The Peleng 8mm is a circular, fully manual fisheye lens with a maximum aperture of f3.5. Made in Belarus with an all metal and glass build construction, there is nothing electrical in the lens, and so both aperture and focus have to be set manually.
Technically a fisheye is an ultra wide angle lens, but one that is so wide and distorted that it has its own designation. The circular part just means that it forms a circle on full frame cameras, with an 180° field of vision.
According to Wikipedia: ‘An ultra wide–angle lens is a lens whose focal length is shorter than the short side of film or sensor.’ Whatever that means. In practice, most people will just know it when they see it.
- Aperture range: f3.5-f22.
- Minimum focus distance: 0.22m.
- Optics: 11 elements, 7 groups.
- Focus type: Manual.
- Weight: 370g.
- Focal length: 8mm.
On a full frame camera such as the Canon 5D or Sony A7, the Peleng produces an image with a full circular vignette. On APS-C format, the vignetting is still present, but less pronounced. I quite like both of these effects for different situations. The full circle gives the classic fisheye feel, and the APS-C size allows you to make sure that the content of busy scenes are given a fair shake at the visual stick. So to speak.
Given the nature of a fisheye lens, there is obviously a lot of warping/aberration around the edges. That said, it doesn’t seem quite as wild as I had expected. I think that might be down to the vignetting, in the sense that ultra-wide lenses which fill the frame don’t have that reference point, so the resulting twists seem even very out of place.
Sharpness isn’t ever going to be the main concern when it comes to fisheye lenses, but it’s worth saying that the Peleng is sharp even at f3.5, so long as you get the focus right. That can be tough given the field of view, especially as focus peaking tends to get thrown off. However, if you are shooting on a digital body like the A7, you can use the zoom focus assist function to get things bang on.
Flare is inevitable with a fisheye lens, and the Peleng (despite being multi-coated) is no exception. Surprisingly though, it isn’t too excessive, and often sits on the edge of the frame as a sort of ghostly reflection, as opposed to anything more obtrusive. At some angles direct light can bounce around and cause a lack of contrast, as in the example below – though I’ve not found that happening too often.
Things to watch out for
- Front Element/No filters – The front element of the lens is a rather unusual, convex design which sticks out.. It’s beautiful, but also means that the glass is potentially more susceptible to knocks or scratches. Filters can’t be used, and finding lens caps can be tricky (to say the least). I’m a bit more paranoid about damaging the Peleng than my other gear as a result. I had initially planned to try it out for nightclub photos, but after seeing the lens in person, that plan has gone out the window.
- Lock/Unlock – A feature that is common to M42 lenses is the ‘lock/unlock’ ring. This lets you pre-set an aperture, then quickly open it up again to the maximum to brighten up the viewfinder. A useful feature when shooting with old film bodies, but pretty useless in the digital era. The annoying thing is that the ring is pretty loose, and it’s easy to knock or not realise that the actual aperture is different to what you expect given its position.
- Using the Peleng 8mm with a Canon 5D Mark I (Classic) – This is a pretty specific one, and there’s probably nobody out there that actually uses a Canon 5D mark I now except me, but still. Despite being advertised as compatible with ‘any EF mount camera’, the rear element of the lens actually extends slightly too far into the body of the Canon 5D Classic – enough to hit the mirror. This was the case with my M42 mount Peleng, and may not apply to different adaptors or adaptations of the lens, but I suspect it may be a common issue, so watch out for that if you’re still rocking a Mark I. In my case, I got around the issue by unscrewing the mount and moving it slightly. Probably not entirely advisable, but it works, so there we have it.
I have wanted to get a proper fisheye lens for a long time, but always hesitated out of a fear that the results would end up looking too samey. Now that I’ve had the Peleng for a while, I have to say that I wish I had bitten the bullet a lot sooner. Yes, the effect is very specific, but it’s exactly for that reason that it ends up as an invaluable tool in your arsenal. When you’re squeezed into a tiny space (like the bars in Tokyo, or in a vocal recording booth), you can still capture everything that’s going on in the scene, with plenty of context included. Despite finding myself always searching for the focus ring, and the lock/unlock lever a bit of a pain, the lens is a real pleasure to shoot with. There’s something extremely appealing about the design that makes you want to use it, and that’s important. I often get questions and compliments when it’s mounted on my A7.
There are two main practical ‘downsides’ I’ve come across to mention, if I can call them that. Firstly, it would be nice if there was a wider aperture than f3.5, but at 8mm you can handhold at much slower shutter speeds than you would at other focal lengths, and given the price point, you can’t really complain. Secondly, the lens is, well, much wider than you might expect. That might seem obvious, but by that I mean that it really is a specialist lens, and won’t just replace your 16mm or 20mm. That means another thing to carry to cover the full range of situations, and is something worth bearing in mind.
All in all, the Peleng is a great lens with bags of character. I love using it, and find that by its nature it always really captures a lot more of a scene’s context, which is great. The most important thing about it though, is that it is one of the few manual focus lenses that make selfies doable…
Cost and Availability
There’s no real shortage of Peleng lenses, as they are still in production. Peleng8.com is a ‘factory store’ from BeLomo which still stocks them with a variety of different mounts and adaptors. Expect to pay about £170ish, though you can pick them up cheaper on eBay from time to time.
All of the below were shot with the Peleng 8mm on a Sony A7.
Disclaimer: As usual, this article isn’t intended to be a comprehensive, pixel-peeping review. Rather, it’s a highly subjective, real world review, reflecting my own research and experience as someone who has shot with a lot of different cameras and lenses over the years. No aperture comparison charts here. Any flaws in the images are almost certainly down to me rather than the lens.