Sunex 5.6mm Fisheye
This is a circular fisheye lens for use on Nikon DX (like the D40, D80, D200, D2X, D300 etc.) and Canon 1.6x (Rebels, 40D, etc.) digital cameras. It gives a circular image which fills the frame thusly on Nikon DX:
Sunex 5.6mm shot on a Nikon D300.
It's not only for crazy special effects, but mostly as an easy way to make great QTVR panoramas that let you scroll around and see everything.
Personally I find circular fisheyes not very interesting for conventional one-shot photography, preferring full-frame fisheyes like the Nikon 10.5mm. The real reason to get a circular fisheye is for stitching and creating panoramas.
Because this Sunex fisheye covers 185 degrees, you have enough overlap to create complete spherical 360 x 360 degree panoramas with only two shots. Most of the time, it makes more sense to make three shots for good measure.
Sunex also make a very nice three-click-stopped rotating panorama head which attaches directly to the lens, making for a far more precise and solid system than other quirky generic pan heads which mount to a camera. The Sunex pan head is solid billet aluminum and bolts directly to the lens for perfect nodal point alignment, instantly. I don't know about you, but I've never had enough patience to want to screw with other third-party pan heads. The Sunex pan head is a complete system directly from the lens maker.
The great news is that it's also the least expensive circular fisheye out there. For $799, the images it can produce on an $1,800 D300 are the same resolution and as good as images created on the $5,000 D3 with the huge classic Nikon 8mm f/2.8 circular fisheye. The Nikkor circular fisheye is no longer made and sells used for about $2,000 depending on condition.
I'm not kidding about the quality: I shot the $2,600 Sunex/D300 combo against the $7,000 D3/8mm combo for comparison, and the images are about the same! I say "about" the same because they differ in sharpness depending on where you look in the field, but more importantly the Sunex is better because it has far fewer ghosts. I'll detail this all later,
I've played with the junkier and more expensive Sigma 4.5mm, but didn't like it because it focused poorly (if at all) and had too small an image circle for my Nikon. The Sigma 4.5mm has a sub-standard sized image circle to fit the sub-standard sized sensors used in Sigma digital SLRs.
This Sunex is superior because it's always focused. I often forget to focus my other fisheyes, and often have shot a string of shots set to one foot which looks OK through the finder, but not in the final images.
Who the heck is Sunex?
As a photographer, I'd never heard of them.
If I was a designer of automotive backup cameras, I'd know that Sunex is one of the largest makers of wide-angle lenses used in automotive rear-view cameras, including the very expensive ones that come in some of Germany's finest automobiles. Sunex also provides wide-angle lenses for security and medical applications.
No one knows fisheyes better than Sunex.
Unlike Nikon, Canon, Leica and Zeiss, Sunex lenses are designed right here in California. Oddly, this means the lenses with which we are more familiar are really of rather anonymous origin, while I was lucky enough to meet with Sunex' brilliant lens designer, Dr. Alex Ning, who showed me their design facilities and MTF testing lab.
Sunex 5.6mm (Nikon Mount).
Hints and Compatibility:
This Sunex 5.6mm works on every Nikon digital and film SLR ever made.
On the D3, D300, D200 and D2, use the "Non-CPU Lens Data" menu option to set 6mm and f/5.6 to get full matrix metering, EXIF data and finder read-out of aperture. It works great in aperture-preferred as well as manual modes on these cameras.
On the D3, be sure to switch it manually to DX mode (MENU > Shooting > Image Area > DX), otherwise you'll get a little dot in the middle of a sea of black.
The meters of cheaper digital (D80 and below) and cheaper film cameras (N80 and below) will not couple or work this lens, so you'll be on your own guessing exposure using the rear LCD or an external meter. This is likely a good thing, since it forces you to use manual exposure, which is the only mode you should be using if you intend to stitch or create QTVRs.
It's a little silly to use on film, because the image circle is much smaller than the vertical dimension of the film. For film you want an 8mm lens if you want a more useful circular image. If shooting on film I'd try some test shots first, since film camera meters may be fooled into slight overexposure by the smaller circular image of the 5.6mm. The smaller image circle doesn't fill the central circle as an 8mm fisheye does. Except for the potential need to use -1/3 or so exposure compensation, this Sunex lens ought to couple to the meters of every manual focus film camera, and most of the better AF film cameras.
Specifications with commentary back to top
Name: Sunex calls this the Sunex SuperFisheye 5.6mm F/5.6.
