Back in the day when I predominantly produced virtual tours, a fisheye lens was a must. Without naming names, I bought into a cheap fisheye lens which did the job as intended, but suffered from tons of flaring. Image quality was okay with this lens, but it wasn’t until I got my hands on the Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM until I realized how much better a high-end fisheye lens could be.
The Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM works equally well on full-frame or crop sensor camera bodies, providing a 180-degree view of the world. These lenses have a massive depth of field, and while barrel distortion is a negative with every other lens, here it is a feature.
This fisheye offering isn’t exactly cheap, which means you will probably need specific applications to justify the price. Therefore, let’s have a closer look at this fisheye offering and how it works in the real world.
I don’t envy anybody the task of creating a fisheye prime lens, never mind a zooming version. This is why the Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM has plenty of optical correcting elements in its arrangement. The lens consists of 14 elements arranged in 11 groups, with two ultra-low dispersion glass elements as well as Sub Wavelength and fluorine coatings.
Internally, the lens barrel features a ring-type Ultrasonic Motor (USM), plus a seven-blade diaphragm and constant f/4 aperture. The aperture of f/4 may not be as wide as f/2.8, but fisheye lenses have a naturally huge depth of field, which means that in the majority of cases, f/4 works perfectly fine.
The lens is compact, coming in at only 83mm long, 78.5mm wide, and weighing 540g. This means that the zoom and focus rings are quite narrow, but are easy to grip with the ridged and rubberized texture.
There’s the usual distance scale along with two switches located around the lens barrel. The first switch is for auto and manual focus, with the other being used for zoom limiting on APS-C sensor camera bodies. There are also guide marks on the lens barrel to indicate where vignetting will start to show on crop sensor bodies.
The front element of the lens only extends by 2mm when zooming, while all focusing duties are performed internally. A petal-shaped hood is included in the package, which snaps on and off via a button very easily. This is a much-needed feature on full-frame cameras as the lens hood can start to appear in-shot under 13mm.
The other point to note is that the zoom on this lens doesn’t work in the traditional sense. At 15mm the angle-of-view comes in at 175.5 degrees on a full-frame camera body. At the 14mm focal length, a 180 degrees angle is achieved, which is the widest achievable view. On a crop sensor body, this is a rectangular shape, and on a full-frame the image becomes circular. This is an important point to bear in mind for which type of camera body this lens is used on.
The Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM in Use
One thing that is immediately apparent with this lens is that it’s extremely fun to use. Having a 180-degree view of the world and close focusing distance of 15cm feels like you never miss a detail, with everything in frame and seemingly in focus.
Straight lines at the edge of the frame are as expected – curved beyond belief. But, as long as you have your main subject located centrally and not too close up, distortion levels can be kept to a minimum. This lens isn’t the most flattering for standard human portraits, but the idea here is to use the extreme distortion to your own advantage, which works great for comical pet portraits.
The view on a full-frame sensor hits 180 degrees at 14mm then gradually turns into a full circular view down to 8mm. The f/4 aperture really only makes a difference when you’re ridiculously close up to the subject. This can give slightly blurred backgrounds. Backing up a little brings everything into full sharpness, but also changes the viewpoint in a huge way.
Overall sharpness levels on this lens are excellent, and as you can naturally get very low shutter speeds, it’s also very useful in low light. In ideal lighting conditions, the autofocusing system is extremely quick and for applications such as sports and events, the huge angle-of-view means you’ll never miss a moment of action. Used on a crop sensor body, the edges may be cropped a little, but having the image fill the frame can be a useful asset.
Flaring is usually a common problem with fisheye lenses, but we’re happy to say that the Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM keeps this to a minimum. If the aperture is stopped down above f/11, the lens can produce nice sunstar effects, but this can also mean slight softening of the image due to diffraction.
How Does It Compare?
There are a few options with fisheye lenses that can fit Canon camera bodies, but nearly all of these are prime lenses. For fisheye lenses with zoom ability, the options are far less with one contender being the Tokina AT-X 107 10-17mm f/3.5-4.5 DX Fisheye.
The Tokina is optimized for APS-C sensors which won’t give a full rectangular image on full-frame cameras. The optics feature a water-repellent coating and an arguably wider focal reach than the Canon.
The aperture is variable and while the lens can take extremely good images, the optics are just not on par with the Canon. However, this isn’t surprising as the Canon costs nearly twice as much.
|Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM||Tokina AT-X 107 10-17mm f/3.5-4.5 DX Fisheye|
|Optics||14 elements / 11 groups||10 elements / 8 groups|
|Angle-of-View||180-175 degrees||180-100 degrees|
There’s no doubt that the Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM is extremely fun to use and is a very capable lens. The lens is fast, sharp, and depending on if it’s used on full-frame or crop sensor bodies, it can provide both circular and rectangular views.
With a little practice and understanding of the best ways to shoot with a fisheye, this lens can produce exceptional images that work extremely well for sporting events and action shots. It may be a specialist offering with a high price tag, but if you can justify the cost, there’s no end to the creativity with this lens.