Imagine 💡

Create 📸

Inspire ⭐

Fisheye lens

Expand your vision and embrace the unique perspective of a fisheye lens...

What is a fisheye lens?

Technically speaking, fisheye lenses are wide-angle lenses—ultra-wide-angle lenses, to be precise. A typical fisheye lens offers an angle of view of 167 degrees or more and range from 8mm to 15mm in focal length. Some lenses offer an angle of view of up to 180 degrees. This larger-than-normal angle of view produces this circular (non-rectilinear) perspective.

Fisheye lens on black background.
Fisheye lens

Fisheye lenses are special-purpose lenses that are designed to give you a very wide perspective of a scene. Photographers often use them to capture unusual and weird perspectives of everyday subjects that are impossible with normal lenses.

Fisheye lenses can be a lot of fun to use, provided you don’t run out of creative ideas to explore. Starting from weird portraits of your family and friends, pets, and the odd stranger on the street to seeing the world from the perspective of a peephole can make some pretty interesting images.

Canyon taken with a fisheye lens.
Fisheye lens image

I have defined an ultra-wide-angle lens below. Fisheye lenses are also ultra-wide-angle lenses, but they offer extreme non-rectilinear perspectives, something unusual for any other normal lens. That is precisely why these lenses are so sought after by outdoor photographers, especially those who shoot skiing, snowboarding, skateboarding, and other similar types of action photography.

Fisheye lens vs. wide-angle lens

A wide-angle lens is any lens with a focal length that is shorter than 35mm. A 20mm prime and a 14-24mm zoom are both wide-angle lenses, but one with a fixed focal length and the other with a variable focal length. But both lenses offer a focal length of no more than 35mm.

Fisheye lens vs. ultra wide-angle lens

Among wide-angle lenses, anything that is shorter than 24mm is considered an ultra-wide-angle lens. As we shall see shortly, fisheye lenses are also ultra-wide-angle lenses. However, they offer a wider angle of view than typical ultra-wide-angle lenses.

The primary use of fisheye lenses

  • For shooting extreme sports like skiing, skateboarding, snowboarding, etc.
  • This produces a weird, non-rectilinear circular perspective of normal moments.
  • For shooting a peep-hole scene
  • Mimicking security camera footage
  • For fun images of human and animal close-ups

The real-world applications are limited and largely confined to a few genres of photography.

Computer taken with a fisheye lens.
Fisheye lens image

The history behind fisheye lenses

Originally designed and developed by physicist Robert W. Wood, this lens was designed as an experiment to figure out how the world would appear from the perspective of fish underwater. However, barring a very limited few applications, this lens did not generate too much interest among photographers.

These limited uses included meteorology or the study of cloud formations, so sometimes these lenses were also referred to as ‘whole-sky lenses’. That was until the 1960’s when this lens started to be in demand and mass production began.

Then in 1966 director, John Frankenheimer used this lens in his film Seconds, creating an eerie horrific perspective that completely shook the audience. Photographers and filmmakers suddenly realized the potential of the fisheye lens.

Interestingly, one of the most prolific uses of the fisheye lens has been in movies. After it was made popular by John Frankenheimer, many other Hollywood directors started using this lens to great effect.


If you are a budding filmmaker looking for inspiration, try digging up some old footage of how fisheye lenses have been used in Hollywood movies.

This lens is inexpensive if bought from a preowned store, or you can invest in a new one. I can guarantee you that the lens will pay for itself if you are willing to experiment with it.

Reasons to get a fisheye lens

Is it worth investing in a fisheye lens? I know I have recommended buying one above, but I have also mentioned that the real-world applications of fisheye lenses are very limited.

This is one of the prime reasons why many professional photographers would prefer not to invest in one. My top reasons for investing in a fisheye lens are:

1. Unique perspective

If you want to impress your clients with a unique perspective that no other photographers in your field offer, a fisheye lens makes sense. In wedding photography, for example, almost no one uses a fisheye lens. Or perhaps no one dares to explore the creative opportunities that a fisheye lens offers.