Focal Length: 5.6mm.
Aperture: f/5.6, fixed.
Image Circle: 14.5mm.
Coverage: 185 degrees.
Optics: Proprietary patent-pending design, multi-coated.
Resolution: Virtually diffraction-limited.
Focus: Pan-focus: everything from about 20" (0.5m) to infinity is always in focus.
Size: 3.132" extension from flange x 2.756" diameter (79.56 x 70.00mm), measured.
Weight: 16.530 oz. (468.6g), measured, no caps.
Case: Very nice padded nylon case, included.
Made in: Sunex's own factory in China.
Warranty: 5 years.
Price: $799 as of February 2008.
Mounts: Canon and Nikon.
Available from: Directly from the Manufacturer, Sunex, in California.
Sunex 5.6mm fisheye case.
Performance back to top
The Sunex 5.6mm lens works very, very well. Unlike other lenses which take me weeks to evaluate because they have numerous zoom, focus and aperture settings, this lens is fixed, period.
Sunex 5.6mm, front.
Note the inky blackness almost devoid of any ghost-inducing reflections.
The Sunex is the toughest fisheye lens made today. In fact, it's probably the toughest lens made today, period.
The Sunex feels like a solid metal ingot because it is. It's made of anodized aluminum with laser-etched markings and has no moving parts. It's just solid metal and glass, and no stinking plastic.
I see no serial numbers.
The indexing dot is tiny and easy to miss. I'd put a put red sticker on it to make it obvious.
The Nikon-mount version lacks the screw that prevents it from rotating too far in the mount, so if you're not careful, the Sunex lens can do Exorcist-style 360s in your lens mount.
Sunex 5.6mm front cap.
The dedicated front cap is hard plastic. This lens is so nice that it would feel better if it had a felt-lined metal cap as Nikon's 16mm lenses did in the 1970s and 1980s.
The rear cap is crappy. Throw it away and buy a real replacement Nikon cap for nine bucks.
The zippered nylon-fabric soft case feels great. It's padded with felt inside. Cap the lens, throw it in the case, throw it against a wall, and the only thing that will need repairing is the wall.
The Sigma lenses feel worthless and weak. The 10.5mm Nikon has a plastic barrel and delicate focus and aperture couplings. The Nikon 8mm is a landmark of solidity and precision, as it had better be for two grand – used.
Autofocus is instant and perfect, because it's always locked into perfect focus.
I call it pan-focus, meaning the depth of field is so ridiculously huge that no focus is required. It's always in focus.
The focus is fixed at the factory. If you're a hacker, and I know you are because you're reading this, you can loosen the three set screws and screw-up the focus. Don't do this! That's why Sunex deliberately didn't include an Allen wrench with the lens.
As shipped, focus is perfect, near-to-far and center-to-corner. If you screw with it to try to optimize one aspect of focus, you'll most likely degrade focus elsewhere. Just leave it alone.
Aperture is fixed at f/5.6. It is fixed at f/5.6 because f/5.6 gives the optimum image quality.
Smaller apertures lead to decreased resolution due to diffraction.
Larger apertures would have less in focus due to smaller depth-of-field.
Because of the very short focal length of this lens, designing it with a fixed aperture improves performance. Too many people stop lenses down too far, like to f/16, and then email me asking why their images aren't sharp.
Application to Stitching and QTVR
Because the Sunex lens has fixed focus and aperture, one never has to worry about these changing slightly from frame-to-frame as with every other fisheye.
Even if you tape your focus ring as I often do with my other fisheyes, diaphragms can sometimes vary as they open and close from shot-to-shot. This Sunex lens has no diaphragm; it's simply f/5.6, period.
As a for instance, Nikon AF lens apertures are controlled by a mechanical pin on the back of the lens. If you rotate the lens in the mount just a little bit, you may wind up shooting at just a slightly different exposure. This isn't an issue for still photography, but it might be for stitching.
If you do stitching, the fixed nature of the Sunex lens is a double advantage.
Coverage: 185 degrees
Compared with the 180 degree Nikon 8mm f/2.8, the Sunex covered just a tiny little bit more. This is irrelevant for conventional one-shot photography, but is most likely the difference between having enough overlap to get away with a two-shot 360 x 360 panorama, or not.
Sunex 5.6mm. Even though I'm below the lens, it can still see me!
Ghosts are extremely well controlled, even with the sun in the image.
This is much better than the Nikon 8mm fisheye, which always has a few dots if the sun is in the image.
