At A Glance: Go Wide

Most of us are familiar with the distorted 180° angle of view that a fisheye presents. Similar to the peephole of a door, a foreground subject close to the lens will appear much closer and larger than the background, while the background will curve in an exaggerated distortion. The possibilities of the complete 180º field of view provided by a fisheye are often employed in any number of creative niche video styles like Hype Williams-esque music videos, time-lapse segments, nature or documentary videos, underwater projects and especially in extreme sports videos involving skateboarding, bicycling and snowboarding. The Canon EF 8-15mm ƒ/4L lens is special for a fisheye, though, in that it adds zooming abilities that can transform a fisheye perspective into a much more frequently used ultra-wide angle when used with sub-full-frame sensors and, just as importantly, it’s the first fisheye that can be used across all three of Canon’s video-capable DSLR formats.

The EF 8-15mm ƒ/4L is an EF-series lens, meaning that it’s designed to cover a full-frame sensor so it will present a true 8-15mm on the Canon EOS 5D Mark II and other full-frame EOS cameras. (The 5D Mark II is the only Canon DSLR in the current lineup with a full-frame sensor that’s also capable of video.) The entire zoom range is designed to be used on the full-frame 5D Mark II because, at 15mm, the EF 8-15mm ƒ/4L provides a corner-to-corner 180º angle of view. When zoomed to 8mm, a "circular fisheye" perspective is offered as an alternative to the full-frame fisheye. It can best be described as sort of a tunnel-vision effect with a literal 180º image circle that’s surrounded by extreme vignetting in the form of a solid black border. (The corners of the image haven’t been exposed since the image circle at 8mm is smaller than the full-frame sensor.) The EF 8-15mm ƒ/4L is the first lens to offer digital cameras both circular and full-frame fisheye image circles in a single lens, but you can only produce the circular fisheye effect on full-frame cameras.

Because of the smaller sensor sizes, Canon’s range of sub-full-frame, video-capable DSLRs will minimize the purposeful barrel distortions of a full-frame fisheye. This makes the EF 8-15mm ƒ/4L useful as an ultrawide-angle lens when used with sub-full-frame sensors. The Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, for instance, includes an APS-H-sized sensor with an approximate 1.3x crop factor, and the EOS 7D, 60D and Rebel T3i sub-full-frame DSLRs will offer a 1.6x equivalence.

The EF 8-15mm ƒ/4L is also a member of the L series, Canon’s pro line of top optics. Comparatively slow to other models in the L series, the ƒ/4 aperture is constant throughout the zoom range, and there’s full manual control. Construction highlights include a ring-type Ultra-Sonic Motor (USM) for quiet autofocus and manual-focus functionality, Ultra-Low Dispersion (UD) glass and a Protective Fluorine water-repellant lens coating for smudge-free cleaning of the front and rear elements. Weather-resistant construction and gasketing reduce dust and moisture from reaching the internal components, and because it’s so difficult to avoid incorporating the sun or other specular lighting sources in the 180º view, SubWavelength Structure Coating (SWC) is included to reduce secondary reflections that produce flares and ghosting. No current Canon wide-angle includes image stabilization, including the EF 8-15mm ƒ/4L fisheye, but the short focal length of the lens makes it simple to handhold without too much noticeable shake.

Thanks to the rather bulbous front element design, the EF 8-15mm ƒ/4L includes a filter slot at the rear of the lens for adding your own gel filters, which you can size by cutting. Circular polarizers aren’t compatible, and you can’t add any protective filters to the front of the expensive lens. There are other practical and aesthetic limitations to working with a fisheye, as well. The minimum focusing distance is only 6.2 inches, which is tremendous for isolating your foreground subject, but with 180º of view, it’s possible for tripod legs, fingers on the lens and your own feet to poke into the image if you’re not careful. Like most fisheyes, there’s also chromatic aberration seen as purple fringing along the outer corners.

Regardless, the EF 8-15mm ƒ/4L has tested extremely well when it comes to image sharpness and, frankly, it’s just fun to use. The lens will give your video a look that’s unobtainable by any other methods. List Price: $1,499.

Contact: Canon, (800) OK-CANON, www.usa.canon.com.

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