A circular fisheye lens such as the Sigma 8mm f/3.5 EX DG is generally considered a specialist solution. This is mainly due to the nearly 180-degree viewpoint and the distorted lines in an image which are a feature rather than a discrepancy. Fisheye lenses give a rather bulbous look to all subject matter, which is great fun for us photographers, but not the most flattering for a subject.
However, in the right circumstances a fisheye has a periphery view not found on other lens types. For instance, I found a fisheye lens to be the most useful for creating virtual tours. I only needed to snap four images to produce a full 360-degree view, with some overlap.
In another instance, a fisheye lens was the best way to capture a full audience view at a gig. In other words, once you start getting creative with this little lens, you’re only limited by your imagination.
As Sigma is offering a good quality version in this department, let’s take a closer look at what the Sigma 8mm f/3.5 EX DG can provide and if it can match up to the competition.
For such a small and compact lens, the Sigma weighs in at 400g, providing some evidence of the amount of glass within the lens barrel. Having come from using a manual focusing fisheye lens in the past, it’s great to have one which features autofocus.
There is a focusing ring if you want to dive into manual mode and a useful distance scale. But you only really need this when getting really close up to a subject as a fisheye lens naturally has a huge depth of field.
The lens barrel itself is made largely of heavy-duty plastic. This is more a symptom of its older stylings and is hardy enough for general use. Although the lens doesn’t come with any type of hood, it’s at least supplied with substantial lens caps to protect the bulbous front element. The lens also features a little slot to fit old school gel filters if you want to experiment down this route.
Internally, the lens consists of an optical arrangement of 11 elements in six groups which also includes One SLD glass element. This being topped off with a super multi-layer coating to suppress common lens flares and ghosting as well as improve image quality.
As typical of a fisheye lens, the Sigma has a ridiculously close focusing distance of 13.46cm. This allows the lens to capture a very close-up subject, while also keeping the background in sharp focus.
The Sigma 8mm f/3.5 EX DG in Use
As the Sigma 8mm f/3.5 EX DG has such a huge depth of field, autofocusing is never a problem. When the autofocus system does have to kick into gear, it’s relatively fast to react with the system only tripping up in the very lowest of light conditions.
Although the aperture may not seem that fast at f/3.5, for general use it’s perfectly adequate. Again, only been problematic if you really need to dive into very dim lighting.
With a 180-degree viewpoint and a circular rendition in the frame, the general consensus is that contrast and color rendition is more than acceptable. But images are not going to be as ultimately sharp as you would find on other Sigma primes, such as a 35mm f/1.4 Art.
The slight softness towards the edges of the frame would be acceptable on cheaper lenses, but for a lens that costs over $800, even though it an older version, we would have expected sharper results.
At the aperture of f/3.5, the Sigma is reasonably sharp in the center of the frame while producing slightly soft edges. The sharpest results come in at f/8, which provides the most detail, but not as pin-sharp as you would expect for the price point.
The lens suffers from chromatic aberration in part, meaning all images will need the likes of Adobe Lightroom to work its magic to get rid of any blue or purple cast. Distortion levels, as you would expect from this type of lens, are in abundance.
You will have to work with this feature, rather than fight it. There are software solutions out there to de-fish an image, but that’s out of the scope of this article.
In total, the Sigma 8mm f/3.5 EX DG gives a reasonable output if you dismiss its asking price. The colors and contrast are respectable, just not overly inspiring. As a general-purpose fisheye lens, the Sigma is capable for occasional use.
How Does It Compare?
Normally, we would wind up competitive lenses with options in the same price bracket. But for an example such as the Samyang 8mm f/3.5 HD, you can still get heaps of fisheye quality for just a few hundred dollars. The Samyang maybe a manual focusing lens, but that’s not so much a problem on a fisheye lens with a huge depth of field.
The Samyang has a more narrow view of 167 degrees, but it does come with a removable lens hood and weighs in at roughly the same as the Sigma. Considering that you can pick up nearly three of the Samyang lenses for the same price as the Sigma for almost the same level of optical quality, the Samyang represents extremely good value for money.
|Sigma 8mm f/3.5 EX DG||Samyang 8mm f/3.5 HD|
|Close Focusing Distance||13.46cm||30.48cm|
The Sigma 8mm f/3.5 EX DG is one of those fisheye lenses that is starting to show its age. It could be a good option on film cameras or older digital types, but with the latest resolution cameras, it is not as ultimately sharp as expected.
A circular fisheye lens is always going to be an occasional use option, unless you have a very niche criteria. If the lens was just a few hundred dollars cheaper, it would be more viable, but as shown by the Samyang above, the competition is producing great fisheye optics in this area for far less money.
While the Sigma was a respectable lens in its day, you can get far more for your money these days. This is especially evident by Sigma’s own Art and Contemporary lenses, which give even same-make brand offerings a good run for their money.