Why Every Camera Bag Needs A Fisheye Lens

It's all about perspective

It's all about perspective

One of the things I enjoy about looking at someone's photos is when they have a unique perspective that shows a well known landmark in a way you've never seen. Or they create a unique perspective that can't be explained, but you know it's different. Maybe it's the angle they chose, or the lighting, or some combination of settings.

When my wife and I were researching places to visit in Europe we saw a lot of photographs of the Eiffel tower, but they were all similar. Many were beautiful images with the city in the foreground or from the park, but there was nothing extraordinary about them. While looking at these pictures I was curious how the curved support structure would look with a wide angle lens from underneath. It is a picture I wasn't seeing anywhere.

I knew that fisheye lenses distort straight lines into curves, so I wondered how it would show the tower's support structure when it is already curved. To put my curiosity to the test I bought a Rokinon fisheye lens. It is a fully manual 7.5mm f/3.5 lens that cost about $245 new on the micro 4:3 system.

There are fully auto fisheye lenses that both Olympus and Panasonic have available, but you'll spend about $800 for one. They may be a little sharper and they have auto focus functions, but for the price difference I'm not certain they would produce a better image than the Rokinon lens.

I was also curious whether the the curves of the tower would hide the fisheye's distortion. After capturing this shot I looked at the back screen on my camera to see if it looked how I imagined and was happy to see that it did, and was pleasantly surprised that you only see a small bit of distortion at the bottom of the frame.

This unique perspective is why every photographer should carry a fisheye lens in their camera bag.

As a fully manual lens it's easy to nail focus, especially when you use an electronic view finder with focus peaking. The lens is sharp, but if you crop you will notice some chromatic aberration at the edge of lines.

Though fisheye's capture everything in a 180 degree angle, and create an interesting and unique perspective, you need to be careful to not over do it. When you first get one you're amazed at how much it "sees", and you think it's great to get everything in the frame. It's tempting to use all the time, but don't. It's like that ace up your sleeve in a card game. You only play it when you need it, so leave it in your bag 99% of the time.

I bought the lens about 6 months before leaving on our trip so I could get some practice using it. I took a number of different images over that time to learn it's limitations so I would be able to capture the image that I envisioned of the Eiffel Tower. 

Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras

Backyard Oak Tree

Backyard Oak Tree

The other thing I love about shooting with a fisheye is lens correcting software. There are times when I want to shoot ultra wide, but I don't want the curved distorted look. Lightroom can correct for this by removing most of the distortion along with chromatic aberration. With it, you can capture an ultra wide image that looks as though it were taken with a rectilinear lens.

Fisheye lenses are another way to think outside of the box, and you need to think in terms of a wide frame when using one. They can make for a great image with a unique perspective, but as I stated above, leave it in your bag 99% of the time. Though cool, you can over do it.