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Technical

Fergus Kennedy on creative shooting with <span class="br_home"><br /></span> the EF8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM

Fergus Kennedy on creative shooting with
the EF8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM

© Fergus Kennedy

December 2011

I have to admit that I've always been a fan of extreme wide-angle and fisheye lenses. The images produced aren’t to everyone's taste, but by using one appropriately and playing to the strengths of the lenses you can produce some stunning images. So I was particularly excited when I heard the news that the Canon EF8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM lens was available.

There’s no doubt that this is an extreme lens, but what really appealed to me was the versatility. Normally I take both an EOS 5D Mark II body and an EOS 7D body with me when I work and, when combined with the two different sensor sizes on these bodies (full-frame and APS-C respectively), the lens gives a great range of fields-of-view; from a circular 180 degree image to something close to 100 degrees diagonal FOV at the 22mm end on the EOS 7D.

When shooting with a fisheye, particularly if it's an action subject or one you don't have total control over, the subject begins to look distant very quickly as it moves further from the lens. So, having the ability to zoom in a little is a huge bonus. When shooting BMX riders on a ramp with the EOS 7D I found I couldn't always exactly predict where the rider would hit the lip of the ramp. A quick tweak of the zoom ring was much easier and quicker than repositioning myself at the last millisecond. One thing you need to remember to do when you use lens on an APS-C camera is to set the 'LIMIT' switch. This prevents you from zooming out beyond 10mm, which would result in black corners on the image.

© Fergus Kennedy

Skateboarder in a concrete bowl. This image is a composite of six frames shot with the EOS 7D DSLR on a tripod, shooting at eight frames per second, with the EF8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM lens at a focal length of 10mm. The exposure was 1/500sec at f/9, ISO 100.

Although, by their very nature, fisheye lenses have an extremely large depth-of-field – even when shooting wide open they can usually be set to hyperfocal distance and left on manual focus – there may be circumstances in which you need to use autofocus. When I tested it with the BMX riders I found the AF to be very fast and accurate – I experienced no problems whatsoever.

After shooting for a while with a fisheye lens you inevitably find the sun in the frame in a large percentage of your shots. This being the case, it’s reassuring that flare is very well controlled on this lens – in most shots I struggled to notice any flare at all and, when it was there, it was pretty unobtrusive. With the vast majority of my photography taking place outdoors, it was reassuring to note that the build quality of the lens seems to be well up to the usual L-series standards we've come to expect (but that protruding front element is clearly going to need some care, especially with the shade off).

For underwater photographers fisheye lenses are a big favourite for a number of reasons – they enable you to get a wide view and take in the environment, whilst also allowing a really close foreground subject to be in focus. Secondly, when combined with the dome ports used on housings, they give superior corner sharpness when compared to wide rectilinear lenses (owing to the curved virtual image produced by the dome port). Fortunately the curved distortion of straight lines produced by fisheye lenses is often not a big issue underwater.

© Fergus Kennedy

A split view of swimming pool action. Taken with an underwater housing mounted on a tripod in the pool, with the dome port arranged so the water level went exactly through the middle of it. This is a composite of three images, showing the different stages of the dive. Shot on the EOS 7D with the EF8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM lens at a focal length of 10mm, the exposure was 1/200sec at f/16, ISO 320.

Whilst I haven't yet had the opportunity to test out this lens on a diving trip, I did manage a few split 'over-under' shots in a swimming pool and was impressed by the underwater performance of the lens behind a dome port. Another aspect of the lens that will be particularly appreciated by underwater photographers, as well as nature photographers in general, is the minimum focusing distance. After some experimentation I found that the lens would focus on a subject around 4cm from the front element of the lens. This allows for some interesting 'close focus, wide-angle' compositions, although lighting the close subject can be challenging.

