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EF8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM: My Go-to Lens for Photographing Starscapes

While they are best known for their unique distortion effects, the ultra-wide viewing angle of fisheye lenses like the EF8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM serves very practical purposes when capturing the vast starlit sky. In this article, a starscape photographer shares some of the shots he took with the lens, and tells us why the EF8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM is indispensable to him. (Reported by: Mitsunori Yuasa, Digital Camera Magazine)

Torii gate under Milky Way

EOS 5D Mark IV/ EF8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM/ FL: 15mm/ Manual exposure (f/4, 20 sec)/ ISO 6400/ WB: Auto/ Cropped from a panorama of 3 stitched images

Famous for its torii gate that stands in the water of Lake Biwa, Shirahige Shrine is where Sarutahiko – the deity that guides the gods of heaven to earth – is enshrined. The Milky Way over the torii gate evokes the idea of those gods descending to earth.

Photographing starscapes: My childhood hobby that went full circle

It has been half a century since I took up photography.

My grandfather and uncle both loved photography, and it was partly thanks to them that I have been very familiar with cameras since I was 8 years old. I loved the starry sky a lot, and would even make my own telescopes to see and photograph them.

As a working adult, the pressures of life and career came in. I didn’t stargaze as often, and even stopped photography for a while, although my heart always longed to do so. About 10 years ago, that desire to photograph became overwhelming, and I left my office job to pursue photography as a profession.

I chose to focus on starscapes: Landscape photography that showcases the starlit sky. It was the ideal choice for me, since I was so familiar with stars and had also been photographing landscapes.


Why fisheye lenses are ideal for photographing starscapes

Astrophotography: Where you can’t simply move closer to make the sky look bigger

In the past, one of the first things that a beginner would learn in photography school was to use physical distance to change the angle-of-view. Using a standard prime lens, we internalised the concept of moving closer to a subject to make it look bigger and vice versa.

However, in astrophotography, these rules don’t apply. The starry sky is so far away that no matter how you move, it won’t make a difference. To change the size of the sky in your image, there is only one way: Change your focal length. This often means using a different lens.

It's not just about that distinctive fisheye look

The charm of a fisheye lens is not simply about the distinctive, uncorrected distortion effect. This unique "fisheye lens" look is fun to play around with, but, to many people, this novelty wears off quickly.

For me, the beauty of fisheye lenses, especially my favourite EF8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM, is the range that they can capture and the possibilities that they allow.

As the sky is so vast, it’s only natural to want to use a wide-angle lens to capture more of the scene. Fisheye lenses have the widest viewing angle that you can find on the market, and I believe that astrophotography and starscapes are among the few genres that frequently use this to the fullest advantage.

Milky Way over wooden path with fog

EOS 6D/ EF8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM/ FL: 15mm/ Manual exposure (f/4, 20 sec)/ ISO 3200/ WB: Auto/ Cropped from a panorama of 3 stitched images

There was no sign of people near the mountaintop, which was covered in thick fog. It was dark, and the strong wind made the experience even more intimidating. I waited for several hours before the wind stopped, the fog cleared up and the Milky Way finally became visible.


Why the EF8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM is my favourite lens

1. It can create both circular and diagonal fisheye effects
When the lens is mounted on a full-frame camera, you get a circular fisheye effect nearer the wide-angle end, and a diagonal fisheye effect nearer the telephoto end. This versatility was a very compelling reason for me to get it for my starscapes.

Learn more about these effects and how to make use of them in:
Fisheye Lenses: What Every Beginner Must Know
Professional Composition Techniques (4): Using Special Lenses

2. Beautiful image quality
I use the lens with an EOS 5D Mark IV and an EOS 6D, both modified for astrophotography.  On both pairings, the renderings are excellent—stars at the edges of the image are properly depicted as well-defined points.

Tip: Watch out for land-based light sources
With the enormous angle-of-view, the light from terrestrial sources could be captured in your shot as unwanted reflections or flaring. Be very aware of them, and keep light-emitting objects such as your phone or flashlight away if you can.

3. It’s compact and easy to handle
As large aperture lenses tend to be bigger and heavier, the trade-off is in the speed of the lens: At f/4, the maximum aperture of this lens is admittedly a little slower than what we usually use for astrophotography. However, its portability makes it an indispensable lens to me.

Know this: The 500 Rule
Take the number 500 divided by your full-frame equivalent focal length, and the resulting value gives an estimate of how long your exposure can be before star trails start to show. Based on this, at 8mm, you should be able to shoot at around 60 seconds—which should make your stars appear bright even at f/4.

(Find out more here)

4. It’s useful for creating 360-degree VR panoramas
Besides normal shots, the EF8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM has a focal length range that is useful for creating 360-degree spherical panoramas  (360-degree VR panoramas). All you need is the correct setup and the help of VR panorama stitching software.

(Find out how to do this here)

Circular fisheye shot of Milky Way in straight line

EOS 6D/ EF8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM/ FL: 8mm/ Manual exposure (f/4, 60 sec)/ ISO 3200/ WB: Auto/ Shot with an equatorial mount (star tracker)

There are not many locations in the Kansai region of Japan that offer a clear view of the entire sky. One of them is Odaigahara, which is also regarded as a mecca for beautiful starlit skies. This shot, which captures the Milky Way forming a straight line, was taken from the top of the observatory at Mount Hidegatake.


Know this: Eliminating fisheye lens distortions

Not many photographers know this, but if you don’t want the distinct fisheye lens distortions in your shots, you can eliminate them by taking vertical shots and creating a panorama. This is how I achieved the first two images in this article, as well as the one below.

Another way is to perform lens correction to straighten the distorted horizon. However,  this doesn't correct the distortions in the edges, whereas stitching the images into a panorama does.

Remember: Keep your horizon in the centre as much as you can
Lens distortions are usually less visible towards the centre of an image. This is also true for fisheye lenses. 

Rock under Milky Way

EOS 6D/ EF8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM/ FL: 15mm/ Manual exposure (f/4, 20 sec)/ ISO 3200/ WB: Auto/ Cropped panoramic photo merged from 3 images

This shot may look like it was taken on another planet, but it is actually of a tertiary rock that has been eroded by incoming waves. Someone left some scribbles on it, and the erosion over time has made them look like writings in an ancient script.


For more examples of images shot with the EF8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM, check out the following articles:
Underwater Photography with the EF8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM
Capturing Both the Underwater and Terrestrial Worlds in a Single Shot
Landscape Photography: Shooting Storms
Architectural Photography and Lighting Techniques
5 Ways to Frame Your Travel Photos


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Digital Camera Magazine

Digital Camera Magazine

A monthly magazine that believes that enjoyment of photography will increase the more one learns about camera functions. It delivers news on the latest cameras and features and regularly introduces various photography techniques.
Published by Impress Corporation

Mitsunori Yuasa

Mitsunori Yuasa

Born in 1960, Yuasa excels at putting a fantasy-like touch to his photographs of nature. Starscapes—landscapes that showcase the starlit sky—are his forte. As a star sommelier, Yuasa organises Nori Starscape Photography workshops and has won the “Excellent Award” under the Nature Department of the Nikkei National Geographic Photo Contest, as well as the “Highly Honoured” award in Nature’s Best Photography Asia.