Canon 8-15mm F/4L Fisheye Lens

Real World Review

The 8-15mm f/4 Fisheye is a relatively new lens, released back in 2010, but that can sometimes feel like a lifetime ago in photography. Although I'd used it for specific assignments in the past

 

OUT OF THE BOX

The lens comes with it's own specialist lens hood as you'd expect for an L-grade item. The lens cap is also specially designed to cover the whole lens+hood assembly. A soft cloth pouch is also provided.

USAGE & HANDLING

Build quality should go without saying for an L-grade lens and the 8-15mm doesn't disappoint. It surprised me by how small it was, from photos the bulbous front element gave me the false impression it was going to be larger than it was. Partly that impression may have been reinforced by the massive 11-24mm f/4 lens I used just prior to reviewing the fisheye but still, it was quite a (pleasant) surprise to see how compact the lens is. At 500g I'd not exactly call it lightweight but mounted to the camera it felt well-balanced.

To be completely honest the main consideration in how the lens handles is how the zoom range renders images on your camera. It can show a full 180 degree image at 8mm on full frame cameras, rendered as a complete circle. In all my time with the lens I found this was more of a novelty effect and I couldn't really find a real world situation where this view was actually useful. Even doing some research online, all of the "full circle" scenes shot at 8mm were unusual rather than outstanding. Shooting at 8mm also means any distortion correction will be limited and unpredictable. Lightroom's internal algorithm general struggled to produce anything usable and I needed to use a dedicated fisheye correction plugin (Fisheye-Hemi) then tease out usable images by hand. After a while I stopped shooting at 8mm and mainly used the longer focal lengths.

I think the most useful advice I can offer about how to get the best out of this lens applies to all wide-angle lenses. Get in close to your subject, make sure you have some foreground interest, get close to the ground if you can - because wide-angles make everything look small in the frame you'll be left with a lot of empty space and not a lot to look at unless you consciously try to fill up the frame.


IMAGE QUALITY

Fisheyes give a unique, distorted view of the world. Whether this is what you want or if it "looks wrong" is down to what you are trying to achieve and how much you are prepared to live with to produce interesting & eye catching outcomes.

It almost seems pointless to talk about distortion - as you can see from any of the images shot with the 8-15mm they are all as distorted as hell but that's the point! If you want ultra-wide angle views of the world without this distortion then get ready to pay for the outstanding & outstandingly expensive 11-24mm f/4. Don't think that this distortion can simply be fixed in post-processing either; sometimes it can but that depends more on what you've photographed and what kind of compromises you are prepared to make, usually in the overall focal range you're able to show. It's either "ultra-wide & super distorted" or "wide & still a bit distorted" without much in the middle.

There are definitely other quality niggles and the amount of chromatic aberration was probably the most surprising, albeit easily fixed. I've left some uncorrected samples later on to show what it's like. For those considering the lens for astrophotography, the coma aberrations are barely noticeable on an APS-C body but at 15mm on full frame the stars do look like smudges rather than pinpoints in the corners of the frame. 

Other than this the lens is pretty much top notch as you might expect. Centre frame sharpness is superb. In fact, if you take an image shot at 8mm and correct the distortion, the centre almost looks unnaturally sharp! This is because the software is smoothing out and unavoidably introducing blur where the image elements are condensed. On higher-resolution bodies the sharpness is noticeably better.

All in all, the image quality for this lens is not something that easily compares to other lenses. Fisheyes are always hard to assess! You choose them because you know you're getting that look. All things considered, it's without doubt it's capable of producing the best quality images of any fisheye I've ever used. Check out the sample images below.

This is straight out of camera with only standard LR conversion sharpening applied. The distortion is obvious and you can see that the corners have black creeping in. It still gives this familiar scene from Singapore a unique perspective.

I just like this :)

Getting right up to your subject is advisable when shooting at such wide angles. While shooting this retro cinema facade I was less than a metre away from the ceiling but I've still captured a huge amount of the surrounding buildings.

A 15mm landscape scene with distortion correction applied. The central portion is pretty much untouched but the edges & corners do have noticeable artefacts. The curvature of the horizon is pretty apparent too.

As you can see the 8-15mm Fisheye is not exactly the best lens for selfies...

One of my favourite shots with this lens, this has been distortion corrected within Lightroom with only minor tweaks to contrast & vibrance. 

This shot and the next show the difference between an image shot at 8mm straight out of camera and the same image after distortion correction in Lightroom. This is the 8mm shot.

This is the 15mm shot. Notice the chromatic aberration, particularly prominent on the road arrow bottom left as a green band on the top edge & a purple band on the bottom.

Indoor & architectural photography are two styles where a fisheye can really shine.

 

PROS

  • The only lens to give a full 180 degree field of view for Canon bodies
  • Very good build & image quality
  • Can be used to shoot some extremely creative & eye-catching images
  • Not badly priced for a Canon L-lens!

CONS

  • It's a niche lens - do you really need one?
  • Distortion, especially at the wide-end, can't really be corrected at all

Conclusion

In some respects this is an easy conclusion to write but in other ways it's quite tricky. It's almost meaningless trying to make any kind of recommendation for this lens because it's such a niche piece of equipment! Fisheyes sort of sit apart from other lenses in any photographer's array of kit - they may not see everyday use but they can levitate everyday shots into outstandingly creative ones. Whether or not it's something you need, will use or will want is a completely personal question. All I can say is that from a build & image quality standpoint the 8-15mm is as good as you'd expect. If you need a lens like this then you won't find better.

The only other real alternatives are the manual focus Samyang lenses which are a lot cheaper but fixed focal length. Astrophotographers may end up opting for those because they don't need the zoom and manual focus is not a concern for astro work but if you want a fisheye and the versatility of the focal range I can't really find anything else to recommend.