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What is a Fisheye Camera?

Angela Williams Duea
Angela Williams Duea

A fisheye camera is a camera that uses an extremely wide-angle lens to capture a viewing range of about 180 degrees. This type of camera is called a “fish eye” because it approximates the vision of a fish’s convex eye. The lens produces curvilinear images of a large area, while distorting the perspective and angles of objects in the image.

There are two types of fisheye cameras, and they produce different angles of view, different types of distortion, and different photo shapes. Full-frame lenses capture an image that is usually 180 degrees from corner to corner, while the vertical and horizontal angles are smaller. These images fill the rectangular film frame. Circular lenses generally capture a 180 degree view of the horizontal, vertical, and diagonal angles. Images captured by circular lenses are round or oval inside the film frame and the frame around the image is black.

Fisheye cameras might be used for security purposes.
Fisheye cameras might be used for security purposes.

Focal lengths of fisheye lenses depend on the format of the camera. Using 35 mm film format, a circular image will typically have a focal length of 8-10 mm, while a full-frame image will have a 15-16 mm focal length. Newer lenses have been created with focal lengths in the 4.6-6 mm range. Digital single-lens reflex (SLR) cameras in 1/4 inch or 1/3 inch format can have a focal length of 1-2 mm.

The fisheye camera was first developed for scientific use, to record astronomical features of the full sky and to take forest canopy images for analysis. One benefit of the ultra wide-angle lens is the ability to photograph a large view from a limited space. For this reason, miniature fisheye lenses are valuable in security and commercial cameras, as they can record activity over a wide area from a single vantage point. IMAX movies also use a fisheye camera to capture panoramic shots and project the movies on a dome-like screen.

Photographers also use the distortion and wide angle benefits of these lenses to make interesting and unusual images. A landscape photograph taken by a fisheye camera will show a pronounced curve of the earth. Subjects close to the camera will have large, distorted features, while the focal length makes subjects at a distance look abnormally small. On a camera with a 180-185 degree view, two photos taken from exactly opposite directions can be digitally stitched together to make a complete 360 degree image. Due to these interesting image-making possibilities, the fisheye camera has become a popular gadget.

Discussion Comments


@Charred - Yeah, and you can even make your own lense if you want. I’ve seen some video tutorials online of people making their own fisheye camera lenses using household materials like the lenses from old eyeglasses to create the effect.

This can be handy if you don’t want to spend big bucks on a fisheye lense, but you still want to spend some time learning to play with the effect.


I’d like to point out that you can use the fisheye camera effect in digital videography as well as still photography. You will see the fisheye camera lense used quite often in skateboard videos, where the camera is mounted at ground level and gives you a panoramic view of the skateboarder’s scene.

Actually this has become the signature way to do skateboard videos; it’s just not the same without the fisheye lense.


The fisheye camera was really popular in the 1960s and was used to create some rather psychedelic images. Some of the most famous examples that I can think of are the album covers for Are You Experienced? by Jimi Hendrix and Rubber Soul by The Beatles.

I actually have both of these albums at home and I really love the look of them. I think that if you want to try making your own 1960s art today it would be pretty easy to do. I've already seen a few fun images made recently with the fisheye lens. You can find them at a lot of poster fairs.


You can create some really amazing art with a fisheye lens camera. Though nowadays with the capabilities of most digital cameras you can get the same effect with a good filter or by using a photo digital editing program.

I actually have a true fisheye camera lens for my digital camera and it is a lot of fun looking at scenes from 180 degrees. My favorite thing to take photos of are city skylines and things like lovely beaches.

If you want to get really creative you can take your photos and make a collage. The whole effect is really eye-catching.

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    • Fisheye cameras might be used for security purposes.
      By: trekandphoto
      Fisheye cameras might be used for security purposes.