What Is a Fisheye Lens and What Is It Used For? (Guide)
This is a beginners’ guide on ultra-wide fisheye lenses in photography and film.
Today you’ll learn:
- what is a fisheye lens
- what are fisheye lenses used for
- how to choose one for your purposes
- and lots more
If you’re interested in getting creative with fisheye lens photography, this guide is for you.
Without further ado, let’s get started.
What Is a Fisheye Lens?
A fisheye lens is an ultra wide-angle lens that has a viewing angle close to 180 degrees and therefore produces a distorted illusion in the photos.
(The way it operates is similar to the perspective of the fish eye, hence the name.)
Because of that feature, you will be able to get an extremely wide panoramic or hemispherical image.
And this whole new perspective, the “fisheye effect” in the images is what attracts some photographers.
Not all fisheye lenses created equal though.
Circular vs Diagonal Fisheye Lens
There are actually several types of these unique lenses, the most common one being a circular fisheye lens.
Circular Fisheye Lens
It’s unique in a sense that it doesn’t cover the entire area of the frame, but shows only an inscribed circle with black edges.
In movies, they actually use those to create a peephole effect.
(See an example below.)
What is the point of a fisheye lens?
Circular fisheye lenses are used for the purposes of creating interesting panoramas or the effect of a 360-degree panorama.
They are usually used to capture unusual landscapes and cityscapes. It can also be used for particular sports photography such as skateboarding.
It also does an excellent job of capturing the firmament.
Diagonal (Full Frame) Fisheye Lens
The second type is a diagonal, also known as full frame fisheye lens.
Its 180-degree viewing angle is distributed horizontally on the frame and so it’s completely filled.
Unlike we saw with the circular fisheye forming a circular image within the frame, a diagonal (full frame) fisheye lens fills the frame entirely.
This captures those fisheye photos you see that make the center portion appear more prominent than other objects in the picture as the horizontal and vertical sides are less than 180 degrees.
This type of glass is suitable for traditional landscape and interior photography.
More than 180 Degree Angle Lenses
While there are two main kinds of fisheye lenses on the market, there are also mechanisms that have angle of view greater than 180 degrees.
These are extremely rare though.
And probably this is the reason why they are barely mentioned in any photography resources.
The reason why NASA use fisheye lenses is because of their ability to have a wide field of view and large depth of field (and so they are unlikely to miss anything in space).
What Is the Purpose of a Fisheye Lens?
Here are some reasons why adding a fisheye lens into your photography collection might make sense to you.
- It gives you a fun image capture
Even though plenty of people may say that fisheye lenses tend to provide an ‘ugly distortion’ in an image, when focused and used correctly, it can actually give your photo a fun and creative perspective.
This all depends on the scene that you plan or want to shoot.
Using the lines and curves of the scene can help create an image with a different focus.
- It creates a ‘big air’ effect for extreme sports photography
Using a fisheye lens for extreme sports such as skateboarding will make the photo capture look more creative.
This is because the fisheye lens tends to focus on the subject in the middle; it gives a ‘big air’ effect on the scene that surrounds an object.
This allows you to fully capture and focuses the image on the skateboarder’s moves and tricks.
In addition to sports, fisheye lenses are used in architecture photography, as well as for creating 3D panoramas of any objects.
To create the Google Earth service, the company used a fisheye ultra-wide angle lens.
- It is used to capture images through that goes through peepholes
In film, one of the most common lenses to use when you see a scene where the character is looking through a peephole.
This creates a scene that looks real to life because when you film through the actually peephole, it would be next to impossible.
Now you know they do that!
- Fisheye lenses work well for underwater shots
Because they give a broader focus on its subject, an underwater photo well put the viewers focus onto the subject and not the other elements of the ocean.
It will also capture a beautifully distorted image because there are fewer straight lines underwater.
- This type of glass is great for astrophotography too
Asides from the natural beauty of the night sky, using a fisheye lens will allow you to capture images of the sky with more stars.
It will give you a distorted effect that is both unique and artistic at the same time.
When Was the Fisheye Lens Invented
Earlier I mentioned why it’s called the way it’s called.
But when was the fisheye lens invented?
Its history goes way back into the 1906 when Robert Wood, a physicist and inventor, discovered that a fish would see from beneath the surface with a comprehensive, hemispherical view.
Wood did a lab test to show the point eye view of a fish looking at the world underwater, using a bucket full of water, a pinhole camera, mirrored glass, and light.
But it wasn’t until 1935 when German inventors took Wood’s theory into action and shared this idea with the Japanese company, Nikon.
In 1957, Nikon introduced the world to its first fisheye lens ever made, and many other companies followed through.
That was how the beauty of distorted photography became popular.
Especially in the music industry.
Check out this interesting video how fisheye lens took over music:
How to Choose a Fisheye Lens?
Just like any camera lens you can get on the photography market, fisheye lenses are a serious investment and you should choose yours carefully.
You already know that there are two main types that you can choose from:
- the full frame fisheye lens, and,
- the circular fisheye lens.
And this is the first thing you need to think about before making a purchase.
With a full frame fisheye lens, you will get an image with a diagonal view, filling the entire frame; while with a circular fisheye lens you get a circle image with black edges.
I think getting a full frame fisheye lens might better if you are a beginner because the latter is more challenging to control when compared.
Another two factors to consider are the lens flare and the quality of its center sharpness.
Since a fisheye lens gives you an ultra broad view and a depth field, controlling the light that passes through will be difficult. This will also lead to poor sharpness in your captures.
You might want to choose a lens that has more control over these two areas.
Last but not least:
Your budget plays a big part in how to choose a fisheye lens.
If you are a beginner, I suggest you start off with a lower end lens and experiment before upgrading to a high end one.
This way, you will also learn whether you really want to invest in this glass for the long term without over spending.
Best Place to Buy Them Online
We all know many of us shop for photography gear online. What’s the best place though?
I suggest you check price and availability on:
In my experience, most people shop on Amazon but I’m sharing a few additional resources to keep your options open.
Fisheye Lenses in Photography
There are many camera lenses with optical tricks available in the market today.
While the fisheye lenses are a way to introduce a fun and whole new perspective into your images you should realize that they have their own advantages and disadvantages.
It isn’t that easy to use, and it is definitely a tool for the professionals, but as the saying goes, “practice makes it perfect”.
The more you practice and experiment, the more and faster you’ll be able to master your fisheye lens in the long run.
And it’ll give you a whole new perspective on photography.
I’d like to hear from YOU:
- What are your thoughts on fisheye lenses for photography?
- Do you like or dislike the distortion it produces?