The Canon EF 8-15 F4 L fisheye lens is one highly anticipated piece of glass ! First announced back in Autumn 2010 this is not a replacement of any existing lens, but an all new design with unique potential. Canon originally started with the 15mm f2.8 fisheye which was designed before the digital days. This lens provided a full 180 degree field of view on a full frame camera but users of 1.6 or 1.3 crop cameras were left with slightly less fishy look to their images. On the Nikon side of things, Nikkor released a beautiful 10.5mm fisheye for their crop cameras but Canon never followed suit. Sigma built a Canon mount 10mm fisheye and a few people got by with a Tokina 10-17 which did give you a wide view on a 1.3 crop camera but neither of these lenses were hugely high quality. I often use fisheye lenses in my action sports photography work but the problem is I shoot with a full frame Canon 5dMKII and a 1.3 crop Canon 1dMKIV. I’ve always made do with a 15mm f2.8 fisheye which is great on my 5d with it’s full frame sensor but always left me wanting when used on the cropped 1d. Well with this new Canon 8-15 they have solved my problem and designed a lens that can achieve a full 180mm field of view on any of their digital cameras, a simply fantastic idea.
A bi product of creating such a lens is that in it’s widest setting, 8mm, you also create a circular fisheye lens when used with a full frame camera. Canon never made an EF circular lens before so this is another bonus to the design of this unique lens. For those unfamiliar, a circular fisheye lens will allow you a full 360 degree field of vision in the middle of the frame. Around the outside of the circle it will be black. A specialist lens use, perhaps one you might not buy a specific lens for, but seeings as it’s all included in one lens then why not!
Lens cap and hood
I’ll start here because this is the first thing you notice when you unpack the lens from the box. To shield the convex front element there is a special lens camp to fit the lens with the shade still in place. To remove the lens cap there are two opposing plastic latches just like a normal lens cap with one unfortunate exception…. The latches on the 8-15s cap require the most minute amount of pressure to release them to the point at which the cap comes off. I’ve never seen any other cap like it, you could practically breathe on it and the cap would unlatch itself. The result is that it almost immediately falls off when it’s in your camera bag. If there was EVER a lens where I did not want the lens cap to fall off in my bag THIS would be the one. The front element is extremely vulnerable and any damage to the element will show up many times worse than it would on a zoom lens. If you place the lens “face” down in your bag you will be very slightly safer but the pressure from the padding on even a moderately full camera bag will immediately release the cap. You might still be ok at this point so long as you don’t bump your bag to the point where the lens can jump out of the cap. If it does and it shifts over, your lens cap is going to be directly rubbing that element. Infuriating design for such a premium lens. I recommend that anyone who buys this immediately purchases a neoprene lens bag such as one from LensCoat. This will help keep the cap on while it’s in your bag. I didn’t even know it was possible to fail on designing a lens cap! The cap on my Sigma 15mm fisheye was many many times more effective, in other words it just stayed on!
Moving on to the hood though thankfully there are better things to say. Instead of the regular twist on hoods supplied with most Canon lenses they included the release switch that I think we first saw on the 70-200 f2.8 II. Simple enough, you just need to press the button and then twist to release the tiny hood. Whether or not you will need to release the hood at all will depend on what sort of camera you are going to be using. The only situation where the hood gets in the way is when trying to get a circular fisheye image at 8mm on a full frame camera. If you have a 1.3 or 1.6 crop camera there is really no reason to take the hood off at all.
Zoom limit switch
Engaging the limiting switch will prevent you from widening the lens past about 10mm. The exact point it stops you is the widest the lens will go on a 1.6 crop camera (like 7d or 60d) before vignetting. In other words it helps you to find the right point for a full frame fisheye shot on one of these cameras. This is extremely useful so long as you are using a 1.6 crop camera. Before taking delivery of the camera I had assumed that the limit switch has two positions. One for APS-C (1.6x crop) cameras and one for APS-H (1.3 crop) cameras. This would make sense because it’s an L series lens that coasts $1500, there will undoubtedly be a lot of pros using this lens on 1-series cameras like myself on my 1dMK4. Unfortunately it did not make sense to Canon for some reason. Instead they provided the switch to help out those people who buy this lens to use on cameras that sell for less than the price of the lens, like the 60d. But people who use $5000 pro bodies have to go without such luxuries. They do provide some lettering on the side of the lens though and if you line things up with H for APS-H then you’ll be just fine. Realistically, selecting the correct zoom four your sensor is not hard to do at all, but I just can’t figure out why they would make the limit switch solely for APS-C cameras.
