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09.27.2012

by David FitzSimmons

The 4.5mm F2.8 EX DC Circular Fisheye features:

  • For use with smaller chip APS-c cameras only
  • The circular field of view produces striking images with exaggerated perspective of near subject & extreme barrel distortion of the surrounding area
  • The minimum focusing distance of 5.3 inches & a magnification ratio of 1 to 6 allows subjects to be as close as ¾ of an inch from the lenses’ front element.

The 8mm F3.5 EX DG Circular Fisheye features:

  • Designed for use with full frame digital SLR cameras. Produces striking images with exaggerated perspective of near subjects and extreme barrel distortion of the surrounding areas
  • Super Multi-Layer lens coating reduces flare & ghosting & assures high image quality throughout the entire zoom range
  • The minimum focusing distance of 5.3 inches & a magnification ratio of 1 to 4.6 allows subjects to be as close as ¾ of an inch from the lens’ front element.

If you are looking for a lens that opens the door to greater creativity, then shoot with a circular fisheye lens. In fact, no other lens offers such a unique view of the world—fully half of it—like a circular fisheye.

The super-wide view and unique round image produced by circular fisheye lenses make them fun photographic tools. Try having fun creating starburst effects by using a small aperture and positioning the sun behind flowers, such as this wild lupine at the North Kingsville Sand Barrens (a nature preserve of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History), Ashtabula County, Ohio, USA. Sigma 4.5mm F2.8 EX DC HSM Circular Fisheye, Nikon D2X. f/11, 1/500 sec., ISO 400. Handheld. Processed in Adobe Photoshop, NIK Viveza and Sharpener Pro plug-ins applied. © David 2012 FitzSimmons. All rights reserved.

Of course, we’ve all used a circular fisheye lenses at one point or another, but not necessarily on a camera: more than likely you first experienced circular fisheyes while peeping through a door to see who’s knocking.

The initial reaction of most people who gaze through a circular fisheye lens is, “Wow!” This is followed by a realization of just how much distortion these round-image lenses create. To be sure, taking pictures with a circular fisheye requires “outside the box” thinking.

The distortion of the tree trunks near the edges help frame the main subject, a huge coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) near the center. Bolling Grove, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California, USA. Sigma 4.5mm F2.8 EX DC HSM Circular Fisheye, Nikon D2X, Gitzo G2228 tripod. f/8, 1/13 sec., ISO 100. Eight RAW images processed in Photomatix Pro, Adobe Photoshop CS5, NIK Viveza and Sharpener Pro plug-ins applied. © David 2012 FitzSimmons. All rights reserved.

A true circular fisheye lens captures light from 180 degrees in every direction, that is, literally half the world around you. The optics in a circular fisheye bend lines quite a bit in order to fit everything into the signature circular image, so some subjects are better suited than others. Subjects with one straight line near the middle, objects comprised of curves, and symmetrical scenes work quite well.

Images with mirror symmetry and many curves, such as this delightful fountain at Kingwood Center, Mansfield, Ohio, often work well when using circular fisheye lenses. Richland County, Ohio, USA. Sigma 8mm F3.5 EX DG Circular Fisheye, Nikon D800E. f/5.6, 1/1000 sec., ISO 200. Processed in Adobe Photoshop CS5, NIK Viveza and Sharpener Pro plug-ins applied. © David 2012 FitzSimmons. All rights reserved.

The first thing to pay attention to is the most fundamental principle of circular fisheye lenses: the closer a line gets to the edge, the more it gets distorted. Distortion in this case means taking a straight line and making it more and more curved. For example, if you point a circular fisheye lens straight up, the straight line of the horizon will become a continuous circle around the outer edge of the image.

Pointing a circular fisheye lens upward allows the horizon to encircle central subjects, here a camellia at Eden Gardens State Park, Watlon Co., Florida, USA. Sigma 4.5mm F2.8 EX DC HSM Circular Fisheye, Nikon D2X. f/16, 1/400 sec., ISO 400. Eight RAW images processed in Photomatix Pro, Adobe Photoshop CS5, NIK Viveza and Sharpener Pro plug-ins applied. © David 2012 FitzSimmons. All rights reserved.

How you use such linear distortion entirely affects the success of your photographs. First of all, do not view the distortion of a circular fisheye lens as a defect. Rather, realize that all lenses change reality in one way or another. On the most basic level, every lens takes a three-dimensional world and flatten it to two dimensions, itself a distortion of reality. Specifically, telephoto lenses distort things by compressing objects so that they look like they are positioned closer together than they really are. And moderately wide lenses create distortions, making nearby objects appear significantly larger than those in the distance. That’s why a 28mm lens is typically not a good portrait lens—people’s noses look disproportionately large compared to the rest of their bodies!

