fisheye images taken in Gdansk on the Baltic coast of Poland

I’ve always enjoyed taking photographs with a fisheye lens.

If you can let go of needing straight lines be straight they give you the widest views and opportunities for creative compositions. Imagine telling someone about the restaurant you ate at last night, the building you visited. “You should have seen the place, the ceiling was amazing”. It is easier to show when you can take a photo of pretty much a whole room from one corner, ceiling included.

In fact, the fisheye forms an image with such an amazing field of view you have to make sure your fingers are not too close to the end of the lens and look out for dangling camera straps or even your feet getting into the photo.

My first fisheye lens was the Minolta 16mm (interesting because of its internal filters for film photography) and I was in Huddersfield in 2006 using it on a film camera. Looking through the viewfinder at the buildings across the road I tilted the camera upwards to include more of the sky. Imagine the suprise of all the shoppers around me as I duck and start to cover my head because I think the building behind me is falling on my head!
Its like having awesome peripheral vision.

I also have the Canon 15mm FE and use it to get everyone at a wedding in a full group shot. You’ll see those on the blog quite often. Raised up high it isn’t easy to aim because you can’t see the LCD screen and at around 1.3Kg mounted on a Canon 5DIII it is not easy to balance on the end of a monopod.

So weighing in at a total (lens + camera + battery) of less than 500grams this is the Samyang 8mm on a sony Nex 5R. The 5DIII with the Canon fisheye is shown in the second image for comparison.

With so much in a fisheye scene it is common to have very bright and dark areas in the same photograph.
While the Sony Nex 5R has a smaller sensor than the Canon the quailty at ISO100 is a suprise. The “dynamic range” (its abilty to capture detail across the range of bright highlights of the Sony Sensor is much much better than the (four times more expensive) Canon combination. There is one photo I shot (squinting into the Sun) of the Grand Hotel in Sopot which I took as a test of how much I could push an image exposed for the bright sky near the Sun:

While there is some random noise when you push the image that much there is ZERO of the pattern noise problems you’d get with a Canon sensor.
Impressed. Times ten.

Being able to tilt the screen up and down on the Sony is useful with this lens as you can get very different effects as you raise or lower your viewpoint.
The photograph taken on the cobbles would be very difficult to frame without it. The flip back screen for self portraits is fun even if the lens is plenty sharp enough to resolve every grey hair in my “holiday beard”. The lens is seriously sharp right to the corners.

The first night I shot at ISO1600 and ISO3200 and got acceptable results however with enough DOF at f2.8 or f4, no mirror slapping when you take the photo and a nicely squeezeable shutter button it is possible to get sharp photos at night without increasing the ISO as much.

Its such a small camera people will walk round you and not pay much attention and being super lightweight meant I could happily hold the camera at whatever level I wanted and wait until something walked / flew into the scene that I thought would add to the composition. The tour guide / group is my favorite example of that, it was a less interesting image without the shadows that evolved as I waited for them to pass by a light.

The lens is manual focus, I set it to a position just before the infinity mark most of the time but used approx 0.5m setting for the self portraits. I found the distance scale worked well and the manual focus ring turns so beautifully smoothly I found myself turning it just to feel it.
I’d argue very strongly that a fisheye lens is best used manually focused so I didn’t miss autofocus (in fact I manually focus the Canon).
It also has a manual aperture control, I found this brilliant with the “what you see is what you get” LCD. I had the camera set to shutter speed priority which put the shutter speed control on the top control wheel giving me full manual exposure. I used the histogram to get the exposure I wanted. Generally I used an aperture of around f4 at night and f8 in the daytime.
The LCD wasn’t so easy to see in very bright Sun (and a white shirt is the worst thing you can wear because it reflects from the screen) but so long as I could see the histogram I was happy.

I love all the fine details you can discover on the full size 16MP images (you can read the label on the bottle sticking out of the pocket of the man in the mexican hat) but I hope you still find these photographs of Gdansk, Oliwa and Sopot interesting at the size posted.

I think its a great area to visit with fantastic cafes (I’d recommend “The Red Door” and “Riviera Literacka”) and plenty to see. It is my second visit and I’d go again.

Gdansk airport

Posted on August 5th, 2013

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