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Canon EF 8-15mm f4L Fisheye USM Gordon Laing, Sept 2011
 
   
 

Canon EF 8-15mm Fisheye field report: Scott Kennedy


About Scott Kennedy

 
Scott Kennedy is a freelance Photographer, Filmmaker and Writer based in Queenstown, New Zealand. For the past decade his work has appeared in publications all around the world including Outside Magazine, Lonely Planet, Powder, Bike, New Zealand Mountain Biker, The Climber and The NZ Alpine Journal among others.

Scott Kennedy's Adventureskope site
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  Canon EF 8-15mm Fisheye review contents
1 Canon EF 8-15mm main review
2 Canon EF 8-15mm field report: Gordon Laing
3 Canon EF 8-15mm field report: Scott Kennedy
4 Canon EF 8-15mm field report: Stefan Haworth
5 Canon EF 8-15mm optical results
6 Canon EF 8-15mm sample images
7 Canon EF 8-15mm verdict
 
Canon EF 8-15mm fisheye sample image (EOS 7D) 
 
The Canon EF 8-15mm Fisheye is an interesting addition to a photographer's arsenal of lenses. For some it's a novelty lens that will be the flavour of the month for a while and then not see a great deal of use. For other shooters it's a near essential piece of kit that will allow them to get the shot they want, like no other lens is capable of.

From the outset my style of photography most easily fits into the latter category. Primarily I'm an action sports photographer. I shoot a lot of mountain biking, rock climbing and skiing. I also shoot a lot of 'travel' photography where the ultra-wide is a handy lens to have to capture an entire scene in one shot.

What I don't do a lot of is portraits and studio work - two instances where this lens wouldn't excel, except for shooters looking to have a more artistic look to their shots. For those reasons this lens - or at least the specs of it - are well suited to what I like to shoot.

 

First impressions:

My first impressions were universally positive. I mounted it on my Canon EOS 7D and used that body for the duration of testing. The lens felt well balanced on the front of the camera with the zoom and focus control a comfortable fit in my hand. The lens has enough weight too feel solid, yet not so heavy that shooting is cumbersome, tiring or uncomfortable.

My initial concern was for the safety of the front element. In the rough and tumble world of action sport photography the convex front element of the lens is just asking to be damaged. Though the asymmetrical lens hood offers some protection, I would live in fear of damaging this lens in some situations.

For example - rock climbing photography. I can imagine having the camera slung over my shoulder as I get myself in position to shoot, and the front element scraping across the rock face. Just the thought makes me shudder. You'd have to be extra careful with this lens if it was going to live on your camera for any length of time.

There are also some concerns that the lens cap doesn't have great holding power. I thought it did a satisfactory job while I was testing the lens, though I wasn't switching it out or pulling it out of a full camera bag too much.

The build seemed robust and sturdy. Knowing the lens is weatherproof was a nice assurance, especially considering how close you have to get to your subjects. When shooting mountain biking I was constantly getting sprayed with mud and dust, so the weatherproofing was good peace of mind.

 

Shooting performance

I was overall very impressed with the shooting performance in the field. When given the option I chose to shoot with the lens zoomed to 10mm as my widest angle. On the APS-C cropped frame of the 7D this was the widest I could get without vignetting appearing in the corners.

With a full frame body it's possible to get a full circle fisheye, which may appeal to some. My preference to avoid any vignetting was two fold. First personal preference of the final aesthetic of the images and second a more pragmatic commercial outlook. I know if I send a full circular fisheye photo or even an image with significant vignetting to one of the publications I work with they will either crop it so that it has straight edges, or more likely regard it as a novelty shot and reject it. As a pro, regardless of what I think about the aesthetic attributes of a full fisheye shot, if it doesn't put steaks in the freezer, why am I shooting it?

With my preference for zooming to a minimum of 10mm the limiter switch was a handy feature. Flicking this on allowed me to zoom in and out without having to worry about vignetting creeping unexpectedly into my images. I could get half a mm or so more by flicking off the limiter, but in the end it was just easier to just keep it on.

Overall it's a very easy lens to use. With such a massive depth of field focussing is astonishingly easy and with a field of view so large, catching the action is a breeze. You hardly need to look through the viewfinder, just vaguely point the camera in the direction of the subject and it'll be on the frame somewhere.

In practical terms framing shots is a different experience for photographers not used to such a wide angle lens. In order to fill the frame with your subject you have to be frighteningly close. While shooting mountain biking with the lens I was positioned on the trail maybe a foot or two from the riders. This close proximity was somewhat intimidating for my subjects and until they got used to me being 'that' close it was somewhat off-putting.

 

Full-frame Fisheye on EOS 7D: Manual, 1/250, f6.3, 2000 ISO, 8-15mm at 10mm
Canon EF 8-15mm fisheye sample image (EOS 7D)
Click image to access higher resolution version at Flickr

 

The photo above is a good example of that - this was shot about a foot from the subject as she was riding across that log. You can tell she isn't that thrilled that I'm that close to her as she's riding a technically challenging part of the track!

