NiSi 15mm f4; NiSi's first lens offering!

NiSi's first lens; 15mm F4

        I can’t say I expected to see a lens from NiSi. I had used their filters perviously; both he V6 and M75 systems which offer the ability to stack multiple filters without any appreciable image quality loss. If previous experience with the companies products is any indication this just might be a great lens. However this is their very first foray into lens production.

All metal construction!

    A little background about myself; I live in the province of Newfoundland on the east coast of Canada, a sparsely populated island in the North Atlantic Ocean. I specialize in photographing people and landscapes, offer a high quality print service and teach photo workshops (when covid allows). Shooting photos has been a passion for several decades and I've been photographing professionally for more than a decade.

        First, full disclosure. NiSi did send me this lens to review. However there was no payment involved and I’m free to write my opinion about the lens. They were kind enough to ask me what I thought of the lens and what feedback I had to offer. 

NiSi 15mm F4 sitting pretty on a Fujifilm XT4.

The lens I’ve been sent is most certainly pre-production. Underneath a paper sticker with printed Chinese characters ‘E-Mount’ is painted on the lens barrel. It looks like a Sony mount lens modified to fit the Fujifilm XF mount. I was told this is the first Fujifilm X mount 15mm f4 from NiSi.

        My methodology for ‘testing’ lenses is not to shoot test charts or brick walls on a tripod at ever aperture and compare the results at 400% on a huge monitor, then show you the results at every aperture from each corner. There are a ton of other reviews out there on this lens that will show you 100% crops and such. I’m more of a ‘take the lens for an adventure, shoot a ton of photos’ and see what unfolds.  And that is exactly what I did.  A bunch of times.

The view from below reveals a simply designed lens.  This is not a bad thing!

        The 15mm f4 is NiSi's first lens offering.  It is a wide angle lens aimed at landscape photographers that is just a touch wider than a 15, a 14.5mm we'll say!  That translates into a 21.75mm equivalent lens on APS-C. It's close to one of my favourite focal lengths (21mm) for landscapes; not too wide and but wide enough!

        When you pick this lens up its metal body and heft instantly give one the impression of the NiSi 15mm f4 being ‘solid’ and well built. Even the lens hood is machined of metal. The lens looks reasonably simple on the outside with just an aperture and a focus ring. 

A depth of field scale is a welcome touch!

        The ‘clicked’ aperture ring feels good in hand. Most of the lenses I've used with aperture rings are Fujinon XF series and GF lenses. The aperture ring feels very different on the NiSi, and in my opinion offers a more premium 'click', if you can call it that. The clicks are smoother with a smooth feeling transition in and out. It's hard to describe the feeling, to be fair! The clicks come at one stop intervals, however you can position the aperture ring where ever you like (1/3 stop or otherwise) as the linkage between the ring and aperture mechanism is mechanical. As for ring stiffness if you were to compare the clicks with an XF lens it would fall somewhere between the very loose aperture rings of the XF14mm f2.8 and some of the earlier primes and the newer XF16-80mm f4 zoom, which takes significant effort to change the aperture. Personally, my preference would be if the ring on this lens was a little stiffer, although it was only once I noticed that I had mistakingly changed the aperture.  

Reasonably simple design!

There are no switches on the barrel of this lens. The focus ring does have a distance scale and it is a very welcome addition. The markings are reasonably accurate when compared to some of the other manual focus lenses I've used. I’m not that accustomed to shooting with a manual focus lens but it was no time before I felt very comfortable focusing the 15mm f4 with confidence. The hard stops on either end of the focus ring made a big difference. 

The lens is not weather resistant.  This means you may have to be a little more concerned about how much precipitation is falling. However, I've always found that I give up photographing due to poor weather before any lens I owned would have issues. If I wanted to stay out longer in inclement weather I'd use a plastic shopping bag to cover the lens. Plus, weather resistance is just that, 'resistance'. I'm not sure that I know of any lens that is entirely impervious to rain!

F8 1/50th ISO 160
The intricate details in these wind pounded trees on the Port au Port Peninsula were a great test to the resolving ability of the lens.  It fared very well while keeping chromatic aberrations down to a minimum.

        All the images presented here were taken with a Fujifilm X-T4 camera.  They were shot as lossless compressed raw files and processed in Capture One.  No vignetting correction or distortion corrections were applied to any of the images.  

f5.6 30 Seconds ISO 160
Home.  Steady Brook.

        Let’s discuss sharpness. The lens is sharp. It’s sharp wide open. It’s sharp stopped down. It’s sharp in the centre and sharp on the periphery. I saw peak sharpness between f5.6 and F8 and changed the aperture more in tune with light levels rather than a need to increase sharpness. Do remember that this is a full frame lens. It’s designed for sensors much larger than the APS-C sized sensors of the X series of Fujifilm cameras. The significance of this is that when you attach the lens to a Fujifilm camera it only uses the centre portion of the lens to render the image.  

