The Fisheye Lens


Choosing the Right Camera Lens


Lesson Info

The Fisheye Lens

One of the most fun lenses in the entire collection of lenses, is the fisheye lens. When I first learned about this, I was like, wow, I gotta get myself one of these one of these days. And I have had a fisheye lens in my collection of tools, lens tools, almost my entire photographic life. I don't use it that much, I have to admit, because it's a very, very specialized lens. But in the right places, it's the perfect lens. Now normally when you photograph straight lines, those straight lines are gonna come out straight in all directions. But with a fisheye lens, it is gonna cause these lines to bend around. And it's a very big difference compared to the corrected lines that we have of a rectilinear lens. And so most lenses are rectilinear. They're gonna render straight lines as straight. And the fisheye is this uncorrected wide-angle lens. So let's see what this looks like in the real world. Now this is a standard modestly wide-angle lens, 35 millimeters. Now we're gonna be measuring fro...

m corner to corner. As we put on a wider angle lens, we're down in the range of ultra wide at this point, 93 degrees from corner to corner. And you'll notice the straight lines on the building are straight, indeed, here. But when we switch over to a fisheye lens, we're gonna start curving various lines around the center point around. We gain quite a bit of angle of view. We now see 180 degrees from corner to corner, and those straight lines are now gonna be bending around that center line. Now you can take this even further into what is known as a circular fisheye, and that's because it projects a circular image on your frame, and you're gonna get these dark corners, but it can see 180 degrees in all directions. There are very few manufacturers that have circular fisheye lenses out there, but they are available and they are very hard to use, you might say. So we're gonna talk mostly about the full frame fisheyes, but there is a variety of options available. From Canon and Nikon, they have some zoom fisheyes which are pretty much fairly new on the market. So the Canon and the Nikon both have and eight to 15 millimeter zoom lens, and this is designed to get a full frame use out of the lens, whether you're on a full frame or a crop frame. The ability to zoom back and forth allows you to get a full image of fisheye wideness on both their small and their large size sensors. If you have the full size sensor, you can actually get down to a circular fisheye which sees 180 degrees in both directions. Nikon still has their 10.5 out, which is a fisheye specifically designed for their DX sensor. Good lens, gonna be a little bit less money than the new eight to 15. Sony has one, but it needs an adapter because it was designed for their older SLR system. We don't see it with Fuji, yet, and Olympus has a new one out that's very fast. It's the fastest of the fisheyes at f/1.8. And Panasonic has one, as well, and it's one of the smallest ones you'll find out there. All right, let's take another look at what the fisheye lens does. So here we are at 50 millimeters, and let's zoom back. We are at Horseshoe Bend in Arizona. And this is a place where using a wide angle lens is really helpful if you want to get the whole thing in. And let's go all the way down to fisheye, and let's bring in the crop lines of what we saw with all those different lenses. And you can see how it is distorting our subject a little bit, lines are bending, things are a little bit funny, but we do have a tremendous angle of view from side to side. Now if you do get a fisheye lens, there's a good chance that you're gonna be like me and you're going to overuse it at first. It's kind of fun just to throw it out there and start taking pictures of everything in fisheye. But after you've kind of overindulged in it, you're gonna start seeing that it has its place in photography. Now this is an example of what I don't like in a fisheye lens. This is not really a great use of a fisheye lens. The outside of a building, it curves all these lines that are designed to be straight, and so I don't know that this is the best way to photograph the outside of the building. It might be fun just to have a different point of view, and if that's what you want to do, nothing wrong with that. I thin this works out a lot better when you get to the inside of a building and you're trying to show as much from side to side. It doesn't seem to distort quite as much. It is still distorted, there is no doubt about it. But I find it better in big indoor arenas. Although this is outdoor, and yes you can use it outdoor for a fun effect to be able to see an entire area. In some cases, this lens might be referred to as the skateboard lens. It's where you can get up very close to somebody skateboarding, and if you're practically right on top of them, shooting with the motor drive, you can get a nice series and feel like you're right a part of the scene. One thing that you probably won't want to do too much is doing portrait photography with the fisheye lens. It's just not real flattering to your subjects. It might be good for just having a fun old time, though. And so one of the things that I found most helpful in the fisheye, is if you are trying to hide the curve. Because there is a curve to fisheyes, and you can hide it. So let me show you how you hide the curve. This is a fisheye shot. This is actually a video shot in fisheye. And you can see the horizon is level. Ads I turn it, the horizon stays level, until I start to tip the camera up and down. And you can see that rubber band effect of the horizon bending around the center point of the frame. Any lines going through the middle of the frame, like the center line of the road, will remain straight. But anything that is far away from it, will tend to bend. And so if we're here on the steps, which are straight, we're gonna get a bent line. If we put the horizon down at the bottom, we're gonna get this curved horizon which looks very unusual. If