A fisheye in Taiwan

Back when the internet was young, and photo.net was the place to learn about photography, I saw a great fisheye image by Daniel Bayer of climbers traversing Capitol Peak’s famous knife-edge ridge. I haven’t seen many since. Fisheyes – especially the circular variety that project a full hemisphere onto a circular image – are mostly deployed for novelty effect (think comically distorted kid with nose close to the front element), or in pretty well-defined shooting situations (I’m sure we’ll see some for the opening ceremony of the World Cup). That said, I’ve always wanted to try one. As explained in this excellent article a fisheye is not merely a really wide lens but rather a completely different way of projecting the three dimensional world onto a two dimensional plane. The occasion of a work trip to Taipei prompted me to rent one (from LensRentals.com, whose service I highly recommend) and give it a try‚Ķ

But not any old fisheye! Canon’s offering in this field is the rather unusual 8-15mm f/4.0L fisheye zoom, though it’s not so much of a true zoom as a lens with two usefully different focal lengths. On a full-frame camera the 8mm setting gives you the full monty fisheye look, 180 degrees vertically and horizontally. The most appropriate use I found for this in Taipei was inside the Taipei 101 skyscraper, where a 700+ ton steel ball hangs suspended at the 90th floor to damp swaying caused by typhoons and earthquakes. It’s pretty cool.

taipei_mass_damper600

Zooming in to 15mm gives you a “full frame” fisheye effect. The weird circular aesthetic is gone and you still get a 180 degree field of view, but now only diagonally.

taipei_mass_damper_full600

Fun as it was I couldn’t really find that many other subjects in Taipei where I found myself saying “damn I wish I had a fisheye lens!”. Perhaps I’m just not creative enough. Here are a few more examples of the effect at Taipei 101.

taipei_101circle600

Looking straight up from the subway plaza. Notice how there’s not much distortion with this angle

taipei_101full600

Whereas here the distortion is crazy!

It doesn’t have to be this way. To start with you can “defish” the image in software and extract a really wide rectilinear frame, at the expense of some sharpness toward the edges. Keith Cooper has some nice architectural examples shot using this technique (scroll down to the bottom of his review), but in most cases you could probably do as well or better by stitching regular wide-angle frames. Even leaving the image as-is, the full frame fisheye effect is not nearly as obvious if you pick a subject with the horizon near center and avoid prominent verticals. Here’s an image of the Da’an park MRT station, shot at 15mm.

taipei_daan_station600

Bottom line: if you need a fisheye for Canon mount this one works really well. Apart from being fun to use, it’s also constructed to normal L-glass standards and, surprisingly, is neither too large or heavy. If buying rather than renting though, think carefully how much you really need the fisheye look!

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