On Trial AF-S Fish­eye Nikkor 8-15mm f3.5-4.5E ED

AF-S FISH­EYE NIKKOR 8-15MM F3.5-4.5E ED With the one lens Nikon’s first fish-eye zoom pro­vides both cir­cu­lar and rec­tan­gu­lar 180-de­gree an­gles- of-view, which means it has po­ten­tial for both plea­sure and busi­ness.


The cir­cu­lar fish-eye lens is a pretty spe­cialised piece of equip­ment, but what if you could have a rec­tan­gu­lar fish-eye as well? Nikon’s re­mark­able fish-eye zoom gives you both in the one lens, pro­vid­ing plenty of scope for both fun and profit.

CIR­CU­LAR FISH-EYE LENSES can be great fun, but they can be overused and their ap­pli­ca­tion is mostly purely creative. This means a cir­cu­lar fish-eye is re­ally a ‘lux­ury’ ad­di­tion to a lens kit – it’s un­likely to be used all that of­ten. Think­ing prac­ti­cally, this is money that could be prob­a­bly bet­ter spent else­where. But how about if a cir­cu­lar fish-eye came pack­aged up with a full-frame fish-eye in the same lens?

OK, the rec­tan­gu­lar fish-eye’s ap­pli­ca­tions are still rea­son­ably spe­cialised – as the an­gle-of-view is still around 180 de­grees on the di­ag­o­nal – but the gen­eral use­ful­ness of such a dual-ca­pa­bil­ity lens would def­i­nitely be in­creased. This is ex­actly the think­ing be­hind the AF-S Fish­eye Nikkor 8-15mm f3.5-4.5E ED, which zooms from cir­cu­lar fish-eye to rec­tan­gu­lar fish-eye when used on one of Nikon’s full-35mm (a.k.a. ‘FX’) D-SLR bod­ies.

It’s Nikon’s first fish-eye zoom – Canon has had an L se­ries 8-15mm model since 2010 – and a pretty in­ter­est­ing lens for any­body keen to ex­plore ul­tra-wide an­gles-of-view. At close to $2000 it clearly still rep­re­sents a fairly sub­stan­tial in­vest­ment, but it also pro­vides more creative op­tions than a cir­cu­lar fish-eye alone.

On an ‘FX’ for­mat body, the Nikon fish-eye zoom de­liv­ers a 180-de­gree view in ev­ery di­rec­tion at 8mm with a cir­cu­lar im­age. Zoom to 15mm and you get a full-frame im­age with a 175-de­grees di­ag­o­nal an­gle-of-view. On a ‘DX’ for­mat body with an ‘APS-C’ size sen­sor, the ef­fec­tive fo­cal length be­comes 12-22.5 mm. At 12mm, the im­age is par­tially cir­cu­lar in that it’s cropped at the top and bot­tom of the frame, but the lat­eral edges are curved and the ex­treme sides of the frame are black. At 16.5 mm ef­fec­tive – i.e. 11mm on the lens’s zoom­ing col­lar which is ac­tu­ally marked as a dash – the im­age is now full-frame with a 180-de­grees di­ag­o­nal an­gle-of-view which re­duces to 110 de­grees di­ag­o­nal at 22.5mm. You ob­vi­ously get max­i­mum ul­tra-wide bang for your buck with an ‘FX’ for­mat D-SLR body, but it’s still a very ex­treme wide-an­gle lens on the smaller for­mat cam­eras al­beit with­out the sheer vis­ual im­pact of the full cir­cu­lar im­age.

In the Hand

The 8-15mm fish-eye zoom is a com­par­a­tively com­pact lens which looks a lot bulkier when the sup­plied hood and slip-on cap are fit­ted. Take these off and the re­main­ing lens is quite small. How­ever, de­spite the hood’s much wider di­am­e­ter, it’s of very lim­ited use when shoot­ing with an ‘FX’ for­mat D-SLR as it’s in the frame to some de­gree all the way to around 14.5mm (which is when the last ves­tiges of a shadow dis­ap­pear from the cor­ners). In prac­ti­cal terms then, it’s there merely to pro­vide some­thing to fit the lens cap on to… but at least it’s pos­si­ble to fit a lens cap, which gen­er­ally isn’t the case with fish-eyes. Given that un­capped, the curved, ex­posed sur­face of the front el­e­ment looks dis­turbingly vul­ner­a­ble, fit­ting the cap when­ever the lens isn’t be­ing used is a very good habit to learn.

