Review SLR Magic 8mm f/4 mini-review

RyanM

Mu-43 Veteran
Joined
Jun 16, 2017
Messages
428
Hey all,

A couple weeks ago, I picked up the SLR Magic 8mm f/4 when the price dropped to $149 at BH. I've never done anything like this before, but there's not a lot of info out there about this lens, so I thought I'd write up my initial impressions.

First a bit of background about why I bought this lens. I've never shot ultra-wide angle photography before, but the sample images I'd seen were very intriguing. Also, everyone seems to agree that UWA lenses are challenging to use, so the challenge was appealing as well. That being said, I didn't want to commit a lot of cash to a lens that I might not like or might not be able to use effectively. I'm a grad student, so for me, value is critical. The SLR magic was the only rectilinear UWA in my budget. I maybe could have picked up a used Oly 9-18mm for about twice as much money, but that would've been a stretch, wasn't as wide, and doesn't seem to be regarded as stellar optically. I also toyed with the idea of defishing the Rokinon fisheye, which is reputed to be very sharp, but once you defish you're losing the great sharpness. Plus, for a UWA newb like myself, it seemed like it would be way easier to compose images that are already rectilinear than to compose with the fisheye intending to defish.

That being said, I was pretty unsure about this lens. Most of the reviews and discussion of the lens are very much geared towards video, and I shoot entirely stills (at least for now). As with most things, reviews online varied from "great little lens" to "unusable at any aperture": not so helpful. So I had to find out for myself. Hopefully this can be helpful to others in a similar position.

On unboxing, a couple things jumped out. First, this lens is really small, even for m43. Using the lens takes a little getting used to, but I like it fine. The focus lock screw is a nice feature, especially for a lens this wide that you can basically leave at/near infinity and click away most of the time.

I took a few brick wall shots, just to get a sense of things. First, a series of shots which I focused in the center of the frame. I'm uploading the full res shots, so anyone who's interested can take a look for themselves. These are RAW files taken at ISO 200 on a tripod with 2 sec self-timer, and exported with darktable defaults (no extra sharpening, noise reduction, etc). This isn't super scientific, I wasn't squaring the camera to the wall with any great precision. If you don't love staring at brick walls, just skip to my impressions at the end.

f/4:
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f/5.6
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f/8
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f/11
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I had read that this lens has some field curvature, so I also took a series focused on the top right corner, next to the handrail.
f/4
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f/5.6
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f/8
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f/11
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I also took two shots with my Panasonic 25mm f/1.7, generally regarded as a sharp lens. I took one shot at f/1.7 and another at f/5.6 (to avoid the issue of the focus changing when stopped down), both focused at the center of the frame.
f/1.7
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f/5.6
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My impressions (just my opinions) are the following:
- there's just a touch of barrel distortion, though you can't really tell in these shots, even though the carpet-wall line is close to the edge of the frame
- vignetting is heavy at f/4, but not too bad at higher apertures. This is so easy to fix in post that it doesn't bother me much
- there's a little field curvature evident at f/4 (i.e. the corners are sharper in the image focused in the corner than the one focused in the center), but I don't really notice it at f/5.6 and above. Plus, I don't photograph something as flat as a wall very often.
- sharpness is always in the eye of the beholder, but was better than I expected based on some of the more pessimistic online reviews.
- in the center, the SLR magic is sharper at f/4 than the P25 is at f/1.7 and comparable to the P25 at f/5.6. Viewing at 200%, it sharpens up a bit going from f/4 to f/5.6 and from f/5.6 to f/8, but the difference is very modest. f/8 and f/11 are identical to my eye.
- in the corner, f/4 is hazy, not as good as the P25 at f/1.7. At f/5.6 things sharpen up significantly, better than the P25 at f/1.7 but not as good as the P25 at f/5.6. f/8 and f/11 are again similar to each other, and similar to but slightly worse than the P25 at f/5.6.

- in short, my assessment is that f/4 is not sharp in the corners, but it's usable. Once you get to f/5.6-11, the lens actually performs quite well.

I also took some test shots for CA. I'm colorblind, so I'm really bad at analyzing this, but here they are if you care to look.
f/4
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f/5.6
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f/8
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f/11
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Overall, I think the lens yields great images, even if the most extreme pixel peepers should probably look elsewhere (or at least avoid f/4!). I'm excited to get out, shoot, and learn with this lens.

To wrap things up, here's a few real-world-use shots. I'm just learning to use this type of lens; constructive criticism always appreciated.

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BleedingGumsMurphy

Mu-43 Veteran
Joined
Mar 19, 2017
Messages
246
Location
Thailand
- in the center, the SLR magic is sharper at f/4 than the P25 is at f/1.7 and comparable to the P25 at f/5.6. Viewing at 200%, it sharpens up a bit going from f/4 to f/5.6 and from f/5.6 to f/8, but the difference is very modest. f/8 and f/11 are identical to my eye.
Thanks for your very helpful review. This is the most important part for me, the corners look good enough at f8, maybe the sweet spot will be f7 or something for maximum center and corner sharpness, with less diffaction. I just wish they sold it in Thailand and at the current price. From the B&H reviews it sounds like some people need to send it back for a better copy, so I wont risk an international purchase.

There are so many threads on various groups and forums about UWA that I think most M43 users in the USA, who have access to this deal, should have this lens.
 
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zzffnn

Mu-43 Veteran
Joined
Nov 19, 2017
Messages
289
Location
Texas
Thank you for the very informative review!

I also found my copy of this lens to be visibly sharper at F/5.6 and above, than F/4.0. F/8.0 sounds about optimal, for point and shoot.

I set my focus point at exactly "1m", for subjects at 1.7 meters away to infinity, when F/5.6-8.0 is used (I photographed many different subjects, used magnified focus preview, pixel peeped and decided that my copy's " 1m" works best).
 
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