Review – Samyang 8mm f/3.5 aspherical Fisheye lens

The background

For ages I’ve wanted a decent fisheye lens. Back when I was shooting with my Fuji S9600, I bought a filter-thread screw-on fisheye adapter. It was only about £30 and the chromatic aberration was awful, even in the viewfinder. But it opened up a new world of photography to me, and I enjoyed using it, taking pictures like this self portrait and these shots of Bristol.

Fast-forward a couple of years and I upgraded my S9600 to a Canon EOS 450D. Presumably due to the larger sensor size, the fisheye adapter had practically no effect. I never used it again, but I missed it and I kept looking at proper fisheye lenses (as opposed to the fisheye adapters). I rather liked the look of Canon’s 15mm fisheye lens. Trouble is, it has a list price of £880 (although can be had for around £600 on Amazon). For an occasional-use lens, this is just too much.

Recently I had another craving for more fisheye photos and I decided to have a look at third-party options.

The manufacturer options

Of course Nikon and Canon do their own lenses, and most of the “big name” lensmakers such as Sigma and Tamron also have offerings. But there are also some from lesser-known names. Peleng, Samyang and Opteka all offer fisheye lenses for Canon SLRs for around the £200-£250 mark.

It seems that the Samyang and Opteka lenses are virtually the same, although they have different advertised focal lengths – 8mm and 6.5mm respectively. I haven’t quite worked this one out yet, but I think it’s because of the projection that is used. I settled upon the Samyang since it’s available for a few pounds less on eBay and Amazon.

Samyang 8mm

Samyang 8mm

I was a little hesitant about buying a lens from a virtually unknown manufacturer. £200 is in that “danger zone” where it’s too expensive to risk wasting the money, but not quite expensive enough to be sure you’re getting something that’s any good. So I read some reviews, primarily these:

Amazingly, both reviewers gave the Samyang lenses a glowing review. They both noted that there is some chromatic aberration, but for the price, this can’t be argued with.

The thing that’s most likely to throw a spanner in the works is that this lens has no electronics. It can’t communicate with the camera, so there is no autofocus and no automatic aperture. This isn’t a problem for me, since I usually use Canon FD lenses which are also fully mechanical. But be aware, if you don’t like manual focus, think twice before buying this lens.

My thoughts

There’s nothing so formal here as a detailed review. I haven’t taken any measurements, but I can say a few things about using this lens.

  • When mounting or removing the lens from the camera body, it’s really hard to hold and twist the barrel of the lens without also twisting the aperture ring. I know it’s hardly a big deal, but it stands out from all my FD-mount lenses in this respect.
  • Having no electronics, you have to use the camera in aperture-priority or full manual mode. In Av mode, my 450D seems to consistently overexpose the image by about 11/3 stops. This is easily fixed with exposure compensation.
  • Again having no electronics, you have to manually open up the aperture when composing your shot, and then stop it down for taking the photo. If you don’t, the viewfinder can be very dim and difficult to focus.
  • The lens feels heavy and expensive – I guess due to the large glass elements inside. The focus ring is damped and feels much nicer than the manual-focus mode on most of Canon’s newer EF-mount lenses.
  • Despite some warnings about chromatic aberration and flare, I saw very little evidence of this in my photos. I deliberately challenged the lens in unusual lighting conditions by taking silhouettes against the sun and so on, but they all came out nicely.
  • Aside from adding some electronics, there’s not much that can be improved about this lens. For the price, the optics are incredible.

Sample photos

Have a look at the results of my evening photo-walk to the Clifton Suspension Bridge :)

Clifton Suspension Bridge from the Observatory

Clifton Suspension Bridge

Clifton Suspension Bridge

Clifton Suspension Bridge

  1. Just got a Tokina Fisheye with auto focus this week. Had my eye on the one you got as well, but figured to pass on manual focus. I may want to get one like yours just for the experience sometime. If I can get it used, should be able to sell for the same price. At least what you paid is not risky if you sell it.

    MDV / Oregon

  2. Heavenly bodies | Jonathan Gazeley - pingback on November 16, 2010 at 12:21 am
  3. Why would anyone want autofocus on a lens like this?
    Depth of field is so great, focus is almost irrelevant.
    Personally, I only use my Samyang (and most other lenses) on manual exposure anyway.
    It’s an incredible lens for the price.
    I must add, it’s a new toy, so I’m still learning.
    k

    • You’re bang on the money, Kevin. Being a manual SLR user, this lens is fine by me. But I think for some, who are drawn in by marketing posters, lack of automatic features can be a showstopper.

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