With the inexorable rise of the internet there are ever-increasing applications for 'virtual reality' tours. The viewer can place him or herself in a place and navigate around a 360-degree view, be it an interior of a building or a fantastic natural viewpoint. This type of interactivity is becoming increasing popular and I have been using them in projects for quite a few years. These images are made by digitally stitching together a row (or several rows) of overlapping images taken by rotating the camera around a fixed point.

Theoretically, armed with a panoramic tripod head and the right technical knowledge, you could make a 360-degree image with many different types of lenses. But the longer the focal length, the more images you will require to cover the 360 degrees horizontally and 180 degrees vertically, and the more problems you will have with any moving elements of the image. So, with its vast field-of-view and zoom versatility, the EF8-15 f/4L Fisheye USM is an ideal lens for this type of work.

My favourite combination is to use it with the EOS 5D Mark II. I place the camera in portrait orientation on the panorama head, then zoom the lens in to around 12mm, so the black edges of the circular image border (don't forget to remove the hood for this type of work) are just touching the edge of the frame top and bottom. I then shoot four images, rotating the tripod head by 90 degrees each time. This allows for adequate image overlap for the digital stitching and easily covers the entire field-of-view. Back in the office, the images can be used in a variety of ways – a flat rectangular panorama covering the 360 by 180 degree view, an interactive application which allows the user to pan and zoom around the image (see the QuickTime panorama movie below), or even a stereographic projection or 'little planet’ image.

© Fergus Kennedy

QuickTime panorama movie file created from four images shot with the EOS 5D Mark II and the EF8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM lens – set at a focal length of around 12mm to avoid black edges – with the tripod head rotated through 90 degrees for each shot. The images were then stitched together and created into a .mov file. To navigate around this first of all click on the image to enlarge it and you can then scroll your computer mouse over the image to navigate around it.

After shooting some panoramas of the elaborate Royal Pavilion at the English seaside resort of Brighton, I spotted a few more conventional photographic opportunities and decided to keep shooting with the 8-15mm, but this time on the EOS 7D and at the 15mm end of the zoom range. This strategy minimised the fisheye distortion and produced some pleasing images of the front of the building. With the high level of detail on the ornate front of the Pavilion, I had the chance to have a good look at the image quality and have to say I was impressed. Super sharp right to the edges, and chromatic aberrations, although present (as with all lenses of this type) were minimal; only present at the edges of the frame, and easily fixed in post.

Shooting this lens on at 8mm on a full-frame camera is an interesting experience. The extreme perspective and circular image with a black border will certainly not suit all subjects, but it can add some interest and variety to a portfolio. One thing I found you have to watch for is not getting your own legs and feet in the shot (unless you mean to!).

Finally, I decided to have a little fun with the lens and take it out skateboarding. I fixed my EOS 7D to a monopod and a ball-head and held it out in front of me while a rolled down a gentle hill, and with the rain just starting, I was reassured to notice that the lens had weather seals. The ample field-of-view at 10mm meant that I could easily fit both the board and myself into the shot with the camera held at barely more than arm's length. I selected a slow shutter speed to get some speed blur in the road, and used some fill flash from the camera's built-in unit. I had a lot of fun trying to get the shot I wanted, and managed to avoid any potentially expensive ‘road meets L-series glass’ incidents.

Biography: Fergus Kennedy

Fergus Kennedy

Fergus Kennedy is a nature, travel and underwater photographer, filmmaker and marine biologist. He has a degree in zoology from Oxford University and his photographs have been published in a variety of magazines and newspapers including The Sunday Telegraph (UK), Elle, Sport Diver, Scuba World and Saudi Aramco World, as well as in a number of books. His photographic awards include a 'Highly Commended' in the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year (2008). During the past 16 years he has also worked around the world as a consultant marine biologist including projects in Oman, Qatar, UAE, Saudi Arabia, the Dominican Republic and Greece.



Showcase

Image showing the field of view of the EF8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM lens on the EOS 5D Mark II at a focal length of 8mm. The exposure was 1/320sec at f/10, ISO 160.