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Review: Rokinon 8mm f3.5 Fisheye (For Nikon)

by Chris Gampat on 01/18/2012

I was extremely pleased with the Rokinon 85mm f1.4 and to this day still believe that it is one of the best lenses I’ve tested. So when the new 8mm f3.5 fisheye was announced, I was pleasantly surprised to test it out. Being an all manual lens and coupled with the Nikon D5100′s electronic rangefinder abilities, I thought to myself that this lens has to perform exceptionally well.

And then the testing began…

Tech Specs

Specs borrowed from B&H Photo Video’s listing of the lens

Performance
Focal Length 8 mm
Aperture Maximum: f/3.5
Minimum: f/22
Camera Mount Type Nikon F
Format Compatibility Nikon DX
Nikon FX/35mm Film
Angle of View 180°
Minimum Focus Distance 1.0′ (30.48 cm)
Groups/Elements 7/10
Features
Image Stabilization No
Autofocus No
Tripod Collar No
Physical
Dimensions (DxL) Approx. 2.95 x 2.94″ (75 x 74.8 mm)
Weight 14.7 oz (416.75 g)

Ergonomics

The Rokinon 8mm f3.5 is an extremely simple lens if you’re used to manual lenses. The version I borrowed has the Nikon AF confirmation chip. You can see these electronics in the mount in the photo above.

In the lead photo for this story, the bulbous front element is visible. Unfortunately, one can’t put a filter on it to protect it. So you’ll just need to exercise caution.

When the lens is mounted on the camera, you’ll need to set the aperture to f/22 in order for the camera to control the aperture settings. Otherwise, the lens won’t work.

Focusing the lens is done manually using the very large and extremely well designed focusing ring. Indeed, the lens also feels very good in the hand and is very balanced with the camera.

Unfortunately, Rokinon did not give a depth of field scale to the user. One may think, “but this is a fisheye lens, everything is in focus anyway, right?”

After two weeks of use and if someone said that statement to me, I’d gladly put all my belongings on the line and say otherwise. Indeed, the lens can render out of focus areas with bokeh.

Focusing

Focusing the lens is done by using the distance scale on top of the lens and using your best estimated guess of whether you’re in focus or not. The Nikon D5100′s viewfinder doesn’t allow you to see that much detail in order to tell if you’re in focus or not with this lens.

The D5100 has an electronic rangefinder system that I thought would kick in and work well with the lens’s AF confirmation chip. In real life practice, the two worked together like fire and water. The rangefinder would tell me that the subject on the specified focusing point was in focus when it actually wasn’t anywhere near it. In the photo above, I was hoping that Liz’s over-exaggerated face would be in focus. Instead, her shoulder is.

After growing frustrated with this over time, I decided to opt for stopping the lens down and focusing out using the distance scale. This would have been leaps and bounds easier if the company had decided to put in a depth of field scale. However, they didn’t.

The results were many out of focus photos. I checked and calibrated my diopter to ensure that it wasn’t the problem. Additionally, I also tried the rangefinder with three other lenses. Indeed, it was the Rokinon lens that was the problematic one.

With this said, don’t even dare try to focus and recompose.

Image Quality

If the lens didn’t focus accurately, I figured that at least the image quality would be more pleasing to me after needing to work super hard to get the image. Additionally, I was (and still am) so in love with the 85mm f1.4 that I was rooting for this lens quite a bit.

Thankfully, I wasn’t let down. The Rokinon 8mm f3.5′s image quality is exceptional when you nail it. To get the best results, I often needed to underexpose the images a bit and also therefore often shoot in manual mode.

Though the lens obviously distorts lines, it does so in a way that still make scenes look very interesting.

Unlike other fisheye lenses that I’ve tested, the lens distorts throughout the entire plane of the image and not a single thing looks normal unless it’s super far away from you.

Said feature of the lens can be used very creatively though to make the entire scene look like something out of the movie Inception. However, I’m still quite amazed by just how much it distorts on an APS-C sized sensor. If the camera were on a full frame sensor, it would be far worse.

Color Rendering

Attached to the D5100, I often felt like this lens performed at its very when flash was used or during the golden hours of the day. However, that can perhaps be said for any lens. In this case, it goes double and triple. In fact, I’d go as far to recommend that if you want to use flash with a fisheye lens, that this is the one to get due to the affordability and excellent color rendering straight out of camera.

This lens is an extremely interesting one when it comes to color rendering. First off, all Nikon images almost naturally have a slight look of Kodachrome to them when right out of the camera. But when this lens is attached, the images have a special look to them that I can only really describe as metallic. It’s almost like the image was shot on a piece of paper with silver halide and then processed. Therefore, the color rendering is absolutely gorgeous.

The lens also deals with mixed lighting situations very interestingly as well. In the photo above, I had:

- the orange sunlight behind me coming in

- purple lighting under the awning at the high line

- my flash bouncing off the ceiling (not gelled to render a warm look, so the light was naturally very cool.)

If you’re a lover of clouds and interesting skies, this lens will probably be one for you to get. It renders blue scenes very well. In fact, I’d say this does better than any other lens I’ve tested.

Where I personally feel that this lens really begins to shine is with off-camera flash situations. Unfortunately, the Nikon D5100 doesn’t allow for high speed sync shooting (FP mode) nor does it have wireless flash control (Creative Lighting in Nikon terms). So to use it off-camera and still retain TTL, I used Syl Arena’s OCF Gear iTTL cord.

In order to take that shot, you can see exactly what my setup was. You can see the cord hanging off of the hot-shoe, unraveling onto the ground and then with an SB-600 mounted onto a Gorillapod wrapped around the fence in Union Square. My model was Luis, who runs Larufoto.com.

He also shot the photo of me up above and even got the lens to flare a very little bit with the flash.

Once again, I feel like this lens renders blues incredibly. That blue in the sky is natural.

Ease of Use

During my testing period, I used the lens for street photography, landscapes, and portraits. It is probably easiest to use for landscapes.

Though it is extremely wide, focusing for street photography is tougher than I’d like it to be. Plus, there is no hyperfocal length scale to aid in critical focusing. Mixed in with the inaccurate Nikon rangefinder, it’s a giant no no.

I had the most fun with this lens photographing random things around NYC to be quite honest. A fisheye lens gives everything a totally different look due to their design. And in truth, it can be quite fun to use but not at all easy.

Conclusion

I was only able to spend a short amount of time with the lens; and in fact it was nowhere as long as I really wanted in order for me to thoroughly test it out. Though I was able to get a major jist of the lens during my time with it. It renders blues incredibly, which leads me to believe that this lens was designed for outdoor use in photographing landscapes. But it also performs very admirably with flashes, and therefore would be excellent for sports. In fact, I wanted to photograph a skater, but that shoot fell through unfortunately.

My biggest gripe with the lens though was that it was so damned hard to use with the D5100. If the AF focus confirmation chip worked better with the Nikon rangefinder system, I would think very diferently about this otherwise near perfect lens. Additionally, Rokinon needed to put a depth of field scale on the lens to help with the focusing problem.

In the end, though it isn’t perfect, I can recommend the lens to anyone looking for an affordable option for a fisheye lens. Though I should warn you that fisheye lenses are very niche. In the end though, Rokinon did a fairly good job with the lens, I really just wish it wasn’t so tough to use. But at this price point, one can’t complain.

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