Every so often, a product comes along that just blows you away - one that completely makes you rethink your photography. The Canon EF 8-15mm f/4 L USM Fisheye Lens is, without a doubt, one of the most radical lenses Canon has introduced - and it is a game changer for photographers.
The Canon EF 8-15mm f/4 L USM Fisheye Lens was announced in August 2010, and I spent some time with a preproduction model of this lens during the "Canon EXPO 2010 New York" in September. It was not until eleven months later that I had a production lens in my hands (2 of them actually - one purchased, one borrowed). The bottom line is that the 8-15 L was worth the wait.
As you may have guessed from its name, the 8-15 Fisheye is all about angle of view (AOV). The 8-15's AOV spec, for full frame sensor cameras, is 180º - 175º 30' respectively. This range seems very small for a lens with a nearly 2x zoom range - and provides a clue about the 8-15's uniqueness. Adding to the unusualness is that this full frame DSLR AOV range is achieved via zooming between approximately 14mm and 15mm - not by zooming through the entire focal length range (FLR).
Here is why: the Canon EF 8-15mm f/4 L USM Fisheye Lens, on a full frame format DSLR body, is a "circular fisheye" at 8mm and a "full-frame fisheye" at 14-15mm. This means that the diagonal angle of view remains similar through most of the FLR with only a small amount of the image circle being cropped at the corners (where diagonal AOV is measured) at 15mm with an infinity focus distance.
Here is a full circular fisheye sample photo.
You are looking at everything in front of the plane that runs across the front of the lens. I positioned the camera directly above the windshield frame on our '92 MasterCraft ProStar 190 ski boat and instructed my brother to drive us into the sunset. You see everything directly above, below and to the sides of the camera as well as everything in front of the camera. Amazing.
Of course, using the Canon EF 8-15mm f/4 L USM Fisheye Lens on smaller sensor format cameras produces differing results. More specifically, these cameras do not allow the full circular fisheye option. Following is a Canon-provided diagram that illustrates the image circle coverage over the focal length range.
Though the diagonal AOV does not change much as the focal length is increased on a full frame DSLR, the size of the details in the image are noticeably enlarged and the image circle becomes cropped on the sides until the point a full frame fisheye image is reached. APS-H format (1.3x) DSLRs (such as the Canon EOS 1D Mark IV) reach full frame fisheye coverage at about 12mm and APS-C (1.6x) bodies reach full frame fisheye coverage at about 10mm.
When used on APS-H and APS-C format bodies, the Canon EF 8-15mm f/4 L USM Fisheye Lens delivers partial circular fisheye results (black rounded corners) that are probably not going to be desired much of the time. The 8-15 delivers the same results on a full frame body when not used at the full extents of the focal length range.
Unless you are planning to further process your images (cropping or removing distortion), you probably are going to want to avoid this physical vignetting in your images. To assist in avoiding the black corners, Canon provides "H" and "C" markings on the side of the lens for APS-H and APS-C DSLR owners respectively to know their full frame coverage focal length limitations. Note that when focusing close, a slightly longer focal length may need to be selected to avoid the dark corners. You can see these marking near the zoom ring in the images below.
Full frame users can simply use the two extents of the zoom range (8mm and 15mm), though 14mm will be slightly more appropriate than 15mm when focusing at infinity. APS-C users have a focal length range limiter switch (shown below) to physically prevent them from zooming to corner-darkening focal lengths.
APS-H and APS-C users will have some beyond-full frame fisheye focal length range available to use.
So, the Canon EF 8-15mm f/4 L USM Fisheye Lens is a fisheye lens for everyone. Having full frame fisheye coverage for all sensor format DSLRs in a single lens is really useful - especially for those with various sensor format DSLRs in their kits. And those with full frame bodies have the huge circular fisheye bonus. The Canon 8-15 is the first zoom fisheye lens available for a DSLR camera to offer both circular and full frame image circles.
In the 8-15 Fisheye owner's manual, Canon at one point refers to the "telephoto end" of the focal length range. I laughed. The longest end of this focal length range, 15mm fisheye, is equal to the widest AOV available in a Canon lens prior to the introduction of the 8-15 - the Canon EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye Lens.
Below is an example of what the Canon EF 8-15mm f/4 L USM Fisheye Lens' focal length range looks like. Click on the image below (opens in a new window) to see many more very useful examples and comparisons with other lenses.
