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The Sigma 8mm Fisheye Lens
Fisheye, the widest lens choice, offers a tremendous creative potential.
Find out what you can do and what you need to know about fisheye lenses.
I am addicted to wide-angle photography, its creative challenges and opportunities. Wide-angle lenses require rethinking your composition constantly. Eliminating clutter with a normal lens usually entails leaving it out of your frame, thus simplifying your composition. This is rarely possible with wide-angle lenses. Instead, you take advantage of their perspective, making distant objects very small. Eliminating clutter thus, requires moving around and changing your composition continually.
I like this kind of photography. It forces me to reconsider all my compositions and puts me on a much steeper learning curve. I also love the resulting pictures, since they differ so much from the way we see the world with our own eyes.
Telephoto lenses are creativity inhibitors. Photographers at sports events never move. They “only” have to frame and shoot. Everyone can get the same shot, even when they stand a few feet apart. Creativity then boils down to the right moment and the right subject.
Looking for new ways to expand my creativity, I rented a Sigma 8mm lens and took it with me to San Francisco for the weekend. I rented my lens online from Borrow Lenses. The easy and painless process convinced me to rent my lenses before buying any of them from now on.
The Sigma 8mm EX DG Fisheye lens has a remarkable field of view that lets you capture very wide images. I took this set of pictures in my backyard, comparing the 8mm focal length of the spherical fisheye to my Tokina 12mm lens, my favorite wide-angle choice, and a few others.
Comparing the Fisheye to the already super-wide Tokina lens, you can begin to understand how wide the Sigma lens really is.
I was excited to find out how this lens would feel in the city and how I could use its space warping properties to my advantage.
Day One: First Steps
The lens dazzled me with its super wide angle, when I discovered the odd mechanism of the lens cap. Removing the cap like you would on any other lens, still leaves the lens hood type of attachment on the lens. Leaving the cap on the attachment and pulling on the entire assembly removes the hood. Here is the product shot again:
On the left, you can see the cap with the lens cap adapter. On the right, you can see the lens. The adapter caused harsh vignetting, limiting the image circle severely. This was an easy mistake to make. Fortunately, I caught it almost immediately. Opening up the lens fully, reveals that the glass actually extends beyond the metal barrel, a requirement of the extreme field of view. This is also the reason the lens cannot accept a straight lens cap or filter of any kind.
I took a series of photographs in San Francisco’s Mission Dolores (Mission San Francisco de Asis). Here is one of the first photographs I took.
I was still thinking in terms of rectilinear lenses. I wanted to achieve a wider angle, giving little credence to the spherical distortions.
To find out if I could correct the distortions at the computer, I deliberately picked a subject where they would be evident very clearly. When I got home, I ran the image through PTLens, moving the sliders until everything looked visually correct.
The cropped image is usable, but the process stretches the corners. Cropping the right and left edges would leave me with an image similar to one the Tokina lens takes at 12mm.
I went to a few other locations on day one, including the Yerba Buena Gardens shown in the first picture of this article, where I chose to annoy guests at the tea lounge.
Interestingly, a fisheye lens opens up possibilities for the shy street shooters among you. With a lens this wide, you can aim far away from your subjects, while still including them. The distortions can even enhance the feeling of the picture.
Day2: Changing my Focus
My goal this day was to take advantage of the lens properties instead of trying to correct its “imperfections”. On my excursion to Alcatraz, I learned that this lens is terrifically adapted to photography in very confined spaces, when you need to include as much of the surroundings as possible.
The distortions of this picture make the room look much deeper than it actually is. Furthermore, you can see that the lines that radiate from the center outwards remain straight. You can use this to your advantage if you need to exaggerate the depth of an object while keeping its rectangular appearance.
Later that day I went to the Embarcadero Center to try out another idea.
Curved objects look especially appealing through the fisheye lens. The extreme distortions seemingly enhance the object and bend straight lines around it like a black hole bending light.
Additionally, you can use a fisheye lens to create curves. Photographing architecture, while pointing the lens upwards, creates weird looking images, with buildings bending inward as if they were made of gelatin.
Celestial photography is yet another aspect where fisheye lenses shine. You can capture the entire sky in a single photograph. If you position your camera near an interesting looking tree stump or rock, it will bend their features, creating an alien sky.
Love it or hate it! I have not yet made up my mind, but I do absolutely love the creative choices with round objects and cramped spaces. I also like the organic feeling of these pictures. The closer you get to your subject, the more distorted it will appear. The further something is from the center of the image, the more distorted it will be. This adds a completely new dimension to your creativity, something I will explore further in the future.
Just as wide-angle photography takes effort to master and challenges the photographer, a fisheye requires work and much more practice to understand it.
I intended to do celestial photography todnight, but since the sky is overcast, I will instead show you my cat through the Sigma Lens.
I did not correct these images. I simply cropped left and right to eliminate the black border.
Borrow then buy
You can rent a lens at Borrow Lenses. They are a reputable company and have great prices. I usually buy my gear on Amazon.
The kind folks at Amazon and Borrow Lenses share a tiny portion of their profits with me when you use the links above to buy from them. This helps me pay for the white space to share articles like this one with you, and for the coffee I drink while writing on long dark nights. The price for you will not change, but I appreciate the space and coffee. Thanks!
You can get an additional 5% off from Borrow Lenses when you enter this coupon: TECH5