05.08.2015

Taking a Closer Look at the Fisheye Lens

05.08.2015

Taking a Closer Look at the Fisheye Lens

This is the second installment in an 8-part series on Manfrotto KLYP system for iPhone photography (here part one).  I have to admit, when I received the kit to review, I was a bit skeptical.  After all, I thought to myself, what can be new here?  I have, at some point, tested almost every attachment lens for the iPhone.  So, admittedly, it was a bit of a struggle to get excited about it, but as I mentioned in the first installment, the more I shoot with this kit, the more I appreciate it for it’s design, quality, and ease of use.  Let’s talk fisheye!

What is a Fisheye Lens?

A fisheye lens is an extreme wide-angle lens that crates and produces strong visual distortion at the edges.  It is also hemispherical in appearance and bows at the outer edges.  Most fisheyes have an angle of view (AOV) between 100-180˚.  The Manfrotto Fisheye is 160˚.  In photography, there are generally two kinds of fisheye lenses – full-frame and circular.  In mobile photography, a full-frame fisheye doesn’t exist (yet J) simply because the lens and the sensors are just too tiny.  The primary place you see full-frame fisheyes is in the DSLR space.  In smartphone photography, all fisheye lenses are circular and the edges are heavily distorted.

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Why Would You Use a Fisheye Lens?

Most mobile photographers use fisheye lenses more as a novelty than for practical purposes.  I don’t personally do not use them often nor do I particularly like the way a fisheye image looks.  Many times, to me, it looks amateurish and the edge distortion (technically called ‘barrel distortion’) is ‘off the charts’ soft.  Granted, this seems like a pretty strong indictment against ever using a fisheye on your iPhone, but stay with me here…I think you will be surprised.

There is simply no such thing as a sharp fisheye image.  It is physically impossible in mobile.  This can be ok for web usage, but forget going to print.

Apart from the entertainment or aesthetic reasons for using a mobile fisheye lens there are times when you need that widest possible ‘field of view’ (FOV).  Maybe you’re in a tight interior and need to see the whole room, or maybe you can’t back up to get the shot you want.  Grab your fisheye!

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A Practical Suggestion:  Back Up!

Here’s a simple suggestion and one that guided me my whole photographic career: If I want a ‘wider’ shot, I keep shooting with the lens on my camera and physically back up.  Voila!  If I can’t back up because of space restriction, then I grab my wide, ultra-wide, or a fisheye lens for my iPhone.

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Content Trumps Craft

You digital purists out there are not going to like this, but in this Instagram economy, content trumps craft.  What a pictures says (content) is more important than how a picture is created (craft).  In the mobile photography environment, there is less emphasis on picture quality and more attention paid to convenience, entertainment, creativity, fun and spontaneity.  Like it or not, this is why smartphone attachment lenses are so popular.  Pixel counters and tech dweebs are on their way out.  Instagrammers and mobile shooters are creating the new ‘lingua franca’ of popular culture.

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Reasons to Use Your Mobile Fisheye

In spite of my earlier comments, there are a couple of subjects that I always seem to grab my fisheye lens for.  I like using it when the subject I’m shooting already has curved lines.  This seems to make the fisheye treatment look more natural.  Here is a shot I took of the Texas State Capitol building:

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Another perfect subject is when I am ‘spot metering’ something in the center of the frame so that my outer edges go naturally black (which hides the barrel distortion).

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Another Reason I Love the Fisheye

And this is a big one – video!  The sensor that comes in the iPhone is a 4.3 ratio sensor that creates 4.3 ratio images.  Video isn’t a 4.3 ratio.  It is a 16.9 ratio, which means the camera needs to crop into the shot.  When you crop in, guess what you are cropping out?  The distorted unclear edges!  So the fisheye is a perfect tool for shooting mobile video.

A Few Closing Tips on Shooting with a Mobile Fisheye

  1. Make sure you pay attention to the image edges and don’t include your fingers.
  2. Also watch out for your shadow in the shot.
  3. I find that the iPhone camera (as well as most 3rd party camera apps) ‘overexpose’ most fisheye shots making the end product look flat and lifeless.  Underexpose when you use it.
  4. The fisheye lens works best in full outdoor sunlight.  Avoid dimly lit interiors.

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Go For It

All I can say about mobile fisheye lenses is…go for it!  Maybe you have a quirky style and are attracted to this lighthearted look that the fisheye produces.  Maybe you are more of the architectural type and want to see everything in your shot.  Or maybe you are a photographic comedian and enjoy odd and funny portraits of family and friends.  Go for it and make your own kind of art with this specialty lens.

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Jack Hollingsworth

Jack Hollingsworth is a world-renowned travel, portrait, stock and iPhone photographer.  His love for mobile photography is infectious.  Since his conversion to mobile at the Crane Hotel on the island of Barbados in 2011, he has traveled to over 20 countries and shot over 400,000 images with his iPhone.  He’s a regular contributor to the Camera+ blog (SnapSnapSnap.photos) and he is currently authoring a book on iPhone Photography (eBook and print).  Jack is a popular keynote speaker at mobile photography conferences and events and his approach to mobile is principally photographic in nature.  He lives in Austin, Texas with his soul mate and two beautiful teenage daughters.

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