Help­fully, this sur­face has a flu­o­rine coat­ing to help re­pel mois­ture and grease, as does the ex­posed sur­face of the rear el­e­ment. The main ad­van­tage of this coat­ing, in prac­ti­cal terms, is that it makes these sur­faces eas­ier to clean.

At the rear of the lens is a sub­stan­tial rub­ber gas­ket around the lens mount to help keep out dust and wa­ter, while the mag­ne­sium al­loy bar­rel tubes also carry weather seals at their var­i­ous junc­tions. It’s never quite clear just how much pro­tec­tion is pro­vided by weather-seal­ing in a lens, but suf­fice to say it’s enough here to al­low for shoot­ing in light rain, sea spray or snowy con­di­tions.

Nikon’s fish-eye zoom has a zoom­ing col­lar and a fo­cus­ing col­lar, but no man­ual aper­ture ring. Fur­ther­more, as per all the lat­est Nikkors, it now has an elec­tro­mag­net­i­cally con­trolled di­aphragm which al­lows for more con­sis­tent ex­po­sure con­trol dur­ing con­tin­u­ous shoot­ing, as well as smoother aper­ture ad­just­ment when shoot­ing video. All this means that the 8-15mm isn’t com­pat­i­ble with any Nikon 35mm SLR body and no dig­i­tal bod­ies ear­lier than around mid-2007 (which con­se­quently ex­cludes, for ex­am­ple, the D90).

The zoom­ing col­lar spans its range with a brief twist of around 45 de­grees, while the fo­cus­ing col­lar has what Nikon calls an “Auto-Man­ual Mode” which es­sen­tially means that, al­though it’s an elec­tronic fly-by-wire con­trol, it still has the feel of a me­chan­i­cal ad­juster.

Roll Out The Bar­rel

On the in­side, the 8-15mm zoom’s op­ti­cal con­struc­tion com­prises 15 el­e­ments (in 13 groups) with three made from ex­tra-low dis­per­sion glass to counter chro­matic aber­ra­tions, and two with as­pher­i­cal sur­faces. In this ap­pli­ca­tion, the as­pher­ics are pri­mar­ily de­signed to cor­rect for coma,as well as con­tribut­ing to a more com­pact op­ti­cal de­sign.

Bar­rel-type dis­tor­tion is im­pos­si­ble to avoid with an an­gle-of-view of 180 de­grees and, in fact, Nikon al­lows you to ex­ploit the per­spec­tive dis­tor­tion by giv­ing its fish-eye zoom a min­i­mum fo­cus­ing dis­tance of just 16 cen­time­tres (which re­sults in a max­i­mum mag­ni­fi­ca­tion of 0.34x). Given the quoted min­i­mum fo­cus­ing dis­tance is ac­tu­ally from the fo­cal plane and not the front of the lens, you can ac­tu­ally go very close up in­deed.

Close-up, the bar­rel dis­tor­tion is fur­ther ex­ag­ger­ated – es­pe­cially with the full-frame im­age – and you can re­ally play around with spa­tial ef­fects and cam­era an­gles. Ob­vi­ously, the in­her­ent depth-of-field is im­mense at these very short fo­cal lengths, so you can ac­tu­ally go closer when shoot­ing at the smaller aper­tures and still have ev­ery­thing sharp. Shoot at aper­tures of be­tween f11 and f16 and you re­ally don’t have to bother with fo­cus­ing – there’s just so much depth-of-field.

Nikon em­ploys var­i­ous multi-coat­ing tech­nolo­gies to deal with in­ter­nal re­flec­tions and, in par­tic­u­larly, flare and ghost­ing… which can be prob­lem­atic as, with the 180-de­grees an­gle-of-view, it’s some­times im­pos­si­ble to avoid hav­ing the sun in the frame (and the hood is of lim­ited use).

Ob­vi­ously there’s no way to fit fil­ters to the front of Nikon’s fish-eye zoom, but a holder is pro­vided at the rear of the lens for slot­ting in fil­ters cut from gelatin sheets. This al­lows for fit­ting ND fil­ters should you also want ex­per­i­ment with very long ex­po­sures and ex­treme an­gles-of-view.


