Fisheye lenses are useful in confined spaces and are perfect for adding quirky drama to images. Angela Nicholson takes a look at the super-wide world

Fisheye lens

With their 180° angle of view, curving of straight lines and

bulging of close subjects, it’s easy to imagine that fisheye lenses imitate how

a goldfish sees the world through its bowl.

It also means these lenses are

perfect for injecting a bit of fun into your photography. People look

trowel-nosed and loom large against a backdrop that seems to contain an entire

city, while buildings curve and lean dramatically.

Fisheye photography isn’t

necessarily for the purist ‘no-frills’ photographer obsessed with creating an

accurate record of their subjects, but those who enjoy talking an alternative

look at the world can have a ball.

Fisheye lenses are extreme wideangle optics often with an

average effective focal length of around 15-16mm. This means subjects that are

just a few feet away end up looking tiny in the final picture, so the key to

getting maximum impact is to get close and make the most of the exaggerated

perspective and distortion.

Shooting a portrait from above, for example, will

make the person’s head seem huge, while their body is long and thin,

disappearing off to a tiny pair of feet. Small architectural details such as a

gargoyle on a cathedral can be made huge and menacing on the side of the

receding building.

Because of the strong distortion that bends straight lines,

a fisheye lens isn’t the first choice for straight architectural photography,

but it is a great option for adding some surreal drama to shots of buildings

and cities.

The wide angle of view makes a fisheye lens very tempting

for interior shots when space is cramped, but the warping of straight lines may

mean that the result straight from the camera isn’t quite how you intended.

Fortunately, there are several software packages that are able to correct

fisheye distortion to leave a straighter, but slightly cropped image. This

unravelling can also be useful for landscape or seascape images when you may

not want the horizon to be banana shaped.

Circular and diagonal fisheye lenses

There are essentially two types of fisheye lenses: circular and

diagonal.

Circular lenses project the whole image circle within the confines of

the film or sensor frame, giving the effect of looking through a door spyhole,

with the circular image sitting at the centre of a dark surround. These lenses

have a 180° angle of view in all directions, but some photographers are put off

by the circular images.

Diagonal fisheye lenses produce a larger image circle,

so the photographic subject covers the entire frame, albeit with the

distinctive distortion and exaggerated perspective. These lenses tend to be

more popular, although they only capture the full 180° diagonally across the

frame.

 

Compact cameras and adapters

Compact cameras and fisheye adapters

Although the most obvious way to create fisheye images

in-camera is to use a fisheye lens, it’s not the only option and there are

quite a few adapters available that effectively turn a standard lens into a

fisheye optic.

There’s a fairly wide selection available on eBay, but the

origin and quality of the adapters is not always clear.

Some of the better ones

are available from Digital Toyshop (www.digitaltoyshop.co.uk or call 0203 355

7908).

The Besel Super Fisheye, for example, retails for £67.99 and can be

mounted on any lens with a 58mm filter thread (or others via an adapter ring).

Naturally, the image quality isn’t quite the same as with a true fisheye lens,

but it’s an easy way of getting a similar effect.

At £246.49 the Raynox DCR-CF

187 PRO 185º Circular Fisheye Conversion Lens seems rather expensive for a

supplementary lens unit. This bulkier converter is mounted on to lenses via its

62mm thread.

The fisheye effect is also starting to appear in some

compact cameras, including the Canon IXUS 300 HS. In addition,

the Universal Fisheye Lens Kit (£55.24 from Digital Toyshop) can be fitted on to

some compact cameras using the tripod bush. This metal adapter widens the field

of view of the lens to enable fisheye image capture.

Lomo devotees can invest in the Lomo Fisheye, a lightweight

plastic-bodied camera with a 170° field of view for £35 from http://uk.shop.lomography.com.

Good for

  •   Wacky

    portraits
  •   Dramatic cityscapes
  •   Wide

    landscapes
  •   Crowd

    shots

Bad for

  •   Weddings
  •   Straight architectural photography
  •   Still

    life
  •   Product

    shots

Shooting

Fisheye lenses are great fun to use, but there are a few

things to watch out for. The wide angle of view means it’s easy to get unwanted

elements, like the peak of your cap or your feet, in the shot, so it’s

essential to have a look around the edges of the frame before pressing the

shutter release.

It also makes shading the lens difficult, and although most

fisheye lenses come with some form of built-in hood they can only be shallow,

which increases the risk of flare from the sun or artificial lights.

Keeping

the lens spotlessly clean reduces the impact of flare, which can introduce hot

spots and lower contrast. However, sometimes it is unavoidable, so embrace it

as part of the magic of fisheye and use it creatively.

Image shot with a fisheye lens

Subjects may not always appreciate the fisheye look, but these lenses are fun for parties and social events.

Creating portraits with impact can mean getting closer than

some subjects are prepared for, so it pays to warn them what you are up to.

Most people loosen up and get the general idea once they’ve seen a couple of

shots on the camera’s LCD screen.

As fisheye lenses have a very short focal length they

produce extensive depth of field, which is useful in many circumstances.

Nevertheless, it is still important to place the focus point accurately for

top-quality images.

Chromatic aberration can be an issue, especially with zoom

fisheye lenses and adapters, so it is advisable to shoot in raw format to allow

the coloured fringing to be corrected manually.