Some time ago NiSi changed its name from NiSi filters to NiSi optics, if you ever wondered why, I can tell you now: because they also wanted to start producing lenses, not only filters.
The first lens aimed at photographers is this NiSi 15mm 4.0 Asph, let us have a look, if it is a viable alternative to the lenses of reknown manufacturers in this segment!
Most of the sample images in this review can be found in full resolution here.
- Sample Images
- Specifications / Version History
- Flare resistance
- Chromatic Aberrations
- First Impressions
- Further Sample Images
- Further Reading
Specifications / Version History
This is NiSi’s first lens and it comes for a few mirrorless mounts including E-mount. It has the following specifications:
- Diameter: 79 mm
- Field of view: 111.8° (diagonally)
- Length: 77 mm
- Weight: 470g (without hood and caps)
- Filter Diameter: 72 mm
- Number of Aperture Blades: 10 (straight)
- Elements/Groups: 12/10
- Close Focusing Distance: 0.2 m
- Maximum Magnification: 1:7.7
- Mount: Sony-E
You can also have a look at the official page.
A pre production sample of this 15mm 4.0 Asph was kindly provided free of charge by NiSi Optics for reviewing purpose and to give some initial feedback to the manufacturer.
From 2016 to 2018 I have been a NiSi ambassador and received a few filters for free, so maybe crosscheck what I have written with some other trustworthy reviewers (e.g. lenstip or cameralabs) when possible.
Handling / Build Quality
As this is NiSi’s first lens we will of course have a very close look at the build quality and handling aspects, but keep in mind this is a pre-prodcution sample, so there may still be small adjustments made for the final prodution model.
While the lens is not big, it does not follow Laowa’s and Cosina’s trend of making the lenses as small as possible, so it is roughly the same size as the Laowa 15mm 2.0 – and shares its 72mm filter thread – while being 2 stops slower.
The feeling of the materials and rings is similar to that of the Zeiss Loxia lenses, we have a very big focus ring which turns ~100° from the minimum focus distance (20 cm) to infinity and a clickless aperture ring with equidistant stops that rotates ~90° from f/4.0 to f/22.
The lens focuses slightly behind infinity which is normal for modern lenses because of mount tolerances.
The markings seem to be only printed on, not engraved.
A removable lens hood is also part of the package, those that avoided the Laowa 14mm 4.0 or Voigtlander 15mm 4.5 because of their non-removable hoods will surely be glad to hear that.
Of course I cannot tell you much about the longevity of this lens, I can only tell you what it feels like and that would be solid and well made.
Wide open you get roughly 2.3 EV light falloff in the corners of the A7rII sensor (which is 1.5 EV less than the tiny Voigtlander VM 15mm 4.5 II). Stopping down yields little improvement, at f/11 it is still 2.2 EV.
As is the case with many small ultra wide angle lenses there is a bit of green color cast visible in the corners. With normal subjects I did not notice it, but when taking pictures of a snowy landscape or an overcast sky it can become visible.
You can correct this e.g. using corner fix or gradients in Lightroom (latter is what I prefer).
I did not correct any of the sample images for this.
infinity (42mp Sony A7rII)
The NiSi 15mm 4.0 shows a good performance here. Many ultra wide angle lenses show a severe midzone dip which is luckily not the case here and even the extreme corners are usable from f/4.0. The midframe improves slightly on stopping down to f/5.6, corners also look best between f/5.6 and f/8.0.
The Laowa 15mm 2.0 performs better here with slightly higher corner resolution whereas the Laowa 14mm 4.0 showed some issues with field curvature in our review.
I only tested the Voigtlander 15mm 4.5 E on a 12mp camera, so the results are different to compare and there seems to be a noticeable amount of sample variation. A good sample of the Voigtlander may show better corner resolution.
close (0.20m, 1:7.7)
100% crops from center, A7rII
A minimum focus distance of 0.2 m allows you to get really close to your subject, in fact so close, you may be shading it with your lens. Performance is very good from f/4.0, as usual field curvature is higher at these distances so if you are shooting a flat subject stop down a bit.
As always evaluating flare is a complex matter since you can get any lens to look bad if you push it hard enough and a slight change of scenario can affect results a lot.
With the NiSi 15mm 4.0 the performance is a bit of a mixed bag. With the sun inside or just outside the frame you can often find smaller or bigger less obstrusive ghosts somewhere in your picture. Usually not something that will completely ruin your picture, but some lenses (e.g. the Voigtlander 15mm 4.5 SWH E) clearly do better here.
As is the case with most lenses there is one position with the sun in the corner that will result in a big and obvious veiling flare, reframing a little helps here.
One thing to note though: I received the lens hood much later than the lens and thanks to mostly overcast skies I could not test how much the hood helps yet.