Amazing! And very cool.
Solidifying what we reviewed above: On a full frame body, 8mm delivers a complete 180° circular fisheye image - the lens exhibits solid vignetting around the entire image circle within the full frame sensor. At about 14mm, the image circle completely covers the entire full frame sensor - when focused at infinity. In the near-MFD results, 14mm still has some corner blackening due to the small angle of view change that occurs with focusing.
On an APS-C (1.6x) body, the image circle of this lens just covers the sensor at 10mm - resulting a true fisheye-appearing image. The image circle at just over 12mm just covers an APS-H (1.3x) sensor, again resulting a true fisheye-appearing image. Focal lengths wider than 10mm and 12mm, on APS-C and APS-H format bodies respectively, result in partial vignetting in the corners.
This extremely wide angle of view presents some challenges for the photographer.
One challenge is in composing a good circular fisheye image. There are a lot of scenes where you really do not WANT 180° in the frame. That the subjects closer to the frame edges tend to be smaller due to the fisheye distortion helps this issue.
Another challenge is - what do you do with a round picture? Aside from a printed button, sticker or other round printed object, leaving the vignette in place seems to be the way to go. You can also crop the image square to reduce the amount of blackness. Fisheye images can be de-fished using distortion correction software, but these tend to noticeably reduce corner sharpness. I have not tried to correct the circular fisheye image distortion.
What to wear (or what not to wear) is yet another challenge when using this lens. That's right. You are going to want to dress nicely. Wear nice pants and shoes - and perhaps even a nice shirt. "Feet" would perhaps even be a good gallery theme to create using this lens. Your feet, your tripod's feet ... The point I'm driving at here is: Keeping yourself out of a circular fisheye image is a challenge. You must lean forward if shooting level. I'm usually keeping both hands on the camera itself (not the lens) when shooting handheld to prevent hands in the frame.
Lighting a 180° composition is very challenging. If the light (including the sun) is behind camera, there will likely be shadows in the frame (yours, the camera's, the lens'). If the light is not behind the camera, the light itself will be in the frame.
Working through the challenges will deliver a potentially unique and dramatic shot for you. The 8-15 Fisheye will be the source of many unique photos. Our imaginations are, as always, the biggest limitation in the use of this lens.
So, what are good uses for the Canon EF 8-15mm f/4 L USM Fisheye Lens? Some good applications include weddings (I'm thinking bouquet toss right now), vehicle interiors and sports - especially those deemed extreme (I'm thinking skateboarding and bicycle jumping right now). Put one of these lenses in a soccer goal on a remote and the action will be in the frame. Put one of these in a fighter jet cockpit on a remote (to keep you out of the picture) and you can included the entire canopy in the frame. Underwater photography is a great use for the 8-15. I'm just scratching the surface with these ideas - hopefully they get you thinking.
As its name indicates, the Canon EF 8-15mm f/4 L USM Fisheye Lens has a moderately wide max f/4 aperture over its entire focal length range. Missing in the name is "IS". While I don't make my love for image stabilization a secret, this lens truly does not need it - even with the only moderately wide aperture. In good conditions (no wind, solid footing), I can handhold this lens at 8mm on a full frame body with a looong 1/4 sec shutter speed with a high percentage keeper rate. I love it.
The 8-15 Fisheye's image quality cannot be evaluated using conventional test charts as it would take a curved target to capture the full frame. But, determining the 8-15's image quality was an easy task nonetheless.
To begin with, the Canon EF 8-15mm f/4 L USM Fisheye Lens is an impressively sharp lens. It is razor sharp even wide open and right into the outer edge of the image circle - which you can of course see entirely when using a full frame lens. Both lenses performed identically.
Let's look at some 100% crops taken from the same composition shown in the first row of focal length comparisons presented earlier in the review. This rock is near the left edge of the image circle. These images were not shot under perfect sky conditions (not perfectly clear), but ... the correct story is told. The original 15mm fisheye crop is taken from a slightly-closer-to-center position (a slight advantage) due to the way this lens framed slightly differently.
Images were captured on a Canon 1Ds Mark III in RAW format. I shoot with the "Neutral" Picture Style in-camera due to the better histogram it provides, but as I did here, usually convert to the "Standard" Picture Style in DPP. Sharpness is set to "1" (very low).
