MY VIEW OF THE SAMYANG 8MM f/3.5 FISHEYE LENS
It is a very rare occasion when the least expensive just may be the best. I did a lot of research prior to deciding to purchase the Rokinon (Samyang) 8mm f/3.5 fisheye lens. There was hardly a negative comment to be found anywhere on the internet; most of the reviews were very positive indeed.
The weather finally decided to cooperate, so I went out exploring, with one of my Sony DSLR’s and fisheye lens in tow. Needless to say, I am extremely pleased with the results. This manual lens is VERY sharp at f/8, and by keeping the focus distance set to about two feet, everything from a foot to infinity is razor sharp. It renders the colours beautifully, reminding me of the vintage Minolta Maxxum lenses. The images turn out very nicely, even when pointing the camera directly toward the sun. I have never come across a lens that can handle flare as well as this one does.
Angular coverage of this Samyang 8 mm lens on Sony’s cropped sensor is 180 degrees diagonally, 135 degrees horizontally, and 95 degrees vertically. On a 4/3 format camera, the Samyang 8 mm lens will cover 130 degrees across the diagonal, 108 degrees horizontally, and 81 degrees vertically.
I love that I have the option to distort things as much or as little as I choose, depending on how I compose the shot. It is a terrific lens for my Fogo Island landscapes, and even a very pricey ultra-wide angle lens would have a tough time covering this much real estate! If you have no vertical lines near the left or right side of an image, they will not look like they came from this fisheye lens at all. That is what makes it so nice for my type of landscape photography. If the horizon is placed in the middle of the frame (gasp!) it will be straight all the way across. It is only when the subject is placed farther away from dead centre that the fisheye effect comes into play.
I am equally thrilled with the “Fisheye Hemi” Photoshop plugin. When you want to defish an image, it is just a simple matter of one click to straighten things out, with no notable degradation in image quality, even at the edges, unlike most other defishing software. By far, the best program of its kind that I have ever come across. I tried “Rectfish”, another Photoshop plugin, but was not happy with the degradation at the edges. I much prefer “Fisheye Hemi”, which lets me keep the entire image intact without cropping out any stretched portions.
This lens is manufactured in Korea by Samyang, and also branded as Rokinon, Polar, Walimex, Falcon, Pro-Optic, Opteka, Vivitar, Bower, and probably a few more, though they are all identical. It is just a matter of finding the brand with the absolute lowest price. I have never come across a used copy before, yet lots of people have this lens; says something about the quality, I would say.
It is my understanding that stitching 360° (virtual tour) panoramas is an easy task, though I have yet to experiment. This lens is also compatible with full-frame camera bodies, but it helps to shave the hood down.
There has been much talk recently about finding a way to chip this lens, allowing for auto focus and light metering, as well as anti-shake capability. At this wide, I would think you'd have to be shaking like a leaf in a hurricane before it would become noticeable in your shots. I just cannot fathom why SSS (super steady shot) would be necessary with this particular lens. In my opinion, chipping it would just take all the fun away! For me, the real joy of this lens is the old-school need to work just a bit at making your shot. I like that I have to use my brain a little with this lens. All of the talk about chips and adapters and such, seems like far more trouble than it may be worth. If the lens doesn't need SSS, and is easy-as-can-be to focus manually, and you can still read the exif, etc., etc., is it really worth spending more money on it, only to discover the image quality has become reduced due to the increased distance from lens to sensor, or whatever other problem may arise by messing with a good thing? My theory is if it isn’t broken, don't fix it. In the length of time it takes to attempt to hack this lens, just think how many good photographs you could have taken.
I am getting consistently excellent results with handheld captures of 1/8 second. (and my hands shake badly, due to nerve damage sustained in a bad fall several years ago) Last night I was experimenting with slow shutter speeds. I tried shooting at 1/4 sec, and still the results were extremely clear and sharp; absolutely no visible motion in any of these shots. I hope others will try this too, confirming my results, thus putting to rest the belief that life would come to an end without SSS.
