Nikon 8-15mm Red Sea Portfolio
By Alex Mustard
For my money, the fisheye is the most important and powerful lens for underwater photography. They offer the widest angle of coverage of any lenses, allowing us to shoot the largest subjects and scenes through the least water, giving the most colorful and detailed pictures. They also work well with dome ports, giving sharp details into the corners of the frame. And we have few straight lines to worry about underwater. Their party piece, however, is close focus wide angle, classically described by Brian Skerry and Howard Hall as “the most beautiful type of photograph that can be made underwater.”
That’s a long way of saying that the arrival of this lens is exciting news for Nikon underwater shooters. Especially because Nikon don’t introduce new fisheye lenses often - the FX 16mm fisheye was released in 1993 and the DX 10.5mm fisheye came out 2004. Nikon introduced the 8-15mm in June 2017 and it can be used on both FX and DX bodies, with different capabilities.
On FX, this lens is best thought of as two lenses in one. At 8mm it creates a circular images with approximately 180˚ coverage in all directions. Although this requires diving with a dome port with the shades removed. At 15mm it creates a frame filling rectangular image that is approximately 180˚ corner to corner. In between it produces a cropped circle, that is not really very useful.
On DX, this lens fills the frame from 10mm to 15mm, creating a wide angle fisheye zoom with an angle of coverage from 180˚ to 110˚. At 8 and 9mm it again produces an incomplete image that is of limited use. It cannot produce a circular image on DX.
Note: a common point of confusion occurs over fisheye focal lengths and angles of coverage, because fisheyes and normal non-fisheye wide angles do not have comparable ratios. For example a DX shooter might own both a Tokina 10-17mm fisheye with 180˚-100˚ coverage and a Nikon 10-24mm just 104˚-61˚, which despite the similar focal lengths have hardly any overlap in angle of coverage.
Adam Hanlon received this lens a few weeks ago and has already done extensive pool tests, which are already in the Wetpixel forums and will be published very soon on the front page. Adam was then kind enough to send his lens out to me in the Red Sea, where I made 7 dives with it and also took it snorkeling. I only shot the lens on my FX camera (Nikon D5). I am leaving the technical testing to Adam and instead share a portfolio of images taken with the lens, that hopefully demonstrate its performance.
The Nikon 8-15mm f/3.5-4.5 is clearly a quality piece of glass, with a price tag to match. The slowish maximum aperture is not an issue underwater and the lens focuses instantly on all subjects and gives a bright clear view. It also allows the lens to be stopped down to f/29 which might be valuable at times. The lens focuses closer than the Nikon 16mm and gives excellent image quality (although it does create a small blue ring around the edge of the circle at 8mm, which I think the Canon 8-15mm does also). I feel that Nikon missed a trick by not adding VR stabilization.
As an FX lens, the 8 TO 15 should be thought of as an 8 AND 15 lens. It is not so much of a zoom as two lenses in one. I am not a particular fan a circular fisheye shots, however, there is no denying this is a valuable capability to have in your camera bag. The downside underwater is that you must choose if you will use it before the dive and remove the port shades and the lens hood. This increases flare and greatly increases the risk of scratching the port, so it is not something I would do unless I was planning to encounter a subject that I specifically wanted to shoot with the circular fisheye.
I was actually more interested in buying this lens for my DX camera (I travel with both FX and DX systems on important shoots), where almost all of the zoom range is useable. It was given the nickname “Posh Tokkie” on my workshop, because it basically replicates the capability of the popular Tokina 10-17mm fisheye but with superior image quality. However, canvassing opinion on my trip, most DX shooters felt the price tag (more than their camera cost) for a lens that simply replicates the angle of coverage that they already get with the Tokina 10-17mm is hard to justify.
I will definitely buy this lens. The performance is excellent and the fact that I can use it both on my FX and DX bodies, with different capabilities on each, makes this three lenses for the price of one: a posh tokkie, a quality full frame fisheye and a circular fisheye.
Page 1: Introduction.
Page 2: Nikon 8-15mm Red Sea Portfolio by Alex Mustard.
Page 3: The Nikon AF-S FISHEYE NIKKOR 8-15mm f/3.5-4.5E ED on FX cameras.
Page 4: The Nikon AF-S FISHEYE NIKKOR 8-15mm f/3.5-4.5E ED on DX cameras.
Page 5: The Nikon AF-S FISHEYE NIKKOR 8-15mm f/3.5-4.5E ED: Working Conclusions.