Note that, to reduce page load time (especially for mobile users), this comparison is being hosted on a separate page. Click on the image below to open this comparison in a new window. Use Alt-Tab to toggle back and forth as desired.
Very simply: I'm impressed. All of the Canon EF 8-15mm f/4 L USM Fisheye Lens crops are very sharp.
The EF 15mm Fisheye is a sharp lens itself, but the new lens blows it away in the outer portion of the image circle. At f/16, the effects of diffraction begin to show as overall softening of the image.
Unless you have mounted a third party APS-C format lens on your Canon full frame body, you probably have not yet seen the edge of an image circle in your frame. This lens has this capability on all Canon DSLR formats. With the edge of the image circle present in the frame, you likely noticed that the transition out of the image circle is not sharp in the sample pictures.
The transition to the edge of the image circle is soft at 8mm f/4 and sharpens as the aperture is narrowed - and the front of the lens becomes more in-focus. That's right - the manual even warns about the potential of dust on the front element becoming in-focus when using this lens (the depth of field at 8mm is great). Here is a closer look at the transition to the outer black circle - these are 100% crops.
I feel like I'm looking at earth from the space station in these crops.
Some vignetting is visible at f/4 over the entire focal length range, but the amount is not bad and there is not an abrupt edge to it. You can see this shading by using the 100% crop comparison in the sharpness discussion above. Move you mouse back and forth between the f/4 and f/5.6 examples - you will see how the corners brighten at f/5.6 as vignetting nearly disappears.
CA is reasonably well controlled, but some is visible in the outer image circle over the focal length range. Again, the worst case is visible in the rock comparison example above. Canon's DPP will remove most of the CA as will many other post-processing software applications.
The 180° AOV means that the sun or other bright light sources will be in a high percentage of shots taken with this lens. The Canon EF 8-15mm f/4 L USM Fisheye Lens has received Canon SWC (Subwavelength Structure Coating) to reduce the resulting flare and ghosting. While this is not a flare-free lens, it is far closer to being so than most lenses I test.
In the f/11 examples below, the sun is positioned very close to the edge of the image circle. The black is an SUV window - which should make the results of flare very obvious.
Flare disrupts the edge of the image circle (though I've found this to be attractive in some of my real life shots). At 8mm, a small rainbow-colored area of flare is visible at the bottom of the window - a 100% crop of this is provided. By 12mm, this flare is gone. While flare is nearly absent at 15mm, I have experienced situations that cause some flare at this focal length. Specifically, when the sun is overhead and shining down across the objective lens with no lens hood in place. Example 15mm b shows this with a 50% crop showing the same.
Distortion? If you have to ask, this lens is not for you. The amount of barrel distortion from this lens is huge - and intentional. If your subject is not round, they will be round after the 8-15mm has its way with them.
Bokeh (background blur quality) from the 8-15 Fisheye's 7 rounded-blade aperture is, well, hard to evaluate as it is not easy to create a significant background blur with this aperture stopped down. When I do see blur, the background appears to nicely fade out of focus. It looks good.
The tripod used in the above product images is a Kirk Mini Table Top Tripod. Most of the product images in this review (and in many other reviews on the site) were shot with the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4 L IS USM Lens. The Canon 180mm f/3.5 L USM Macro Lens is used for the standardized images (those used for comparisons).
Powered by Canon's excellent Ring USM, the Canon EF 8-15mm f/4 L USM Fisheye Lens accurately focuses quickly and very quietly. The huge DOF from this lens does not present much challenge to AF. FTM (Full Time Manual) focusing is available. The front element does not rotate during AF, but this feature has little advantage as front filters are not supported on this lens.
The manual focusing ring is very smooth and nicely damped with no play in it. Although there is only 92° of focus ring rotation, 3'/1m is the longest distance listed prior to infinity in the focus distance window. So, not much rotation is needed to make precise focusing easy. The .56” (14.3mm) focus ring is not large, but is raised from the lens body slightly, making it easy to find and overall, easy to use.
As I mentioned earlier in the review, subjects in the frame change size slightly during focusing - getting smaller as focusing is set to closer distances. Changing focus distance from minimum focus distance (MFD) to infinity affects diagonal angle of view (corner to corner) nearly as much change as zooming on a full frame body (not much).