I have been reading that many people have noticed that the focus seems off with this lens, so I performed some tests of my own, and was able to confirm that mine too was out of adjustment by quite a bit. Even though this lens is very forgiving, (all of my samples appear to be very sharp) I discovered that when looking at images at 100%, mine were off by a large margin! At a distance of exactly 10 feet, for the sharpest results, my distance ring had to be set at 1.2 feet! (when I had the ring set to 10 feet, the picture was noticeably out of focus) Anyway, I was able to re-calibrate the lens in just a couple of minutes. Here is how to accomplish the task:
To adjust the focus scale to match the lens focus distance, it is simply a matter of manually focusing the lens on a subject at a known distance, (for example 10 feet) then loosening the 3 tiny (slotted) set screws on the focus ring (don't touch the 4th phillips screw though) and rotating the focus ring so that the focus distance scale matches the actual distance, then re-tightening these 3 set screws. To access the screws, simply peel back the front half of the rubber grip until it is inside out and wrapped around the back half of itself, all the way around the lens. This only takes a couple of minutes to do. I didn't have a jeweller's screwdriver, so I used the end of a box cutter blade. From the number of times I have read about the focus misalignment of these lenses, it makes me think they may ALL need the quick fix. I wonder why they can't do this simple procedure at the factory! Anyway, bottom line is that my sharp 8mm fisheye is now even sharper than before.
I have also been hearing/reading very positive things about a couple of other manual lenses by this Korean company, namely the 85mm f/1.4, and the 14mm f/2.8. Both have very high user ratings at Dyxum.com. In the next few weeks Samyang is coming out with a new 35mm f/1.4 lens, and it has already created a lot of internet chatter. These lenses are also re-branded as Rokinon, Walimex, Polar, Bower, Opteka, Pro-Optic, Vivitar, and Falcon, just as the 8mm is.
I would be interested in hearing from fellow photographers as to what they may believe some other fisheyes or ultra-wides can do that this one cannot. The Samyang is everything I always wanted in an ultra-wide-angle/fisheye... great colour/contrast, handles flare beautifully, is built like a rock, sharp as a tack, easy to use, and available at a fraction of the cost of similar fisheyes. It is now considered by experts to be one of the "best of the best" fisheye lenses on the market today, having been tested against some very high-end fisheyes, including a $2,900 Nikon, (used price) and found to be better overall. Quite an accomplishment, considering it sells for under $300. I cannot get over the quality of these optics; just incredible.
I rate this lens a perfect 10 out of 10.
Here is a sampling of the comments that were addressed to me on the Samyang 8mm Fisheye Lens thread that I launched on Feb 25th, 2011 on DPReview.com’s Sony DSLR Forum:
“Superb series Glen, thanks for sharing. That lens really produces some crisp images.”
“Wonderful images. You have shots some wonderful examples of how a fish eye lens can really capture a landscape. Love the colours and sharpness.”
Berowra, NSW, Australia
“Great images well worth seeing. I wouldn't have thought you could use a fish-eye lens for landscapes, I sometimes think my Sigma 10-20 too wide, then you come along with an 8mm lens to prove me wrong!”
“Getting all you have out of a lens like this is, is a tour de force...I bet you were crawling around the floor for these. Jolly good seeing your work again...I hope your back is well: these would testify that it is!”
“These are fantastic. All are spectacular. It's a long way from the skateboard pics I usually see from fisheye lenses.”
“I really like the wideness you can capture with your fisheye. I'm yet to add a fisheye to my kit bag, but the more shots I see here the more I want one!
“Wow! You do a really nice job of working with the distortion of the fisheye!”
Happy Valley-Goose Bay, NFLD
“These are great. Now I'm inspired to use my fisheye more for landscapes!”
“For sure these are beautiful examples. Yep, I understand your passion for this optic. Beautiful and thanks for sharing.”
“The fisheye is so much fun. Your photos are an inspiration Glen!”
“I agree the lens is great for landscape, as you have so elegantly demonstrated. I particularly like your images with a close object in sharp focus and the rest of the background also in sharp focus.”
“I have it all to learn yet with this lens - Glen has been an inspiration!”
Somerset , United Kingdom
“I am grateful to you Glen, for highlighting this lens.”