F8 1/20th ISO 160
Forest Sentinel

Most lenses are sharpest in the centre portion, show the least amount of light falloff, and generally show less optical flaws mid frame. When you move to the periphery image quality usually starts to break down unless you’ve paid some serious coin for the lens. That really isn’t an issue with the NiSi 15mm f4. It looks almost as good in the corners as it does mid frame! 

F5.6 1/8th ISO 320
Bunker Details.  Barswalos.

       How about vignetting. Is there an elephant in this room? The answer would be a resounding no, at least not when this lens is used on a camera with an APS-C size sensor!  Shoot this lens at f4 and view the image. It looks near identical to an image shot at F11, albeit the dust spots visible in the stopped down image. None of images posted here have any vignetting correction applied in camera or in post. 

F5.6 15 seconds ISO 250
Gravels Walking Trail.  Port Au Port Peninsula. 

F8 1.5 seconds ISO 160
Gravels Shoreline.  Port Au Port Peninsula.

        There are no camera corrections applied in camera for JPEG output as there would be with a typical Fujifilm branded lens. In fact, the camera doesn’t even know a lens is attached as there are no electrical contacts on the lens mount. There is no communication between lens and camera at all so no corrections can be made to the jpeg files. The only corrections I made were for the occasional image that showed longitudinal chromatic aberration. The offending images didn't show much chromatic aberration and you need to zoom into 100% to see any small amount present.

F8 1/125 ISO 320
Container details.  This uncorrected image illustrates the low amount of vignetting.

        Here is something to consider.  The Fujinon XF14mm f2.8 vignettes almost 2.5 stops wide open, 1.8 stops at f4 and 1.5 at f5.6. The NiSi 15mm F4 does vignette about the same amount on a full frame camera but on an APS-C sized sensor we have a different story with very minimal vignetting.

F8 1/125th ISO 160
Largest and oldest wooden structure in Newfoundland.  Our Lady of Mercy Church, Port Au Port Peninsula.

Does this translate to better image quality in the image corners if you (or your software) correct for vignetting? By lifting exposure in the corners to clean up the vignetting you are doing the same as raising the ISO in camera, selectively.  This is an interesting thought I had never contemplated and certainly may demand a little extra investigation.

F8 1/15th ISO160
Forest Detail

        Sunstars. Here is where things get interesting. This lens produces beautiful sunstars wide open at f4 all the way to f22. It almost feels like cheating! This trait is a definite positive when shooting nighttime images with light sources in the frame as you don't have to stop down to F8 or F11 to have sunstars in your images.

There are two reasons why the sunstars are so prominent from this lens; the first is because the aperture blades are straight instead of curved and the second is because there is an even number of aperture blades. This produces very defined sunstars as compared to an aperture made of rounded blades of an odd number. 

F8 1/500th ISO160
The Road to Lourdes, Port Au Port Peninsula

F5.6 60 seconds ISO320
Fishing Stages. MacIvers, Bay of Islands.

The NiSi 15mm F4 does have some competition, especially in native mount Fujifilm lenses. There is the XF 14mm f2.8, the XF16mm f1.4, XF16mm f2.8, and the XF10-24mm F4. I'll compare the XF14 and XF10-24 here. With its ultra fast aperture I feel the XF16mm f1.4 is a different sort of lens, one aimed more at documentary, wedding and reportage. Feel free to disagree!

Size comparison.  From left to right: Fujinon XF10-24mm F4, NiSi 15mm F4, and the Fujinon XF14mm f2.8

        The two lenses that I feel are closest in nature are the XF14mm f2.8 and the XF10-24mm. Both are significantly more expensive than the NiSi 15mm f4 at $899 US and $999 US respectively. Both are very sharp lenses. The 14mm is very well corrected optically and is quite sharp mid frame and the periphery. It is also significantly smaller than the NiSi lens and a stop faster. The XF10-24mm will occupy the most room of any of the three lenses in your camera bag but weighs less than the NiSi 15mm f4.

There is also the XF16mm f2.8 that retails for just $399 US. It’s known for being slightly wider than advertised (more akin to a 15mm than a 16mm) but suffers from a large amount of barrel distortion which means if you correct in post you loose resolution and image corners are significantly less sharp than mid frame. The lens is tiny in comparison though, far lighter and is weather sealed.  

Top down view. From left to right: Fujinon XF14mm f2.8, NiSi 15mm F4, and the Fujinon XF10-24mm F4.  (Note: I use the 14mm in an underwater housing.  The white lettering on the lens facia reflects in the front port of the housing and shows in images, hence the black out via gaffer tape)

        Rendering. Where to begin? I’m probably going to get roasted for stating this but I feel I'm seeing something positive that I can’t describe about the images that this lens produces. I feel the same about just a couple of the other lenses I own, including three Fujinon's; the XF16mm f1.4, XF35mm f1.4 and the XF90mm f2. There seems to be a little 'magic pixie dust' in them all!

F5.6 30 seconds ISO160
Fishing Stages. MacIvers, Bay of Islands. 

F8 2.5 Seconds ISO 160
Gravels walking trail stunted forest.

F5.6 1/14th ISO 1250
Bunker Details.  Barswalos.