you put the horizon through the middle of the frame, like I did here in a couple of classic John Greengo shots, these are shot from about 30 years ago, the horizon is kind of invisible and you don't necessarily know that it's a fisheye shot. When you're in a kind of a round environment, like this cave, you put the horizon through the middle, there isn't a lot of telltale signs that it's a fisheye lens. One of my favorite places to use it is at a large stadium that has curved seating. The seating is already curved, and the lens has distorted it a little bit, but it's hard to tell how much it has it curved here. And in an aquarium where you have a nice, rounded surface, so any time in a domed stadium, a fisheye lens is gonna be very natural in that environment. Or anyplace that does not have a lot of natural straight lines. And so in Slot Canyons, there is gonna be a variety of curved lines. The fisheye lens is gonna curve them in a slightly unusual manner, but it's gonna be really hard to tell what that looks like in the real world versus in the photograph. So as I say, these lenses are a lot of fun and you can use them in a lot of different ways. When I was coaching a cross country team, they'd get together and do this big chant, so I decided to stick my camera on a monopod, with a fisheye lens, right above them because I wanted to get a perspective that was different, and there's a lot of them in a very tight space. And so getting really close with the wide angle lens gets you right in close to the action. And so if you can get yourself very close to the action, you kind of have to, because the fisheye lens makes everything so small. They are so wide angle, you need to be able to get in really, really close. And so it can be a lot of fun when you want to give a different point of view, a different look, to your subjects. Here's another place where I think I did a good job at hiding the curve. All the straight lines run through the middle of the frame. They go from the outside right to the middle of the frame. So by carefully positioning the lens, I am ending up with a lot of straight lines. You have to be careful with humans and faces towards the edge of the frame, because it's gonna distort them. But if they're towards the middle of the frame, they're not gonna be distorted very much, at all. And so large, round rooms are a great place for using a fisheye lens. Now in this particular room, it has a round ceiling, and so I thought this would be a very good place to use a circular fisheye. And this is what happens when you point a lens straight up with a circular fisheye lens. Now the circular fisheye is very challenging to work with because you end up with a round image. And round images are a little difficult to work with, but once again, it's a fisheye, which means all of the lines running through the middle of the frame, are straight. All the books in the middle of the frame are straight, and the shelf in the middle is straight. And what a full frame fisheye does is it simply captures the area in the middle of the frame, compared to a circular which just captures a circular. And when we say full frame fisheye, it's a little confusing because this came around a long time before digital and this has nothing to do with what size frame you are shooting, whether it's a crop frame or a micro four thirds or anything like that. Full frame means that you get image on all of your pixels. The circular fisheye is a very, very challenging lens to work with, because you need to find things that are interesting all around you, 180 degrees. I have not worked with them all that much, but I have found that I think staircases seem to be a good place to use these fisheyes. One of my favorite at a college here in Seattle has a double spiral staircase. I mounted the camera on the floor, pointing straight up. If you look carefully, I'm hiding behind one of the pillars off to the side, because I had to use the self-timer, because everything around it got in the photograph. But that's what you can do with a circular fisheye. And so these are a great type of lens to rent. And so there are a lot of rental places that you can get lenses for a weekend, and it's the type of thing that you can go out, have a lot of fun over the weekend, and it's not the type of lens that everybody needs to have all the time, but it is definitely a lot of fun, and you're probably gonna definitely want to try one out at least sometime in your photographic career.

Class Description

Once you’ve chosen the camera of your dreams, how do you know which lens will maximize your camera’s capabilities? Join camera expert John Greengo as he explains what the best lenses are to add to your camera bag. He’ll explain:

  • Which lens is best for specific areas of photography
  • The technology behind lenses
  • How to use specialty lenses including macro and fisheye
  • Tips on operating and maintaining your lenses

John will also talk about lens accessories including hoods, mounts, filters, and teleconverters. By the end of this class, you’ll understand exactly what lens you’ll need to take your best photos!


Boris Dimitrov

Excellent class packed with incredibly useful knowledge. John is an amazing lecturer. He has also developed really great materials to help explain all the concepts and technologies that are explored in the class. Looking forward to my next class with him!

a Creativelive Student

Great class. So informative. John Greengo is such a fantastic tutor and explains everything in such and easy-to-understand way. I would highly recommend this class. Prior to doing this class, I was so confused about which lenses are best for various photography. Now I understand lenses completely. Thanks John!

Lettie Turner

Another great JG class, my 4th. He gives a lot of individual attention to several popular lens brands. I really think after seeing this video series you could pick out three lenses that would fit your needs and your pocketbook. The class handout is spot on for what is covered in the video. Great job!! Thank you