Fun with a fisheye

I had a mild attack of lens buying addiction a few weeks back, succumbing to a couple of temptations listed on Ebay. One of these was a Pentax DA 10-17mm F3.5-4.5 fisheye zoom.

I wouldn’t normally spend a lot of time introducing a lens, but I will on this occasion as the DA 10-17 is quite unique. At the 10mm end of its zoom range, the lens is quite ‘fishy’ in character with a 180º field of view across the diagonal of the frame. But at the 17mm end, it is much more rectilinear (‘normal’) in character, and what distortion there is can be substantially reduced using computer software should you wish to do so. This makes the lens quite a bit of fun as the act of zooming in or out also dials up or down the degree of fishy-ness. With fisheye lens, placement of subject matter can also impact upon the apparent fishy-ness of an image, so between zooming and subject placement quite a range of creative outcomes can be generated from a single scene.

Other nice things about the DA 10-17:

  • it’s light and compact, about the same size and weight as a 18-55 kit zoom;
  • fabulously rich colours without being overly contrasty;
  • while ultra-wide lenses tend not to be particularly sharp due to inherent optical compromises required by their design, the DA 10-17 is pretty good in the centre and by F8 not too shabby in the corners;
  • it focuses amazingly closely, like to within an inch or so of the rather large and protruding front element. It allows a surprisingly amount of selective focus from an ultra-wide lens.

On the negative side of the ledger, the DA 10-17 can be prone to purple fringing on high contrast edges, but my experience to date is that this readily cleans up in Lightroom or similar software in most cases.

The lens arrived in the post just a day before I was off to Sydney for a weekend away, so my first use of the lens is also something of a documentary of my Saturday in Sydney.

So here we go…

On most of the rare occasions I get up early to photograph sunrises, Murphy’s Law kicks in and the dawn fails to produce the goods – no cloud, too much cloud, whatever. So my general modus operandi is that I only get up early to catch planes. But occasionally I’ve been lucky, and on the Saturday morning, the act of being up early to catch the first flight to Sydney coincided with a really good dawn, just by dumb luck.

Dawn at Adelaide Airport

17mm, F5, distortion corrected in Adobe Lightroom. Some cropping and mucking about to remove a few annoying window reflections. Use of distortion correction software will stretch the outer portions of an image (as also does optical correction within a lens). You can see that demonstrated with the somewhat elongated fuselage of the second 737-800 to the right. First shot of the day and one of my favorites from recent shooting.

And on landing two hours later in Sydney…

Qantas 737, Sydney Airport

“Taking it all in” 13mm, F8, no distortion correction but a little cropping to remove extraneous bits and pieces at the edges of the image.

QantasLink, Sydney Airport

17mm, F8, distortion corrected in Lightroom. Strong verticals on the far edges of wide angle images are always difficult to correct whether done optically or in software. If that large light pole to the left hadn’t been there, this image could have passed casual inspection for looking like it came from a ‘normal’ lens.

I stayed up at the Lane Cove Tourist Park which is part of the Lane Cove National Park. A lovely bushland setting a few miles northwest of the centre of Sydney. Unfortunately I only had a short amount of time to explore the surrounding area, and used the available time for a quick wander down to the Lane Cove River. From what I saw, this area needs to go onto the list for a longer future visit.

Lane Cover River, Sydney

11mm, F8, no distortion correction. The trees were naturally growing out towards the light and the upper right branch was also naturally arched. So although I was right down at the fishy end of the zoom, the resultant image isn’t particularly unnatural.

Lane Cove River, Sydney

17mm, F8, no distortion correction. You can play spot the water dragon with this photo, should you wish to do so. Fabulous greens here.

Grass Tree, Lane Cove, Sydney

13mm, F8, no distortion correction. The fishy-ness starts to diminish quite noticeably by 13mm provided the subject is broadly well centred. Another example of the excellent greens this lens can produce, and there is plenty of detail in the centre of this native grass tree with the full resolution file. There is a bit of green chromatic aberration going on in the tree tops, one of the few times I have noticed it during the day’s shooting.

Berries at close range

17mm, F5.6, no distortion correction. These berries would have been no more than an inch away from the front lens element. Being in the centre of Sydney, the Lane Cove National Park has a serious problem with introduced plants. I don’t recognise what this berry belongs to, but I doubt it’s native to the area. The bokeh is rather busy but the background elements didn’t really help here either. A longer focal length lens would have been able to blur this background away much more artistically.

