Here's Why Every Photographer Needs to Try a Fisheye Lens

It's not what most photographers would consider essential glass, but in mid-2017, when I heard it was available, I knew the 8-15mm f/3.5-4.5 Fisheye Nikkor was a lens I'd like a lot. What I didn't realize was how much "a lot" was going to be. It turned out that I liked to have it with me whenever I was photographing.

Which might strike you as strange as it's a lens that a friend, who is a professional photographer like me, calls "a one-trick pony," probably because he, like many others, associate it with a particular distortion-of-reality look, and once you're done with that, it's time to move on.

Times Square in New York City, with the lens at 8mm taking in all the color and detail. This was purely a magic moment of just pointing the camera up and seeing what would happen. I love that everything is equally illuminated in the mid-day capture. © Deborah Sandidge

Not me, though. I'm a long way from done with the lens. Sure, it's not your everyday multi-purpose zoom, but because I think there's always a different way to tell a story visually, for me it's a lens of surprising versatility.

The "Wow" Factor
The key to the versatility of the 8-15mm fisheye zoom is realizing that it's versatile, then seeking pictures and videos (see below) to prove that out. It wasn't hard to explore the possibilities—in fact, my first thought when I heard about the 8-15mm fisheye was, Oh, now I can have two lenses in one.

Before and during a balloon ride in Tanzania, captured at 15mm by the 8-15mm fisheye zoom. © Deborah Sandidge

At 8mm I've got a round-world view of whatever I'd like to photograph, from landscapes to cityscapes. At 15mm the lens would be a fabulous ultra-wide-angle that I could use to produce strong, dramatic images that didn't announce they were taken with a fisheye. One lens, two totally different effects; not just a slight difference, but a world of difference. Put me down for that—I'm always looking to come up with something different; that's the way I do my photography.

The Cao Dai Tây Ninh temple in Tây Ninh Province, Vietnam, is known for its architecture and colorful interior. The straight walls of the entrance to this part of the temple were rendered curved by the 15mm focal length and how close I stood. This was one of many instances where the lens captured so much color and detail, and the very sense of what it felt like to be there. © Deborah Sandidge

When I got the lens, I used it in the way I use all my gear—as an option for creativity. First, I observe, then figure out how to best express what I feel about what I'm seeing. What I quickly found out about the 8-15mm was that on almost every occasion, there's at least one photo, a definite "Wow!" shot, that I couldn't have made happen if I didn't have that lens.           

And the Fun Factor
I also found it's a lens that rewards—and after a while, encourages—experimentation. At 15mm, if I tilt it down a bit from a high vantage point, I've got that top-of-the-word look that says, "Special place, special feeling." Also, at 15mm, I can emphasize unreality or play it as straight as possible to emphasize details, colors, and shapes. And if I do that, very often people who see the photos see—or sense—something different and dramatic, even though they may not know what gives the photo those qualities and that appeal.

At 15mm, the lens caught all the depth and detail of both sides of this San Francisco restaurant. I'd shot like this in similar situations, but not with this lens. Look at the colors, the decorations, the fish! How could I not take this photo? © Deborah Sandidge

At 8mm, there's the "let's see what happens when I point it at the sky" approach—I still haven't scratched that surface, as the lens invites me to look for ways I can see and capture unusual and often striking views of the familiar world. An early discovery was that the more "surrounded" I was by a colorful, detailed environment, the more effective the photo and the more the image places the viewer in the moment. You're in the aspen grove; you're in the city. I think of it as a "surround-sense of place."

This image, one of three taken of aspens in Aspen, Colorado, is the full effect of the 8mm focal length—a surround of light, color, and shape. I added the drop shadow in post production. © Deborah Sandidge

I've also found that the elements that attract me to a subject and a story—the ones I always want to capture and convey, like color, a sense of motion, and the play of light—are often enhanced by the lens no matter if the photo is an 8mm circle capture or an intriguing 15mm view. The nature of the lens, the way it renders a scene, doesn't in any way take attention away from the elements I want to include in the story I want to tell.

If you're intrigued by the possibilities of the 8-15mm fisheye, try it out. All it might take is one "point at the sky" look.

Deborah Sandidge's website,, offers a collection of her photographs as well as photo tips and a schedule of upcoming workshops, photo tours, and seminars.

At 15mm, this photo captures the sense of being right in there among the aspen leaves standing out against the blue sky. I got down as low as I could, pointed the camera at the sky and let the focal length do the rest. © Deborah Sandidge

Also at 15mm, this is what you get when the lens is seeing what I saw as I walked in the forest. I narrowed the aperture to f/11 to capture that beautiful sparkle of light. The leading line of the path was a bonus the location offered. © Deborah Sandidge

I came across this street in Quebec City, Canada, one night and knew I'd have to come back near mid-day to get the shadow pattern I imagined would be there. I also got a vertical version of what the 15mm focal length could do. © Deborah Sandidge

Rugged rocks, barren trees and the vast sky in Utah's Zion National Park. No other lens quite captured the feeling, so I turned to the 8-15mm. Finding the right spot to stand was the key to a photo in which looking up gave me the elements of the story with depth and dimension. © Deborah Sandidge

I think the steps indicate what you can order in the restaurant along this San Francisco street. This is one of those images I can get with this lens at 15mm that people will know is pretty cool, but maybe not know how much the lens contributed to its impact. © Deborah Sandidge

Night in Times Square, with my camera on a tripod to get the height I needed to eliminate all the people from the shot. I took this at 8mm, then used the lens correction program in Adobe Raw to see what the image would like straightened. I liked the look, and I also liked that it added yet another touch of versatility to the 8-15mm fisheye. © Deborah Sandidge