Go Fish. Or Go Fisheye…

Go Fish. Or Go Fisheye…

We’ve all had a fisheye lens in our hands at some stage of the game or other.

In the 60’s they were uncommon…and expensive. We made do with Saga and Spiratone converters that screwed onto the front of standard SLR lenses and gave us a round ball image to play with. The optics were not very good, but it didn’t matter because the idea was so new and so cool that we all ran around picturing everything we could with them. Statues, landscapes, car radiators, flowers, girlfriend’s noses…everything was subjected to the fisheye distortion. It was a phase that we all went through  – the more fortunate of us went through it quicker and were able to re-sell the Saga adapters while the craze was fresh.

So rolls around the digital era, and the advent of manufacturer who can make a decent fisheye lens for a decent price ( Or an indecent price, in the case of a couple of the major makers. ) The craze for novelty and cool revives with the students and the artists and the fisheyes open up again. And here we have the Samyang…

The Samyang company in Korea make all sorts of interesting optics. They are nearly all manual focus designs and in many cases their apertures are fully manual as well – of course in some cases they will be automatically stopped down as you shoot but that’ll be dependent upon the mechanism of your camera. You can always go manual.

They are well-built. The barrels are frequently metal though parts can be polycarbonate. If in doubt, touch the part to your lip and see if it feels cold. The glass is excellent, and the multicoating all that you could want. Some designs, like the 8mm f:3.5 UMC lens in today’s column, have aspherical elements in them as well. They are weighty because of all the glass inside.The mounts are always metal and very durable.

And the prices are always reasonable. These are lenses that give to the most bang for your buck.

The 8mm fisheye is a particular look, no matter what body it mounts on. As it’ll go down to a metre from the subject and stop down to f:22 you produce all the amusing horrors of fisheye portraiture that you, and your subjects, can stand. Go ahead and do it  – we’ll wait until the fever leaves you, and you can turn your attention to building interiors where the rounded distortion and the fabulous field of view may start to bring beauty back into the images.

We’ll also wait while you go out and discover that fisheye lenses do not lend themselves to distant views – they are medium to close devices – and that you need to put your horizon in the middle. While you are finding out the optical facts of life you may just discover art. Or it will discover you…either way, some of your shots are going to be better than you ever thought about.

Note to wedding photographers: Yes, you can use it for an art shot at the event. No, you cannot use it for a big group shot. If you convince the bride to buy a 16 x 20 framed portrait of herself and the groom taken with this lens from a metre away, you are wasted in the profession. You should move on to real estate sales, security bond trading, or running a three-card monte table at the county fair.

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