Key to good photography is using each lens’s distortions to your advantage. Landscape photographers use wide angles lenses to emphasize foreground wildflowers in a mountain scene, and wildlife photographers use long lenses to compress penguins or zebras, making a location look like it’s teeming with life.

Keeping the horizon running through the center of the image keeps the interface between Lake Erie and the sunset sky completely straight in this circular fisheye photograph. Geneva on the Lake State Park, Ashtabula County, Ohio. Sigma 4.5mm F2.8 EX DC HSM Circular Fisheye, Nikon D2X. f/16, 1/8 sec., ISO 400. Processed in Adobe Photoshop CS5, NIK Viveza and Sharpener Pro plug-ins applied. © David 2012 FitzSimmons. All rights reserved.

For circular fisheye photos, you must use the curved lines to your advantage—or avoid them altogether. To avoid them, position lines so that they pass through the center of the image area. Keeping straight lines running through the middle keeps them straight in the final image. So, if you don’t want your horizon bent, hold the camera level when shooting. Or position dominant vertical architectural lines in the center of the image.

I generally prefer to have my horizons slightly above or below center for circular fisheye images. Standard compositional rules forbid horizons in the middle, dividing pictures into two equal and, therefore, static halves, but the reasons for tipping your camera up or down slightly with circular fisheye lenses goes beyond this standard rule. Moving the horizon off center allows you to create a curve that complements other image elements. If your main subject is in the top of the frame, for example, then tip your camera down slightly and let the horizon bow downward, hugging the object in the upper portion of the image. Conversely, to emphasize a subject in the lower half of the circular image, tilt the camera up a bit.

Tipping the circular fisheye lens down slightly allows the horizon line, accentuated the brilliant green of the wild leeks, to curve upward on the edges, hugging the main subject, a drooping trillium (trillium flexipes). The distortion of the trees on the Vermilion River flood plain, while bent along the edges of the image, are not distracting; rather, their gentle curves help frame the wildflower subject. Augusta Anne Olsen State Nature Preserve, Huron Co., Ohio. Sigma 4.5mm F2.8 EX DC HSM Circular Fisheye, Nikon D2X. f/16, 1/30 sec., ISO 400. Processed in Adobe Photoshop CS5, NIK Viveza and Sharpener Pro plug-ins applied. © David 2012 FitzSimmons. All rights reserved.

Symmetry is another consideration for circular fisheye compositions. Look for scenes with mirror symmetry. Mirror, or bilateral, symmetry refers to subjects that, if you draw a line through the middle of the subject, one side matches the other side. Humans are bilaterally symmetrical, with one eye, one ear, etc. on each side of the body.

Position subjects with mirror symmetry such that the center line runs through the center of the image circle. The distortion of the lens can help accentuate the symmetry.

Scenes with mirror symmetry often work well with circular fisheye lenses. Two shrimp trawlers separated by the straight line of a wooden pier allows viers to ponder the near symmetry of the two boats, to inspect their similarities and differences. Pensacola, Florida, USA. Sigma 4.5mm F2.8 EX DC HSM Circular Fisheye, Nikon D2X, Gitzo G2228 tripod. f/8, 1/125 sec., ISO 100. Processed in Adobe Photoshop CS5, NIK Viveza and Sharpener Pro plug-ins applied. © David 2012 FitzSimmons. All rights reserved.

Nature often presents great subjects for circular fisheye photography. Few natural subjects have distinct, straight lines. Curving petals on flowers, puffy cumulous clods, and pebbles on a beach, for example, help to diminish distortions. In fact, I love to emphasize flowers and small wildlife by placing them in or near the center, allowing bending lines of the horizon, branches and limbs, or other background objects to frame these subjects.

Did you ever wonder what it looks like to be a mother bird coming in with food? Hand-holding my Sigma 4.5mm F2.8 EX DC HSM Circular Fisheye a few inches from the closest open mouth emphasized the Eastern towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus) chicks while showing the habitats for these songbirds. A wide aperture allowed the background to go out of focus, keeping viewers’ attention on the three hungry subjects. Richland County, Ohio, USA. Sigma 4.5mm F2.8 EX DC HSM Circular Fisheye, Nikon D2X. f/4, 1/30 sec., ISO 800. Processed in Adobe Photoshop CS5, NIK Viveza and Sharpener Pro plug-ins applied. © David 2012 FitzSimmons. All rights reserved.