The 8-15 Fisheye has an eye-opening minimum focus distance and maximum magnification for the AOV it provides.
|Canon EF 8-15mm f/4 L USM Fisheye Lens||5.9"||(150mm)||0.39x|
|Canon EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye Lens||7.9"||(200mm)||0.14x|
|Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM Lens||9.4"||(240mm)||0.17x|
|Canon EF 14mm f/2.8 L II USM Lens||7.9"||(200mm)||0.15x|
|Canon EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Lens||13.8"||(350mm)||0.21x|
|Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L II USM Lens||11.0"||(280mm)||0.22x|
|Canon EF 17-40mm f/4.0 L USM Lens||11.0"||(280mm)||0.25x|
|Canon TS-E 17mm f/4 L Tilt-Shift Lens||9.8"||(250mm)||0.14x|
There are very few non-macro lenses with higher maximum magnification specs. A lens this wide with a focus distance that short and a MM that large simply screams creativity. Perspective distortion is easy to create with the EF 8-15 L - and this distortion is further emphasized by the natural barrel distortion of this lens. The 20" SUV wheel in the focal length comparison near the top of this review examples this.
Note that about 5" (127mm) of the MFD is consumed by the sensor plane to objective lens distance, leaving VERY little working distance.
For even crazier maximum magnification, add a Canon EF 12mm Extension Tube II. However, the 12mm ET will only work at the long end of the 8-15mm FLR and requires infinity focusing for an extremely short working distance between the front element and the subject. So short that lighting is a serious issue. The 8-15 is not compatible with the Canon EF 25mm Extension Tube II - or with Canon Extenders.
It is a Canon L Series Lens, so I had high expectations from the 8-15 L - and build quality is yet another feature that the 8-15 pleases in. The Canon EF 8-15mm f/4 L USM Fisheye Lens is a solidly built lens. The zoom ring is nicely damped and very smooth with no play. Same applies to the focus ring. Both of these rings are slightly raised from the lens barrel and have slightly different rib spacing for recognition purposes.
The 8-15 Fisheye does not extend during focusing, but does extend slightly over the zoom range with about 11mm being the most-retracted focal length. The amount of zoom extension is only .09” (2.4mm), so the movement is practically nothing.
The 8-15 Fisheye is weather sealed. Like the Canon EF 14mm f/2.8 L II USM Lens, the 8-15 has a mount gasket and seals at the switch panel and focusing ring. Neither of these lenses are fully sealed as a front filter would be required for this.
The 8-15 L's front and rear elements receive a fluorine coating to make them easier to clean. This coating makes a noticeable difference in cleanability. And the way this lens' front element protrudes, easy cleaning is a relevant feature for it to have. The coating also aids in water repellency.
|Model||Weight||Dimensions w/o Hood||Filter||Year|
|Canon EF 8-15mm f/4 L USM Fisheye Lens||19.1 oz||(540g)||3.1 x 3.3"||(78.5 x 83mm)||na||2010|
|Canon EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye Lens||11.6 oz||(330g)||2.9 x 2.4"||(73 x 62mm)||na||1987|
|Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM Lens||13.6 oz||(385g)||3.3 x 3.5"||(84 x 90mm)||77mm||2004|
|Canon EF 14mm f/2.8 L II USM Lens||22.8 oz||(645g)||3.1 x 3.7"||(80 x 94mm)||na||2007|
|Canon EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Lens||20.3 oz||(575g)||3.2 x 3.4"||(81.6 x 87.5mm)||72mm||2009|
|Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L II USM Lens||22.6 oz||(640g)||3.5 x 4.4"||(88.5 x 111.6mm)||82mm||2007|
|Canon EF 17-40mm f/4.0 L USM Lens||16.8 oz||(475g)||3.3 x 3.8"||(84 x 97mm)||77mm||2003|
|Canon TS-E 17mm f/4 L Tilt-Shift Lens||28.9 oz||(820g)||3.5 x 4.2"||(88.9 x 106.9mm)||na||2009|
For many more comparisons, review the complete Canon EF 8-15mm f/4 L USM Fisheye Lens Specifications using the site's Lens Spec tool.
The 8-15 Fisheye is a compact lens - the smallest L lens available at review time. This compactness becomes a bit of an issue when trying to keep your hands out of the 180° field of view. Otherwise, the size and weight make this a great handling lens - one that you can use for long periods of time without fatigue. Here is a visual comparison with some other lenses.
