Zenit Zenitar 16mm ƒ/2.8 fisheye:

compact but suuuperwide: 180°!!!


I am pretty sure you know ZENIT as historical brand of 35mm film cameras like the 122 or, for example, because they've produced the HELIOS 44-* 58mm lens ƒ/2 or for the TAIR 300mm ƒ/4 "Sniper" and so on, but yes... they produce a wideangle lens too: the Zenitar 16mm ƒ/2.8 Fisheye! First of all I want to thank Zenit Russia and Zenit Germany for giving me the chance to test and use their lens, lens which I've received specifically for my NIKON D 750, so native Nikon F Mount...!! I am specifying because, as I know, it is not so easy to find that for Nikon F mount (reflex) or maybe: not as new!  (for example: is figured as "no more available, out of production" in one of the most big italian forums-websites dedicated to photography, Juza... well: WRONG, at OCTOBER 2020, IT'S AVAILABLE!!!). Starting by that I want to tell you which Zenit is renewing his lens and, much probably: more will come! By the way this Zenitar, as told by the German importer, is the 2° version of this lens.

Hands on: Description

Well, first of all: is a prime vintage manual lens so, thinking of that, I'll go to describe the specs.  As you know I got attempt in other much more modern prime wideangles (and if you don't know, please check my review summary) but this time I was very surprised in use of this little monster: is super compact (64х49 mm, from the support end) considering which is an old lens concept (renewed in 2015 for coatings, design and new mounts, info confirmed by Zenit Russia), is maded entirely of metal and got the manual CLICKED ƒ/n diaphragm regulation which reminds me my first old times when I was using manual lens on my Pentax camera (and I was owner of the Helios 44 too!). Ergonomics are very good and controls are precise and smooth. The optical scheme is composed by 11 lens subdivided in 7 groups and doesn't support standard filters but got special screwmount filters in the bayonet (indeed mine was included of uv filter). Very happy to have found the depht of field scale printed in the body, with very nice Zenit logo.  Nice and solid, well structured, front cap: much more than other brands, very well designed: you can remove that quickly and put temporarely in your jeans pocket if you need. Clever!

Sharpness: how good could be this fisheye respect to different type of photos? ...

... checking the lens property, I've decided to do the lens test with a two meters of chart sheet thinking to not take care of the distortion because it's a fisheye (ha-ha, obvious...) so considering which, at the minimum distances of "focus point" (as they say, it is ~30 cm so congrats to the technician which control the lens in the 2018 and doubled check that before send me, that is ♥), we got an obvious not homogenity in all the frame, I've made the test doing a precise focus regulation of the point using the minimum value of the Zenitar and installing the Nikon D750 in my macro focus rail: aaaah, with the x10 magnification in live view, i got the perfect focus at ~30cm. Now the lens is ready to get forced to enhance defects (as always showed in other reviews but with normal lenses is different, anyway this test is not so easy using normal wideangles too!). Let's check, directly, the details of the chart leaving the distortion generic pictures to another review for other products!

With this comparisons we can, for sure, say that the lens start to work better at center from ƒ/4 - 4.5 to ƒ/11 and start to show a more or less constant diffraction until ƒ/22 when details of the chart start to be blended by that phenomenon. Checking the extreme side, things change and we got a constant increasing of better performances, with acceptable details from ƒ/6.3 to ƒ/22. So, usually, with a normal setup for landscape - street - low light - bizzarre portraits photography you'll for sure have really fun to use this lens. Considering which this is worst setup-lens because using the lowest focus distance available, with that kind of photos you'll have for sure good performances using indicated values: this defects will be less evident. (pay attention: "low light" means not nightscapes, not as single snap: for this I'll suggest you to check this specific images and setup used for the review and the realization of the pictures you'll seeat the end of the article)

Vignetting & Chromatic aberrations: what boring things, huh?

... you bet it! And this are, mostly, defects visible in lens that shows distortions... so I was a bit scared because this lens IS A FISHEYE (old structured too). Well let's check the same test images considering the extreme edge of the left corner, so the most extreme part of the snapped pictures for the test.

Comparing this series of extreme corner we can, for sure, confirm what already told for the sharpness with a progressive growth of the general quality of the details. The Chromatic aberrations looks very very limited and constant in all the snaps, so truly easy to be removed.  Remember always that, this is an extreme test and in normal use you'll see less weird fall of sharpness and general quality. Surprised to see very low vignetting phenomenon too. Nice!

