The Nikon AFS 8-15mm f/3.5-4.5E is the latest Nikon full frame fisheye lens. It is also the first zoom fisheye lens from Nikon. At 15mm, the lens has a very similar view angle when compared to the Nikon AF 16mm f/2.8 lens. While at 8mm, it becomes a circular fisheye and almost everything is highly distorted and crushed into a circle in the middle of the frame.
Build quality of the lens is great. Very similar to the other gold ring Nikon lenses. Zoom ring, focus ring are all quite smooth for an autofocus focus lens and the lens mount is made of metal as expected. For a zoom lens, it’s fairly compact in size. But if you place it side by side next to the AF 16mm f/2.8 fisheye, the new 8-15 lens is noticeably bigger and heavier, and also feel a bit more plasticky.
The lens has almost all the latest technology. Nano coating, fluorine coating, silent wave motor, electromagnetic diaphragm..etc The only thing that is missing is VR. But even without VR, with the almost 180 degree view angle, I could easily handheld the camera and shoot at slower than 1/10s and get sharp images.
The Nikon 8-15 fisheye lens comes with a removable lens hood. Fisheye lens usually has an extruded front element, and because of that, it quite often comes with a very simple lens cap which is either too loose, too tight or quite a pain to attach and remove. Even my Nikon AF16mm f/2.8 fisheye’s lens cap is just a piece of hard plastic and quite loose so I have to stick a bit of Blu Tack to stop the cap from falling off the lens by itself all the time. Fortunately the Nikon 8-15 lens comes with a very well designed lens cap which can be attached securely to the lens hood just like normal Nikon lenses.
While I like the lens hood and lens cap design, one thing you need to be aware is that you should leave the lens hood on if you are only shooting at 15mm. Once you zoom in a bit, you’ll quickly see black corners in your photos. You would even start to see the shape of the lens hood from around 12mm. So if you do want to zoom in/out when shooting, just remove the lens hood first to avoid black corners in your photos.
The lens’s maximum magnification is 1:3.5 (minimum focus distance is 16cm) that is very good and allows you to be very creative and shoot some almost macro fisheye photos.
Autofocus is fast and quiet. Can’t complain.
To test the image quality, I did some comparison tests with my Nikon AF 16mm f/2.8 fisheye lens, a lens I used quite a bit for various things from weddings to street photography. And see how’s the new 8-15mm fisheye zoom compares to the 16mm prime fisheye lens.
First, let’s look at the image sharpness. Below are the centre sharpness comparison results with the Nikon AF 16mm f/2.8 lens.
As you can see, the 8-15mm is a very sharp lens, even at maximum aperture it’s already very sharp. Having said that, the old AF 16mm fisheye isn’t too bad either. Even at f/2.8 the Nikon AF16mm is quite sharp at the centre.
Now while there isn’t too much difference in the centre sharpness, the edge/corner sharpness is a completely different story!
Let’s have a look at the comparison 100% edge crop below.
As you can probably see, the Nikon AF 16mm f/2.8 is really showing it’s age. The edge is really blurry from wide open all the way to f/5.6. Even at f/8 it is still not very sharp. On the other hand, the Nikon 8-15mm fisheye is just sharp, even at the edge. At maximum aperture f/4.5 (which is a bit over one stop slower than the AF 16mm’s f/2.8 aperture), it is already pretty sharp. It would say it’s sharper than the AF 16mm lens’s at f/8. Stopping down would increase the sharpness, but the improvement isn’t dramatic as the wide open sharpness is already really really good. So if you worry about image sharpness of your photo, you don’t really need to worry when shooting with the Nikon AFS 8-15mm f/3.5-4.5E lens.
So next let’s look at lens flare. With the Nano coating, I was expecting the new Nikon 8-15 to have excellent flare resistance. And it is somehow true. Most of the time, there is virtually no lens flare even with the naked sun in front of the camera. Contrast remains very good as well so that’s awesome. However, when shooting some side by side comparison shots with the old Nikon AF 16mm, I noticed there are a few times the old lens actually has slightly less lens flare than the new lens.
This is definitely a bit of surprise to me. But thinking about it again, the old Nikon AF 16mm is a prime lens with 8 lens elements. The new 8-15mm is a fairly complicated zoom lens with 15 lens elements. So maybe that’s why the old lens appears to have slightly better lens flare resistance? Or am I finding excuses for Nikon? Either way, the 8-15’s flare resistance actually isn’t too bad if you look at my sample photos, most of the photos have very little or no lens flare.
Next, let’s look at the chromatic aberration. Overall, the Nikon AFS 8-15 f/3.5-4.5 does a really good job at minimising chromatic aberration. Most of the photos I see almost no nasty purple/green colour fringing. Occasionally I do see a bit of colour fringing in a few photos but it’s never too severe. In comparison, the AF 16mm f/2.8 is a lot worse with a lot more chromatic aberration when shooting high contrast scenes. Definitely a big improvement.
The photo below is probably the worst case in terms of colour fringing when shooting with the Nikon AFS 8-15mm fisheye lens. Definitely not terrible even when you zoom in to 100% (The top right shadow was probably caused by my clumsy finger :/ )
When I first took the Nikon AFS 8-15mm f/3.5-4.5 fisheye lens out of the box, my first reaction was, wow this is a big fisheye lens! This is a lot bigger than my Nikon AF 16mm f/2.8 lens. The image quality better be good!
And indeed it is. Despite being a zoom lens, the new fisheye lens completely destroyed my Nikon AF 16mm f/2.8 in terms of image sharpness. The chromatic aberration and autofocus speed are both better. This is quite sad for me because I was happy with my fisheye lens before doing this review. But now I just don’t think it is a good match on my 36MP D800 anymore and would be even worse when one day I upgrade to a 45.7MP D850. It means my bank has to suffer again sooner or later.
I do hope Nikon will release a new 16mm fisheye prime lens in the future as personally I don’t know if I will shoot at the 8mm end very often so if they do release a 16mm fisheye prime lens it can only be sharper and more importantly smaller. But it’s probably a few years away at least if Nikon does release one. For now, if you have a high resolution full frame DSLR and wants a fisheye lens, it really is a no brainer. You have to get the new 8-15mm fisheye lens.