In a word , excellent. Everything we have come to know and love about L lenses in the past. Super smooth zoom and focus rings feature a much deeper rubber grip on them than previous lenses. This is Canon’s smallest zoom lens physically so the zoom and focus rings are narrow but the deeper rubber grooves compensate and manual focus is very nice. The deeper grooves do seem to collect dirt quite easily but they give a lovely feel to both rings. The slightly mottled look to the lens body is present just as it has been on all L lenses released from 2010 onwards.
Optical design and filtering
The most striking feature of the lens is it’s convex front element which gives you a clear window into the 14 lens elements inside. Considering the obvious complexity of creating a lens as unique as this, I was pleased to see that the overall size and weight of it is not quite as much as I was expecting. Due to the overly large cap and hood it still takes up as much room as a regular wide prime in my bag, but it’s not quite as heavy. The minimum focusing distance is a mere 6 inches which is nice to have, though be careful at that distance you don’t wobble and bump the precious front element on your subject. Its hard to gauge the distance with this lens when looking through the viewfinder!
With a max aperture of f4.0 there will be some who long for f2.8. To make such a complex optical assembly with f2.8 would have been hugely more expensive and probably weight twice as much so for me I’m not worried about it. Today’s ISO performance can even things out as far as I’m concerned and the difference in depth of field/bokeh between f2.8 and f4.0 is hard to spot on a fisheye. Apparently this is also Canon’s first lens with a new fluorine optical coating which supposedly helps to protect from smudges and dust build up though I can’t say I noticed anything spectacular in that regard.
Obviously normal lens filters will not work with this lens but there is a small holder for gelatin filters at the back of the lens should you really need it. Can’t say it’s anything I’ve ever wished for on such a lens but it’s there and I’m sure someone will find a use for it!
This lens features Canon’s fastest USM auto focus motors and as well as being fast, it’s as silent as they come. I find it’s better to use a single AF point with a fisheye because the field of view has so much going on that it can be tricky for the camera to predict your target. Anything more than a couple of feet away gets vanishingly smaller very quickly. Compared to my previous fisheye, the Sigma 15mm f2.8, this Canon 8-15mm is leagues ahead in terms of speed though I always found the sigma to be accurate. On a 1dmk4 with a close up subject it was an excellent combination.
The problem with reviewing this lens is that it’s designed for three different types of cameras. Whilst most lenses simply work on all three sensor sizes, this one is unique in the way it works to produce a 180 degree field of view on all cameras whereas normally the APS-H and APS-C cameras would have lesser FOVs. I have a full frame 5dMK2 and an APS-H 1Dmk4 so I can get a decent feeling for things. As with all lenses, the real test will be the full frame camera as it will use the largest amount of the image circle so my initial testing largely concentrated on the 5d.
Center Sharpness – Full frame sensor
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Impressively sharp for such a lens!
You can have a look through full sized versions of all these images to get a gauge on this but overall I am impressed. Most fisheye lenses smear the corners of the image into mush but things stand up well on this lens. It’s not as sharp as the center of course but it seems to be fairly sharp in the corners right out of the gate with only a little extra softness when wide open.
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Adjustment of the chromatic aberration slider in Adobe Lightroom can easily clear this problem up as you can see below. You can also create a custom profile for the lens and have it applied automatically. Disappointingly, this is the first lens I’ve ever owned where I have felt a real need to do something like that. I have lenses such as the 24mm f1.4 II that show a little CA when wide open, but this sample here is stopped down to f11 and having tested it more thoroughly I can say that the CA never goes away fully at all no matter what aperture you set. With wider apertures there seems to be more red fringing and that does diminish slowly with increased aperture but the cyan side of the spectrum is troublesome all the way through.
This is a big disappointment for me in a lens that is this expensive. Chromatic aberration in the Sigma 15mm f2.8 fisheye are less prevalent than this lens, which is more than twice as expensive. It does not extend across the whole frame and as such, APS-C users are going to see less of it than full frame users but I have looked through samples shot on the 1dMK4 and the issue extends to roughly cover the outer 25% of the image even on that smaller APS-H sensor. A few months ago I was shown some samples from this lens that were taken at a trade show. At the time I wrote a blog post about it and pointed out the exact same problem back then. I had hoped that the lens at the show was a pre-production sample and that things would be better for sale samples. It seems that is unfortunately not the case though. This is by far the biggest IQ problem with this lens and I appreciate that CA gets harder and harder to control as a lens gets wider and wider but this is still the poorest control of CA I think I have ever seen. For an L-Series lens I’m very surprised and I would love to hear what Canon has to say about this. If I get an answer from them I will post a follow up at a later date…..
