A fisheye lens can seem like a very specialist or even novelty proposition, but in the right hands, it can be a very creative lens. There are many band photos from the 1960’s shot with a fisheye lens, which gives a very psychedelic look.
Fisheye lenses also a staple of 360 or VR images and quite a common way to capture everything around you. However, being quite specialist can also mean high costs. This is where the likes of the Samyang 8mm f/3.5 HD come into play, providing good quality optics at a reasonable price.
The Samyang doesn’t need any type of adapter, fitting straight onto the camera and is made specially for APS-C DSLRs. The lens can also fit onto full-frame cameras, with images being produced as a perfect circle in the frame rather than on a crop sensor, filling up the whole image. So, if the idea of a fisheye lens appeals to you, let’s see if the Samyang is worth the money and provides quality results.
The build quality of the Samyang 8mm f/3.5 HD is better than expected. The barrel is made of metal, with a textured rubber feeling focus ring which is very smooth in operation. There’s also a distance scale marked on the lens, serving to round off the main features.
As the workings are fully manual, no AF here, which can mean you will be in live view a lot of the time, but with such a wide depth of field, you generally will only be off focus if you’re too close to a subject. It also has an aperture ring that clicks with each stop setting.
If this lens is used on a crop sensor body, the resulting focal length is 13mm, along with an equivalent aperture of f/5.6. Inside the lens are 10 elements arranged in seven groups, with one aspherical element. There are also six aperture blades, which we would usually complain about needing more, but in this case, bokeh is generally out of the question.
The lens can focus at a very close 0.3m for those really weird depth of field shots and even comes with a little lens hood and lens cap. Much needed for protecting that bulbous 77mm front element.
At this point, the Samyang feels like a solidly built lens and although fully manual, it encompasses everything you need. It also has a reasonable weight of 435g, which gives a feeling of quality.
Samyang 8mm f/3.5 HD in Use
With most lenses, barrel distortion is a negative, but in the case of a fisheye lens, it’s a feature. Having a nearly 183-degree view on a full-frame body and 167 degrees on a crop sensor means ‘bulbous’ is the operative word for the majority of images. But, in the case of the Samyang, it has a stereographic projection, which means image borders are not as distorted as with other fisheye lenses.
Like many fisheye lenses, the center of the image can be quite sharp, but it’s really at the edges where the quality differences show. In this case vignetting is minimal at the edges and not overly pronounced. Hard to quantify in reality as light falloff can depend on the subject matter, but the results are normal for this width of lens.
As for the overall sharpness, the center of the image is very good at f/3.5, but with soft corners. Everything sharpens up by f/5.6, with f/8 being the sweet spot. From f/11 upwards, the lens starts to suffer from diffraction. Depending on the depth of focus you need and proximity of your primary subject, f/8 is a good standard-setting which seems to be a general rule for fisheye lenses.
The edges are where chromatic aberration and the likes of purple fringing come into focus. This is especially apparent in high contrast areas. The effect isn’t as drastic as you would find on other third-party fisheyes and although this can be corrected to some extent in software, you always have to be mindful of your shooting conditions.
One other effect that is typical of fisheye lenses is flaring. The lens copes very well with ghosting effects and still produces high contrast images in very bright sunlight. However, you always have to be mindful for the position of the sun to make sure stray light doesn’t overwhelm your image.
As for overall image quality, the lens produces nicely saturated and contrasty images, which when shot on a crop sensor body fill the frame. The standard of images may not be up to the quality of a more expensive prime lenses, but if you don’t mind the anomalies a fisheye brings, it’s a very creative way to produce scenic shots.
As the depth of field is generally huge, it’s great fun to have a close-up subject with an interesting background, with everything being clearly focused. If nothing else, it does spur on your creativity and you’re constantly thinking of new ways to use this lens. Lots of fun if you don’t mind the deficiencies that are inherent in a fisheye lens.
How Does It Compare?
Fisheye lenses generally need a lot of optical correction to get everything right, especially in the corners. This means that the best quality fish eyes in the world cost a pretty penny. Case in point with the ridiculously huge Nikkor 6mm f/2.8, which weighs 5kg and is a quarter of a meter wide. However, if you do want to shoot specialist night sky views of Antarctica, then there are more cost-effective and generally cheaper solutions on the market.
In broadly the same price bracket as the Samyang is the Neewer Pro 8mm f/3.5-22. The optical quality is roughly on a par with the Samyang, with the same amount of internal elements and aperture range. However, the Samyang wins as the best overall performer, having slightly better corner definition across the board.
|Samyang 8mm f/3.5 HD||Neewer Pro 8mm f/3.5-22|
|Elements||10 elements/ 7 groups||10 elements/ 7 groups|
The near-stereographic view of the Samyang 8mm f/3.5 HD definitely gives this lens a broader application than other fish eyes. The lens will have to be stopped down to get the sharpest results across the frame, but with such a vast depth of field, its generally only with very close-up subjects that you will struggle.
Although purple fringing is less pronounced than other fisheye lenses, it’s still a common problem. Although correctable to an extent in software, you always have to be mindful of the conditions you shoot within. The lens can also suffer from flaring at times, but again a common factor for this type of lens.
In total, the Samyang 8mm f/3.5 HD is a well-made lens and a lot of fun to use. Unless you have a specific application, this may not be a lens you use every day, which means its price point is more appealing than more expensive units. The lens provides good image quality and considering the overall functionality and price point, it’s a reasonably priced lens which can expand your creativity above traditional lenses.