Sigma 4.5mm Fisheye – What’s it like?

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My friend Sybren A. Stüvel has purchased himself the Sigma 4.5mm f/2.8 EX DC HSM Circular Fisheye Lens and has kindly penned us his thoughts! You can see more of Sybren’s work here, or you can ask me about the time he put bread crumbs on his 10-22mm lens and let birds land on it and eat! Many thanks Sybren for taking the time out to write this and send it to us! –Sime

This lens is insane. It’s the world’s first circular fisheye lens for APS-C sized sensors, and the first fisheye lens that I own. Looking through the viewfinder for the first time was a strange sensation. The view was both very restricted due to the circularness of the lens, and very wide at the same time due to its 180 degree view all around. For those not intimate with fisheye lingo, “circular” means that it projects a circle. Outside of the circle everything’s black, inside the circle you have a 180 degree view from left to right, and top to bottom. So far the best us APS-C shooters could get was a “diagonal” fisheye, which means that you only get a 180 degree view from top left to bottom right. Horizontal and vertical would be less than 180 degrees.

From the first moment I saw the lens I knew that I just had to have it…. the only downside is the price tag. At €650, it’s not the cheapest of lenses, but it’s not that insane compared to other fisheyes. Sigma isn’t known for their good quality control. The shop I bought the lens at had three of them in their magazine, and the first two had uneven coating on the front element. The store personnel told me that it wouldn’t show on photos, but nevertheless they let me inspect all three lenses, and one of them had perfectly even coating. For that price, I wanted to make sure I got the best one.

I used the lens on my Canon EOS 7D, so besides having a high resolution of 18 megapixels I could also give it a go with video. And boy is it fun! I don’t have a professional setup where I can measure things like distortion or colour metrics. Instead I’ll tell you about practical results I got with this lens, and how they look with my two eyes. The photos you see here are also processed a little bit. Unprocessed photos from a digital camera always look a bit flat and soft, so I don’t think that presenting you with such photos would be a true demonstration of the capabilities of this lens.

The lens

The lens feels very sturdy. The build is solid, and with a metal mount it attaches firmly to the camera. At the rear there is a gelatine filter holder, and you even get a small metal plate you can use to cut the filters to size. I feel that this filter holder is of limited use, unless you want to insert ND filters. As the holder doesn’t rotate you can’t really use polarizers or graduate ND filters.

Going further towards the front of the lens, we meet the distance scale. It has three marks: 13.5cm, 20cm and infinity. Remember these distances are measured from the sensor; it can focus really, really close. The hypersonic motor (HSM/USM/whatever you want to call it) does its work quickly and silently. The focus ring is all the way at the front, and rotates smoothly. I would have liked it to be a bit further backward, though. My hands are quite big, and it’s just too easy to get some digits into the frame. Every bit of finger that sticks out from the focus ring will get photographed, so be careful with it.
The front element bulges out of the lens, to be able to capture the 180 degree view. The lens cap comes with a metal ring so that it can fit around it. So, remember to remove the ring as well as the lens cap, or you won’t get the full view.

The maximum aperture is f/2.8, which is a tad slow for a prime but quite good for a lens this wide. Combined with the short minimum focus distance you can even use it to blur the background. A little. The wide aperture is more useful for low-light shots; it also means that the viewfinder is bright, and that your autofocus has more light to work with.

The photos

The center sharpness of this lens is amazing. Even at very close range – which is where you want to be with a lens like this – it is very sharp. Towards the edges it has some serious chromatic aberration and purple fringing in high-contrast areas. As it’s my first and only fisheye lens I can’t tell you whether this is more or less than others. I just know that it’s very difficult to bend light and keep all the colours where they should be, and at the edges that light is bent a lot. The photo below has been corrected, the photo of the Volkswagen van up top hasn’t been.

The lens flare looks really nice, as it doesn’t stick to the circular projection – it breaks the frame, so to speak. Of course if you don’t like it you can always mask it during post processing. The flare shows that the aperture has six blades. I would have liked one more – I like odd flare streaks more than even ones. The aperture makes more noise that I would have expected; more than any other lens that I own. Now this isn’t a lens you can use stealthily anyway, as you’ll have to get right on top of the action or it’ll get really, really small, so a bit more aperture noise isn’t a practical issue.

The Panoramas

The wide view makes this lens very suitable for panorama shots. With only two photos you’ll be able to capture the entire view around you. However, you won’t be able to stitch them together very well; at the edges the quality goes down, and there wouldn’t be much of an overlap anyway. So rather than using the minimum, I used six shots: north, east, south and west, and straight up and straight down. And since I was shooting a library with mostly black architecture and large windows with a bright sun outside, I tripled every shot at -2 EV, 0 EV and +2 EV to merge them later as HDR photos. The 7D with its 7 photos per second just whirred through those three shots per direction.