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Circular fisheye at 8mm
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iso800, f7.1, 1/500 on a Canon 5dmk2
Setting the lens to 8mm on a full frame camera gives you a fully circular fisheye view. To be quite honest I can’t see many people getting a professional usage out of this 8mm setting but it is pretty fun to try and capture something cool with it. The “weird factor” can make regular things look interesting but to compose a truly excellent image with it is quite difficult. I think it would work well in cities with sky scrapers but I didn’t have any of those around. This image shows a few of the nuances of the lens at 8mm. We can see the chromatic aberration again in the outer 15% but also a severe blue fringe around much of the outer edge of the image. This is the first circular fisheye lens I have tried, but upon doing a bit of further research it seems that such fringing is a regular feature of them. Another reason why I am unlikely to use the lens at this length for any professional use. You could fairly easily develop a mask template in Photoshop though if you wanted to remove the fringe as it appears to be identical in size and position no matter what setting you use. Ignoring the CA and fringing for a moment though the sharpness of the image is good for something with such a huge amount of distortion. I’m not going to dwell too long on this circular setting though because I don’t see it being used all that often. Incidentally, when zooming from 15mm to 8mm on a full frame camera you will need to remove the lens hood as it’s edges will start to appear in the photo.
As I mentioned briefly above, the MFD of this lens is a mere 6″ from the focal plane. If you’ve checked out the video embedded above you’ll have seen that it equates to only about an inch from the front of the lens. This is much closer than any other fisheye I have used before and it really allows you to get the lens into tight spaces and still get a compelling image. The example below appears to show an expansive patch of flowers but in actual fact I merely stuck the camera in a very small collection of daisies on the side of a footpath. Bringing subjects close to the lens leads to the most interesting results with a lens like this so it’s great that you can bring things VERY close indeed and the lens still maintains good sharpness.
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Flare seems to be very well controlled, especially when you consider the amount of curved glass surfaces in the lens. Here are examples of both full frame and circular fisheye images. With the lens being so wide, the lens hood has to be pretty small to prevent it appearing in the image all the time and that certainly limits the effectiveness of it but overall it copes very well. Much better than my previous fisheye lens. To achieve a full circular photo at 8mm on a full frame camera means removing the lens hood, whether this is the cause for the increased flare at 8mm I am not sure. It could just be an effect of the glass element placement at this end of the zoom spectrum. Considering the amount of distortion to achieve an image like that I don’t think the resultant flare is too unexpected and I also don’t think it’s too much.
More full sized image samples can be found in a Flickr set here.
Who Is This Lens For ?
For a full sized sample of this image above shot with a 1dmk4 please check it out on FLICKR.
There’s no denying the fact that a fisheye lens is a specialist piece of glass. They can easily become over-used and a fishy look can get tiresome. With that said, when you find the right time to use it there is nothing quite like it. Action sports photographers use lenses like this all the time and I’m sure that it will be finding it’s way into the bags of many of the best skateboard, snowboard and surf photographers. It’s a fantastic way to emphasize the size of the surrounding landscape compared to a solitary athlete, or to enlarge the look of a jump or drop taking place in in one of these sports. Below I have included some samples of my own ski photography work that was done with my previous 15mm f2.8 fisheye. I haven’t had the chance to shoot any skiing with this new lens yet but I can’t wait for winter to roll around!
Another great use for such a lens is landscape work where you have some interesting foreground elements which you can place right up against the lens. A fisheye lens can be an incredibly challenging one to compose an image correctly with. There’s simply so much going on within your field of view that things often sneak into the shot that you didn’t notice at the time. On a 1.6 crop or 1.3 crop camera you do have the benefit of a little zoom action to include or exclude a little more or less in your shot. If you have a full frame camera though then you just have 15mm unless you don’t mind cropping out some vignetting and using a slightly different aspect ratio. Canon’s next widest lens is the Canon 14mm f2.8 L II. This is a rectilinear lens though so don’t be fooled by the 14mm vs 15mm designation. The 15mm fisheye will still give you a wider view than the 14mm will. But the 14mm will keep your straight lines straight and so is much more suited to things like architectural photography and normal landscape images. In fact the 14mm gives you a 114° field of view , compared to the 180 of the EF 8-15. Someone was trying to compare these two lenses to me the other day but they are utterly different in the images they will produce. Another great use for this lens is photos of the night sky as you are able to take in an incredible amount of it in one shot, especially at 8mm on a full frame camera ! Any other situation where you might find yourself in a tight squeeze (like the photo in the cable car cabin above )but still need a shot is a great place for a fisheye lens. I routinely use them to shoot photos of people inside the cramped cockpit of helicopters when I’m on my ski assignments in places like British Columbia and Alaska. I’ll say it again to finish this section off, this is a specialty lens and one that I would only advise buying if you already have your typical lens setup. If you are looking to spice up your underwater photography, or landscape work then this might just be the thing for you if you can master the vast amount of things that get sucked into your image! WIDE just doesn’t really do it justice !