If you are shooting outside, sunny, blue-sky days tend to be the best. You’ll pick up lots of sky, so having color, not gray, adds punch to your images. But that means that the sun is almost always going to be in the frame. Again ,use this to your advantage. I try to find branches and leaves to partially block the sun, creating spectacular starburst effects, drawing viewers’ eyes right to the our nearby star.

Circular fisheye lenses can even be used for portraiture. On a recent warm-weather hike with my father, Mick, into the sandstone gorges in southeastern Ohio, we paused under a cool overhang. It was the perfect location for a portrait of my dad, an outdoor educator and naturalist. Conkle’s Hollow State Nature Preserve, Hocking County, Ohio, USA. Sigma 8mm F3.5 EX DG Circular Fisheye, Nikon D800E, Gitzo GT2541EX tripod. f/8, 1/15 sec., ISO 100. Processed in Adobe Photoshop CS5, NIK Viveza and Sharpener Pro plug-ins applied. © David 2012 FitzSimmons. All rights reserved.

Can a fisheye lens be used for portraiture? You bet! If you want extreme distortion, position your subject near to the lens. I prefer to use circular fisheye lenses to contextualize a portrait subject. Allow the vast surroundings to help characterize the person you are depicting. Photograph an executive in her office or a pianist inside a concert hall, picking up their environments in the background.

Another creative approach to shooting with circular fisheye lenses is to selectively use part of the overall image data. For example, many photographers like to crop out a portion of an image to create a square or rectangular image that retains some subject distortion. Another option is to use lens correction tools, such as “Lens Corrections” found in Adobe Raw Converter. Both Sigma circular fisheye lenses are in Adobe’s lens library. Checking “Enable Lens Profile Corrections” will allow you to create a rectangular picture (orthographic projection) from your circular fisheye image data.

The above three images of the Draffin fountain and allée at Kingwood Center, Mansfield, Ohio, were processed three different ways using the same circular fisheye file. The first is the standard circular fisheye shape. The second is a 6x4 crop from the center of the first image. The third was processed with the “Enable Lens Profile Corrections” checked during conversion with Adobe Camera Raw. Sigma 8mm F3.5 EX DG Circular Fisheye, Nikon D800E. f/16, 1/400 sec., ISO 800. Processed in Adobe Photoshop CS5, NIK Viveza and Sharpener Pro plug-ins applied. © David 2012 FitzSimmons. All rights reserved.

Finally, don’t forget about opportunities to use circular fisheyes for producing virtual reality tours. While you can create interactive panoramas with other wide angle lenses, there’s nothing like taking only a handful of shots and easily creating spherical images that allow viewers to navigate left and right and up and down in every direction.

What could be more fun for a photographer than capturing hot air balloons in every direction with a circular fisheye? How about capturing hot air balloons GLOWING in every direction! Periodically, at the sound of a director’s horn, the pilots would all fire-up their balloons together. In order to catch most of them aglow, I fired off over 700 shots in 45 minutes around dusk on July 3, 2012 at Coney Island, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA. Sigma 8mm F3.5 EX DG Circular Fisheye, Nikon D800E. Gitzo GT2451EX tripod. f/5.6, 1/4 sec., ISO 400. Processed in Adobe Photoshop CS5, NIK Viveza and Sharpener Pro plug-ins applied. © David 2012 FitzSimmons. All rights reserved.

To create a spherical image, position your camera on a tripod and take three or four pictures, evenly spaced horizontally. Then point the camera up and take a shot. Finally, remove the tripod and hold the camera with the lens nodal point in the same position as it was for the other shots, taking a picture looking downward. Then stitch your shots to create a 360 degree VR image. With the right software, multiple spherical images can be linked together with hot spots to make an exciting VR tour.

Insert “Kingwood_Center_Spherical_Pano.ivp” Panorama here

Creating a spherical panorama with a circular fisheye is a breeze. Four horizontal shots, one pointed straight up, and one pointed straight down with the tripod removed were combined in Autodesk’s Stitcher to make this spherical image, which can be played with Immervision’s Pure Player. (Click here to download Pure Player.) Draffin fountain and allée at Kingwood Center, Mansfield, Ohio, USA. Sigma 8mm F3.5 EX DG Circular Fisheye, Nikon D800E. f/5.6, 1/1000 sec., ISO 200. Stitched in Autodesk Sticher. © David 2012 FitzSimmons. All rights reserved.

