Fisheye Lens – Worth the money???

I bought a fisheye lens a few years ago on an impulse. I didn’t really have a use for it and the time and the real reason was I thought it might be fun to play with at the time. It was too. The severe distortion created an interesting effect at first before I grew tired of it quite quickly. My wife in particular hated me using it on her. Close-ups of a person’s face can be very unflattering.

When I first bought the lens I used it mainly on my 20D. With a crop sensor the distortion is a lot less noticeable than on a full frame body such as the 5D. On the 20D it behaved much more like a super wide lens. Here’s an example from one of my images made with this lens, the EF15 f/2.8 Fisheye. The horizon in the original image was virtually undistorted and so easily corrected with the warp tool in PhotoShop.

Bournemouth Beach - 15mm Fisheye Lens
15mm fisheye lens view of Bournemouth Beach

(Incidentally, this image is also available as a greeting card, here.

This lens only really comes into its own when used on a full frame body such as the 5D series. It’s the only way that you’ll really see the true effect of using this type of lens unless you have a fisheye designed for a crop body of course 😉 It’s definitely in the novelty lens category and although I don’t use it that often, when used in the right situation it is very effective. Mine has paid for itself several times over so it has been very useful.

Floor to Ceiling with the Fisheye Effect

A few weeks ago I was commissioned to make some images in the Elvetham Hotel. It’s a lovely venue and inside there is a magnificent staircase. At the time, the staircase was dressed for a wedding and the hotel wanted images to show future brides. One of the first frames I took is shown in the next image. It was made with the EF16-35f2.8L lens. It’s not a great shot as I was really just dialing in the exposure (0.8s, f/9.0, ISO100) but the client remarked when she saw it that she’d never seen a picture of the staircase that also included the ceiling. That got me thinking and I suggested trying the fisheye.

EF16-35 f/2.8L at 16mm
EF16-35 f/2.8L at 16mm

Luckily I’d remembered to bring it with me so I dusted it off (yes I do use it that infrequently!!) and made the shot below. You can really see the exagerated distortion in this image and to the client’s amazement it also included most of the ceiling. The image she selected was actually shot vertically with the fisheye and from a different viewpoint but these two images give a much better comparison. They’re both shot from the same exactly the same viewpoint.

EF15 f2.8 Fisheye
EF15 f2.8 Fisheye

Incidentally, one thing I should point out here was that despite being a white room it was incredibly dark with a mixture of different lightsources – daylight, tungsten and flourescent. Hence the difference in colour at different parts of the image.

This was the first occasion since purchasing the lens that I’d really made a commercial image that the client bought. In fairness I hadn’t used it much up to that point and even then only because the client was more interested in seeing the lens rather than the resulting image.

The Fisheye Meets the Pod…

The Pod - A Spherical Shed
The Pod – A spherical Shed

A couple of weeks later I was booked to photograph the most unusual garden office one could imagine. It was basically a spherical shed with a gullwing door. The client needed images for a new brochure he was producing and wanted something different to the classic ‘man at desk’ image. He’s an IT consultant and one of his unique features is his working environment. As you can see from the image above, it’s very different from every other garden office. It’s also difficult to photograph to really show off it’s shape.

This is where the fisheye comes in. The extra field of view that 180 degrees afford together with the strong distortion of the lens really help to make this image work. Keeping the subject in the centre of the frame and not too close minimises the distortion on him.

Inside the Pod (Fisheye Image)
Inside the Pod (Fisheye Image)

In conclusion: is the Fisheye worth the money?

On the whole I’d have to say no. I bought mine as a reconditioned unit back in 2008 for about £430. It was an impulse purchase and wasn’t something I used very much to begin with. As lenses go, it’s the cheapest I own. It’s proved useful on several occasions over the last few years and has more than paid for itself.

It’s a novelty or gimmick lens rather that makes novelty and gimmicky images. It’s something to bring out from time to time if the opportunity presents itself especially as it’s a great talking point as most people hve never seen one.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this piece of kit, especially if you own one or are thinking of purchasing the newer replacement, the EF8-15 Fisheye.

Leave a comment below and let me know how much you’ve used yours and on what occasions.

Speak soon,

UPDATE — 27th April, 2015

Since I wrote this article, almost two years ago now, this lens has actually paid for itself. Only just but nevertheless, it’s creeping up. Was it a good investment? Probably not but it is a fun toy to have on a few rare occasions every year. It’s been used for architecture, weddings, portraits and commercial assignments. Staircases look amazing when shot straight up and alwys gets a WOW from the property owner.



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