to its protruding nature. A large lens cap is supplied to keep the front element safe at all times.
The AF-S FISHEYE NIKKOR 8-15mm f/3.5-4.5E ED produces high-quality images, some of the best we have seen from a fisheye lens, but you have to pay for the privilege. This is not a cheap lens and is specialist in application, but if you like the fisheye look or have a regular use, such as with virtual tours, this lens can be an ideal solution. Also, being a zoom lens means it effectively covers a bunch of other fisheye primes, which should help you justify the price.