Before I started stitching the photos I loaded the RAW files into Bibble Pro 5.1 and removed most of the chromatic aberration (C/A). With a few clicks the C/A was as good as gone, and since I had a nice overlap between different shots the remaining C/A woudn’t pose any problems. The 18 RAW files were exported to 16-bit TIFFs (100 MB a pop) and then loaded into Hugin.

In Hugin I manually placed control points, about 5-7 per overlap, optimized the photo and let it do the stitching and HDR processing. Hugin is very good at producing realistic HDRs. Many HDR programs first create a photo with a huge dynamic range and then try to compress this range using tone mapping. This can easily produce those super-saturated, artificial looking photos. Hugin blends between “real” pixels, ignoring ones that are under or over-exposed, blurry, etc. and keeping the good looking ones. This process gives a much more natural result.

After exporting the photo in “equirectangular” projection, I loaded into the Flash application by pan0.net so that you can look around in it. The zenith (look straight up) isn’t perfect yet, but I’m sure I can fix that if I spend enough time on it. Also know that I took those photos without any tripod or panorama head.

The videos

The lens is nearly perfect for video. The video below shows a view from my Renault Twingo. The music is by my band (I’m the drummer) The Soundabout, and the drive is from our practice studios to my home. Click on the cross-like thingy at the bottom of the video to view full screen.

A quick drive through Amsterdam from Sybren A. Stüvel on Vimeo.

So yes, it’s good but just not quite perfect for video. It’s more an issue with my 7D than the lens, to be honest. At those lovely modern and crispy 16:9 HD resolutions the camera crops a few pixels off the bottom of the circle – I would be much happier if we would have gotten a true 3:2 high-resolution video format, so that the entire frame could be captured. So Canon, if you’re reading this, pretty please with sugar on top, add a 1920×1280 or 1620×1080 video format!

As I said, I drum in a band. My girlfriend sometimes records our performances on video, and will of course start using the Sigma fisheye lens for this. Keep an eye on our website!

The verdict

Sigma 4.5mm f/2.8 fisheye

This Sigma 4.5mm Fisheye is a unique lens. The results are very pleasing, and most importantly: it’s great fun. It’s really different from anything else in my photo bag. The price is a bit steep, but given the quality and the fact that they won’t sell that many of them, I think it’s justified. If you want to easily shoot 360 panoramas, record edgy videos or otherwise use an incredibly wide field of view, this lens is for you.

Get a price on the Sigmas 4.5mm Fisheye lens on Amazon (currently 33% off)

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Sigma 4.5mm Fisheye
Author Rating
4

Read more from our Cameras & Equipment category

Sime (aka #gtvone) is the customer support manager for dPS, and lead blogger in our Cameras and Gear Blog. He's a Melbourne based photographer, www.gtvone.com and please feel free to follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

  • alfanick

    Can you show some creative/practical use of fisheye lens? I wonder if there is any other use than presenting how does fisheye effect look? 🙂 I know you can use fisheye lens for creating panoramas very fast, but quality is poor. I’ve never been keen on fisheye, but who knows… 😉

  • Chris

    dps.. i love you. I’ve just looked at some photos of this lens (not really with the intension to buy it.. but because of sheer interest of the 4.5mm) and just a few hours later I find a review here.

    Thanks dps community and Sime!

  • Stan

    Good job putting the camera in the rear of the car in stead of the front windshield where we could actually see something

  • nice review. I’ve got the older Sigma 8mm f/4 circular fisheye (Canon mount)…on an APS-C sensor it clips the circle a just little bit on the long dimension (perfect circle on a full-frame sensor or film body). It’s for sale if anybody wants it: $375 (including shipping to US). KEH has one for $415 + shipping (http://www.keh.com/camera/Canon-EOS-Non-Mfg-Fixed-Focal-Length-Lenses/1/sku-CE0899905103605?r=FE). Send me email (photo@sparrow-hawk.org) if you’re interested.

  • Michael

    I have always wanted to be able to include my feet in almost every picture….and now I can! I jest because I secretly covet this lens.

  • I love the car video. (Seriously.) The view from the pack gives a real sense of being in a vehicle and watching the world go past, which is a different view than you’d usually expect!

  • @alfanick: keep an eye on my photo stream, and I’m sure they’ll pop up 😉
    @stan: this time I chose for safety rather than a perfect image. My tripod was placed firmly on the back seat, maybe next time I’ll place it in the front seat, we’ll see.
    @dcclark: thanks mate!

