An Awesome Guide To Fisheye Lenses

By Jason Row / September 30, 2016

Last Updated on by

fisheye lenses

Image by Aurélien

For many of us photographers, they are objects of desire. The key to ultra-wide almost surreal looking images that would look good in anyone’s portfolio. I am talking about, of course, fisheye lenses.

An Awesome Guide To Fisheye Lenses
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Today we are going  to give you the brief 101 on:

  • What they are,
  • Which one to buy, and
  • How to use them.

For the sake of simplicity, we will refer to focal lengths that are 35mm full frame equivalents.

First Up. What Are Fisheye Lenses?

There is no real definition as to where ultra-wides lenses end and fisheyes begin but whilst an ultra-wide will attempt to eliminate or reduce distortion as far as possible, a fisheye will maintain and even embrace it.

The angle of view for a fisheye will start at around 100 degrees and can go out as far as 180 degrees. Typically on 35mm sensors the fisheye lenses are around the 8-10mm length whilst ultra-wides start at about 14mm.

There are in fact two main types of fisheye lenses that we can buy:

  1. The Circular Fisheye, and
  2. The Full Frame Fisheye.

Circular fisheyes are designed to project the image within the confines of the sensor, so what you get is a fully circular image on a rectangular frame.
The full frame fisheye also projects a circular image but in this case, it covers the entire sensor.

An Awesome Guide To Fisheye Lenses

A circular fisheye projects the entire image within the confines of the sensor. By Alby Headrick

An Awesome Guide To Fisheye Lenses

A full frame fisheye covers the entire sensor area. By Ian Sane

The characteristics of fisheye lenses are an ultra-wide field of view and extreme distortion of the image. This manifests itself as straight lines becoming curves and the overall image appearing as if its is projected onto a spherical surface.

In fact, the widest fisheye ever made was a Nikon 6mm. This had a 220 degree field of view, which effectively meant that photographers could see behind themselves.

If you're new to Photoshop, you'll at least want to get some of the basics down with editing outside of Lightroom (a great tool in itself of course). This complete video course by Steele Training will ensure you are prepared for those editing touches you need to get your images just how you want them.

Why Use Fisheye Lenses In Photography?

In other words, why use a lens that creates such pronounced distortion?

  • Well, that distortion is one key factor for using fisheyes. It creates an ultra-wide, image where leading lines can be curved into our subject. The whole spherical feel on such shots can be very easy on the eye.

An Awesome Guide To Fisheye Lenses

Fisheye shots can be very pleasing to the eye. By Dora Hon

  • Another use for fisheye lenses is for shots in very confined spaces. Small interiors can be incredibly difficult to capture at the best of times. By using a fisheye and removing the distortion in post production we can capture very tight spaces and yet allow them to look natural.
  • Another great use of the fisheye is shooting directly up or directly down. In a city street full of skyscrapers, pointing the fisheye straight up can give a dramatic view of endlessly high buildings.Pointing directly down from on high we can capture the minutiae of city life going on below us. The sides of the buildings will lead our eyes down into that city.

An Awesome Guide To Fisheye Lenses

Dramatic shots looking either up or down. By End User

  • Surreal and creative shots are another great reason for owning a fisheye lens. We can exaggerate the normal into something extraordinary and thought-provoking. This works particularly well when exaggerating perspective.
  • With fisheye lenses, it is possible to have the subject a few centimetres from the lens with a background that remains in focus to infinity. This is due to the immense depth of field you get from a fisheye even at the widest apertures.

Shooting with a fisheye can be very challenging. The extreme perspective and distortion requires one to think quite differently from using a more mainstream lens. Check this guide to truly understand the concept of distortion.

If you've used an ultra-wide already, you will adapt more easily to the fisheye way of shooting. One area that can be particularly difficult to deal with is lens flare. The large bulbous front element and wide field of view combine to make controlling the light quite difficult.

Where To Start Looking For Fisheye Lenses

As mentioned above you first need to decide between circular or full-frame versions. There are now quite a few choices for photographers to choose from.

Camera manufacturers such as Nikon, Canon and Pentax all produce fisheyes. Some are designed specifically for the APS-C sensors or even M43 (Micro 4/3 sensors).

Most, if not all of these are full frame coverage lenses. Sigma produces both full frame and circular lenses. Its 8mm f3.5 is the current model but will only produce a circular image on full frame sensors.

An Awesome Guide To Fisheye Lenses

The Nikon 10.5 DX is a good budget option for Nikon users. By yoppy

Samyang are a relative newcomer to the lens business but produce a range of fisheye lenses to suit full frame, APS-C and M43 sensors.

Summary

Fisheyes lenses are not for everyone. They are difficult to use, relatively expensive and only suitable for certain roles.

However, if you are the sort of person that loves getting great images from an ultra-wide lens then a fisheye is just a small step further to go in terms of creativity and technique.

If you're new to Photoshop, you'll at least want to get some of the basics down with editing outside of Lightroom (a great tool in itself of course). This complete video course by Steele Training will ensure you are prepared for those editing touches you need to get your images just how you want them.

Further Resources


About the author

Jason Row

Jason has more than 35 years of experience as a professional photographer. He now concentrates on producing travel stock photography and video from around the world, and you can get to know him better here

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