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Canon EF 8-15mm f4 L USM review

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The Canon EF 8-15mm f/4 L USM fisheye zoom lens

A review of using the 8-15
on a Canon 1Ds3 Mk3



We’ve just received our new Canon zoom fisheye lens. Keith has been out and about, giving it a try on his Canon 1Ds Mk3 (full frame) DSLR.

This is not a formal lens test, it doesn’t contain any detailed measurements on lens performance, although there are two MTF charts at the very end…

The main idea is to give an idea of what the lens is like to use, and hopefully give an idea as to the much greater range of uses it has that you might at first think.

ef8-15mm Fisheye

Using a fisheye lens

A few years ago I purchased the Canon 15mm Fisheye lens.

It’s an old design, first available in EF mount in 1987. The main giveaway is the non USM motor, so you hear a slight whirring sound as it focuses.

I was quickly impressed by the optical quality of the lens and its almost complete resistance to flare – important, since with a 180 degree field of view from corner to corner (on a FF body), the chances of getting the sun in your frame is quite high.

It became a standard item in my bag for architectural and interior photography, particularly when used in conjunction with the Fisheye Hemi PS plugin for altering the projection geometry of your images.

I’ll come back to aspects of ‘fixing’ images later, but the 15mm has provided numerous great photos that have gone down particularly well with our clients (remember that for a lot of my commercial work, a client’s opinion is the arbiter of success ;-)

Canon announced the new EF8-15mm lens in August 2010, and it’s taken almost a year to actually appear.

It’s a stop slower than the old 15mm, but the zoom means that I can go from a 173 degree corner to corner (filled frame) at 15mm, to a circular image at 8mm (180 degree circular FOV) Full specs at foot of article

Sample images

For a quick comparison I took the camera out into the street.

same view at different focal lengths

Note the tripod legs at the very bottom of the 8mm view – 180 degrees gets a lot in.

Already I’m hearing ‘but who wants circular images’ – I’ll come back to this, but first I want to have a look at some of the details.

How does it compare with the old 15mm?

Move your mouse over the image to see 100% crops of the same part of the frame.

Both images have had chromatic aberration ‘tuned out’ during the conversion from RAW using ACR and Photoshop.

Not that there is a lot with the new lens (mouse over image to see changes)

Canon’s DPP software already incorporates correction data for this lens.

The woodland view below, was taken to see if there was much in the way of flare

bradgate park - old john gate

The 100% crop shows small amounts, but having made a print of this image, it’s difficult to spot (I’ve boosted the colour, to show it here)

looking for lens flare

The view at 11mm picks up no obvious flare

11mm setting for 8-15 fisheye

If I process the RAW file with a black point of zero, and then massively brighten the image to show noise in the image, then some internal flare does show (mouse over image below to see)

It only takes setting a black level of 7 to get rid of most of this. Given where the sun is in this image, this is pretty good performance in my book…

A few more samples from Bradgate park (all at f/8) – note how any straight line (the horizon) that goes through the centre of the image, remains straight.

8mm -old john, bradgate park

10mm -old john, bradgate park

Whoops – note the fingers.

12mm -old john, bradgate park

14mm -old john, bradgate park

15mm -old john, bradgate park

For comparison, here’s the view with an EF14mm 2.8L

Note how a wide rectilinear lens stretches corners and alters cloud shapes.

ef14mm -old john, bradgate park

and using a TS-E17mm (tilt/shift lens)

tse17mm -old john, bradgate park

and just for good measure, 3 stitched shots from the TS-E17 (shifted up and down by 12mm)

stitched tse17mm -old john, bradgate park

‘Fixing’ images with software

Since I’ve used Fisheye Hemi with my 15mm, I wanted to see what it would do with the 8-15.

The shot below is at the 11mm setting.

Move your mouse over to see the effect of Fisheye Hemi’s ‘Full frame’ setting (one I’d use with my old 15mm)

Move your mouse over the image below to see the effect of Fisheye Hemi’s ‘circular’ setting.

With a bit of a crop, this makes for an interesting wide view.

At just over 11mm, I’ve a 180 degree field of view from edge to edge.

You can see the bridge I’m standing on.

Move you mouse over the image to see a processed view.

Note that with this image I’ve edited the lighting of the image a bit before applying the transformation.

Canon’s own DPP software offers a number of distortion correction modes.

The Chromatic aberration and peripheral lighting adjustments work well (mouse over image to see), but it’s perhaps the ones that alter geometry that people may want to try.

I know from using DxO Optics Pro that just attempting to turn a fisheye image into a rectilinear one can easily fail, so I wasn’t surprised to see the emphasise linearity setting in DPP mash the edges of the image (mouse over the image to see some of the adjustment for this)

A more subtle alteration.

dpp settings

Overall, the DPP options work well.

However, if I wanted these particular alterations, I’d probably use DxO optics Pro which has some more complex settings (that and I personally just don’t much care for DPP as part of my workflow)

Here’s the sort of correction options you get in DxO (this lens is not yet supported with specialist correction data)

geometry correction options with DxO optics pro

Note that there are many more packages supporting geometry correction – we’re Mac based so I’ve not tried many of the windows PC based options.

