Fishin' for Fisheye Lenses

A fisheye is an amazing lens

It pounds a 180 degree view into a 35mm frame (even wider on some lenses). They are enormous fun, but can be very difficult to use. Because they are so wide, it is very hard to not have too much garbage or empty space in the frame. Also, the wider the lens, the smaller the objects appear in the frame. Therefore, in order to have a successful photo, everything in the frame needs to be very close to the lens. Focal lengths for fisheye lenses is dependent upon the image sensor. For for 35mm equivalent formats, typical circular fisheye focal lengths are between 8mm and 10mm, and 15-16mm for full-frame fisheyes. ✓

Every ultra-wide angle lens suffers from some degree of barrel distortion. Although this can easy to correct for moderately wide lenses, rectilinear ultra-wide lenses featuring angles of view over 90 degrees are not easy to engineer. Fisheye lenses accomplish enormously wide viewing angles by giving up the rectilinear image, instead opting for special mapping (for instance: an equisolid angle), which present images with a characteristic convex look. However a panorama created by rotating the lens or by stitching images together (cylindrical perception) isn't a fisheye photograph.

Types of fisheye lenses

In a circular fisheye lens, the image circle is inscribed in the film or sensor area; in a full-frame fisheye lens the image circle is circumscribed around the film or sensor area.

Further, different fisheye lenses distort images differently, and the manner of distortion is referred to as their mapping function. A common type for consumer use is equisolid angle.


A true fisheye lens (Circular Fisheye) provides a hemispheric aspect entirely within the camera's frame coverage in a circular sphere. Images captured with these lenses occur as round images, bordered by black, or non-exposed remaining frame areas . These views are generally thought to be "distorted" as these lenses make straight lines of a scene (like architectural edges and building ) as being curved, unless by chance they happen to line up with the horizontal and vertical lens centers. There is a 180 field of view for these lenses or more, both vertically and horizontally. Equivalent 35mm focal lengths are typically 8mm or less.

Sigma 8mm f/3.5 Fisheye
Sigma 8mm f/3.5 Fisheye


The full frame fisheye delivers a circular perspective similar to a true fisheye, although the projected image circle becomes large enough to fill the camera frame completely. consequently there is no unexposed or black border. Your camera essentially crops the image circle edges. The ensuing field of view becomes nearly 180, although only across the image diagonal. The horizontal and vertical fields of view become substantially less. Equivalent 35mm focal lengths are most often from 14mm to 16mm.

The initial mass produced full-frame fisheye was a Nikkor 16mm lens made in the later part of the 1960s. DSLR APS-C sized sensor cameras need a minimum size 10.5 mm fisheye lens in order to produce a similar effect as a 16mm lens on a full-frame camera.

Canon EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye Lens
Canon EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye Lens

Focal lengths

Sigma manufactures a 4.5mm fisheye which can acquire a 180 viewing field on a APS-C camera. Sunex produces a 5.6mm fisheye which can capture a circular 185 viewing field on both a 1.6x Canon or the 1.5x Nikon DSLR camera.

Additionally Sigma makes an f/3.5 large aperture fisheye lens with even close up capability, and it's optimized for use with DSLR cameras.

Nikon also makes an 8mm fisheye lens, which has proven helpful for scientific uses due to the equidistant (equiangular) projection, for which the distance along the circular image radius is in proportion to it's zenith angle.


Fully immersive 360 degree panorama can be created from 4 shots taken with a full circular fisheye lens.

The panorama below was created using a Sigma 8mm fisheye on an APS-C camera, and taking four shots resulting in the images below (greatly reduced here to fit on the page), then using a program called a stitcher resulting in the wide image below

Image One Image Two Image Three Image Four
The four images stitched together - Click the image above to see the resulting 360 full screen panorama

Other Uses for Fisheyes

  • The IMAX Dome (previously 'OMNIMAX') motion-picture format involves photography through a circular fisheye lens, and projection through the same onto a hemispherical screen.
  • Photographers and videographers use fisheye lenses so they can get the camera as close as possible for action shots, for example in skateboarding to focus on the board and still retain an image of the skater.
  • Peepholes used in doors contain fisheye lenses.
  • Many CCTV Cameras have fish eye lenses
  • Many scenes of the film A Clockwork Orange were filmed with a fisheye lens.
  • The first music video to be shot completely with fisheye lens was for the Beastie Boys song "Shake Your Rump" in 1989.
  • Miniature fisheye lenses are used in automotive rear-view cameras and security cameras.
  • Scientists and resource managers (e.g., biologists, foresters, and meteorologists) use fisheye lenses for hemispherical photography to calculate plant canopy indices and near-ground solar radiation. Applications include evaluation of forest health, characterization of monarch butterfly winter roosting sites, and management of vineyards.
  • Some planetariums use a form of fisheye lens to project a two-dimensional film image of the night sky onto the interior of a dome.

Fisheye lenses for 35 mm Crop-C Cameras

35mm Circular fisheye

35mm Full-frame fisheye

Fisheye lenses for Four Thirds Cameras

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