  • Great job on the library panorama. It seems like a good bit of work to produce, but I can see its tremendous commercial appeal to businesses, especially real estate. Thanks for the links too….I will give Hugin a try.

  • Can think of a couple of interesting things to try with a lens like this… Mmmmm

  • A friend of mine has this lens. For what’s its worth, I would take my Samyang (i.e Vivitar, Rokinon, etc rebrand) 8mm fisheye over this any day. The Sigma is AF but that doesn’t mean much when you’re going this wide.

  • Nice review, very informative. I have a Canon 7D and I use a Tokina 11-16mm wide lens all the time, I’ve done time-lapse with it traveling in my car also. I was curious how the 4.5 fisheye would perform.

  • @JB_CA: interesting. Can you explain why?

  • danny

    After reading many articles about DIY Fisheye ,I have tried to do it by myself, but frustrating…so I bought 0.25x Wide Fisheye with lower price, the 3rd party..

  • hnieef

    can this lense use with nikon d3000 or d300s

  • Thanks for providing this review. I have been considering buying this lens but had not made up my mind. I think that I now will be buying this to do some fun things more than anything practical.

    Thanks!

    I’d like to use it to do some fun stuff with cars like this shot I took of a Lambroghini – http://www.flickr.com/photos/kylebailey/4811009249/

  • I’ve just created another panorama, it’s online at my blog:

    http://stuvel.eu/archive/130/360-panorama-amsterdam-central-station

  • Jill

    WOW what an amazing panorama.

    Nice vid and cool music too 😉

  • I think that a fisheye lens is a must have! You can create some really unique shots with it. It is definitely the next lens I’m buying. Great post!!

  • nonchiedercilaparola

    Hi, i would like to know how many shoot i have to do to take a spherical panorama whit sigma 4.5mm fisheye (i would like to buy a d90 nikon or a canon 550d eos).

    Some people (forum panoramaguide) suggested me to choose a samyang 8mm fisheye becouse have a better quality and olny one-two plus.

  • Gavin

    I have this unique fisheye lens for my Sony a350 dSLR and find it is quite impressive. I will admit however, I don’t use it as much as I really should but since I’m looking now more into artistic photography, maybe that will change.

    How does it compare with a Samyang 8mm F3.5 fisheye though?

    Best regards

    Gavin

  • cesar

    Hello everyone!
    Great review!
    I have two comments (kind of questions)
    1.-I use Samyang 8mm fullframe fisheye to create spherical panoramas and the lens works great for the price. I asked to the administrator if he would recommend me the sigma 4.5mm fisheye and his response was: “Your rokinon 8mm lens is awesome. The sigma 4.5mm is shit! 🙂 I do not recommend it :)”.
    I have seen examples of the sigma lens on flickr and the results look similar to the samyang.
    2.-Autodesk Stitcher has an option for stitching two circular 180d fisheye photos and automatically corrects
    chromatic aberration on the edges. Sybren, have you tried this option to see the results? this would be the only reason for me to buy the sigma.

  • cesar

    by the way, when I said “I asked the administrator” i was refering to the admin. of a webpage for stitching panoramas called panomonkey.com

  • @cesar: I’ve never used Autodesk Stitcher, so I can’t comment on it. I would think that the seam would be quite visible when only using two photos.

    My favourite software for stitching is Hugin

Some Older Comments

  • Sybren March 2, 2011 04:12 am

    @cesar: I've never used Autodesk Stitcher, so I can't comment on it. I would think that the seam would be quite visible when only using two photos.

    My favourite software for stitching is Hugin

  • cesar February 22, 2011 04:31 pm

    by the way, when I said "I asked the administrator" i was refering to the admin. of a webpage for stitching panoramas called panomonkey.com

  • cesar February 22, 2011 04:28 pm

    Hello everyone!
    Great review!
    I have two comments (kind of questions)
    1.-I use Samyang 8mm fullframe fisheye to create spherical panoramas and the lens works great for the price. I asked to the administrator if he would recommend me the sigma 4.5mm fisheye and his response was: "Your rokinon 8mm lens is awesome. The sigma 4.5mm is shit! :-) I do not recommend it :)".
    I have seen examples of the sigma lens on flickr and the results look similar to the samyang.
    2.-Autodesk Stitcher has an option for stitching two circular 180d fisheye photos and automatically corrects
    chromatic aberration on the edges. Sybren, have you tried this option to see the results? this would be the only reason for me to buy the sigma.

  • Gavin November 21, 2010 05:37 am

    I have this unique fisheye lens for my Sony a350 dSLR and find it is quite impressive. I will admit however, I don't use it as much as I really should but since I'm looking now more into artistic photography, maybe that will change.

