Exploring the new world of DSLR-photography also meant to decide, what lenses to use (and buy). One lens-type always fascinated me, but I never owned one: a fisheye. I had heard and read great things about the Samyang 8mm, a fisheye produced by the eponymous South-Corean company (it is also distributed under different brand names such as Walimex, Rokinon, ProOptic or Bower).
Since the quality was said to be extraordinary and the price-tag was pretty affordable, I decided to get one. I got the newer CSII version of the lens and made sure, that it was “chip-ed”, so that my Nikon’s exposure metering would work. I could have gotten the previous CS version, but since it does not provide a detachable lens hood, it only works with crop sensors. With full frame sensors, the lens hood would have “framed” the picture. Yes, my Nikon D5300 is a crop camera, but I wanted to be ready for camera upgrades – you never know…
First thing, I did, was to check infinity focus. The Samyang is known for bad factory-side infinity focus calibration in some batches. I decided to calibrate infinity focus myself. First thing to do: take dozens of pictures to visually check focus. I tried to find a subject with a lot of detail spread from very close up to the horizon – trees up to the horizon are a good choice, or brick houses. Mounting the camera on a tripod and a remote release guaranteed shake-free pictures.
I made two sets of photos: one with open aperture, one with f8, and increased focus from 0.3m up to infinity. Checking these sets in Lightroom (and making sure, no enhancements like sharpening etc. were active), I clearly could see in 1:1, 2:1 and 3:1 view, where the real infinity focus point of the lens was falling at the focus ring: the distance setting, when the picture is perfectly sharp and stepping up to the next distance setting towards infinity does not improve infinity sharpness anymore, is the right point. All you have to do then is to mark that point on the focus ring and “shift” that very focus ring position to “infinity”. This involves loosening some screws on the lens body – it’s an easy procedure. David Baker describes that perfectlyin his blog-post.
This calibration not only perfects the focus ring infinity setting, but also improves the way you can work with hyperfocal distance. In my case, before calibration, proper infinity was at 1.5m / 5ft. By “sliding” the focus ring from 1.5m to infinity, you ensure, that with open aperture, infinity IS infinity. By stepping down aperture to get a wider depth of field, you now also will be able to use hyperfocal distance properly: when I step down to f8, I can set my focus ring to 1.5m / 5ft. and have a depth of field that goes about down to 0.4/0.5m / 1.3/1.5ft. Before calibration, I could never make sure to hit proper infinity and have a good depth of field. That also means, that the lack of autofocus is a non-existent issue with this lens imho.
After those initial modifications, I took the lens out into the field. I was amazed by the quality of this lens: very sharp, very “dynamic”, clean colors. The best thing for me personally: the projection of this lens. It is said to be nearly stereoscopic. Normal fisheyes would distort proportions of an object, the closer it is to the edge of the picture. The Samyang, though, does not do that, objects keep their proportions.
As for picture quality, I must admit, that I don’t have a a comparison to other fisheye lenses. But comparing it to other lenses, I own, I am extremely pleased. And: properly used, this fisheye gives you some wonderful artistic options. The picture of the blossoming magnolia for example: I could step up very close to a branch full of blooms, reaching out in my direction. The perspective and the way, a fisheye enhances it, made the picture just “work”. Or the fountain (which is a HDR, btw.): I got the lens as far as possible inside the “cage” and could get a perspective, no other lens would have given me. So, all in all: I really love the Samyang 8mm. It is not an everyday lens – but I would not want to miss it anymore. There are actually quite some situations, where you could and should use a fisheye….
If you are interested in how to use a fisheye lens in a, let’s say, extremely enhanced mode, I suggest, you head over to my blog post about de-fishing an fisheye lens.
Product-Pictures used by permission: © David C. Baker & HDRtist.wordpress.com, 2013