Positioned above from left to right in their fully retracted positions are the following lenses:
Canon EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye Lens
Canon EF 8-15mm f/4 L USM Fisheye Lens
Canon EF 14mm f/2.8 L II USM Lens
Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM Lens
Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L II USM Lens
The same lenses are shown below in their fully extended states with their lens hoods in place.
As indicated in the chart above, no provision is made for the Canon EF 8-15mm f/4 L USM Fisheye Lens to accept front filters. This of course means that circular polarizer filters are not supported. I don't see this as an issue as these filters would create an extremely uneven sky anyway. And the sky, if you can see it, will be in most of your 8-15mm pics.
A holder for cut-your-own gelatin filters is provided at the rear of the lens as shown below.
The 8-15 Fisheye's included Canon EW-77 lens hood warrants some discussion. First, the EW-77 is small and includes a release button as shown below.
Somewhat unusual for a Canon lens hood is that it is not designed to be used at all focal lengths on all bodies. Essentially, this hood will cause physical vignetting at focal lengths wider than the full-frame fisheye setting (10mm, 12mm or 14+mm). For a full frame DSLR camera, the vignetting looks like this:
Click on the above image to see the with-hood full frame vignetting at various focal lengths. Notice how in-focus the lens hood itself is at in these f/11, infinity focus distance shots.
The next discussion we should have is regarding the lens cap. The 8-15's lens hood is not reversible. So, like the Canon EF 14mm f/2.8 L II USM Lens' supplied cap, the 8-15's plastic cap slides over the lens hood and clips onto the two longer petals of the hood. Here are a couple of images of the cap installed:
Experience has proven that Canon did not create an adequate solution with this lens cap. It inadvertently releases far too frequently.
Sit the camera down on a flat surface resting on the end of the lens and the body and the bottom clip on the lens cap typically releases. When you pick the camera up, the lens cap then sometimes falls off (or flies across the room if you grab the camera quickly). The lens cap sometimes releases in a case as well.
However, as bad as this cap sounds, it is much better than the metal 15mm fisheye lens cap that did not even clip on. It is a big risk in that it easily slid off and came into contact with the front element during transport. Forget about carrying that lens with the cap installed.
Note that these thicker caps take up more room than conventional flat caps wherever you store them while using the lens.
I'm mostly using the Canon EF 8-15mm f/4 L USM Fisheye Lens on a full frame camera, and because I'm shooting both full-frame and circular fisheye images, I simply remove the cap+hood together as a unit - making the pair act like the Canon TS-E 17mm f/4 L Tilt-Shift Lens' lens cap.
The 8-15 L ships with a Canon LP1219 Lens Pouch. This pouch will protect your lens from dust and scratches, but not from significant impact.
Those looking for a fisheye lens will likely be also considering the Canon EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye Lens. The 15 was introduced 24 years prior to the 8-15 L, and it is showing its age from a design perspective.
The 15's tiny MF ring is not smooth and has play in it. The 15 has moderately noisy AF and FTM focusing is not enabled. The 15 does not focus as closely. The 15's metal cap is nice but is all-the-time falling off. The 15 is not as sharp in the periphery of the image circle, though it is overall, a sharp lens. The 15, without the modern lens coatings, shows flare more easily.
The 15's advantages include the 1 stop wider aperture with images being 1/3-1/2 stop brighter than the 8-15 L's at identical exposure settings. The 15 has a vignetting advantage at f/4. The 15 is smaller and lighter. And important to all of us, the 15 is less expensive.
If the Canon EF 8-15mm f/4 L USM Fisheye Lens has the focal length range and "look" you want, I highly recommend it. Its price is not cheap and cost will filter out casual buyers, but many serious photographers (both pro and amateur) should consider acquiring this lens.
Too much novelty? Not enough real in-demand results? I don't think so. There is a place for the 8-15 L in many kits, but it will indeed be a low shot percentage lens for most of us. It is easy to over-kill the distorted fisheye image appearance, so use this lens as spice - to give your portfolio better taste.
The Canon EF 8-15mm f/4 L USM Fisheye Lens provides you with a tool that delivers set-your-work-apart images. It will capture images not otherwise capturable.
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