    How does it compare with a Samyang 8mm F3.5 fisheye though?

    Best regards

    Gavin

  • nonchiedercilaparola August 29, 2010 09:04 am

    Hi, i would like to know how many shoot i have to do to take a spherical panorama whit sigma 4.5mm fisheye (i would like to buy a d90 nikon or a canon 550d eos).

    Some people (forum panoramaguide) suggested me to choose a samyang 8mm fisheye becouse have a better quality and olny one-two plus.

  • Dave Lapham Photography August 6, 2010 01:25 pm

    I think that a fisheye lens is a must have! You can create some really unique shots with it. It is definitely the next lens I'm buying. Great post!!

  • Jill August 1, 2010 09:42 am

    WOW what an amazing panorama.

    Nice vid and cool music too ;)

  • Sybren July 21, 2010 02:26 am

    I've just created another panorama, it's online at my blog:

    http://stuvel.eu/archive/130/360-panorama-amsterdam-central-station

  • Kyle Bailey July 21, 2010 02:14 am

    Thanks for providing this review. I have been considering buying this lens but had not made up my mind. I think that I now will be buying this to do some fun things more than anything practical.

    Thanks!

    I'd like to use it to do some fun stuff with cars like this shot I took of a Lambroghini - http://www.flickr.com/photos/kylebailey/4811009249/

  • hnieef July 12, 2010 07:40 pm

    can this lense use with nikon d3000 or d300s

  • danny July 2, 2010 06:09 pm

    After reading many articles about DIY Fisheye ,I have tried to do it by myself, but frustrating...so I bought 0.25x Wide Fisheye with lower price, the 3rd party..

  • Sybren July 2, 2010 05:21 pm

    @JB_CA: interesting. Can you explain why?

  • Daniel July 2, 2010 04:06 pm

    Nice review, very informative. I have a Canon 7D and I use a Tokina 11-16mm wide lens all the time, I've done time-lapse with it traveling in my car also. I was curious how the 4.5 fisheye would perform.

  • JB_CA July 2, 2010 03:56 am

    A friend of mine has this lens. For what's its worth, I would take my Samyang (i.e Vivitar, Rokinon, etc rebrand) 8mm fisheye over this any day. The Sigma is AF but that doesn't mean much when you're going this wide.

  • Josh Louw July 2, 2010 02:26 am

    Can think of a couple of interesting things to try with a lens like this... Mmmmm

  • Jason Collin Photography July 1, 2010 02:34 am

    Great job on the library panorama. It seems like a good bit of work to produce, but I can see its tremendous commercial appeal to businesses, especially real estate. Thanks for the links too....I will give Hugin a try.

  • Sybren June 30, 2010 05:29 pm

    @alfanick: keep an eye on my photo stream, and I'm sure they'll pop up ;-)
    @stan: this time I chose for safety rather than a perfect image. My tripod was placed firmly on the back seat, maybe next time I'll place it in the front seat, we'll see.
    @dcclark: thanks mate!

  • dcclark June 30, 2010 01:00 pm

    I love the car video. (Seriously.) The view from the pack gives a real sense of being in a vehicle and watching the world go past, which is a different view than you'd usually expect!

  • Michael June 30, 2010 10:22 am

    I have always wanted to be able to include my feet in almost every picture....and now I can! I jest because I secretly covet this lens.

  • Paul Biron June 30, 2010 06:52 am

    nice review. I've got the older Sigma 8mm f/4 circular fisheye (Canon mount)...on an APS-C sensor it clips the circle a just little bit on the long dimension (perfect circle on a full-frame sensor or film body). It's for sale if anybody wants it: $375 (including shipping to US). KEH has one for $415 + shipping (http://www.keh.com/camera/Canon-EOS-Non-Mfg-Fixed-Focal-Length-Lenses/1/sku-CE0899905103605?r=FE). Send me email (photo@sparrow-hawk.org) if you're interested.

  • Stan June 30, 2010 06:08 am

    Good job putting the camera in the rear of the car in stead of the front windshield where we could actually see something

  • Chris June 30, 2010 06:05 am

    dps.. i love you. I've just looked at some photos of this lens (not really with the intension to buy it.. but because of sheer interest of the 4.5mm) and just a few hours later I find a review here.

    Thanks dps community and Sime!

  • alfanick June 30, 2010 05:35 am

    Can you show some creative/practical use of fisheye lens? I wonder if there is any other use than presenting how does fisheye effect look? :) I know you can use fisheye lens for creating panoramas very fast, but quality is poor. I've never been keen on fisheye, but who knows... ;)

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