Conclusions

Buying an 8-15mm

We make a specific point of not selling hardware, but if you found the review of help please consider buying a lens, or any other items at all, via our links with Amazon or B&H

Order from B&H
Order from Adorama
Available from Wex (UK)

The lens is sharper and shows better contrast and flare resistance compared to the older EF15mm lens.

Given the quality of the older lens, this is no mean feat.

I’ve taken sample shots at f/8 here, since that’s where I most often use a lens like this.

I note that the tests at Lenstip suggest a peak resolution at f/5.6 at the centre and f/8 further out.

One feature I didn’t try is a switch that limits the zoom range if you are using a crop sensor camera.

If you’ve a crop sensor camera then, with this lens, you now have the availability of an equivalent to the 15mm on a full frame camera.

This lens is just made for full frame…

Autofocus is quick and silent. For metering I’d suggest manual mode in any non frame filling focal length.

It focuses down to 15cm, which gives an interesting magnification of 0.39, and some very odd views.

If shots like below (Leicester market) were all this lens did, then I’d agree that it’s a lens that you might quickly tire of.

Cauliflowers at leicester market

However I know that by careful consideration of how you are going to make use of images, it’s one that I’ll be making use of in my professional work too.

The photo below, was taken with the old EF15 and corrected with the Fisheye-hemi plugin. – it’s one of the venue’s iconic images, and one that has paid for the old lens, in itself. I’m particularly looking forward to V2 of Fisheye Hemi, hopefully appearing later this year.

de-fished shot of corner of building

Three more photos from a recent visit to Wells Cathedral

Two ‘fixed’ with Fisheye-hemi and one at 8mm

View down the cathedral, from main entrance.

wells

The scissor arches

Scissor arches - wells cathedral

Looking up in the chapter house

chapter house roof at Wells cathedral

Update 2 – a portrait of Michael Westmoreland

Taken at the opening of his 80th birthday exhibition (more details). If you didn’t know, Michael is one of the key figures in the history of panoramic photography.

Michael Westmoreland at his exhibition in Leicester

~12mm – Projection changed with FishEyeHemi and cropped. Printed as a 36″ wide print.

Article history – first published August 2011, Images added Oct 2011, Nov 2011

Summary

Unique lens – great quality and not the one trick pony that some might dismiss it for.

EF8-15 at Amazon.com

Specs – Canon EF 8-15mm f/4 L USM

There is a page about any 8-15 news/info that I’ll keep updated with any new reviews I come across

Specifications:

Focal length8-15mm
Diagonal Angle of view (FF)180º – 175º 30′
Maximum apertureF4
Minimum apertureF22
Lens Construction14 elements/11 groups
Number of diaphragm blades7
Minimum focus0.15 m
Maximum magnification0.39x at 15mm
AF motor typeRing-type Ultrasonic Motor
Focus adjustmentLens extension via inner focusing and focus cam plus floating mechanism
Filter thread67mm (note – does not accept normal filters)
Filter sizeRear Gel Holder (accepts up to 3 pre-cut gel filters)
Supplied accessoriesFront and rear caps
EW-77Hood
LP1219 case
Weight540 g
Dimensions79 mm diameter x 83 mm length
Lens MountCanon EF
MTF charts (from Canon)

8-15 MTF at 15mm8-15 MTF at 8mm

More Info

  • Rob C

    I read the Review also, thank you for wrinting both Pages.

    The Canon EF8-15mm f4 L zoom fisheye lens seems more distorted than even the “Sigma 4.5mm F2.8 EX DC HSM Circular Fisheye”. The Sigma 8-16mm F4.5-5.6 DC HSM seems a better lens for wide-angle as it is rectilinear and not fisheye (yet it’s 12-24mm on APS-C).

    Sigma 8-16mm F4.5-5.6 DC HSM
    http://www.sigmaphoto.com/product/8-16mm-f45-56-dc-hsm

    It seems better to buy a rectilinear lens and use software to add a fisheye effect (IF it is wanted) than to use a fisheye lens and need to use software to remove the fisheye distortion from the lens.

    There are ‘Specialty Lens’ http://www.theiatech.com/families.php?family=ultrawide like the Theia 1.8-3mm or 1.28mm ultra-wide Lenses. Their Website says this:

    “Theia’s family of ultra wide angle lenses incorporates patented Linear Optical Technology® which allows an ultra wide field of view while optically correcting barrel distortion in the lens. No dewarping software is required. This optical distortion correction increases the image resolution at the image edges, thus improving the probability of detection and identification of individuals, especially at the image edges.”

    https://www.youtube.com/user/LowLightVideos

    • kacoooper

      Thanks for writing… One point that I’d make is that I don’t see the fisheye lens look as a “distortion”.
      It is a different image projection geometry – the problem with ultra wide views (I’m looking at full frame examples) is that rectilinear projection rapidly breaks down as the FOV becomes very large. The TS-E17 shifted left/right is ~10mm equiv

      I don’t use wide on a crop sensor, other than the recent 10-18 review, and 10mm on Canon APS-C is ~16mm, so wide, but hardly extreme.

