For many, experience with a fisheye lens comes mainly from the peephole in a front door rather than a constantly-used piece of camera optics. This makes sense, as a fisheye lens gives a very bulbous view of the world, with distorted lines being a feature rather than the usual negative. However, a lens such as the Lensbaby 5.8mm f/3.5 Circular Fisheye provides lots of creative options that you simply can’t get from a standard view lens.
The Lensbaby also comes in at a very affordable price point. This means that it has a low cost of entry for those who want to play around with a fisheye lens for the first time. Reasonable cost may be one thing, but can the Lensbaby deliver with good optical qualities and deliver in all areas?
This lens has a very wide viewpoint of 5.8mm, which comes out at 8.7mm on crop sensor cameras. One of the plus points of a quality fisheye lens is its extremely close focusing distance, which in this case is only a quarter of an inch from a subject. This is also a manual focusing only lens, with a manual aperture ring, which will take some time to get used to if you’re coming from solely auto focusing glass.
The Lensbaby 5.8mm f/3.5 Circular Fisheye has an aperture range of f/3.5 to f/22 and can capture an incredible 185-degree view of the world. It’s also quite a lightweight lens, coming in at only 298g. As this is a fully manual lens, you will have to rely a lot on the DOF scale, especially with apertures past f/8. Because the lens has such a large depth of field, it’s hard to eyeball exactly what is in focus. Thus, the DOF scale is a very useful tool.
The lens doesn’t come with any type of hood, but at least it’s supplied with a front and rear lens cap. The front lens cap is especially needed to protect the curved front element when not in use. In total, the Lensbaby is a well put together lens, which is small and lightweight enough to be carried around on a regular basis.
The Lensbaby 5.8mm f/3.5 Circular Fisheye in Use
As this lens is a circular fisheye version, it provides a perfectly spherical image in the middle of the frame. This is counter to the rectangular rendition from other types of fisheye lenses. The 185-degree viewpoint is fascinating to see if you haven’t worked with this type of lens before. This viewpoint can be a great way to capture the full details of any type of scene, which can be then cropped down and de-fish-eyed in Photoshop. As the final image is perfectly circular, it doesn’t matter if you shoot in portrait or landscape view, which can simplify the shooting process.
With so much field-of-view, it’s hard to keep the sun out of the frame, which can create quite a bit of lens flare depending on your positioning. Although the Lensbaby 5.8mm f/3.5 Circular Fisheye can produce flaring at a moment’s notice, the effect isn’t as overt as found on some fisheye lenses, which can ultimately spoil the scene.
When it comes to focusing, it’s better to use hyperfocal distancing to make sure everything from the closest focusing distance to infinity is sharp. This point is achieved by moving the aperture hash to the infinity mark, then noting the distance. As everything on this lens is manual, it’s far harder to keep close-up subjects in focus. But for anything more than a few feet away, keeping everything at infinity and f/8 seems to be the sweet spot with this lens in terms of overall sharpness.
The lens has a relatively sharp rendition throughout the aperture range. And as previously stated, f/8 provides the best overall rendition. With such a large depth of field, the lens generally keeps everything in sharp focus and you never have to worry about keeping shutter speeds in the high range.
The lens does display chromatic aberration, which can luckily be fixed in post-processing. The lens also has distortion in droves, which is obviously one of its features. The final image reproduction is both clear and sharp with plenty of color and contrast saturation, far better than experienced with similarly-priced fisheye lenses.
How Does It Compare?
One possible alternative to the Lensbaby 5.8mm f/3.5 Circular Fisheye is the Rokinon 8mm f/3.5 UMC Fisheye CS II. The Rokinon comes in at roughly the same price point as the Lensbaby, with a slightly less wide-angle view and an image that fills the full-frame. The maximum aperture on both lenses is set to f/3.5, but the Rokinon doesn’t have as close of a focusing distance at 30cm.
Both lenses are fully manual, with the Rokinon being the heavier of two. Each lens is also similar in its sharpness levels and the final image rendition from both lenses can provide plenty of detail where it counts. I personally prefer the full-frame viewpoint of the Rokinon, although it does feel like a more cropped version of what the Lensbaby can provide. The real decision will come down to which viewpoint is your personal preference, with both lenses having similar attributes. Other alternatives are the Sigma 15mm f/2.8 EX DG Diagonal Fisheye, the Altura Photo 8mm f/3 Fisheye, and the Opteka 6.5mm f/3.5.
|Lensbaby 5.8mm f/3.5 Circular Fisheye||Rokinon 8mm f/3.5 UMC Fisheye CS II|
|Angle of View||185 Degrees||180 Degrees|
|Close Focusing Distance||6.35mm||30cm|
How to Sum up the Lensbaby 5.8mm f/3.5 Circular Fisheye?
One of the standout points of the Lensbaby is its sharp image quality. Although it is a relatively affordable lens, final images have plenty of detail and can be easily cropped down and printed to a large size. The fully manual workings will take some time to master, but if you’re shooting things that aren’t too close up, setting the lens to infinity and f/8 is a good overall start point.
The Lensbaby 5.8mm f/3.5 Circular Fisheye may not be the ideal solution if you shoot with a fisheye on a very regular basis. It’s not meant to compete with high-end fish eye lenses, and that’s okay.
But if you want to dabble in fisheye photography on an occasional basis or want a cost-effective entry point, the Lensbaby is an ideal way to get started. (You could also consider getting your feet wet with a fisheye lens for your smartphone.) The optics are very good in the lens for the price, it displays low lens anomalies, and of course, it’s extremely fun to use.