A manual focus fisheye lens with a 180-degree field of view for DSLR cameras with APS-C sensors.

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In summary

Fisheye lenses are usually purchased because they are fun to use and introduce interesting distortion effects. While they can be handy when you want extra wide angle coverage, they aren’t the kind of lenses you would use every day so it’s difficult for many photographers to justify investing in one.

Samyang’s offering is not only a good performer for its type, it also comes with an affordable price tag.

If you’re looking for a lens that gives you a different view that can provide scope for creativity, we would definitely recommend it ““ especially if you can use it on several camera bodies.

 

Full review

Samyang’s 8mm f/3.5 UMC Fish-eye CS II is a manual focus wide-angle fisheye lens. The CS version is designed primarily for DSLR cameras with APS-C sensors. This  review looks at the second-generation lens, which has a removable lens hood. Versions of this lens are also available with Samsung NX, Sony E, Fuji X and M4/3mounts.

 

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 The Samyang 8mm f/3.5 UMC Fish-eye CS II lens, shown with the lens hood fitted. (Source: Samyang.)

 The optical design of the lens utilises 10 lens elements arranged in seven groups, with one hybrid aspherical element.  Multi-layered anti-reflection UMC coatings have been applied to suppress ghosting and flare. The removable lens hood attaches via a bayonet mounting.

A cup-shaped plastic lens cap fits over the front element and is held in place with pinch clips. It can only be fitted when the lens hood is in place and, unlike regular lens caps, is too big to fit easily into a pants pocket when it’s not in use.

The review lens we received had a Canon EF lens mount and since it was labelled for use on cameras with APS-C sized sensors we tested it on the EOS 7D. However, this lens will also fit onto a body with a 36 x 24 mm sensor so we also took some test shots with the lens on an EOS 5D Mark II body.

Who’s it for?
 The main reason to buy fisheye lenses is for their inherent high levels of barrel distortion. Interestingly, this Samyang Fish-eye is different from traditional fisheye lenses because it produces an almost stereographic projection, which enables areas close to the edge of the frame to retain their shape better than conventional fisheye lenses. Straight lines are also less curved.

Most mounts for this lens (including the Canon EF version we received) lack electronic contacts, which means you can’t use autofocusing and the camera can’t control the aperture settings. The version with Nikon F mount has an electronic circuit which can pass focal length data to the camera.

This lens is designed to fill the entire frame when used on DSLR cameras with APS-C sized sensors, where it covers a field of view of   approximately 180 degrees. If you leave the lens hood on while shooting with a ‘full frame’ camera, it seriously crops the image. Remove the lens hood and you get an almost circular view. Examples are shown in the Samples section below.

Wider angles of view can include the photographer’s feet in the scene. In addition, the already significant distortion can become extreme in parts of the image if you tilt the camera while composing shots.

Build and Ergonomics
 Build quality is generally very good, particularly when you consider the asking price for this lens. The main barrel is made from metal and there’s a solid metal mounting plate.
 

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 Rear view of the Samyang 8mm f/3.5 UMC Fish-eye CS II lens, showing the metal mounting plate. (Source: Samyang.)

The aperture ring, which is close to the camera body, appears to be made of solid plastic and has very positive click stops, mostly at 1/3EV steps. The exception is the step between the f/3.5 and f/5.6 settings, which has no intermediate positions.

The front element of the lens bulges outwards, making it impossible to fit filters. This is normal for fisheye lenses.

The focusing ring is located between the aperture ring and the bayonet fitting for the lens hood. It’s about 30 mm wide and carries a 20 mm wide double band of ridged rubber that is comfortable to hold. This ring turns smoothly and is well damped, making manual focusing relatively easy.

Stamped in white on the trailing edge of the focusing ring are distance settings that range from 0.3 metres to infinity. Equivalent distances in feet are marked in orange just in front of them. The physical length of the lens remains almost constant at all distance settings and doesn’t change at all when apertures are adjusted.

The best way to use this lens is to open the lens aperture fully and focus upon the subject. Focusing should be relatively easy since the huge depth of field of the lens will mean most subjects a metre or more from the lens will be sharp, regardless of the aperture selected.

For closer subjects, it’s easy to estimate the camera-to-subject distance and select the correct focus setting. When in doubt, you can use the live view mode for fine-tuning image sharpness. Once the image is sharp, you can stop down to the desired aperture.

The lack of electronic contacts means this lens can’t communicate with the camera body so no metadata relating to the lens is recorded in image files. But it’s quite easy to determine exposure   levels. In the A shooting mode, the camera adjusts the shutter speed to suit the detected light levels, while in the M shooting mode, you simply adjust the shutter speed setting until the viewfinder image has the right brightness. (This works even with optical ‘finders and you can always check by chimping.)