- Versatility of view on wide range of crops
- First Canon circular fisheye view lens
- First 12mm fisheye lens lens for APS-H cameras
- Rock solid build quality
- Good corner sharpness for a fisheye lens, even on a full frame camera
- Excellent center sharpness.
- Fast and silent (USM) autofocus although large field of view makes exact target lock on tricky unless they are close
- Almost unbelievably small minimum focus distance
- Even the limited zoom range available on crop cameras is very useful ie. 10mm to 15mm on an APS-C and 12mm to 15mm on APS-H allowing for some small changes in composition without vignetting.
- Price is steep compared to the previous 15mm f2.8 fisheye
- Extremely poorly controlled chromatic aberrations even when stopped down considerably.
- Poorly designed lens cap falls off almost instantly in your bag.
- Convex front element means no filters can be used. (Though I find this to be a very very small con)
- Specialized look/application
- Zoom limit switch is only for APS-C cameras not APS-H (!)
Hats off to Canon’s engineers for coming up with the idea for this lens, it’s always good to see such unique ideas solve so many needs all in one fell swoop. Personally I have sold my 15mm f2.8. It did me proud, but knowing that this EF 8-15 will give me the view I’m looking for on any current and future Canon cameras is a good feeling. You have to assume that at some point Canon will change the 1d series to full frame so I’ve always been loathe to buy a solution specifically for any type of crop camera. This lens means I’m covered for whatever they decide to do, and that goes some way to justifying the high price. This is a life lens, I don’t see myself needing anything else in this area for a very very long time and that’s how I prefer to buy my lenses. Some will mumble complaints about it only being f4 , but realistically the high ISO performance of the cameras these days gives you less of a need for light via the aperture. With such a wide lens there is very little noticeable difference in depth of field between f2.8 and f4 so that hardly comes into it. In the end I’m glad it’s f4 because it’s not a lightweight lens anyway and surely would have been twice the weight at f2.8 and probably 1/3 more expensive too! I’ve been using a 17-40 f4L for five years now and only on a couple of occasions have I ever cursed the lack of a wider aperture so I’m confident it won’t affect my enjoyment and potential use of this lens.
Whilst I’m glad to have this lens in my kit, it’s not one that I’m going to be recommending to everyone. I like the sharpness , color and contrast it produces but the terrible CA problems bug me. For a lens this expensive I think it’s a poor show on Canon’s part. I wander whether the complex optical design left them with a choice to make, increased sharpness with increased chromatic aberrations. Was CA sacrificed to gain increased sharpness across the image circle ? At least CA can be fairly easily removed in post processing but detail and inherent sharpness is much more difficult unless it’s there in the first place.
If image sharpness and AF speed are your absolute, money-no-object priority then this is the fisheye lens for you. If you are using a full frame camera and are a little more budget minded then quite honestly you can do very well with the Sigma 15mm f2.8 which I used to own myself. At less than half the price of the 8-15 , and much better CA performance there is a lot to be said for it but only if you shoot solely with full frame cameras. Where this lens really comes into it’s own is if you use multiple bodies with differing crop factors. There is no other lens out there that offers the range of fisheye FOVs in one lens. In that scenario I would recommend this lens and I think the ability to deliver this range overshadows the deficiencies. If you only shoot with 1-series bodies (1.3 crop) then there is a lack of other options for a true fisheye and I would therefore recommend it to those users as well. Partly because it is only a matter of time before 1d cameras become full frame and then at that point you will still have a lens that works for that too. For users of only an APS-C camera there is also the new Tokina 10-17 to look at which again comes in at less than half the price of this Canon lens. I haven’t tried it personally but I’ve always heard good things from others about it and this new version should be a slight upgrade. The problem with that is that it’s designed for APS-C cameras only so if you ever intend to upgrade to APS-H or full frame then you’ll be left with a lens to sell. A lens that, in the case of a 60d or 7d, costs more than the camera is tough to justify.
It’s definitely not quite the runaway winner I was hoping for but it does fill a hole in Canon’s lineup and depending on the camera you are using it might be your solution to that fisheye look if you can stomach the price. As for upgrading from previous fisheyes, if you already have the Canon 15mm f2.8, and only shoot with full frame cameras this is probably not worth the upgrade. If you use crop censor cameras though and like the 15mm then you’ll love having an even wider lens.
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