De­spite the strong dis­tor­tion, other as­pects of op­ti­cal per­for­mance are just as im­por­tant with this lens as any wide-an­gle. Be­ing a brand new de­sign, the AF-S Fish­eye Nikkor 8-15mm ben­e­fits from cur­rent lens tech­nolo­gies such as the ED glass el­e­ments and the ad­vanced multi-coat­ing for­mu­la­tions.

Even with the cir­cu­lar fish-eye im­age over­all sharp­ness is im­por­tant even if you don’t have to worry about the cor­ners. Here, the Nikon lens is beau­ti­fully crisp across the im­age cir­cle with punchy con­trast and great colour re­pro­duc­tion. Ghost­ing is non-ex­is­tent even with the sun in the frame, while the flare in this sit­u­a­tion is slight and, in fact at the smaller aper­tures which give a star-burst ef­fect, can be quite ap­peal­ing vis­ually. There are no is­sues with chro­matic aber­ra­tions. Where the aper­ture set­ting used will have a no­tice­able ef­fect is in the tran­si­tion from the im­age cir­cle to the black sur­rounds which will be much softer at f3.5 than it is at f22

Over­all sharp­ness is still very good with the full-frame fish-eye im­age at 15mm, but in­evitably there’s some

soft­en­ing at the cor­ners when shoot­ing wide-open. It’s eas­ily elim­i­nated by clos­ing down one or two stops, as is any vi­gnetting. In­ci­den­tally, hold the cam­era so that the im­age plane is ex­actly in par­al­lel with the fo­cal plane, and any straight lines right in the cen­tre of the frame – such as the hori­zon – will ac­tu­ally be re­pro­duced per­fectly straight. And with sub­jects where there are no straight lines, you can end up with an ul­tra-wide im­age that ap­pears to be al­most free of dis­tor­tion. Flare, ghost­ing and chro­matic aber­ra­tions are all well sup­pressed in the full-frame fish-eye im­age.

Be­cause you can get so close to a sub­ject but it will still look to be a long way away in the viewfinder, there’s an un­usual oper­at­ing warn­ing to be made here… look away from the fin­der once in a while be­cause you may well be in dan­ger of ac­tu­ally nudg­ing that pre­cious curved front el­e­ment’s sur­face into the sub­ject!

There are a few other things to watch out for when us­ing this lens, in­clud­ing avoid­ing bits of your­self sneak­ing into the shot… which is easy to do with a 180-de­grees an­gle-of-view. Even more of an is­sue on a sunny day is your shadow – it’s al­most im­pos­si­ble to avoid when shoot­ing with the sun be­hind you, so you’ll ei­ther have to just live with it (and clone it out later in Pho­to­shop) or get in­ven­tive with ‘hid­ing’ it in some­thing else in the fore­ground.

The Ver­dict

The more you use the AF-S Fish­eye Nikkor 8-15mm zoom, the more it be­comes ap­par­ent that, firstly, it isn’t a one-trick pony, and that, con­se­quently, it’s a whole lot more ver­sa­tile than you might have ex­pected at first.

Of course, you can play around with the cir­cu­lar fish-eye, but it ac­tu­ally only works re­ally ef­fec­tively with cer­tain sub­jects which can com­ple­ment the shape. It’s a case of suck it and see, but don’t be sur­prised if this turns out to be more of a chal­lenge than ex­pected. When it works, it works bril­liantly. When it doesn’t, the re­sults sim­ply look con­trived.

Far more in­ter­est­ing is work­ing with the full-frame fish-eye, which pro­vides a lot of scope for ex­per­i­men­ta­tion… from fully ex­ploit­ing the strong dis­tor­tion through to try­ing to min­imise it. Is there two grand’s worth of photo fun here? We think so, but more for own­ers of Nikon’s ‘FX’ D-SLRs than the ‘DX’ for­mat cam­eras.

The creative po­ten­tial is backed by the ex­cel­lent op­ti­cal qual­ity, but the best thing about Nikon’s 8-15mm fish-eye zoom is that its com­pels you to get out and ex­plore its many pos­si­bil­i­ties.

Cir­cu­lar or full­frame fish-eye? Some sub­jects re­ally lend them­selves to the for­mer while oth­ers are bet­ter han­dled with the rec­tan­gu­lar fram­ing. In prac­tice, Nikon’s 8-15mm fish-eye zoom proves to be more ver­sa­tile than you might ex­pect es­pe­cially when...

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