      Software changes of geometry are an important tool in my work

      See the recent examples at:
      http://www.northlight-images.co.uk/stuff2/?p=2704

      I also use the fisheye for lower resolution large view pano images.

      The Theia lenses are interesting, but they are C mount, so in angular coverage similar to the TS-E17 on a medium format sensor (or shifted and stitched on smaller sensors)

      My widest rectilinear lens is the EF14 2.8L II, which is very well corrected, but can easily distort objects through the projection. I use it with software to re-introduce certain ‘distortions’ in some circumstances

      http://www.northlight-images.co.uk/reviews/plugins/dxo_viewpoint2.html

      • Rob C

        When I say “distorted” I mean incorrect, not “fisheye” vs. rectilinear.

        In the example you gave http://www.northlight-images.co.uk/stuff2/?p=2704 see the first Image titled “Looking upwards, under the main tower ay Lincoln cathedral”, I do not consider that distorted.

        The second Image titled “13mm – uncorrected” I also do not consider distorted; though I question the location the Camera was pointed (I would have pointed a little lower).

        The third Image titled “rectilinear correction” and the forth titled “General straightening of horizontal lines” are both “distorted” (to me) since they do not provide either a true Fisheye Projection nor a true Rectilinear Projection — and the means to remap the Projection to “something” that would truly represent the actual shape was lost with the conversion from fisheye to semi-rectilinear.

        If you need “real” Fisheye (for Scientific purposes, pixel counting, etc.) then a fisheye lens does correctly project what is seen to the Image Plane. BUT If you like pseudo-fisheye (for a visual effect) then a rectilinear lens with a software plugin to create fake-fisheye is better than trying to use a plugin to create pseudo-rectilinear from a fisheye lens (that is the distortion of which I wrote).

        I do not think (quality) Fisheye Lenses are (by definition) “distorted” (Lens Baby (and other plastic lenses) being an exception). I was just saying that I would shoot much of that Scene using a fisheye because it is so wide a Scene. I would also use a rectilinear Lens (preferably the Canon TS-E 17mm) to get shots with the least distortion (resulting from MINIMAL correction, not “maximum correction”, the conversion of fisheye to rectilinear) and use a tiny bit of software correction IF needed.

        While the Theia Lenses are not as wide (and would involve a Mount Adapter) they take pre-corrected Images (more correct that other rectilinear Lenses) and save aligning the mechanisms of the TS Lens for each shot.

        My way of doing large Pano Images is to use Video. I have software that takes Video and uses it to make a single Image from all the Frames. I take a 1080P Video, run it through the Program and after end up with a 16-24 MP Image (depending on how slowly, and how wide, I swing the Camera). Sure beats trying to take a series of neatly spaced images and feeding them into still-image-based Pano-Software.

        Nothing beats a Fisheye for filming Video travelling through a Tunnel (or other round object such as a Pipe). A small amount of fisheye makes the Tunnel unusually wide and gives a real feeling of being pulled forward through the Tunnel (in an abnormal manner). The way it keeps passing objects within it’s field of view is also great.

        Nothing beats one or the other (Fisheye or Rectilinear) for a non-converted use but trying to ‘correct’ (alter the Projection) of one to the other only works in one direction for a visually appealing result, and in the other direction for a mathematically correct result (yet everything needs straightening to actually “look” OK, that introducing more distortions).

    • Rob C

      Another possibility for widening that indoor Shot is to use a Excell+1, there is a Chart here: http://www.fotodioxpro.com/index.php/excell1-chart

      The Fotodiox Excell +1 acts as a lens adapter and doubles as a speedbooster. Mounted onto a Blackmagic Cinema Pocket camera with a 50mm f/1.4 lens it provides a 35mm focal length equivalent of 103mm instead of the regular 144mm and brings the maximum aperture to f/1.

      I think the only reason their Chart does not show it’s use on wider Lenses is they don’t want circular Images in their Chart (severe vignetting). I see no reason it would not widen and speed up an already wide / fast Lens.

      You could widen a rectilinear Lens and avoid the distortion prone conversion from fisheye to rectilinear. The correction to a rectilinear Image will be minimal and provide a better final result, assuming a rectilinear Image is wanted.

      If a fisheye Image is wanted (and a ‘Scientific Fisheye (Measuring) Lens’ is NOT being used) then the conversion from rectilinear to fisheye (using a plugin) will provide a fisheye Image with little imperfection that the viewer is likely unfamiliar with (thus it is “perfect”, for a majority of viewers, but not necessarily a “scientifically correct” fisheye projection).

      • kacoooper

        That’s why i have an EF8-15, TS-E 17 and an EF14 2.8L II different lenses for different uses (on a FF Canon DSLR). If I want fisheye, then I want to be able to view it through a proper viewfinder at the time.

        Turning a rectilinear shot into some sort of fisheye is about as appealing as correcting a wide shot for converging verticals in software, rather than using a shift lens, but YMMV ;-)

        Where I need high res, the gigapan meets my needs with stitching – once again not everyone finds this a solution ;-)