In the field: Bokeh, Flare and Coma aberration. you can love or hate that.

... I know a lot of photographers, including landscapers with simply don't want to see nothing than the picture they've snapped  and mostly is the same to me but depends on shape of the flare and so depends on lens! Starting by that and continuing the discussion about "worst mode to use one wideangle fisheye lens" now I'll show you how lens react to the sunlight, which type of bokeh you can obtain and how manage the coma aberration. Well let's check the entire test images describing all following the numbers!

Sooo, yeah another blurred picture which cannot show the best for this lens, we are always watching the sharpness and we always forgot to check that other things: all this little giant characteristics can be useful (or not) to understand how to use the lens and adapt your idea of picture respect to the result of specific settings. For some funny weird close-up portrait to animals, using a fisheye as the Zenitar, it is pretty much obvious that you don't care too much of the rest of the image... right? You just need which the center (or one of the points near of that) shows sharpness! So, starting to watch the picture, we can easily find a list of photographic results using specific lens settings:

1- The Bokeh: this six blade diaphragm can show, at his maximum de-focused area, this type of bokeh... unusually circular but affected by the comatic aberration effect which is strongly visible in the corners of the image (2). 2- The Comatic aberration: well, you just have to watch corners, this was evident in test chart images too. The only way to attenuate the comatic aberration is "close the diaphragm". Unfortunately this determine that the Zenit can't never be good for single snaps at night, using full aperture blade of diaphragm for stars. Here I'll show you how it works in stars, please read how!  3- The minimum distance about subject (the yellow leaf) shows you how much foreground can be showed in your pictures staing close to the objects: depends on how much the "subject" is big! If you got a donkey face and want to do some portrait to that, you just have to put that in the middle of the frame and, with the right point of focus and the proper diaphragm you'll have a funny clear picture with a nice blurried frame. BAM!

... let's continue, keeping the minimum distance of focus but closing the diaphragm to ƒ/13 including and "facing"the sun

... continuing the analisys using another subject, another ƒ/n, another point of view and a total backlight we can observe "a start" about that improvement that I was trying to explain regarding the general image quality. First of all: even if the focus point is still at the minimum distance value possible I want to show you that the focus point is SHARP AS A KATANA and the lens is still capable to separate well the focus point to the rest. This means which the three-dimensionality of this fisheye is simply WOW and is one aspect which I really love to have in my landscape pictures for example.

You know: keeping a nice shape of the objects, you can do that using the light angled respect to the point of view... but this is a backlight and the phenomenon is still pretty much evident, I love the 3D effect of this lens! If you simply move the focus point away, for represent the scene, you'll have a much more "apparently clear" image, that is more or less the hyperfocal concept applied to very short distance! So, as before, I am just continuing to show you extreme examples... keep in mind that!

Extreme left corner edge

Let's describe the point of the second image: 4- Diaphragm star: as a vintage six blade diaphragm, closing the diaphragm we will obtain this specific effect in the most evident light point of the scene (in this case: the sun). But I was expecting regular spikes: the Zenit show spikes composed by other spikes, a bit confusional if watched in detail but very nice if watched in complex... looks REAL, not added and I appreciate this but needs to be clear: it's my taste. 5- Flare: as told before... you can love or hate that. Some photographers (and videomakers too) like to reach this phenomenon in the images and, if is not so visible, they'll add that using some editing program. I personally like some image including the flare effect especially if is not so invasive and is "nice to be viewed".... speaking of the Zenitar, more or less, that's the feeling but I can't accept that strong cyan dot coma... so it's a "so so" result. 6- Point of focus: as already told I've keep the minimum distance of focus to show how much details you can have with this extreme set of the lens and, well, you can start to check how much is clean the screw of my 15mm showed in the picture... not so perfectly clean, huh? I'm a mess ... LOL. Please keep in mind which the picture doesn't have any corrections, including chromating aberrations.

In the field: night picture analisys ...and how to use the lens to create beautiful nightscapes.

... YES: as a nightscaper, this part of the review needs a specific section. First of all let me explain why I consider this lens not so good to be used for "single snaps" starry nightscapes.

