When to use a Fisheye Lens

iStock_Fisheye_yacht_at_dock_21775242I want to discuss and go over some applications for this very useful and practical lens that you may want to consider adding to your DSLR camera kit.  I know you’ve seen many examples of the concave look from a DSLR still image but I want you to also think about the video possibilities for using a fisheye lens as well.


So first off what is a fisheye eye lens?  A fisheye lens is simply a wide angle lens which gives you a very wide perspective of the image you’re viewing.  The term fisheye has been coined because of the appearance of the outside of the lens which has a bulbous or convex appearance – much like the appearance of a fish’s eye, it has also been said that this is how a fish may view the world.iStock_Goldfish_22157665

There are varying degrees of wide angle lens that you can use.  When you’re shooting on a DSLR once you get to down to about 15mm in lens it’s considered a fisheye, however, the traditional bending of the edges which are representative of a fisheye look doesn’t really become apparent until you move even wider, say down to 12, 10 or 8 mm.

When you’re shooting video on a camcorder or video camera you can tend to shoot a bit wider before the distortion on the edge of frame becomes as apparent.

Let me provide you with some examples of how I have used a wide angle lens when covering events on video.

One of the most common shots that we use when covering live sports is to set up what is known as an establishing shot.  This is typically a wide angle overview of the sporting venue.  The same shot is used when televising an entertainment or musical event.  The camera is set up in a high corner if possible to show as much of the facility while also including the crowd.

From a directors stand point, I like to provide the viewer with ’30,000 foot’ overview shot before getting in close on the athletes or musicians.  When using a video camera the lens could be as wide as a 14 x4.3 mm.  The first number on the video lens refers to the amount of magnification, as in 14 times.  The second number tells you how wide the focal length is. Canon currently provides a super wide lens that has a minimum focal length of 4.3mm on their HJ14x4.3 lens.  This lens can give you almost a 100 degree panoramic perspective on a scene.

Another great time to have access to a wide angle lens is when you’re shooting award presentations with group shots.  When you’re in close proximity to a large group of individuals, say 4 or more people, it makes it much easier to catch all the emotion and action when you have a fisheye lens on your camera.

You do have to be aware of how much your lens will bend the image on the edges but for the most part when you’re shooting at least 6 to 8 feet away from the group then the distortion will be minimal. 

Documentary video shooting can also be made easier when you have a fisheye lens on your DSLR.  When working in tight quarters, you want to be assured that you don’t miss any of the critical action taking place.  Having a 15mm lens to work with will help you achieve this.

Another bonus of this lens is that when shooting stills  you’ll find that you can capture amazing pictures without even having to look though the viewfinder to frame your shot.  The lens is wide enough that your subject will almost assuredly be in frame when you snap it.  This is also a nice feature when you’re trying to be discreet.

Almost all video cameras have zoom lens , so you will see 2 numbers on the lens barrel indicating the furthest zoom at one end and the widest zoom capability at the other.


On DSLR’s they state the lens capability in the opposite order.  The widest setting first and the longest zoom ability second.  For example, the Canon EF 8-15 f/4L fisheye lens; the 8 refers to 8mm wide and the 15 is the zoom ability, although I wouldn’t typically think of a 15mm lens as being much of a zoom but in theory that is what you’re doing.


I hope this gives you some clarity on the abilities and functions for a fisheye or wide angle lens.  Once you start using one you’ll wonder how you ever managed to shoot without it.

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