Southampton , United Kingdom
“A big vote of thanks to Glen for his gallery, and for launching this thread!”
“You are certainly putting that lens to good use! I really like your images.”
“Glen--what beautiful work! You use that lens well.”
“Again your images are a treat. Love what that fish eye is doing. Good work.”
“Hat tip to Glen for showing off this lens! Of course, I went out and bought one. I'm really enjoying using it, and the wide angle reach of this thing is simply amazing.”
“Glen, your shots with the Samyang have certainly convinced me to buy one for my A700. I'd been thinking for some time of buying an UWA lens and it looks like the Samyang is going to be a great purchase for the curvature effect and straightened images it could produce.”
“I thank you for pointing out the proper way to handle horizons--which is to put them in the middle of the frame so they do not curve. The trick (which I see from your fantastic photos) is to get real close to something interesting and then let the lens include the environment in the rest of the frame--very effective."
“Glen, this lens is so worth the money, and shooting full manual is actually fun”
“I have a long way to go to get some shots even close to those shown by Glen!”
“I've been pretty quiet around here until Glen got me all excited about this lens.”
“Just wanted to say my own thanks to you Glen, as it was your post that nudged me into buying this lens, which I'm very happy with.”
“Hats off to you Glen. Your shots certainly make me think about this lens also.”
“Hats off (and much respect) to Glen, BTW, as it was he who inspired me to buy this lens in the first place”
“Exxxxxxxxxcellent !!!, I really like these.....might get me one”
"WOW" just fantastic, will need to get myself one, thanks for the images.”
“Thanks to your excellent pictures, I've decided to pay the little extra, & buy a new one myself this weekend.”
“great shots !!”
“At £200 (new) from a UK based eBay seller, this lens is very tempting. I love my Sigma 10-20mm, but that extra 2mm is difficult to resist... too difficult, in fact, as I've just bought it!”
“clear sharp images, really nice!”
“Glen, The "anchor" photo wins by a large margin..Glad you are enjoying your new Sony..
You are a PP master.”
“Mine is ordered!”
“Just ordered mine too, I already have a Tamron 10-24 but had always also wanted a fisheye for those times where the distorted look is welcome.”
“Glen, whoever thought badly about Korean quality might be converted after seeing your nice pictures.”
“Thank you very much for the beautiful images and the opinions on the lens. You are really tempting me, I saw the Samyang on Ebay for less than 250 Euro.”
“Glen must be on a sales commission from Samyang. If he's not, they should surely hire him. Judging by the number of "now purchased" & "intending to purchase" comments in this thread, Glen is becoming a rich man!”
“wow....good lens and shots.”
“Glen, this entire conversation has been extremely informative. Thank you!”
“I'm sold. I ordered one too.”
“Thank you for the overview on how to adjust the focus ring. Most helpful.”
“I can't wait to start playing with this lens. Glen, thanks so much for starting this thread. I would never have considered this lens without having come across it. By the way, your web site has some stunning images. I hope everyone takes a look!”
“You and that lens are doing a magnificent job! Of course, knowing you I wouldn't expect anything else."
“Oops, I almost forgot to mention that your photos are great. Everyone in this thread is concentrating on the lens, but the class really comes from the photographer.”
“I suspect that due to this massive surge in Samyang sales, we may now find ourselves with a world-wide glass shortage. Who is to blame? Well, since Glen started this thread & kept tempting us with all those nice photos, he certainly seems like the most obvious culprit!”
“These pictures are great. The way Glen was able to control or roll-back the fisheye effect when desired, added to the width, seems like this is a great alternative. This type of thread is exactly why I wade through these forums most days, it has been enjoyable, helpful, and inspiring.”
“Glen, it's posts like yours that make a great forum! Not only did you point out a great lens at a great price, but you posted photos that show you have a great eye. Really, the thanks are all yours!”
“Wonderful images, Glen. I'm a big fan of SWA photography - especially landscapes - and these are just great. Your images have inspired me to take my Sigma out for a walk more. I always have it with me, but don't use it as much as I should. Thanks for the nudge and the great images.”