We are always in search of sharpness, especially because night pictures request to push our equipment at maximum for have a good image result: high iso, long exposure times and so luma & chroma noise, hot pixels, sometimes amp glow.  What we need, for best performances using a single snap file, is a good camera but a good lens too: able to give best sharpness possible in all the frame using the widest ƒ/n aperture possible in that maximum time exposure for a perfect DOT - star possible result. I tell you: most of times that's simply impossible... So the only thing we can do is?.... Buy an astro-seeker. Why? .... let's do a little step back. Let's watch this picture, I'll try to explain you how to "solve" this problem.

The Zenitar suffer of comatic aberrations and is a little bit soft at wide aperture, at this point of the test we can say that: result at night is very weird in stars so we must close the ƒ/n aperture of the diaphragm to almost ƒ/4... that's a problem if you don't have the astro-seeker because you can't have the same result about "nightsky" for the same principle of other photos: if you do a short exposure time with the diaphragm too much closed you'll have an underexposured picture.. or a good exposed picture but full of noise (and we want to prevent noise in the pictures, usually...): that's the exposure triangle (you remind that? ...basics...). So... if the only way to prevent the comatic aberrations in our photogram it's: try to do a more long exposure using diaphragms not as much wide as possible but neither so close (and that's why you must PAY attention to my test image details in the chart) now you can start to understand why I told you "astro-seeker needed"!

Zenitar @ ƒ/2.8 VS Zenitar @ ƒ/5.6 using astroseeker

The astro-seeker is an instrument which allow you to do this but, at this point you gotta to have a bit of knowledge in post production, merging different photos of the same scenario. How? ... well I guess you can figure it out from many photographers in the world but if you want to know my personal style just contact me :)

So I've start to use this lens in my D750 realizing dedicated exposures for soil and for sky, obviously keeping in mind that will be night photos because, to me, is unuseful to blend daylight pictures to a proper astroseeked sky as background: in most of cases the light simply result weird and can't match to the real situation. For that I've use my Sky Watcher Star Adventurer. You all know which I like to do panoramic shots but "single snap size" shots too, please have a sit and watch this little gallery here, let me know if you have any questions and let me know if there is a truly visible comatic aberration phenomenon in the sky. Please consider which I was not always in perfect sky conditions, due to the light pollution and moisture... but in the pictures 3 and 4 I've not use the astro-seeker, are just a stitched / merged photos of single exposures. Enjoy!

1° "Contemplation of the night" This is a 360° panoramic snap realized using the Zenitar and the astro-seeker.

2° August Eve This is a 180° panoramic snap realized using
the Zenitar and the astro-seeker.

3° "Moonplant" This is a 180° panoramic snap realized using the Zenitar in horizontal, making two single dedicated exposures.

4° Moonset 180° vertical panoramic maded of single exposures using the Zenitar for this final image.

Conclusions: ... 'cause is not just about the quality image !

Sorry if I'll be a bit rude now but did you remember when Zenit was just consider a cheap crappy copy of other lens in the marker... as Zeiss for example? Well. Now did you remember which, more or less in 2013 - 14 - 15 someone re-discover the particular  bokeh of the Helios 44-* and all just want to have that cheap - crappy lens because, in true, is super sharp with that particular swirl bokeh, is well builded and fun to be use? Well........ sometimes people is just too hasty and superficial in comments, judging products, and it's a shame. My honest opinion forvthe Zenitar 16mm ƒ/2.8 fisheye? I was very funny using that, it push me to find new balances and compromises in photography, helps me a lot to understand specs... much more than lens which simply works good even not using proper settings. Because, yes, for a good use you have to set the Zenitar in his real range of work values. If you don't? Well, then, it's just a poor cheap lens which doesn't work good ... as the Helios was times ago. Is all fault of the lens? Mmmmmh mnaaah I don't think so. Personally I miss that in my bag, especially because I like to do panoramic shots using the 15mm focal on full frame... that Zenitar allows you to have the same perspective in a single frame! (ok, distorted, but it's a fisheye indeed!) and is small, easy to carry that everywhere! Are you a photographer of daylight pictures for street photography, funny portraits, landscapes (cityscapes, seascapes, forest scapes or inside of that for a huge perspective from the soil... and so on)... well this is the best lens ever: compact, economic, well builded, works nice. Nightscapes? You must have the astroseeker and all will be fine. In conclusion I left the instagram profiles of  Zenit Russia and Zenit Germany so you can have a direct example of other photographers using the Zenitar or others lens! Ciao!