The Lane Cove Tourist Park is a moderately short walk away from the North Ryde railway station. On weekends, a train transfer at Chatswood is needed for the trip in and out of the Sydney CBD. This was a bit of a pest as the connection delays were quite long. In fact I think I spent a good part of Saturday afternoon on trains or buses or waiting for them. Weekdays, the trains through North Ryde run directly into the city. But these delays did give me some opportunities to play with the lairy end of the zoom.

Fisheye Fun, North Ryde Station, Sydney

“Boredom” 10mm, F4.5, and I don’t really need to say no distortion correction. Not a lot of sunlight down here a hundred feet or so underground, so the sensitivity needed to be dialled up to ISO 1600. The fishy-ness creates what I will dub the “Shrek Effect” on the nearest person (think ogre body profile). There is a reason why ultra-wide lenses are not to be used for portraiture!

North Ryde Station, Sydney

10mm at F4.5. The artifical lighting wasn’t adding much so a conversion to black and white seemed in order.

Sydney suburban train

“The Bon Jovi Express” 10mm @ F8 Back in the sunshine at Chatswood station and more waiting, this time for the connection to the city. Having fun distorting reality.

We hopped off the train at Milsons Point, the last station before the northern trains head over the Sydney Harbor bridge and into the city centre.  No need to pay a small fortune for a bridge walk up the arch itself if all you want to do is get a bit of a view of the harbor.  There’s a perfectly good footpath on the level of the car deck where you’re some 160 feet above the water below.

Sydney Harbor Bridge

10mm @ F8. More of the Shrek Effect here

Sydney Harbor

10mm @ F10 Not sure why I changed to F10 – probably twirled the wrong dial! All encompassing view of the eastern section of Sydney Harbor. I appear to have turned the harbor outline into good impression of a map of Australia.

Sydney Harbor Bridge

13mm @ F10. No distortion correction but surprisingly un-fishy. A bit of a crop was made on the left side as a passerby’s arm appeared in the frame just as I took the shot. I quickly learned that a challenge with extreme wide angle lenses is avoiding all sorts of unanticipated things turning up towards the edge of images. What looks like severe vignetting at the bottom left corner is in fact a shadow from the bridge.

Once over the bridge, we hopped on a bus to Bondi Junction as my son wanted a new sweat top/hoodie and only surf gear branded apparel will do. Complete waste of time as it is mid-summer and only one unloved sweat top was stocked between two surf shops. The coming winter season’s gear is obviously still on a slow boat from China.

But did find another opportunity to go wide angle…

Westfield Bondi Junction

“Down the plug hole” 10mm @ F5.6. ISO1600 again to deal with low lighting levels. The shoe doing a cameo in the bottom left corner is an example of what I meant by unanticipated objects turning up in photos. Not my shoe, and no idea as to who’s foot it was.

And a final image before we started the long process of returning to Lane Cove. This should start with a riddle: What do you get when you cross an endangered animal with an X-Rite ColorChecker?

The X-Rite Rhino

17mm @ F5 Square cropped to lose a lot of distracting background.

And in case my riddle makes no sense at all, here is a link to the X-Rite ColorChecker product description. Are we all on the same page now?

I hope you’ve enjoyed my first day discovery of the DA 10-17’s capabilities. In a later post, I’ll add a few more photos taken back in Adelaide.


Camera Gear

Pentax K-3 with now well commented upon Pentax DA10-17 F3.5-4.5 fisheye zoom.

To Learn More

The map below shows the location of the Lane Cove National Park in relation to the centre of Sydney.


And if you are interested in staying at the Lane Cove Tourist Park, it’s website is here. The Tourist Park is a caravan and camping park with a good number of comfortable cabins also available. A few minutes walk out the back gate and you are down by the river. A few minutes walk out of the front gate and you are at the North Ryde station.


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6 thoughts on “Fun with a fisheye

  1. Pingback: An Evening in the Rocks | Photo Morsels

  2. Pingback: Skywhale: A Strange Beast Indeed | Photo Morsels

  3. Pingback: Some more wide angle images | Photo Morsels

    1. aussiesouthlander Post author

      I’ve come late to an ultra-wide lens but I agree that it challenges existing and engrained habits regarding composition. And the colors!

      Have a great post with the DA 10-17 coming up from some shooting last weekend, but I’m up in Sydney again for work this week. Once I’m back I’ll finishing the edits.


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