F5.6 1/30th ISO 500
'The Door to Hell'

I’ve shot this scene below many times over the years with a host of lenses, including a XF16-80mm f4 on the same evening and I don’t get the same feeling from those images. Is it micro contrast? Is it the sunstars at every light source? Is it sharpness across the frame? Lack of heavy vignetting? A combination of all of those traits? Is it something else? Who knows. I’m not a technical shooter who analyzes every detail but I am fairly in tune with the 'seat of my pants’. When I feel good about something I trust my intuition fully!

f5.6 13 seconds ISO 160
Downtown Corner Brook

        The NiSi 15mm f4 isn't a macro lens but I would not discourage it's use for close up subjects if a wide field of view suits your image design! The lens does focus quite close at just 20 cms (8 inches) from the sensor. One evening while shooting seascapes I looked down at my feet and noticed literally hundreds of fossilized seashells in the giant stone I was stood on. The light was of high quality and at the right angle for a record shot of the fossils underfoot.

F8 1/30th ISO 640
Fossil Details.

        Most don't expect a 15mm ultra wide angle lens to create super pleasing bokeh.  However, at or near minimum focus distance you can get reasonably pleasant bokeh and if you stop down to f8 or f11 things sharpen up well!  I did find the lens was a little soft when shooting up close and near wide open.  

F4 1/200th ISO 160
Bokeh at F4 and minimal focus distance.

F8 1/40th ISO160
Powder Horn Lichen and Moss details.

        If I were to critique this lens I would make a couple of points:

First, the lens hood on my sample did not 'click' in place very well. The click is there but there is no holding power. I’m unsure if that will be fixed in a production unit? I was worried that I would loose the lens hood, as I'll admit, I'm a bit on the rough side and often carry my camera over my shoulder locked down on my tripod head.  I figured if I touched a tree branch in my travels the hood would have fallen off never to be seen again. Fortunately that didn't happen!

F5.6 30 Seconds ISO 320
Marble Mountain Ski Resort and Steady Brook at Twilight.

Second, the mark to align the lens with the lens mount is on the metal of the lens mount where it is difficult to distinguish from the screws that hold the lens mount in place. That’s a fairly common practice among manufacturers. However, I don’t think it’s a good choice. I found that as the light started to wane I had a hard time aligning the marks on the lens with the camera mount. I wish there was a small mark on the outer barrel to help with alignment. My close up vision has gone south these past few years and I can use all the help I can get!

Third, flare. There can be significant ghosting flare and a reduction in contrast when you aim the lens directly at a strong light source, such as the sun. The lens is also subject to veiling flare. I only encountered it a few times when shooting in bright sun but when the sun was outside the frame and hit the front lens element I noticed that a lot of contrast washed out of the image. An easy remedy was to use my hand to shield the lens from the sun.

F8 1/70th ISO 160
This image illustrates a few things; close up details, flare with sun in frame and background bokeh at a close focus distance.

Fourth, the lens seems to suffer from a touch of moustache distortion which is more difficult to correct in post than the typical barrel distortion seen in ultra wide angles lenses. 

F8 10 Seconds ISO 160
Boat Launch.  MacIvers, Bay of Islands. 

Fifth, (this is just me 'nit picking') like near every other lens I wish I could see where I’ve focused without using a light to see the focus ring in the darkness.  I'd love to see a lit digital display of focus distance or letters that glow in the dark.  

        Most of of my 'issues' with the NiSi 15mm f4 aren't really all that bad and most could be worked around easily enough.  Only two of them have anything to do with image quality.  I do wish this were a f2.8 lens designed for APS-C sized sensors. That isn’t a design flaw though, but instead a design decision. Hopefully NiSi has great success with the 15mm f4 and their lens lineup expands! Fingers crossed! 

        To summarize my thoughts on the NiSi 15mm f4 I am more than impressed with this lens for landscape use. When mounted on my Fujifilm X series cameras it produces sharp and contrasty images across the frame and into the corners without a lot of vignetting, all the while producing images of great character! The build quality seems near excellent and not having electronics may be in it's favour when it comes to longevity.  It is exceptionally easy to produce images with sunstars, even at wide open apertures. I thought initially would take backseat to my work horse landscape lenses but this lens will most certainly be one that I reach for often!


F8 25 Seconds ISO 160
Port Au Port Peninsula Coastline.  

f5.6 1.3 Seconds ISO 160
Gravels Walking Trail, looking West.

F8 1/200th ISO 160
Bunker. Barswalos.  

F8 1/30th ISO 160
Bunker Details

F8 1/100th ISO 160
North to Black Duck Brook.

F8 1/125th ISO 160
Boarded up home.  Lourdes. 

F5.6 1 Second ISO 160
Port Au Port Peninsula Shoreline

f8 1.5 seconds ISO 160
Port au Port Peninsula Shoreline

F5.6 1.5 Seconds ISO 160
Port au Port Peninsula Shoreline. 

F5.6  10 Seconds ISO 160
Gravels Walking Trail. Port Au Port Peninsula. 


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