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Reviewing the Sigma 15mm f/2.8 and Nikon 16mm f/2.8 Fisheye Lenses for Night Sky Landscape Photography

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David Kingham is a lanscape photographer who focuses (pun intended?) on the night sky. He field-tested some of our fisheye lenses to see which one is most suitable for this kind of work. If you’re interested in astrophotography and landscapes, check out Kingham’s findings below (reprinted here with permission):

Fisheye Lenses for Night Photography
by David Kingham

Sigma 15mm 2.8 vs Nikon 16mm 2.8

I’ve been looking to add a fisheye to my arsenal of night photography lenses, but I was never able to locate solid information on what the best lens is for my style of night photography, specifically. I knew I needed to do my own testing to know for sure. I received the Sigma 15mm 2.8 and Nikon 16mm 2.8 from BorrowLenses.com and I needed to go someplace spectacular to test them out–what better place than Canyonlands National Park?

©David Kingham

I first tested the Sigma and tried setting the focus manually to infinity and taking a shot only to be disappointed to see blurry stars on the LCD. I then used Live View to set my focus on a bright star and, even though the focus was set well before infinity, it was now razor sharp. Not ideal, but I have the same problem on my Rokinon lenses, so I can get used to this. I switched over to the Nikon, which feels solidly constructed compared to the Sigma and is smaller and lighter as well. Another positive about the Nikon is that it hard stops at infinity. This means no guessing on your focus–just spin it until it stops and you have no worries. Sounds like the Nikon is the clear winner right? I thought so until I loaded the images at home to get a closer look.

[learn_more caption="What is Live View?"] Many cameras allow for Live View shooting, including the Canon 5D Mark III and the Nikon D800. This feature allows the user to focus and compose a scene while looking at the LCD screen rather than through the DSLR viewfinder.[/learn_more]

ISO 3200, f/2.8, 30″ – Sigma 15mm f/2.8 on left, Nikon 16mm f/2.8 on right. 100% crop in the center of image. The landscape looks nearly identical–both very sharp. The stars are a different story, though. The Nikon image is considerably softer. ©David Kingham

100% crop at the top center of the image from the top of this post. The Nikon is getting worse and the Sigma still looks incredibly sharp.

100% at top right. The Nikon just fell on its face–even the trees are blurry here! Completely unacceptable for me. I didn’t test it, but you would probably have to stop down to f/4 to get the sharpness back in the Nikon. As you can see, there is very little coma present in the Sigma and the optical quality is top notch.

Conclusion

Ultimately, the Sigma wins for me because image quality is my top priority. That said, you may wish to choose the Nikon because a lower-quality, but  in-focus, shot is way better than a high-quality, but out-of-focus, shot. The Nikon is just so easy to use with the hard stop at infinity. With the Nikon 16mm, it will be much harder to miss a shot and you’ll enjoy using it more!

To read more from David Kingham, check out his blog here.

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Alexandria Huff is a portrait photographer based in San Francisco. Her tutorials can be found here on the BorrowLenses Blog, 500px, Shutterfly, Snapknot, and SmugMug. She specializes in studio lighting. Follow her work on 500px.

Comments

  • I know other photographers that swear by Sigma lens. When I traded one for one many years ago a Nikon for a Sigma I didn’t care for the Sigma. Looks like it’s time for another look

  • Manu says:

    Interesting post, thanks for the comparison. It would be great to see how those compare to no-fisheye superwides like the 14-24mm and 14mm.

  • Jeremy says:

    While I’m a Canon shooter I found it interesting that an “off brand” would out-perform a “name brand” lens. I’ve had an equivalent Tamron and Canon lens and the Canon lens won hands-down every time. I’ve not ever owned a Sigma and this comparison now has me wondering. Thanks for the comparison!

  • For night photography especially, the off brands are blowing away the name brands. Look for another post on here soon that shows how well Rokinon lenses perform.

  • Steve says:

    I sure hope the tester shot more than a few frames. By his own admission on testing the Sigma, he had to go into live view to fine tune the focus. Did he do the same for the Nikon and not rely solely on the hard infinity stop to set focus?

    • Yes I did Steve, it seemed to be the best at infinity. You can see in the first 100% crop that the landscape is in focus but the points of light are blurred, some lenses just don’t handle those points of light well unless they’re stopped down.

  • Great review, David! We Canon lens users don’t have a hard stop on the infinity mark on most of our lenses (except my 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye), so we’re used to having to focus with live view or prefocus manually in the daytime on infinity, and tape down our focus rings for the final nighttime photography. That Sigma lens might become part of my arsenal some day!

  • Susan says:

    Thank you, David. I am going to the Canyonlands & Arches in the fall, and now I will rent a Sigma instead of a Nikon fisheye, Also I am going to Alaska to shoot the aurora and hope the Sigma will be better than the Nikon for that as well.

  • Moh says:

    thanks a lot for this review, i was willing to buy a fisheye for full frame, but didn’t know what to chose, your review was very helpful, it made me buy the sigma and I’m very satisfied with, it’s surprisingly sharp even wide open, gonna give a try at astrophotography.
    how come is there such a fiew reviews of this lens on the web? didn’t find any mtf measuring (lke the ones we find at lenstip or photozone)

  • dennis says:

    Did you have the rear filter (L37c) attached to the Nikon lens? It’s my understanding that the focus won’t be sharp at edges without the rear filter, which is integral to the optical design of the lens.

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