Zenit Zenitar 16mm F2.8 MC Fisheye A-mount lens review by Bob J

reviewer#3547 date: May-3-2008
sharpness: 4
color: 4
build: 4
distortion: 3
flare control: 4
overall: 3.8
tested on:
  • film camera:Film camera
  • APS-C: 6MP6 MP; 10MP10 MP; 12MP12 MP; 14MP14 MP; 16MP16 MP; 20MP20 MP; 24MP24 MP
  • full frame: 12MP12 MP; 24MP24 MP; 36MP36 MP; 42MP42 MP; 61MP61 MP
ownership:I own this lens
compared to:Min 24RS, 18-70
price paid:99EUR (used)
positive:Cheap, Wide, Good Quality.
negative:No AF, No auto diaphram
comment:MC Zenitar-M2,8/16

(Being the M42 version of the Zenitar lens, which requires a bit of surgery to remove the ‘stop-down’ pin before it can be used in ‘manual’ mode)

This is a nice, compact little lens, with a huge area of glass on the front.

On a full-frame body it gives the full ‘fishy’ experience, on APS-C, you get heavy distortions towards the edge of the frame, but it is much less extreme. Giving any mark for distortion is a bit meaningless – It certainly has distortions and should be avoided by anyone who needs straight lines at the edges of the frame.

Multiplying 16 up by 1.5 should give you a 24mm lens, but with the uncorrected fish-eye that is not the case – it is much wider. My tests involving comparing the angle of view of the Zenitar on an APS-C body with the 18-70 kit lens on a film body suggests that the FoV across the centre of the frame (where it is at its smallest) is equivalent to that of a 20mm lens.

The Zenitar has its own special lens cap (60mm across) that clips into the built-in lens hood, so losing the cap could be a bit of a blow, particularly considering the vulnerability of that curve of glass to knocks in transit.

The lens hood itself is adjustable to allow for fine adjustment depending on how the lens aligns on your adapter – typically for m42 lenses the centre line of the lens is slightly off – If, like me you are using an adapter that has been sanded down to allow infinity focus, the centre mark is well off. Alignment of the hood for APS-C is not critical due to the crop, but mis-alignment on a full-frame camera will leave you with vignetting.

Exposure: Setting the camera to aperture priority and stopping the lens down to the required f-stop gives you an automatic option – this copes very well but sometimes gives a little under-exposure (possibly because any picture includes a lot of sky), so setting for .7 stop of overexposure is sometimes required.. If you are really not sure, you can always set exposure bracketing on…

Diaphragm: In use the lack of automatic diaphragm is not too debilitating, stopped down to f8.0 the screen of a 5D is still quite bright enough to compose; judging focus could be an issue but…

Focus: Stopped down to f8.0 and adjusting the focus to a roughly hyperfocal position (where the DoF marked on the lens for f8.0 goes to - or if you are not so sure of your adapter, past infinity) - gives you pretty much the entire world from 1 meter to infinity in really quite good focus.

In use the lack of a need to focus makes this great for ‘grab’ shots – the wide frame also makes shooting ‘from the hip’ a very practical covert option for street photography (although it wasn’t covert enough to stop me getting detained by the police at one point).

I started off turning off AS when using the Zenitar, but ended up forgetting after a while – I’ve not noticed any problems.

Just to add, after using this lens for 6 months it is still a little diamond - I use it with a chipped James Lao adapter, which gives you AS, focus confirmation at f5.6 or brighter (as if it was needed this wide) and seems to improve the exposure situation.

rating summary

lens image
  • total reviews: 21
  • sharpness: 4.12
  • color: 4.29
  • build: 4.14
  • distortion: 4.29
  • flare control: 3.76
  • overall: 4.12
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