I recently bought a copy of this lens after looking for a viable superwide angle option for Nikon DX cameras, and after having it for a month or so I feel like it’s time for me to share my thoughts. Wide angle options are somewhat limited for us DX shooters, and I wanted a really wide lens. A short version of this review is – this lens ROCKS! – after some initial adjustment to the focus scale. It’s not nearly as hard as it sounds, and all it involves is just loosening some screws and rotating the loosened focus ring to the correct position. I’ll get into this later. I want to focus on the performance of this lens as it stands after the adjustment. The bottom line is that if you are looking for a fisheye lens for your crop sensor camera, look no further. For under $300, this lens is an absolute steal, if you can do without autofocus and metering on cameras without an aperture-sensing ring. That’s right, this lens is fully manual. It is actually very easy to use, just set the focus and aperture, and you don’t have to worry about it again – just shoot away! I used manual cameras and lenses long before digital, but for someone who’s just starting out it will take some getting used to. I bought the Rokinon version of this lens, but it’s also marketed as Samyang, Bower, Pro Optic, Vivitar, and Falcon. All lenses are the same construction and optics. This lens is made to fit all camera mounts, but since I shoot Nikon this review will be specific to that version.
This lens is a solid piece of kit. The majority of the lens is metal, with the lens hood being the major plastic part of it’s construction. The lens hood is permanently attached too, so no screw-on filters can be used on it. The lens feels good in your hand, with a nice heft, and the focus ring is very well dampened with a wide rubber grip. It doesn’t move unless you move it, which is important on a manual focus lens. This being a manual focus lens, to me, makes it easier to use than an AF lens. Just set the focus and forget it. There is incredible DOF available with any fisheye, and this one is no different. I find that I get the best infinity focus with the lens set to 1.2 feet and f/11. This lens is VERY sharp stopped down to f/8-f/11, but it is somewhat soft at f/5.6 and very soft at f/3.5. I don’t recommend shooting this lens wide open. The aperture scale goes from f/3.5 to f/22, but using apertures smaller than f/11 will bring on diffraction, which robs the lens of sharpness. Stay at f/8 or f/11 for optimal results.
FIXING THE FOCUS SCALE
My first outing with this lens was exhilarating, seeing all it takes in and playing with different angles, but when I viewed the images on my computer the sharpness was lacking, to say the least. Everything was soft, no matter what aperture I set it to. I decided to do some research and found that the focus scale on these lenses is typically off, and by a wide margin, especially for the Nikon version for some reason. The fix was very simple, and all you need is a tape measure and an eyeglass screwdriver. I have heard that a box cutter blade will work for turning these tiny screws too. Here’s the procedure – put the camera on a tripod or other stable surface and measure the distance to an object fairly close to the camera. I chose 3ft at random because there was a vase that was at that distance and 3 ft is clearly marked on the focus ring, but any distance will work. Just make sure that it’s one of the distances marked on the focus scale. Ensure the camera is the correct distance away from the object using your tape measure, and remember to measure from the focal plane, and not the front of the lens. Now bring the object into focus by rotating the focus ring and once it’s sharp, don’t turn the focus ring again. If you can’t tell if it’s in focus using the LCD, transfer the photos to your computer to determine sharp focus. Once this is done, fold back the top part of the rubber grip and locate the small flat screws. Do not remove the black tape or loosen the Phillips screws – I gathered from what I have read that you will regret doing that, so don’t. Here’s a look at the lens with the focus grip folded back and a close up of the screws you’re looking for.
There are 3 of these small flat screws. Loosen all of them and the focus ring will release from the inner focus mechanism. Don’t take them all the way out though. Now what you want to do is to line up the predetermined distance on the focus ring to the white line in the middle of the lens that denotes the focal point, in my case this was 3 ft. Push the focus ring up towards the front of the lens as you line it up, because it drops down after the screws are loosened. Tighten the screws, take a pic to ensure that your adjustment was correct (I had to do this twice because I must have bumped the focus ring prior to loosening it) and your Rokinon 8mm fisheye is ready to impress you with the outstanding sharpness that this lens is capable of. And what a sharp lens this is. The optics are really outstanding, better than a sub-$300 lens has any right to be!
It’s a real shame that this focal adjustment is even necessary though, as it should be “right” right out of the box. My lens is only a month old, so obviously this is still a problem as of October 2011. Hopefully Samyang, who makes the lens and markets it under those numerous brand names, will become aware of this issue and make these adjustments in the future.
As I have said, this lens is sharp, sharp, sharp, after the focus corrections of course. I used this lens for 2 of the most recent HDR photos that I put up for exhibition, and it stands up to my sharpest Nikkor lenses. That’s pretty impressive. Colors are true, details are abundant, and it is supremely resistant to flare and ghosts, even when the sun is in the frame. The flare and ghosting control is better than any other lens I own. It really is outstanding. It has 6 aperture blades, so you’ll get 6-pointed stars when there’s a light source in the frame and the lens is stopped down. Don’t worry about bokeh quality with this lens, as you won’t get any due to the depth of field inherent to the superwide angle and the fact that it only opens up to f/3.5. Nobody buys a fisheye for bokeh, though. This lens is designed specifically for crop sensor cameras, giving you a 180 degree view, but you can use this lens on a full frame body. It then becomes a circular fisheye and the lens hood needs to be shaved off to avoid having it in the frame.
The “look” of this lens is really special, for a fisheye. Being a fisheye, it is distorted, but not as much as other fisheye lenses. This is due to the projection of the lens, which is said to be nearly stereoscopic. I won’t get into the details of that here, but it means that objects on the periphery of the frame are still proportional as opposed to being severely distorted. A circle photographed on the edges of the frame remains a circle and not squashed into an oval shape. People and objects are still very proportional even when photographed on the periphery of the lens. In fact, when held level, this lens achieves a nearly rectilinear quality, with only the outermost edges showing signs of distortion. This is wonderful for me, as I wanted a superwide lens but not necessarily the “funhouse mirror” distortion that is a fisheye trademark. If you’re looking for a fisheye that really distorts your images, this isn’t the one.
Simply put, stopped down this lens is hard to beat, even by Nikon’s own 10.5mm DX fisheye. If you MUST have autofocus (and you really don’t with a fisheye) get the Nikon version. Or be smart, save several hundred bucks, and get this lens. It’s a purchase I don’t regret, even with the necessary focus adjustment. Keep in mind that though this lens is manual focus on ALL cameras, you lose metering too unless you have a pro Nikon body that has an aperture-sensing ring. That means all consumer and some prosumer Nikons. All pro bodies will have center weighted metering and if you put in the Non-CPU lens data you get Matrix metering too! Very cool!
All in all, this lens can’t be beat in it’s price range. It’s sharp as hell, resists flare and ghosting better than any other lens I’ve ever used, and did I mention that it’s less than $300? If you want a fisheye, or you need a superwide solution for your crop sensor camera and you don’t mind some fisheye distortion, look no further. This is a superb addition to any wide angle photographer’s camera bag.
These are some recent images taken with this lens. Most are from a Halloween dance party that I shot recently (so much fun!) and 2 HDRs from a current exhibition.