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Zenitar 16mm/2.8 Fisheye lens for Astrophotography?

Larry H. - Atlanta, GA , Jan 19, 2008; 11:59 a.m.

The recent thread by Lance McVeigh about astrophotography made me think. BTW, Lance, I think the two samples you posted are very good. I wish I could get an image posted in APOD. ;-)

I used to enjoy wide-field astrophotography using my Minolta SRT-102 and fast prime lenses with various films. I have actively recommended to people interested in starting astrophotography to start out using an old, all manual camera like my Minolta. I know I can still do that, but I would like to try something new.

So, if I wanted to use my Canon 40D for astrophotography, I know about high ISO, combining multiple images in photoshop or the freeware mentioned in Lance's thread. I also know the limitations regarding battery power inherent in digital cameras and sensor heating problems on long exposures. Like I said, I just want to try something new.

The biggest obstacle I have now is a lens. I don't like using zoom lenses or autofocus lenses for astrophotography. I have considered buying a wide angle Nikon AI to adapt to the EOS, but the 20mm/2.8 is over $300 and I'd rather not spend that kind of money unless I have to. Besides, an effective 32mm is not that wide.

So, I just thought of using a fisheye based on Andy Radin's great pictures. Again, I don't like using AF lenses (infinity focus is difficult to achieve exactly) and I don't want to spend $500 on a Canon EF fisheye anyway.

So, has anyone used the Zenitar fisheye for ASTROPHOTOGRAPHY? I am not interested in your terrestrial experiences using the lens. I have read the great reviews by people like Bob Atkins and photonotes.com. I am interested in experience in using the lens for astro work only. How is it wide open? Like someone said in Lance's thread, astro work brings out the worst in lens aberrations. The fish effect is of limited problem unless I put a straight line in the foreground, then I can always place it in midline. Mostly, I am looking for an assessment about spherical aberration, chromatic aberration and coma/astigmatism in the corners. Light fall off should not be a problem in a 1.6x crop camera.

If the Zenitar is no good for astro, would any of the other adaptable MF fisheyes be any better? I see that KEH currently has a Nikon non-AI 16mm/3.5 for over $400. That's above my price range, but I'm curious if it would really be any better than the Zenitar optically. Would anything by Contax, Olympus, etc., be any cheaper? (I seriously doubt it.) Minolta made a nice MF fisheye that's cheaper, but it won't achieve infinity focus on an EOS camera.

Sorry for the long question, but I am looking for some rather specific information and wanted to outline my rationale for my interest in the Zenitar. Thanks for your help.


Sheldon Hambrick , Jan 19, 2008; 12:40 p.m.

My copy of the Zenitar is soft and low contrast wider than 5.6.

Bob Atkins , Jan 19, 2008; 12:48 p.m.

I'd just point out one fact that many people miss.

If you are recording stars as points of light, it's the absolute physical aperture of the lens that counts, not the relative aperture (fstop), when it comes to the exposure needed to record a star of a particular brightness.

This is counterintuitive to many photographers, but it's because stars are point sources, not extended objects. If you are photographing extended objects like nebulae, then the f-stop does count. The f-stop also influences the amount of "skyglow" that you capture, i.e. how long it takes before the sky starts to "wash out".

Obviously the physical aperture of a 16mm f2.8 lens is pretty small (5.7mm), so though it may record the sky glow (and aurora) pretty fast, a fairly long exposure may be required to record faint individual stars.

If you pixel peep, the edge quality of the Zenitar wide open isn't going to be diffraction limited I'm afraid, but I'm not sure any lens will be. Stars are a very severe test of optical quality.

Andy Radin , Jan 24, 2008; 01:43 a.m.

I had the Nikon-mount Zenitar, which I found useful enough to replace it with the Canon 15mm. Mine was very sharp in the center wide open, and sharp across the frame at f8. However contrast wide open was poor and only improved to mediocre when stopped down.

Try a used Sigma in canon mount? Some people prefer it to the Canon anyway, and it should be a good bit cheaper.

One reason I love the fish for starfield landscapes is it lets you use really long shutter speeds, like a minute or more before trailing is noticeable. Second, it's hard to take in the whole sweep of the Milky Way with anything else.

Larry H. - Atlanta, GA , Jan 28, 2008; 08:29 p.m.

Thank you all for your answers. Any more comments are welcome.

Sarah Fox , Aug 10, 2008; 01:43 p.m.

"Any more comments are welcome."

Well, it's not astrophotography, but here are some sample images, including 100% crops:


Larry H. - Atlanta, GA , Jan 31, 2009; 02:29 p.m.

Hi Sarah,
Thanks. I did not see your post until today. Your review has warned me away from the Zenitar for astrophotography.

Larry H. - Atlanta, GA , Jan 31, 2009; 02:33 p.m.

I remember seeing some of your fisheye astrophotography before, but I don't see it on your website. Do you have a link or URL I can go to?
Thanks, Larry

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