Second First Impressions: Olympus M.Zuiko ED 8mm F1.8 Fisheye PRO

My very first impressions of the Olympus M.Zuiko ED 8mm F1.8 Fisheye PRO lens were formed back in 2018, thanks to a Photo Excursion with Peter Baumgarten, My overall conclusion at the time? It’s a fun lens – a good match for my quirky side. But I concluded that the option to channel my inner Dr. Seuss wasn’t worth ~C$1,400. So I looked around for a less expensive option, ending up with the Lensbaby Sol 22.

Why Now?

Fast forward to November 2022…Mr GeoK and I were watching an OM System livestream with wildlife photographer Andy Rouse. About 16 minutes in, we sat up straighter in our chairs. Wow! He shared an amazing photo of a polar bear sow and her cub, shot with the Olympus M.Zuiko ED 8mm F1.8 Fisheye PRO lens. To view the photo and Andy’s description of how he got the shot, check out this short article on the Amateur Photograher website.

Around the same time, we started talking about traveling again, because there’s no point waiting any longer for COVID to be over. It’s not going anywhere! And while returning to polar bear territory isn’t at the top of our destination list, it’s a possibility down the road. Plus, Andy’s photo opened the door to imagining all kinds of unique landscape and wildlife photographs.

So Mr GeoK started keeping a watch on the price of the Olympus M.Zuiko ED 8mm F1.8 Fisheye PRO lens. It regularly sells around C$1300-$1400, a few hundred dollars more than when it came onto the market in 2015 . When it dipped to $950 one day this spring, he bought it! (Side note: Happy Birthdays and Merry Christmas to us πŸ˜‰ )

Meanwhile, we watched some YouTubes and read some blog posts about the lens. Peter Baumgarten, sole Canadian OM System Ambassador, has taken some amazing photos taken with the Olympus M.Zuiko ED 8mm F1.8 Fisheye PRO. He also shares advice on how to minimize or exaggerate the fisheye effect, depending on your creative choice.

I’ve been out with the Olympus M.Zuiko ED 8mm F1.8 Fisheye PRO lens four times since it arrived mid-June: a hike, a kayak adventure, a nature walk and an urban walk. Here are my second first impressions… πŸ™‚

It’s Incredibly Wide

With a 180 degree field of view, it’s incredibly wide.

This opens up some interesting possibilities re: tight corners…

…tight spaces…

man walking away from the mouth of a shallow cave in a high mountain valley

…and architecture (among other things).

So Watch the Edges

Because it’s so wide, it’s easy to accidentally include your foot, your shadow, or a finger!

finger across upper left corner of a picture of lights and bookshelves inside a library

So keep your fingers pulled back and watch the corners of your composition. I had to recompose this island shoreline shot several times to eliminate my shadow from the frame.

tree stumps along the shore of an island in a mountain lake

At times I’ve found myself having to incorporate things into my compositions that I’d prefer to frame out. For example, peering down from the many footbridges over Tokumm Creek at Marble Canyon in Kootenay NP, I could not lean out far enough to eliminate the bridge structure from my shots. Instead, I worked on figuring out the best way to incorporate it at the bottom edge of the image.

Incredibly Close Minimum Focal Distance

At 12 cm/4.7 inches, the Olympus M.Zuiko ED 8mm F1.8 Fisheye PRO lens has an incredibly close minimum focal distance. This is going to be a lot of fun to play with, especially in seeking out compositions that include a large foreground element along with a scenic background. I haven’t done too much with this yet, but these few shots give a general idea of what I mean.

I’m also keen to take advantage of the short minimum focal distance using Lego Minifigs.

Distort Deliberately

By composing with the horizon line in the center of the frame, I can minimize any fisheye distortion.

man sitting on a rock looking down a valley between two mountains

I sometimes decide it’s a better creative choice to compose to exaggerate the warping. For example, at Marble Canyon I made a level bridge into an arched bridge. πŸ˜‰

At Hawke Island, I emphasized how the sometimes submerged trees stumps seem to go on forever…almost to the end of the world.

tree stumps on an island with a curved horizon line

In a nearby forest, angling the lens downwards created a partial Lensbaby Sol 22 kind of look.

bunchberry dogwood wildflowers in a forest clearing

I’ve learned the hard way that even if you’re willing to embrace the fisheye distortion, you still need to look at your horizon line. Do you want it level? Or don’t care? I wish I’d checked the horizon level before depressing the shutter button for this shot. Instead, I was overly-focused on trying to balance the weight in the two upper corners. By the way, this shot was taken right across the street from the Calgary Tower.

a warped by fisheye lens photograph of the Calgary Tower and adjacent office buildings

Caution: Lens Flares

I don’t often use filters. That’s mainly because the OM System OM-1 camera body has a built in ND filter effect. I used it to good effect from right up close to the base of this waterfall. While I did go for 0.7 stops underexposed, I wish I’d gone a little darker due to the bright overhead clouds.

multi-step waterfall down a rock face

I very occasionally use a polarizer (Mr GeoK is more diligent about this). If we continue to experience as much wildfire smoke as we have over the past couple of months, I may start using a polarizer more often.

When it comes to the Fisheye PRO lens, it’s a good thing filters are not part of my usual approach. The rounded front element means this lens is not compatible with threaded filters. There may be some externally-mounted filter options available, but I don’t see how they wouldn’t intrude into the field of view.

A curved front element + no filters = a recipe for collecting dust and creating lens flares. Even without dust, I find unintended lens flares in some of my images taken with this lens.

pink wild rose blossom with magenta sun flare in the background

I sometimes include a flare as a creative choice. Other times, I’ve been able to prevent it, literally using the hat off my head held way off to the side and just behind the plane of my camera, so that it doesn’t accidentally poke into the edge of the image.

Looking Ahead

I’ve already identified plenty of subject/composition things I’d like to try with this lens over the coming months: more (and bigger) foreground elements, more tight spaces and night/astro photography. A super-long exposure of vehicles going around a traffic circle could be fun. I’m also keen to see what I can come up with by way of a fisheye lens selfie.

Also on my list? Looking into options to “clean the fish” (i.e. significantly reduce/eliminate the optical warping). I’m going to start by looking for an in-camera option. Then I’ll be looking to the OM System desktop software. I use neither Lightroom nor Photoshop, so those are not an option. My usual ON1 Photo RAW is weak when it comes to lens corrections. But we also have a DXO license, so that’s an option I’ll dig into, as well.

Thoughts/Comments?

Well, what do you think? Do you ever shoot with a fisheye lens? Or a phone app that gives you a fisheye look? What have I missed? What else should I try? Drop a comment with your best advice. TIA.

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