Additional Tips:

  • While I use tripods for almost all of my photography, you can often get away with hand-holding circular fisheye photographs. Because the field of view is so wide, camera movement is not magnified in the way it would be with telephoto lenses.
  • In fact, tripods can often get in the way for circular fisheye photography. If you are not careful, one or more tripod legs will show up in the bottom of your pictures. Even if you hand-hold, you often need to lean forward to avoid getting your own feet in the shot! When I use a tripod, I raise the off-center column on my Gitzo GT2541EX and then pivot it down nearly parallel with the ground. I then hang a bag on the tripod to keep the cantilevered rig from tipping. This approach keeps the tripod legs out of the picture while allowing maximum sharpness and depth of field.
  • Use moderate apertures for most photos. Depth-of-field is so extensive with circular fisheye lenses that f/11 or f/16 is often quite superfluous.
  • Get close! Both the Sigma 4.5mm F2.8 EX DC HSM and the Sigma 8mm F3.5 EX DG focus to 5.3 inches. That is the measurement from the film plane or sensor, which means that you can place flowers, small animals, and other macro subjects just 1 inch from the front lens element! And with your aperture closed down 3 or 4 stops, objects nearly touching the glass look sharp!
  • If you are looking to find a frame for your favorite circular fisheye photograph, avoid using regular frames, which do not emphasize the circular shape. While you can find round frames available at specialty shops, save money by purchasing clocks. That’s right, clocks! Visit local discount stores, and buy a round clock. Pop out the clock face and mechanical apparatus. Then use the clock face as both a guide for printing size and then for cutting the mounted print. A carefully mounted and cut print will fit right into place in the round clock frame. Voila! You’ll have a cool frame that looks much like a port hole on a ship. What could be better than saving money and creating a coplementary frame for your unique image?

4.5mm F2.8 EX DC Circular Fisheye and 8mm F3.5 EX DG Fisheye

SPECIFICATIONS

4.5mm F2.8 EX DC Circular Fisheye8mm F3.5 EX DG Circular Fisheye
Lens Construction13 Elements in 9 Groups11 Elements in 6 Groups
Angle of View180º180º
Number of Diaphragm Blades66
Minimum aperturef22f22
Minimum Focusing Distance13.5cm/5.3in13.5cm/5.3in
Filter SizeRear Gelatin filterRear Gelatin filter
Maximum Magnification1:61:4.6
Dimensions76.2×77.8mm/3.0×3.1in73.5×68.6mm/2.9×2.7in
Weight470g/16.6oz400g / 14oz.
Corresponding Mounts
SigmaHSM, EX, DC
NikonHSM, EX, DC
CanonHSM, EX, DC
Sony/MinoltaHSM, EX, DC
PentaxHSM, EX, DC
SigmaHSM, EX, DG
NikonHSM, EX, DG
CanonHSM, EX, DG
HSM- Hyper Sonic Motor, EX- EX lens, DC- Compatible with aps-c sensor, DG- Compatible with Full frame or APS-C sensors


David FitzSimmons is Sigma Pro photographer, a free lance writer, and a professor at Ashland University. See David’s macro techniques in his five-time award-winning picture book CURIOUS CRITTERS. Visit www.curious-critters.com.

See David’s natural history photography, upcoming workshops, and exhibition info at www.fitzsimmonsphotography.com.

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  1. Very interesting and informative as I am thinking of buying a wide angle lens. Thank you.

  2. Completely described. Thaks.

  3. I have a nikon d7100 and I am trying ot figure out which of the above mentioned fish eye lenses are best to buy in order to do 360 by 360 virtual tours. I understand that th 4.5mm is one specifically ‘designed’ for the APS-C camera and the 8mm for Full frame camera. Does that mean the 8mm cannot be used on my camera (Nikon D7100) at all?

  4. I have both with Nikon mounts.
    I believe the 4.5 can only be used on DX or smaller sensors or FX in crop mode.

    The 8mm can be used on FullFrame or APC (DX) cameras.
    On a DX (or FX crop mode) the 8mm creates a larger circle but
    it is cut off at the top and bottom.

    They can both be mounted on my GH4 4/3 camera with straight or SpeedBooster adapter
    The 4,5mm creates a much smaller circle and it will simply fill the frame better. It can only be used manual focus at f/2.8 on four thirds because the adapter does not transfer any electronic signals
    The 8mm has even more of the circle chopped and is basically useless for special effects. It does have an aperture ring so could be more useful that way.