Sigma 4.5mm f2.8 Circular Fisheye
Sigma 4.5mm f2.8 Circular Fisheye

As things start to settle down again, I’ve got a pile of reviews pending work, so this past weekend, while in bachelor status temporarily, I really knocked out a few projects, including getting caught up on some overdue reviews and blog writing.  Today, the first of these projects is the Sigma 4.5mm fisheye lens review.  This is a super cool lens, and has a lot of opportunities for creative exploration.  I took the typical test shots indoors to get a feel for where it’s strengths and weaknesses are, how it focuses, and then took to the streets.

Right off, I should qualify that this is a circular polarizer – so the photos themselves will be circular in nature with black surrounding the entire frame.  This is an expected and widely known behavior for circular fisheyes, but it did throw me at first when I saw it in the viewfinder, so just to kind of prepare you – the black surrounding elements are part of the composition – there’s just no two ways about it as that is the nature of the circular fisheye.  The other thing I should note is that I did shoot this on a crop sensor camera.  For most lenses this is not a problem, but as you go wider and wider, more barrel distortion will come into play on the edges, and here specifically, you can even begin to see the edge of the barrel depending on how you compose your scenes.

My photo assistant on this shoot was the venerable pet, Maggie.  She waited patiently as I took a few of the typical shots you expect to see, including some of the budding tulips:

Fisheye

She even waited as I did the typical portrait-style work that will come with this sort of experimentation:

Maggie

As for the barrel distortion issue, take a look at these three samples as I tried doing a little exploration around a playground in the park with some bracketed exposures:

Fisheye

Fisheye

Fisheye

See the barrel?  The important thing to note here as that there are two key elements at play.  First, I was letting in more light, and the more light you let into the lens, the more visible the inside of that barrel will be on longer exposures.  If your subject is the night sky, that’s one thing, but here where there is a decent amount of contrast variation between the sky and the composition of the subject, it’s more evident.  The other factor at play here is that I happened to place the focusing point in camera on one that actually lined up with the edge of the barrel.  If I had chosen a different focal point, it could have easily been blurred out of focus and not been as easily noticed.

I do suspect that this would be less of an issue on a full frame sensor, but cannot confirm that.

On the note of focusing, this does drop all the way down to 2.8, so it’s pretty fast glass.  It’s also got a super close focusing distance at just a shade over 5 inches, which gives a unique opportunity to get center subjects in focus and throw the distortion into play with the background.  This gave me an opportunity to try some architectural shots as well as a few additional ones that I would not have been able to attain in a slower lens.  So, that’s a good thing!

It did have a little bit of trouble focusing at times, but I suspect it’s because the point was  the lens itself!  The HSM handled nicely though, and I would highly recommend Sigma for its HS-quality alone.  Comparing it both in terms of battery drain, noise quality, and quickness of focusing, the difference is quite marked.

Here’s just a few more shots to show you some of the creative approaches you can  take with a circular fisheye:

Fisheye

Fisheye

Fisheye

So, what’s the bottom line?  Well, it’s $1500 retail, and because of how this lens behaves, it serves a specific purpose.  If your projects meet that work flow, it’s a must have lens because I don’t know of another one that comes close to this wide with this level of IQ.  Many people don’t like fisheye lenses because their cost is relatively high compared to the creative use of it.  While this is a good point from a business perspective,  I think it’s an advantage because the nature of the lens forces you to become more aware of how scenes look and to pay more attention to your composition.  Using this lens with any regularity will make you more creative, you’ll get better shots, and in the long run, become a better photographer.  In my mind, that’s always a good thing!

You can find the Sigma lens at your favorite distributor.  Mine is B&H, so here’s a direct link to their product page there:  Sigma 4.5mm f2.8.  Thanks also go out to Sigma for the loaner lens – it was a lot of fun to review and I got some great images from it too now.  Since it’s not due back for another few weeks, I may play some more with her, so keep your eyes open for some more test shots either here or on my Flickr Page.  Speaking of Flickr pages, don’t forget the May contest is open for entries and you can win a copy of PTGui Pano Software!  (The Sigma 4.5 lens and a wide contest….too bad I can’t enter! 🙂  )

Happy shooting all, and we’ll see you back here again tomorrow!

P.S.  These were all pretty much raw from camera, and processed through Lightroom 3 Beta 2

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