With Nikon cameras that can ‘read’ the focal length data from the lens, in the P, A and S shooting modes, the shutter speed changes automatically when the aperture ring is turned. Users can also control exposure parameters from the camera with Nikon’s i-TTL flash system.

Depending on the fastest shutter speed your camera will support, it may be difficult to use the maximum aperture, even with the lowest ISO setting. We found this to be the case when testing vignetting.

Performance
 Testing this lens was a major challenge because of its inherent distortion, which made sampling the required areas of test images difficult (and, at times, impossible). Even though we could take measurements near the centre of the image frame, measuring areas near the edges of the frame was a hit-and-miss affair because the contrast boundary sampled was angled incorrectly and/or too short for meaningful measurements.

Based upon test shots taken with the Canon EOD 7D   camera, Imatest showed centre resolution to be close to expectations for the camera’s sensor resolution, which is very good for such an extreme lens. Edge softening was obvious in test shots taken with the widest aperture (f/3.5) and picked up in our Imatest testing. The graph below shows the results of our tests.

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 Virtually all fisheye lenses suffer from chromatic aberration, which is usually most visible near the image borders. Our Imatest tests showed it to be the case with this lens, as shown in the graph of the results below.

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 Chromatic aberrations at this level should be correctable in post-processing. Interestingly, the most obvious coloured fringing occurred at the periphery of the image when the lens was used on the EOS 5D Mark II camera. Unlike lateral chromatic aberration, it was impossible to correct, even with the sophisticated tools in Photoshop.

It was impossible to produce images that reliably demonstrated vignetting.

At best we can say there appears to be slight edge and corner darkening at f/3.5, which reduces progressively, becoming largely irrelevant by f/6.3. The fisheye effect tends to distract your attention from the slight vignetting that is normal for lenses of this type.

Rectilinear distortion was extreme, as expected from a fisheye lens. But this much barrel distortion is a feature of the lens, not an actual fault.

The review lens was less flare prone than we expected and backlit subjects retained plenty of contract and colour richness with little in the way of ghosting. This is quite impressive for a lens of this type.

Conclusion
 Fisheye lenses are usually purchased because they are fun to use and introduce interesting distortion effects. While they can be handy when you want extra wide angle coverage, they aren’t the kind of lenses you would use every day so it’s difficult for many photographers to justify investing in one.

Samyang’s offering is not only a good performer for its type, it also comes with an affordable price tag. If you’re looking for a lens that gives you a different view that can provide scope for creativity, we would definitely recommend it ““ especially if you can use it on several camera bodies.

 

SPECS

 Picture angle: 180 degrees diagonal (on APS-C sensors)
 Minimum aperture: f/22
 Lens construction: 10 elements in 7 groups (including one aspherical lens element)
 Lens mounts: Canon EF, Four Thirds, Nikon F, Pentax, Sony A
 Diaphragm Blades: 6
 Focus drive: Manual focusing only
 Stabilisation: No
 Minimum focus: 30 cm
 Filter size:   n.a.
 Dimensions (Diameter x L): 75.1 x 77.8 mm
 Weight:  417 grams
 Standard Accessories: Removable petal-shaped lens hood, front and end caps, soft carrying pouch

 

TESTS

 Based on JPEG files taken with the Canon EOS 7D camera.

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 SAMPLES
 

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 Rectilinear distortion.
 

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EOS 7D; ISO 400, 1/125   second at f/8.
 
 

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EOS 7D; ISO 800, 1/250 second at f/8.
 
 

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EOS 7D; ISO 200, 1/60 second at f/11.
 
 

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EOS 7D; ISO 400, 1/80 second at f/8.
 
 

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EOS 7D; ISO 200, 1/125   second at f/8.
 
 

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EOS 7D; ISO 1000, 1/80   second at f/5.6.
 
 

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EOS 7D; ISO 1250, 1/60   second at f/5.6.
 
 

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EOS 7D; ISO 3200, 1/50   second at f/11.
 
 

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Close-up with EOS 7D; ISO 400, 1/160 second at f/3.5.
 
 

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EOS 5D Mark II with lens hood (note the frame cropping); ISO 400, 1/30   second at f/5.6.
 
 

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EOS 5D Mark II without lens hood; ISO 200, 1/125 second at f/8.
 
 

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EOS 5D Mark II without lens hood; ISO 200, 1/250   second at f/3.5.
 
 

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EOS 5D Mark II without lens hood (note the feet included in the lower part of the frame); ISO 200, 1/2000 second at f/3.5.
 
 

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094: EOS 5D Mark II without lens hood. The top image is as captured by the camera; the lower image is from a raw file that we attempted to correct for coloured fringing with Photoshop. ISO 200, 1/250   second at f/5.6.

 

Rating  

RRP: AU$499; US$399

 

  • Build: 8.8
  • Handling: 8.5
  • Image quality: 8.3
  • Versatility: 8.3

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