Sometimes a camera wants to see differently. That happens to me I get inspired to go wide… really wide. I’m talking fisheye wide. That’s when I put away the other primes and zooms and pickup the ultra compact, wide and fast Sigma 15mm f/2.8 fisheye lens. The lens covers a full frame format camera providing a 180º angle of view. That’s half a circle!
Curvilinear not Circular
Let me be clear. This is not a circular fisheye lens. It fills a 24mm by 36mm frame edge. The image curves beautifully even when the lens is level to a horizon. The downward angle makes the horizon curve dramatically in this amazing view of downtown St. Louis, Missouri from the top of the Gateway Arch.
With the lens below the subject’s horizon line, the curvature effects are magnified. Here the camera position is just below the foreground on steps behind the Arch leading to the Mississippi River.
Photographs of people made in curved places with the 15mm F2.8 look remarkably normal. Here Missouri’s Professional Photographer of the Year 2013, Ryan Brown poses in the viewing lobby at the top of the Arch. Ryan is only three feet in front of my camera. The 15 will focus as close as 5.9 inches, less than half a foot.
While we were there, a wedding happened. I am so near to the red haired woman I could have touched her shoulder. Behind her you can see the front of Ryan’s Sigma 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6 and his open shoulder bag. While I normally don’t shoot weddings, the 15mm let me tell the whole story in one shot. The curvature that is normal with a fisheye really works with the curve of the Gateway Arch.
Extreme Depth of Field
One last shot of the Arch. This shows the extreme depth of field at f/8.0. I’m holding the camera against the stainless steel seam looking straight up. The weld in the foreground is sharp as is the top of the span. The seven bladed aperture in the 15mm offer a range from f/2.8 to f/22. For all practical purposes, that means a focus range from six inches to infinity.
Commercially the 15mm would not seem to be the first choice, yet it’s ultra wide angle of view along with the fisheye curvature helps tell a visual story especially in small areas.
The foundation wall and a foreground of debris frame the excavator that’s finishing a house tear down. This view makes the machine look quite small. The closest edge of the wall to the lens is about eight inches. The excavator is more than forty feet away. The trees are well over two hundred and fifty feet in the background. Yet everything is tack sharp−front to back, top to bottom. The aperture here is f/9.0, nowhere close to the 15’s minimum of f/22.
Here is a reverse angle of the camera position from the previous photograph. The foundation wall in the last shot is just visible at the end of the orange fencing running from the excavator to the wall. The fool-the-eye perspective of the 15mm fisheye reveals itself in the very small size of the excavator’s bucket. In reality, that bucket is almost as large as the cab. In both photographs, the foliage masks the fisheye’s horizon-bending traits.
Sculptor J. Doyle Rogers hired me to photograph his creation “Adolescence” a nine-foot high, ten-foot wide tree made entirely of stainless steel. Pictures with regular focal lengths were great for showing what it would look like from eye level. It took the 15mm to really portray the density of the thousands of individual leaves the artist had incorporated into the work. This photograph was made from a snorkel lift. The bucket with the Canon 5D Mk2 camera pointing straight down suspended below it, was centered on the tree about eighteen inches from the topmost leaf. The camera was tethered to my laptop in the bucket. The exposure of 1/30th at f/22 ISO: 200 guaranteed the entire photo would be razor sharp from the nearest leaf to the shadow of a nearby tree.
I had Doyle lower the lift until the lens all but touched the metal leaf at the center of this frame. It is six inches from the front element of the 15. I focused on that leaf. Amazingly the leaves almost all of the way through the tree as well as along the edges are sharp. Had I changed the focus point to the interior leaves, even the ones at the bottom and the grass too would have been sharp. Creatively, I chose this treatment to make the background colors intentionally soft.
A macro lens renders a subject at least life size to be technically correct. If you are willing to accept a really, really close focusing lens as a macro-like optic the 15mm does this very well indeed. Its minimum focus is 5.9 inches from the lens’s front element. When stopped down it seems to be less than that.
