I recently made a trip to Dubai and brought along a fisheye lens for a change. I have to say that I am unexperienced with fisheye lenses and I usually do not shoot with them. As I am a very creative person I figured I could try something new to give some new creative possibilities while shooting. Dubai was the perfect place, as a fisheye effect from rooftop view can be pretty awesome.
As most of you know I am a landscape photographer. I mainly shoot with wide lenses. The Sony Zeiss 16-35 is on my Sony body most of the time. I also use the 14mm Samyang 2.8 from time to time but decided to leave this one at home for this trip and bring along the 12mm Samyang 2.8 Fisheye instead. This lens has a 180 degrees angle of view on a full frame camera. In this experience review I am going to talk about my experience with this lens in the field and how it effected my shooting experience. I’ll not go too much into technical details as these are generally known and can be found elsewhere.
While in Dubai, I tried this lens on the Sony A7RII (42 megapixel) and the normal A7II (24 megapixel). The lens I used had a native E-mount so no adapters needed. It does not give any electronic information to the camera which means you get no EXIF data from the lens and you have to do everything manual. As a landscaper photographer I don’t mind, as manual is always the way to go for landscapes anyway. At first I was honestly surprised about the sharpness of this lens in the center. With the A7RII megapixel monster the sharpness in the center was above my expectations. I wasn’t sure what to expect with a fisheye, but I was surprised. At the corners the lens loses some sharpness. Samyang told me the Sony E-mount version suffers more loss of sharpness in the corners than the Canon and Nikon version because of the protection layers the Sony sensors have. This also occurs at wide Leica M lenses. Lenses that are specifically made for the Sony sensors, like for example the Zeiss Batis and Loxia, do not have these ‘issues’. What’s interesting is that I tried this lens on the lower megapixel A7II too and really noticed the difference. It's fine on the A7II but shines on the A7rII. This lens was built for higher megapixel cameras and doesn’t lose quality here.
Like mentioned before, this lens opened up new creative possibilities. As I was able to shoot from several rooftops in Dubai, the fisheye really shines here. I loved capturing super wide views from high up and seeing all the detail in the images. It’s so much wider than my 14mm, and even wider than the 11-22 Canon. I was very surprised on how much I actually used this lens during my drip. Overall it was great fun and I took some amazing shots with this lens that I normally wouldn’t have been able to take. That was quite huge for me. It served as an extra creative tool in my bag and brought some images home that I was extremely happy with. Of course, it really depends on where you’re going. Dubai and other sci-fi places and cities are amazing for this lens, but I doubt I would bring it to a trip to Iceland as I would probably use it much less.
180 degree fisheyeview of Business Bay Dubai, uncorrecterd
So what about the fisheye effect? It’s obviously a fisheye and some people don’t really like fisheye distortion. I was skeptical with this at first but I quickly learned to use it exactly how I wanted it to be. If you place the horizon exactly in the middle, the distortion of the horizon is basically zero. If you then tilt your camera up or down, your horizon gets distorted. Of course, even if the horizon is straight, in the up- and down corners, there will be distortion to the middle. This is how a fisheye works. You can use this to your advantage, but you can also correct it.
Dubai Marina, straight out of the camera
Dubai Marina, edited. Fisheye effect removed with Hemi Fisheye, buildings straightened in photoshop
Having used this lens I taught myself some new techniques. I worked a lot with the Photoshop Adaptive Wide angle function along with the great Hemi Fisheye plugin. These two tools allow for great creative control, meaning you can completely ‘defish’ a fisheye shot and still leave an extremely wide angle view. Yes, you will leave some resolution as you have to crop a bit, but using the 42MP of the A7RII this was absolutely no problem. I will not go into too much detail on how to do all this (I can make a tutorial about it if people would be interested) but the great thing is that you have complete control over distortion and the fisheye effect in post. After teaching myself these techniques, in a very short time as it’s not that hard, I could then start to think on how to remove/apply distortion while working with this lens in the field. After using the lens for a while, you kind of know how your final image is going to look like after you removed certain distortion. In some shots I would love distortion and go for a very round horizon on purpose, but in other should I would think like making the horizon straight and set all the buildings straight with it. So basically, you can also use this lens as an extreme wide angle, which was a HUGE plus for me.
Dubai Marina from above, with fisheye effect
Dubai Marina from above, 'defished' including straight horizon & crop.
So basically, you really have to ‘think’ when shooting with this lens if you want to get the maximum out of it. There are tons of different uses you can use it for. For example, while shooting normal wide landscapes with my A7RII and 16-35, I used my A7II with the fisheye a lot to get some great ‘Behind the Scene’ shots. I found that the fisheye was great fun to use for shots like this and gives something extra instead of the usual boring BTS iphone shots.
BTS shot of shooting a storm in Dubai
In a short time I became a huge fan of this lens. Of course, there are also some negatives:
It has quite a lot of Chromatic Aberration in the corners, but this is quite easily fixed with pressing one button in Lightroom.
The corner sharpness wasn’t great on my version. Why do I say ‘my version?’ Nikon and Canon versions don't have this issue according to Samyang.
At f2.8 the lens is a bit soft. My 14mm f2.8 Samyang is sharper wide open, that’s why I like to use it so much for astrophotography. I’m not sure I would use the 12mm f2.8 wide open for astrophotography. I haven’t tried it but it’s definitely not as sharp.
This lens needs a creative mind. Sometimes the shots straight out of the camera are not what people want. You may need to spend some work learning techniques. I consider this a positive but some people might not.
I hope this review was useful to people who are thinking of getting this lens. Feel free to ask any questions or give a comment!
UPDATE: I made a video tutorial about defishing techniques, check it out on the tutorial section of the website.
If you're interested in buying this lens and want to give me some support, please consider using one of my referral links, this will help me greatly!
Twisted Marina. A great example of a shot I could never have done without this lens. This is a hand held shot holding my camera with tripod about 2 meters away from the tower to capture the full base of the Cayan tower including all of Dubai Marina.
Super wide view of the Dubai skyline with intersection in front of it. Fisheye distortion fixed with Hemi Fisheye. Horizon distortion left in tact.
BTS shot of my A7rII shooting a sunrise. I used the A7II for this one.