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Up Close And Wide!

How to get the most from your fisheye lens
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This Article Features Photo Zoom
Nikon AF DX Fisheye-Nikkor 10.5mm ƒ/2.8G ED

Apparently, a fisheye lens is how a fish actually sees the world from its bowl. We humans also use fisheye lenses to capture extreme wide angles not possible with any other lens. I’ve always been afraid to use a fisheye lens in the past because of the distortion factor—now that I own one, I’m singing another tune.

What Makes A Fisheye Unique?
Besides the strange name, a fisheye lens takes a 180º field of view (more information than the human eye can see), offering a unique perspective to your image. To a full-frame D-SLR (or a 35mm-film SLR), a 20mm is as wide as you can get before curvature sets in. In digital, anything wider than 12mm is fisheye territory.

Controlling The Distortion
The curvature of the fisheye causes straight lines to become distorted in the frame. The more straight lines you have, the greater the effect. Shooting from a lower angle often also enhances the distortion. If you want that distortion, that’s fine, but if you want to minimize it while still getting the extreme wide-angle field of view, you can use software to reduce or eliminate much of the curvature.

For example, both Canon and Nikon have software that “transforms” a 180º angle to a 110º angle of view. I use Nikon Capture NX 2 software’s Fisheye-to-Rectilinear feature to decrease the intensity of the distorted perspective. There’s a trade-off when reducing the distortion with software, though, in that you’re also reducing the angle of view. Once the software does its thing, the end result looks more like it may have been shot with a 16mm lens. This becomes a subjective preference, as you may or may not want the full fisheye look.

Another, nonsoftware way of eliminating the distortion is to shoot more directly straight on or back up until the “bending” disappears. The closer you get, like all wide-angle lenses, the greater the distortion.

Depth Of Field
There’s no lens that has a larger depth of field than a fisheye. When shooting a landscape, everything is in sharp focus. Focusing as close as six inches or as far away as infinity, the depth is almost endless. For example, with my Nikon AF DX Fisheye-Nikkor 10.5mm ƒ/2.8G ED lens at a camera-to-subject distance of one foot, my depth of field is from five inches to infinity when stopped down to ƒ/22. At a camera-to-subject distance of 10 feet, I can shoot from 4.3 feet to infinity at ƒ/2.8!

For landscapes or seascapes, I usually want everything in focus. The incredible depth pulls the viewer into a distant mountain range, a panoramic view of the beach or a huge flock of birds. The distance is accentuated in fisheye, making objects appear farther away than they seem.

Fisheyes For Fun
For a humorous effect, move a fisheye in as close as possible. All wide-angle lenses distort features, but a fisheye increases that distortion dramatically. Use the distortion and its magnification properties by getting closer to your subject. You’ll see the results immediately—if they’re too extreme, move farther back; if not pronounced enough, get closer.

Choosing A Fisheye
When selecting a fisheye, do you want something extremely wide or something only mildly so? Fisheye zooms like the Tokina AT-X AF DX Fisheye 10-17mm ƒ/3.5-4.5, for example, give you the options because you can zoom in to eliminate the distortion. When making a selection, check out the following: the field of view, speed, maximum and minimum aperture, number of elements, minimum focusing distance and construction. My Nikon 10.5mm lens has 10 elements and weighs less than a pound. For a really pronounced fisheye effect, check out the Sigma 4.5mm ƒ/2.8 EX DC Circular Fisheye HSM.

Having a fisheye lens in your bag is much more than a novelty item. Sure, you can have fun with the lens, but there are many occasions where it’s really the only lens for the shot. Knowing how to get the best from yours will have you bringing back photographs that make your viewers pause and take notice. Just don’t get your feet in the shot!

Chuck Gloman
is an awarding-winning director of photography, with more than 800 commercials to his credit, as well as the program director of the TV/Film Department and a member of the faculty of DeSales University. He may be reached at [email protected].