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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Consider the Strange Beauty of the Fisheye Lens

If you happen to be a Nikon DSLR shooter, are completely bored with all of your lenses and have (roughly) an extra $700 burning a hole in your equipment pocket, the Nikon 10.5mm f/2.8G ED DX Fisheye Lens may be just the lens you need. That's exactly the situation I was in when I bought mine and I have to tell you, as unnecessary as owning a fisheye lens is, it's still a lot of fun--and actually, there are some practical uses (just in case you need to justify owning it to a nit-picking spouse), though you may have to stretch the word "practical" a bit to find them.

The fun part first: The Nikkor 10.5mm fisheye lens is an ultra-wide-angle lens that provides a whopping 180-degree (measured diagonally from corner-to-corner) angle of view and that is far wider than even our own peripheral vision which is about 120-degrees. This is also what's known as a full-frame fisheye lens because it does not provide the cropped circular angle-of-view that some fisheye lenses produce. The result is a wild and distorted (but again, full frame) view of the world that can't be obtained with any other lens. Photos taken with this lens have a curved (bowed) distortion that, combined with the super-wide view, produce some really interesting and, I think, creative images. At the moment I think that Nikon is the only lens manufacturer making a full-frame fisheye and it can only be used on cameras with a DX-size sensor (D80, D90, etc.) and it can't be used on a full-frame DSLR body because it won't cover the field of the sensor.

Another side benefit of such a wide lens is that it has incredible depth of field--you barely have to focus this lens and if you shoot at a mid-range aperture like f/8 or smaller, everything from your feet to the horizon will be in sharp focus. In fact, I shot the frame here at f/6.3 and everything is in sharp focus from the bench that's about a foot from my knee to the far horizon. And, by the way, as you can see here, when you include the horizon in a fisheye shot you get a wickedly curved horizon line that looks like the edge of the earth (which, from where you're standing, is exactly what you're seeing).

OK, so now that you have yourself convinced you absolutely need one of these lenses, what are the practical applications? Because these lenses produce such a super-wide angle-of-view and because they have enormous depth of field, you can use them in tight spaces (like photographing your beautiful newly remodeled bathroom so that you can show it off to the relatives--you see, a perfect argument in favor of owning this lens) to provide very inclusive and very sharp images. You can also photograph large groups of people (like all of your wife's relatives gathered on your front steps--you can see where I'm going with this) without having to back up three blocks.

But won't these images be horribly distorted? Ahh, there's the fun part (oops, this is supposed to be the practical part): there is software available that can correct the distortion and leave you with an optically correct image that still retains the wide-angle-view and great depth of field. The Fisheye-Hemi Plug In from Image Trends is probably the most popular and sells for just $29.95 and works with both Photoshop and Apple Aperture software. Once you've run the image through the software the curved lines and image distortion are totally removed. Neat, eh?

To be honest, as much as I wanted this lens, it sat in my camera bag and was only used infrequently for the first few months that I owned it. Since then, however, I've been carrying it with me everywhere and though it doesn't fit into every situation, it's a ton of fun to have around. It's also a tiny lens physically and will easily fit into a jacket pocket. So if you're hiking it around Manhattan and shooting with all your traditional lenses and then suddenly you run into your spouse's cousin in their brand new car and you want to show everyone just how cool and spacious the backseat is...hey, I'm trying to help you get a new lens here, work with me.

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