At night with strong light sources you may also find small ghosts somewhere in your picture:
I tend to say the performance is not great, but also not as bad as to really make me worry. Still, we have seen better.
100% crops from extreme corner, focused on corner
Coma is well controlled, you can see a small improvement on stopping down to f/5.6 but I wouldn’t mind using it at f/4.0 if necessary.
The lens shows only low but slightly wavy distortion. With architecture subjects this can be visible, so we should hope for someone to create a lens specific correction profile.
50% crops from center, A7rII
NiSi decided to go for 10 aperture blades and similar to the Zeiss Loxia lenses they are also slightly closed at the maximum aperture, so you get sunstars around point light sources even at f/4.0. Generally the sunstars are well defined, if you want to learn more about this topic have a look at this article.
To close this chapter a real world sample with the sun in the frame:
Shallow depth of field photography is probably not the main application of a 15mm f/4.0 lens, but thanks to the minimum focus distance we can get very close to the subject and this changes things.
The bokeh is actually surprisingly smooth and undistracting for an ultra wide angle lens.
In fact, when I posted this picture on our facebook page and let people guess what lens it was taken with many people thought it was taken with a faster lens, 16mm f/1.8 was one of the guesses.
100% crops from extreme corner, Sony A7rII
Not too uncommon for ultra wide angle lenses the NiSi 15mm 4.0 shows a noticeable amount of lateral CA. These are still easily corrected either in camera (for Jpegs) or in a raw developer like Lightroom by one click.
As this is a very wide and rather slow lens longitudinal CA (loCA) are nothing to worry about.
All the current 15mm options for E-mount are covered in our Guide to Ultra Wide Angle Lenses for the A7 Series, therefore I will only pick out a few very obvious alternatives to talk about here.
Voigtlander 15mm 4.5 E SWH III:
Sharpness, resolution and sunstars are similar. The important differences are: the NiSi lens is cheaper, has a removable lens hood, is slightly faster and shows less vignetting, but it is also heavier, bigger and does not transmit Exif data.
buy from CameraQuest | amazon.com | amazon.de | B&H | ebay.com | ebay.de (affiliate links) for $799
Laowa 15mm 2.0 Zero-D FE:
Despite being a full two stops faster this Laowa lens is similarly sized and also features a 72mm filter thread. This 15mm 2.0 also shows slighty better performance at infinity.
Both lenses do not transmit Exif data to the camera.
Downsides of the Laowa lens are the higher price and undefined sunstars (only true for early E-mount versions though, they fixed this in the later ones produced in 2019 and in the Z, RF and L versions).
buy from manufacturer’s online shop | amazon.com | B&H | amazon.de (affiliate links) for $849
Laowa 14mm 4.0 FF RL Zero-D:
This is your smallest option in this focal length range for E-mount. It is also about half the weight and takes 52 mm filters, but unfortunately the non-removable hood ruins the party for filter users. Like the NiSi lens reviewed here there are also no electronic contacts and the price is similar.
The small size also takes it toll: field curvature is high and might be annoying in the field and vignetting is also higher.
buy from manufacturer’s online shop (affiliate link) for $549
As I know many of you just scroll down here let me remind you that this was a pre production sample and there may be slight changes for the final production model.
Sometimes lenses from new manufacturers leave a lot to be desired and lately we have often seen lenses with staggering specs at low pricepoints that ended up not being really useful because too many compromises had to be made.
Luckily this is not the case here, I found the NiSi 15mm 4.0 to be a useful lens that did not disappoint in the field.
I especially like that it was fully usable at f/4.0 (very little field curvature) and that vignetting at this aperture is comparably moderate.
It should be noted though that there is also some competition in this focal length range, so let us discuss how the NiSi 15mm 4.0 fits in here:
First we have the Voigtlander 15mm 4.5 E, it has noticeably higher vignetting, similarly nice sunstars, but is a bit lighter and comes with electronic contacts, better flare resistance and with a 58mm filter thread. For some the non-removable hood may be a no-go though, as it makes using filters significantly harder, it is ~40% more expensive.
Then we have the Laowa 14mm 4.0, a lens that is very small and light but showed some issues with field curvature in our review and again comes with very high vignetting at f/4.0 (about 1 EV higher), no electronic contacts, nice sunstars, 52mm filter thread and a non-removable lens hood, it is similarly priced.
Then we have the Laowa 15mm 2.0, full two stops faster while similarly sized (heavier though), same vignetting at shared apertures, no electronic contacts, not well defined sunstars (early pre 2019 E-mount version) also 72mm filter thread and a removable hood, ~50% more expensive.
None of these options is a slouch, I told you about the differences, choose depending on your applications and budget which would work best for you.
Further Sample Images
Most of the sample images in this review can be found in full resolution here.
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