Fisheye lenses can provide remarkably unique perspectives to those who know how to use them. Though they may be tricky to “get right” I have seen many remarkable fisheye images taken over the years. Of course the overuse of the fisheye “effect” can equally lead to unremarkable imagery and it's often not well suited for day-to day use. I own Canon's “old” 15mm f/2.8 fisheye and found good use for it at wedding receptions or dramatic landscapes that could hold the incredible field of view that a fisheye provides. Not only wide, the fisheye brings a distorted warp to images that you should feel comfortable with embracing. You can correct this in post to produce a rectilinear image, though you lose a lot around the edges of the frame and, really, there are better lenses if you just need a wide-angle shot.
The Canon 8-15mm f/4 L Fisheye is a solidly built follow-up to Canon's 15 mm f/2.8 lens. Obviously there are key distincitions, including the fact that this is the first fisheye zoom lens that I know of. The focus and zoom rings are firm and wide-enough on a relatively stubby lens. Like all L-lenses it comes with a lens hood, but with a full frame camera it is visible at almost every level of the zoom range; it's easily removable. The front lens element of a fisheye protrudes bulbously, and you need to take care not to scratch or touch it. Keeping the glass clean is definitely an issue while actively shooting and there's no room for filters of any sort.
You'll find an interesting “limit” switch on the side of the lens that compliments the lenses use on 1.6x crop sensor cameras (like the 7D, 60D, or rebel series). It allows you to use the 10-15mm zoom range without any “empty” black areas over the sensor. At 8mm on a crop there are black lines at the side of the photograph, where on a full frame camera the image is a fully circular fisheye image. I have some comparison images below going through the different focal ranges as well as 8mm & 10mm on a full-frame 5DMKII.
The Canon 8-15mm f/4 L fisheye outperforms the previous lens as is befitting an “L” series lens. Hand-holdable shots are achievable at relatively low shutter speeds, and I don't particularly miss the extra stop of light from the older lens. With the advancements in High ISO noise performance, you can just pump that up to achieve similar results.
Because of the complete lack of telephoto compression on a fisheye lens, you need to get extremely close to your subjects to fill the frame, of course it's not a flattering portrait lens, but some subjects look comically cute when presented close to the frame… on a few occasions I did almost bump into things looking only through the viewfinder.
Bokeh and blur is not something I consider much on this lens, after about 1 meter (3 feet) everything is in focus, but it can be fun to try.
Fringing and chromatic aberration are prevalent, especially in the typical situations where there is heavy contrast in a scene. This is hard to avoid with the extreme field of view a fishey provides, but is also easily corrected in software. I was also pleasantly suprised at how well the lens handled direct flare from the sun.
As mentioned, I think a fisheye really pays off when used sparingly, and in remarkable situations. It can provide an abstract view of a beautiful building, or (not pictured) an incredibly elongated view from the top of the world. At 8mm on a full frame camera, I found that by turning the camera up, I could capture an inverted world. Pictured below is the National Gallery of Canada, and zoomed in you can also see Parliament Hill, the US Consulate, and Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica.
A lot of what I mention about about this lens is that it's fun, and doesn't find use in every situation. I think if you have the right circumstance, having a fisheye in your kit is an incredibly useful tool, one that many other photographers may not.
Maybe you're more creative than me, in which case embracing the distortion of the lens could further aide your work. I've used fisheye lenses at weddings, at media-scrums, and for some architectural landscape photography. I think, with the right access, it can also be used by sports photographers and in commercial real-estate, since rotating a fisheye around a room can help produce immersive panoramic images through the use of software. Finally, a constant f/4 aperture and the L quality build makes it suitable for videographers who, undoubtedly, would find it a useful tool creating unique shots.
- Light and well built
- Versatile for use on both crop and full-frame sensors
- Unique viewpoint
- Potential for overuse
- Cost could be put towards other more useful lenses
- Hard to keep the glass clean
This is one tough lens to get a handle on. I have brought this thing home 10 times and have yet to capture an image that is remotely good. That's not because of the lens, that's because of the photographer. I see amazing fisheye work continuously, and yet cannot capture the type of thing. I think only a select few photographers can truly master a fisheye with artistic merit.
If we just look at the lens, it's a wonderful and very well executed. The lens has proven to be exceptionally reliable and durable. Even after a couple of obvious drops from rentals, the lens continued to work without issue. We do repair the bad cosmetic damage, but if it were my own, I would just leave it be.
Performance of the lens is on par with the older EF 15 f/2.8 fisheye as well as the Sigma fisheyes, though I do think it autofocuses a touch faster. If you get down to the pixel peeping level, the prime Canon fisheye is probably a bit better, but may not handle flare or CA quite as well. There have been a lot of mixed opinions about those topics.
Is this lens for you?
That's a tough one, beyond doing the standard “big nose” portrait shots or the obligatory super wide fisheye wedding church shot, you will really have to think about what you're going to use the lens for. If you're right into extreme sports, this could give that wonderful view that so few capture well. I'd add this lens to the rent before you buy if you have no experience with a fisheye lens. If you're a seasoned pro, then I think you're really going to love this lens. Never having to worry about what crop you're using to get a full rectilinear fisheye shot is a nice luxury.