The leading edge of the Cessna Citation’s wing tip is six inches from the lens. The 15mm’s 180º view shows half of the huge hanger. For scale that’s a twin engine Beechcraft King Air in the background along with several other aircraft. The last photo of this series shows just how huge this building is.
The six-inch-from-the-front-of-the-lens, cowling-off view of the 310 horse power engine in a Cirrus SR22 is incredibly detailed.
A cropped view of the previous photo showcases the detail rendering that the 15mm Fisheye delivers.
This fisheye is great for placing a close view of a subject in an environment.
A higher angle easily places the aircraft across the apron from the hanger pictured in the first photograph of this series. Did I mention the 15mm does a marvelous job of placing the photo’s subject in its environment? A concept to live by visually that is.
It’s one thing to say “Remove Before Flight.” It’s another entirely to show exactly where the covers that must come off are located in relationship to the rest of the aircraft. The locations of four RBF covers are shown above.
Shooting the Sun
Another characteristic of the fabulous 15mm f2.8 is the signature starburst when the sun appears in the picture. The precision seven bladed aperture creates quite a stunning set of light trails. You would expect a lens like this to flare like crazy lowering the contrast of the photo to close to unusable. The lens shows virtually no flare at all, even when pointed directly at the sun. Sigma’s original super multi-layer coating technology suppresses ghosting and flare by drastically reducing reflections inside the lens. Additionally, the coatings reduce reflections between the lens elements and the digital sensor. Multi coating flare reduction is integral to Sigma DC, DG, and Global Vision lenses and filters.
Another client is an information technology services provider that had just moved into a much larger headquarters. They wanted an overview of the secure network monitoring space as well as help desk associates in the foreground. This photograph is the full frame version from the 15mm fisheye. Note that by carefully leveling the camera so the horizon line where the top of the wall meets the ceiling is in the exact center of the composition, the fisheye distortion is worked on the foreground and the ceiling.
The photo below shows how it was cropped for publication. The version minus the ceiling tells the company’s story in a single photo. By the way, every individual was carefully placed in the positions you see in this photograph. Shooting tethered made it possible. The whole shot took about ninety minutes.
The 15mm f/2.8 is small. It’s not quite three inches in diameter and length as well. It’s light too, weighing in at almost twelve ounces. With size on its side, it almost always has a niche in my camera bag. It went with me to the island of Corregidor in the Philippines. Corregidor is a park dedicated to the memory of Filipino and American civilians and soldiers who died defending it in the early months of World War II. These are the ruins of Cinema Corregidor. The super wide view offered by the 15 allowed me to stand on the stage and frame the entry façade at the other end of the building in its proscenium arch.
Ironically Gone with the Wind was the last feature shown before the theatre was destroyed.
Fisheye lenses have no straight lines. When the camera is tilted down the subject will appear to sink into the ground.Tilt it up.and the subjects seems to rise up from the ground. These photographs of the ruins of the Mile Long Barracks show the effect. Lines running through the middle of each image still have a slight curve as shown by the red graphics.
Curves Be Gone!
Cropping is used on rectilinear lenses—ones that don’t show the fisheye effect—to cut out distortion at the edges. Since the 15mm fisheye is curvilinear by design that’s not possible. So what happens when you have a photo made with the 15mm curves and all and the result required is straight lines?
The answer is a simple, easy single click away. Open the photo in Lightroom or Camera Raw.
In Lightroom, select the photo, tap D to open the Develop module. Open the Lens Corrections panel, click the Profile tab then check Enable Profile Corrections. Bam! Done.
For Camera Raw, Choose the lens corrections tab then the Profile tab and click Enable Lens Profile Corrections.
Profiles for the entire line of Sigma lenses are included for both Lightroom and Camera Raw. As new lenses are released the profiles are updated in both applications.
Into the Sunset…
My parting shot is a sunset on Corregidor.
My parting thought is that none of the photos I have shared in this lens exploration would exist if I didn’t make room for in my bag for the “oh-so-special” lightweight and spectacular Sigma 15mm f/2.8 EX DG.