Fisheye Fun

A fisheye lens is a ultra-wide-angle lens that generally covers a 180-degree angle-of-view. Fisheye lenses are of two types, Full-frame and Circular, depending on the sensor size. The Canon EF 8-15mm F/4L Fisheye USM covers both types: On a full-frame (35mm format), it is circular at 8mm and ‘full-frame’ (image formed is not circular) at 15mm. On APS-C format, it is ‘full-frame’ at both 8mm as well as 15mm. Fisheye lenses were created for scientific photography but are now used as fun lenses. But why are they called ‘fisheye’? Probably because fishes see that way from beneath the water!

Design & Build Quality

The Canon 8-15mm fisheye lens is a L-series lens and, like all L-series lenses, is well built. The body is made from polycarbonate and the front end has a red ring, denoting the lens as L-series. The lens mount is made of metal. A distance scale in meters (in white) and feet (in green) can be seen under a transparent plastic window. The manual focus ring is towards the filter end; the zoom ring is towards the camera body and is marked clearly at 8, 10, 12, 14 and 15mm settings. There is no filter thread — the front element is bulbous.

A gelatin filter holder is at the rear, next to the lens mount. The lens weighs 550g with its supplied flower-shaped bayonet lens hood.

Key Features

The Canon 8-15mm fisheye zoom is constructed with 14 elements in 11 groups that include aspherical and UD lens elements for superior image quality. The lens is water/dust resistant. A special SWC (Subwavelength Structure Coating) is applied to certain elements to reduce flare and ghosting. Further, a fluorine coat is applied to the front and rear elements which allows dust to be wiped from the outside of the lens more easily as compared to earlier lenses. The lens is provided with an Ultrasonic Motor for quick and silent autofocussing. On the left of the lens is the Focus Mode (AF-MF). Adjacent to the zoom ring are two markings — ‘C’ and ‘H’ — that serve as guides to indicate the wide-angle zoom position (with focus set to infinity), where vignetting would disappear when using Canon EOS cameras with APS-C or

APS-H image sensors. On the right of the lens is a zoom -limiter (used only when the lens is mounted on a Canon APS-C camera).

A lens hood is provided. But keep in mind that part of the image will be blocked at certain focal lengths.

Just remove the lens hood when that happens (Canon literature also mentions this). Though this is an extreme wide-angle lens (with enormous depth of field), it is suggested that you first zoom the lens as per your desired angle of view and only then autofocus. Doing otherwise (first autofocussing and then zooming) can affect critical focus.

A gelatin filter holder is provided at the rear of the lens. Gelatin can be cut to size and then inserted into the filter frame. Note that tele-extenders and close-up filters cannot be used with this lens.

Ergonomics

The 8-15mm fisheye zoom is fun to use. Striking compositions can be created by using the lens very close to various elements in the scene but using the lens very close to human faces is guaranteed to start a great big fight! Used carefully (without tilting the camera), it is possible to create incredibly wide (or tall) landscape shots (with some distortion at the edges).

Reading the green distance scale on this lens in feet was quite difficult, especially in low light (but does the distance scale really matter in this case?). As mentioned earlier, the lens hood may have to be taken off to prevent it being seen in the photo when shooting at most focal lengths with a full-frame camera body.

The provided front lens cap can not be attached to the lens unless the lens hood is in place. The front surface of the lens being bulbous, makes it very easy to inadvertently touch the front surface and smudge it. Hence extra care should be taken to avoid this, as a dirty front element can cause loss of contrast and/or sharpness. Canon says that the special fluorine coat that is applied to the front (and rear) element allows it to be wiped more easily as compared to earlier lenses, but it still makes me nervous to do that!

Performance

We had great fun testing (playing around with) the 8-15mm fisheye zoom lens. The lens was mounted on a full-frame Canon EOS 6D body. The closest focussing distance is just over 6 inches (from the focal plane); in reality, the front surface of the lens at the minimum focussing distance is too close for comfort (you don’t want to bang into something and scratch the front surface, do you?), and having anything as close as that would obviously make it distorted. That cannot be labelled as a lens fault; if anything, it would be a user-fault! The depth of field obtained is enormous and this can be used advantageously when shooting landscapes for example.

Autofocus was fast, even in less than adequate light. Because of the great angle of view, care needs to be taken to restrict/avoid bright sky that can cause underexposure, leading to detail-less shadows. The image on the right has the shadow areas ‘opened up’ a bit. The lens does not have image stabilization but frankly, do you need IS for such a lens? Well, may be you do need it for video!

Value for Money

The Canon EF 8-15mm F/4L Fisheye USM lens is available at an MRP of Rs.99,995. It may seem like a lot of money, but do remember that stunning compositions are possible, and you can also correct the distortions using an image editing program.

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