Nikon AF-S 8-15mm f/3.5-4.5E ED Fisheye is something of a ‘me too’ lens, following directly in the footsteps of the Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM, which was launched seven years earlier. As such it’s a rare zoom example of the breed, effectively combining both ‘circular’ and ‘diagonal’ fisheye effects in a single lens. The former gives you a circular image using only the central region of the image sensor with full 180-degree coverage in both vertical and horizontal planes. The latter gives a smaller 180-degree viewing angle on the diagonal, but uses the whole image sensor to produce full-sized rectangular images.
Mount: Nikon F
Full frame: Yes
Lens construction: 15 elements in 13 groups
Angle of view: 180-175 degrees
Diaphragm blades: 7
Minimum aperture: f/22-29
Minimum focusing distance: 0.16m
Maximum magnification ratio: 0.34x
Filter size: 29x27mm rear gel slot
The Nikon lens is almost exactly the same size as its older Canon competitor but has an extra optical element in its make-up, totalling 15 in all. Of these, there are three ED (Extra-low Dispersion) elements and two aspherical elements. Nikon’s Super Integrated Coating and Nano Crystal Coat are used in conjunction to minimize ghosting and flare and, whereas the Canon has a fluorine coating on its front element, the Nikon has them front and back. Both have a gel filter holder built into their weather-sealed mounts.
Autofocus is powered by a ring-type ultrasonic system that is both quick and very quiet, complete with full-time manual override. Aperture adjustment is courtesy of a similar electromagnetically controlled diaphragm, which is more unusual for Nikon. However, it’s fully compatible with all Nikon full-frame DSLRs. Unlike the Canon zoom, the Nikon has a variable aperture rating that shrinks from f/3.5 to f/4.5 as you extend the zoom setting.
Resistance to ghosting and flare is very good, which is a major plus point considering that fisheye lenses typically take in a lot sky when shooting outdoors. However, sharpness proved slightly less than completely impressive in our tests, in both circular and diagonal fisheye modes.
We usually run a range of lab tests under controlled conditions, using the Imatest Master testing suite. Photos of test charts are taken across the range of apertures and zooms (where available), then analyzed for sharpness, distortion and chromatic aberrations.
However, due to the relatively small size of test charts and the enormous 180-degree viewing angle of fisheye lenses, it’s impossible for us to generate meaningful lab-test data for them.
If you’re in the market for a fisheye lens, it can be hard to decide whether to go for a circular or diagonal variant of the breed. This Nikon zoom effectively works as both, acting as a circular fisheye on FX (full-frame) cameras at the short end of its zoom range, and as a diagonal fisheye at the long end. The added versatility is nice to have but it comes as a cost, as the lens is about the same price as two decent fisheye primes. And it’s not the sharpest tool in Nikon’s box either.