In contrast to that, taking in the entire scene was a breeze - however that includes the sun, your shadow, your camera bag and so on. Careful inspection of the frame before pulling the trigger is essential.

The large field of view also had implications on the exposure. While shooting in mixed light or perpendicular to the light source, the range of exposure within the frame can be enormous. If you're not shooting in RAW or aren't keen on extensive post production work, careful composition and exposure attention is required.

The large field of view also had interesting implications on perspective and composition. By changing your position in relation to the subject you can affect the perspective in some really interesting ways.

Canon EF 8-15mm Fisheye perspective on EOS 7D body at 10mm
8-15mm at 10mm, Click images to access higher resolution versions at Flickr

 

In the photo above left, you can see the trees from behind me creeping into the top of the frame. For this image I was lying flat on my back shooting nearly straight up. By comparison look at the above right, shot from nearly the same place from a higher (I was kneeling) camera position for the difference.

Lens distortion also has some interesting effects on the final image outcome. Once you move the subject out of the centre sweet-spot you really start curving things around. You can use this to your advantage or perhaps detriment.

Full-frame Fisheye on EOS 7D: Manual, 1/1600, f4, 2500 ISO, 8-15mm at 9mm
Canon EF 8-15mm fisheye sample image (EOS 7D)
Click image to access higher resolution version at Flickr

 

In the image above, you can see the cyclist on the left of the frame appears to be heading down a steep decline towards camera. The lens has amplified the steepness of the slope she is riding. The slope in reality is a slight hill and the palm tree behind her is dead vertical and should be parallel with the left-hand edge of the frame.

This lens distortion, and by distortion I'm referring to distortion of reality, is an interesting point. Photography is all about interpreting a scene and lenses are a tool for that interpretation. This lens really allows a photographer to manipulate a scene in-camera into a perceived reality that might not necessarily represent what was 'actually' there. How that fits into your photography ethics, style and aesthetic choice is up to the individual and this review isn't necessarily the place for that debate. I for one like the altered reality and artistic perspective this lens helps you create - it's just another tool in the toolbox.

What would I use this lens for? It's a fantastic action sports lens and I would definitely use it to shoot mountain biking, rock climbing, skiing and skateboarding. This lens also allows you to shoot in some really tight spots. Rock climbing photography for example - often the logistics and safety factors of climbing photography means that you have to be very close to your subject when shooting. This lens will allow you to shoot not only the climber, but what they are climbing too. It would also excel in traditional sports photography - football, rugby, hockey, etc. It also does well as an artistic lens where the wide angle distortion is part of the aesthetic. Shooting bands from the photo pit, making a big crowd look massive and so on.

 

Full-frame Fisheye on EOS 7D: Manual, 1/6400, f4.5, 1000 ISO, 8-15mm at 10mm
Canon EF 8-15mm fisheye sample image (EOS 7D)
Click image to access higher resolution version at Flickr

 

It is possible to use this lens for non-extreme lookimg shots too. In the image above, you can see that by keeping the main subject in the sweet spot in the centre there is little if any distorion.

 

Post production

I was really impressed with the quality of the images. The overall sharpness and image quality was fantastic. No complaints there. I'll let Gordon handle the technical side of the review.

 

Scott's verdict

Would I choose this lens? Maybe. As my 7D, with its cropped frame is my workhorse body and I'm not a fan of the vignetted fisheye look the jury is still out as to whether this is the best ultra-wide for my purposes. For substantially less money I can get the Canon EF-S 10-22mm lens, which everyone is in agreement is a fantastic piece of glass and even optically a bit faster at the wide end. The question then really comes down to: do I need those last 2mm, and the distortion of a fisheye image?

What the 8-15mm has over the 10-22mm is the build. The 8-15mm is weather sealed and better suited for wet environments like the snow. On the other hand the convex lens is asking for trouble in the rough world of action photography. There are of course other wide angle L series lenses available, but none that are all that wide when mounted on a cropped-frame body.

For the photographer who shoots full frame or has a variety of cropped and full frame bodies this lens offers some great versatility. If I fitted into that category I'd definitely be getting ready to throw down the visa for this lens. But that's not me - for me, the proven quality, non redundant mm's of zoom and price steers me to the 10-22mm as my ideal super-wide zoom.

As a stand alone lens and not comparing it to others on the market though, the EF 8-15mm Fisheye is an outstanding piece of glass that in the right hands will create some killer images. Optically it's very impressive and if you are looking for a lens that will give you outstanding fisheye to ultra wide performance in a package that's future-proof for whatever body you shoot next, this lens is without rival. You can expect to see quite a few of these under the Christmas tree this year and a trend towards ultra-wide in action sports photography - and I say bring it on!

Check out our other field reports below, or head to the official results!

Canon EF 8-15mm Fisheye field report by Gordon Laing.
Canon EF 8-15mm Fisheye field report by Stefan Haworth.


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