I’m a big fan of mirrorless cameras and currently my own choice of mirrorless is a well used Panasonic GX7, and probably more than 75% of the shots I’ve taken on it have been taken with the Panasonic 8mm f3.5 lens
I am unashamedly a big fan of wide angle shooting underwater, and other than at certain spots in the far east like the Philippines or Indonesia ( next trip to Lembeh coming up this year btw please click here ) where I shoot mostly macro, my Red Sea trips and my upcoming Mexico trip (click here) I am mostly wielding my fisheye lens.
For those wondering why us underwater photographers get so excited about extremely wide angle lenses like fisheyes for using underwater, then please check out an earlier set of blogs starting with this one and please click here.
So it was with quite a bit excitement that I had the opportunity on my most recent Red Sea Relaxed trip a couple of weeks back to use the new Olympus 8mm f1.8
Whats the difference?
Well it’s all to do with that f-number. The Panasonic Fisheye lens has a relatively normal maximum aperture of f3.5 and the Olympus tops this with a maximum aperture of f1.8
And this means that the Olympus has the potential to capture nearly three times as much light, giving it greater usefulness in low light situations, think early morning or late afternoon available light wrecks, or just available light photography in general.
It also has the potential, pretty unique in the wide angle world of underwater photography of allowing the shooter to produce blurry backgrounds because of the depth of field limiting advantages of shooting at f1.8
Another advantage I found of shooting with this maximum aperture is that the camera struggles less to focus and you get a brighter screen view.
I was using this lens with the Nauticam housing system and my dome port for accommodating the older and smaller Panasonic lens was too short, so it necessitates using a slim extension ring, as this lens is quite a bit physically longer than the older Panasonic. The picture below gives a rough idea of the relative sizes, but it feels around twice the weight and is about a third as long again.
I’m sure if you’re thinking of buying it you will no doubt Google the exact specs, and to be honest I mostly want to outline its main advantages as I see them.
Let there be light
Of course the main reason for us underwater photographers when considering this fine piece of glass, and it is most definitely a very fine piece of glass, is that stand out feature the maximum aperture of f1.8
So I’ve got a few shots here taken in not fantastic available light showing it’s ability to give two advantages, firstly faster shutter speeds, and secondly blurrier backgrounds.
The faster shutter speeds are a welcome advantage to shooting at bigger apertures, reducing the problems of camera shake and subject movement.
And the blurrier backgrounds are another side effect of imaging at f1.8
This of course is relative and won’t give you the same totally blurred backgrounds produced when shooting with longer focal lengths like macro or telephoto lenses.
It will give a distant separation of foreground and background though, enough to focus interest on the main subject.
The above picture was taken on the BBC Pinnacle a favourite of mine as a photo site, see why I love it so much and click here for an earlier post about the place.
My favourite time to dive lies on the cusp between a day dive and a dusk dive, but this means that available light levels are quite low, but at f1.8 I was still able to achieve a shutter speed of a 1/250 sec for this shot, if I had used my Panasonic I would have been down at around 1/50 sec in the same conditions or thereabouts, and well within the camera shake danger zone.
Of course shooting at such extreme apertures doesn’t come without penalties, and even on land without a dome port adding further optical aberrations you would not expect tack sharpness from the edges of your shots at this wide an aperture opening.
So here is the edge of the above shot enlarged below to show you the quality and focus fall off at f1.8.
Pick your subject matter wisely
Of course the above is an extreme example, and I was still keen to show how the lens’ unique (at this time) optical advantage could be best utilised in more regular shooting scenarios.
So when we arrived at the Barge on the last trip,( and to see why we love this place please click here.) I quickly found a proud looking Devil Scorpion Fish, that I allowed to get used to me over a few minutes, and set off shooting it.
Even though fisheye lenses have comparatively great depth of fields with comparison to longer focal lengths, you still need to be very careful with this lens at maximum aperture to guarantee eye focus.
And moving slowly and bearing in mind the Scorpion Fish snout is almost touching the front of my dome port, it was still quite a struggle to keep the correct plane of focus making sure the eye was nice and sharp, so if you are doing this please keep checking on your taken shots by zooming in to make sure that you nail it.
Fast and not so furious
I ended up with a crazy fast shutter speed of 1/4000 of a sec with the shot above, easily enough to eliminate subject and shooter movements.
However the main reason was to get a close focus wide angle shot where only the subject was in focus, and in this case the subjects eye alone.
This has meant that I succeeded in getting a very blurry bokehlicious back and foreground meaning that with careful subject choice you can get shots impossible in any other way without this lens on a micro four thirds camera.
So I took a couple of shots changing angles and position, this is important as shots sometimes develop and happen as you are shooting them, and your first idea may not be the shot you finally settle upon, to see an earlier blog about this “Working the Shot” please click here.
For the intention of balance and comparison I took a few shots from similar angles but this time at much smaller apertures and using my more usual strobe lit technique.
Here is a shot from that sequence of a similar angle to the one above.
The main advantage of this lens is that it gives you more options and so far, options unique to it.
I found that whilst shooting more normally at mid range apertures there is nothing to distinguish it from the Panasonic lens, and wouldn’t advise replacing it just for this.
However if you’ve a ken to shoot outside of the accepted norms and try something different in available light, allowing you unique perspectives and the ability to get bokeh in your CFWA shots then this lens may well be the best choice for folk looking to purchase a fisheye lens for their micro 4/3 mirrorless cameras.