Lateral Color Fringes
The Sunex has a decent amount of color fringes at the sides, if you shoot it on a Canon or older Nikon camera.
Use it on the Nikon D300, and the Nikon D300 automatically corrects these fringes!
The exotic Nikkor 8mm f/2.8 has similar color fringes, which are also corrected by the D300 and D3.
The D300 doesn't correct the fringes on every shot. If it's important, make a few shots. I kid you not: the D300 sometimes corrects and sometimes doesn't correct from one shot to the next!
If you worry about color fringes, only shoot it on the D300 or D3.
It's not always as deep-black as the D3/8mm combo. Often the Sunex lens can see its own front and have some light outside the image. This isn't important, since we usually crop it anyway. Here's what it can look look like:
The Sunex Fisheye seeing the glint of the sun reflecting off its own front.
Fisheyes all have different projections, which is the way in which they distort. I'm not kidding: some fisheyes squish things more or less than other fisheyes do as you approach the edges!
Compared to the D3/8mm combo viewed at the same final size, the Sunex squishes objects more along the edges than does the Nikon 8mm. Likewise, objects in the center are relatively larger in the Sunex.
The Sunex distorts more along the periphery than the Nikon 8mm, if you can say that about fisheyes.
In technical parlance, the Sunex 5.6mm departs more from the r = f * theta relationship than does the Nikkor 8mm.
No photographic fisheye follows this relationship perfectly. It's a non-issue since stitching software has always just dealt with this.
Believe it or not, I learned that it's difficult to design a fisheye to distort in exactly the way you'd like. If you want perfect r = f * theta, you need a much bigger lens.
Sunex makes other fisheyes with different projections for automotive and other uses.
If they both work the same, why is the 8mm Nikkor so darn huge?
1.) The 8mm Nikkor was designed in 1970, using the glass available at the time. Modern glass can have much higher indices of refraction, so that smaller elements can bend the light through extreme angles just as well as the big old front element of the Nikkor 8mm.
In the 1970s, the highest index of refraction available in optical glass was about n=1.6. Today, glass is available with n=1.9.
2.) The 8mm Nikkor is an FX full-frame lens with a focal length of 1.78x the Sunex, and an image circle of 23mm vs. 14.5mm. Everything has to be about 1.4x bigger in every dimension, even if the two lenses were of identical technology.
3.) When the D3X comes out, the Nikor 8mm has extra resolution, unused on the D3, that it will most likely out-do anything on a DX camera.
What About the Russians?
I've tried the 16mm Zenitar. It was bad.
I have not tried the 8mm Peleng. Even if it was great, it still won't give a completely circular image on a DX or 1.6x camera: the image circle is too big for the smaller sensors.
The Sunex lens comes included with dewarping (but not stitching) software that dewarps not just this Sunex lens, but also lenses from Nikon, Canon, Sigma and even Russian fisheyes.
The Sunex software is very flexible, with a variety of options for included angle, type of conversion and output file formats.
The included software still doesn't run on Mac. It will run on Windows, and I'm told will run on Mac eventually.
There are many free and other tools for stitching out there, like PTgui and a slew of others. I'll bow out here and leave this to folks who prefer desk time to field time – I'm more of a shooter than a file massager.
Recommendations back to top
Want a circular fisheye for digital? This is the least expensive real circular fisheye lens out there for DX and 1.6x cameras, and better than the more expensive Sigma 4.5mm. I've used fisheye converters back when I started out. They cost less, but never really work very well. This is the real thing; not a converter.
The Sunex 5.6mm is as sharp on a D300 as the Nikon 8mm is on a D3, for $4,400 less. If you're a pro, don't let me steer you away from the D3/8mm, since the 8mm lens will retain its value in the future, make you look much tougher when you show up to shoot a job, and be capable of much higher resolution with a D3X tomorrow (or today's Canon 1Ds Mk III and an adapter today). Last I looked, Adorama has a used 8mm in stock.
The Sunex will save you time from having to spot out ghosts from the sun compared to the more expensive Nikon D3/8mm combo, too.
If you are serious about fisheye shots, get the Nikon D300 for use with the Sunex lens. We tried it on a Canon 40D. The D300 shots had higher resolution and no color fringes.
Most people will want to get Sunex' dedicated panoramic head with this lens, which makes shooting QTVRs a breeze.
If you find this as helpful as a book you might have had to buy or a workshop you may have had to take, feel free to help me continue helping everyone.
Thanks for reading!