This is a perfect opportunity for someone who might be interested in taking his or her photography to the next level to start experimenting with a fisheye lens.

2. Action shots

Action sports is a genre that routinely exploits the capabilities of wide-angle and ultra-wide-angle lenses, including fisheye lenses. Whether it is the POV or third-person perspective that one is looking to capture, fisheye lenses are a must-have for action sports such as snowboarding, skateboarding, and skiing.

Even paragliders, base jumpers, and skydivers use fisheye lenses to record their actions. They often shoot videos and stills in selfie mode or use a third-person photographer who records their actions while also participating in the jump.

3. Architecture photography

Architecture photography is one genre in which ultra-wide-angle lenses have been used for years. Wide-angle and ultra-wide-angle lenses can capture an extreme angle of view, something that can fit in a large building or facade.

Adventure photographers use a fisheye lens to capture the skyline of a city from a high altitude, and hikers and mountaineers can use a fisheye lens to capture the panoramic vista in front of them from a high altitude.

Building taken with a fisheye lens.
Fisheye lens building

4. Curvilinear perspective

Using fisheye lenses, you can capture not only a circular perspective from high above but also the interesting curvilinear perspective of buildings from the ground up.

Using different camera angles and not keeping the horizon line perfectly parallel to the ground can be a great way to use a fisheye lens. You can also use an exception to that approach: keep the horizon line perfectly parallel. That way, the horizon will not appear to be curved, and you can capture an ultra-wide-angle perspective of the scene.

Tree taken with a fisheye lens.
Fisheye lens curvilinear perspective

5. B-Roll

Vloggers can find a fisheye lens useful for shooting a B-roll or behind-the-scenes footage.

Let’s say you are shooting a time lapse of a scene and want to capture the whole behind-the-scenes process as separate footage that you can use in your vlog or as tutorial material for your students. A fisheye lens is perfect for that purpose because it can capture an extremely wide angle of view.

6. Abstract photography

As a general-purpose lens for shooting abstract photography, a fisheye lens is a special-purpose lens, just like a tilt-shift or a macro lens. They all have limited usability, but with the right hands, they can produce stunning images and videos. It is all up to the creativity of the individual who is wielding the lens.

You can experiment with many different everyday moments, shooting everyday items of use and capturing a unique look that would make interesting photos.

Best fisheye lenses

Here are our top recommendations for the best fisheye lenses:

1. Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L

The Canon EF 8-15mm f/4 L is a special-purpose lens designed to capture ultra-wide-angle perspective (or fisheye) and produce non-rectilinear images that capture a large field of view.

The lens offers an angle of view of 180 degrees to 175 degrees across the zoom range. This L lens has good build quality and weighs a whopping 540 grams. The lens has 14 elements arranged in 11 groups. The front element bulges out, which is a characteristic of all ultra-wide-angle lenses, including fisheye lenses.

Designed to match the mount of a full-frame Canon DSLR camera (using the EF mount), this lens offers a decent f/4 maximum aperture and features an ultrasonic focusing motor.

Mind you, the lens has no built-in image stabilization.

2. Sigma 8mm f/3.5 EX DG

The Sigma 8mm f/3.5 EX DG is an 8mm prime fisheye lens designed by Sigma. This prime lens offers an angle of view of 180 degrees and is well-made, weighing about 400 grams. The lens consists of 11 elements and 6 groups. These elements include one SLD glass element that is responsible for suppressing chromatic aberrations.

The lens comes in three different mounts – the Nikon F mount, the Canon EF mount, and the Sigma SA mount. Although the lens is designed for full-frame camera systems, it will also work on APS-C camera systems with an elongated focal length.

Please note that crop cameras use only a portion of the image coming through the lens, which is why it appears that the lens is zoomed.

So, the effective focal length changes to something longer. For Canon cameras, that is 1.6x of the original focal length, and for Nikon, that is 1.5x.

We hope you enjoyed this guide on fisheye lenses and learned more about them!

© 2024