Fisheye Camera Lens

Playing with a fisheye camera lens can bring a whole new dimension to your digital photography.

What is a Fisheye Lens?

A fisheye lens gives you the ability to to capture a wide angle image with a very large field of vision. To achieve this, it uses a hemispherical shape, like the eye of a fish, to capture an extensive radius. In an image taken with a fisheye camera lens, the center appears relatively normal but the outer elements of the photograph are extremely distorted.

Photo Credit: Altus

The Difference between a Fisheye Lens and a Wide Angle Lens

It's important to understand the difference between a fisheye lens and a regular or ultra wide angle lens.

The main difference is that a wide angle has corrective lens elements that corrects distortion, while a fisheye camera lens doesn't. Images taken with a fisheye lens have an extreme 180 degree angle of view and the photograph is characterized by 'barrel distortion'. The angle of view of a wide angle lens is less than that of a fisheye lens of the same focal length.

Types of Fisheye Lenses

Make sure that you choose the right type of fisheye lens for your needs. There are two types of fisheye lenses: Diagonals and Circulars.

A diagonal fisheye is often preferred as they map 180 degree angle of view “diagonally” across your frame's sensor so that the image area is filled in with pixels. This is why diagonals are often called 'full frame fisheye lenses.'

A circular fisheye has a much shorter focal length than diagonals do and creates a circular image centered within your camera's frame. For a full frame camera, you need a focal range of 8 - 10mm. If you use a digital camera with an APS-C sized sensor, a fisheye lens with a focal range of 4 or 5 mm is required.

Tips and Techniques for Using a Fisheye Lens

  1.  Purchase the right lens for the right sensor size. Most digital SLR owners shoot with the APS-C sized sensors with a crop factor of 1.5x -1.6x times. For instance, if you bought a Canon 15mm full frame diagonal for your Canon 7D because you wanted to create some cool fisheye images, you would be very disappointed with the Canon fisheye lens. What you end up with instead is a wide angle lens with an effective focal length of 24mm. (15mm X 1.6 = 24mm). To achieve the “fisheye effect” you would need a lens with a focal length of between 8 or 10mm.

    The general guideline is that if you're shooting with a full frame camera like the Canon 5d Mark II or Nikon D700, you will need a lens with a focal length of between 15 or 16mm. If you are using a camera that has the APS-C sized sensor, then you need somthing in the 8 to 11mm range.
  2.  Select scenes that will be enhanced by the fisheye effect in the final image, for example architectural shots. You can get a real wow-facture when capturing large buildings or fields of flowers. Use it to isolate a single person in a crowd - this can look spectacular when shot from above.

  3.  Be super creative. The huge field of view means you can get very unusual perspectives on small or inaccessible spaces. Or use a fisheye lens to create a humorous effect, for example an extreme close-up of a farm animal's face.

  4.  Think about the composition of your shot. Consider carefully what you would like to feature prominently in the foreground and what can be used to frame the background. An example is a focus on lavender flowers in the foreground framed by hills or mountains in the background.

  5.  Note any lines in the scene and make sure that straight lines are centred in the frame. Remember that a fisheye lens distorts anything off center, so the only lines that will appear perfectly straight are those in the middle of the image. The further away the line travels from the center, the greater the distortion will be.

  6.  Zoom out to increase the circular distortion in your image. At full extension, the fisheye lens creates a round image, drawing side elements inward and compressing the outside elements in the circle.

  7.  Reduce the focal length to use the fisheye lens as a wide-angle lens. The shorter the focal range, the less distortion there will be in the final image. When zoomed all the way in, your fisheye lens can double for a wide-angle lens, but be prepared to accept some barrel distortion towards the edges of the image.

    The fisheye lens is not only versatile, you can have a great deal of fun with it. So go out and play!

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