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How to choose your lens? My advices
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      My 2019 fisheye buying guide
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Updated on October 18, 2019

How to choose a lens to create a virtual tour?

Now that you know how many photos you want to shoot for what final quality, you only have to choose your ideal lens. Here are a few elements of choice...

Lens Samyang 8 mm FisheyeWhen we start talking about the choice of lens, we think firstly and right away about its optical quality. It is of course very important, but it's also clear that other points need to be taken into account.
Some of them, like the quality and the "beauty" of the beams are completely subjective but others, like the quality and the stitching quality, a lot more "objective". However, not all objectives are equal on this criterion. The 8 and 7.5 mm Fisheye Samyang, 8-15 mm Fisheye or 10-17 mm Pentax and 8-15 mm Canon Fisheye are the best on these last criteria. And contrary to popular belief, the 14 mm Canon and Nikkor are much more complicated to Stitch properly... As for the Ricoh Theta S and its 0.75 mm F2.0, you have to take it as a whole and accept its quality as it stands because it is obviously part of the concept ...


Lens quality, optical distortions, etc...

One very surprising fact is that the panoramic photographer tries to stitch together the worst parts of the images: their edges! It is the basic principle of panorama by stitching, but it's indeed where all the defects of a lens are gathered:

  • Vignetting, sometimes a big defect;
  • Chromaticism;
  • Loss of sharpness in comparison with the center of the photo and above all...
  • Distortions, more complicated and even, in certain cases, impossible to fix, in addition to the fisheye distortion.

In addition to the shape of the beams created when you're shooting a light source directly ... which does not fail to happen when we photograph on 360°!

Optical quality

Almost all lenses on the market are at least good nowadays except that of Ricoh Theta SC, only medium. Some, of course, are excellent, and it's very important in panoramic photography. Regarding virtual tour creation, I wouldn't be so sure. A good lens is enough. The case of Ricoh Theta SC is a little different because it is mainly a concept all in one very easy to use. The quality is not at the rendezvous but can however largely enough in certain cases where one needs to make very many panoramas very quickly. Google recommends it for example to its photographers for the Google Streetview program. It is true that its quality is not so far from its cars ... Most of the time, you'll work with a very closed diaphragm to have a maximum depth of field and you'll then see appear diffraction effects, meaning a slight loss of sharpness. (It's not that bad because it can be fixed with an over-accentuation). Even the Samyang, once over-accentuated, is full of surprises but you need to accentuate it more than a Canon or Nikkor, it's true.

Here is the result of my tests in a recapitulative table...

Recapitulative table of fisheye lenses

Quality Price
Nikkor 10.5 mm FE
Nikkor 8-15 mm FE
Pentax 10-17 mm FE
Canon 8-15 mm FE
Sigma 4.5 mm FE
Sigma 8 mm FE
Sigma 15 mm FE
Samyang 7.5 mm FE
    Samyang 8 mm FE $250
    Ricoh Theta SC $250









Optical distortions

Almost all images distort the images. Except in architecture photography, it is seldom a problem. However, when you're stitching photos together, it can quickly become annoying because the stitching is not perfect then, as you can see in the example here. This defect of the lens materializes by an imperfect alignment of the two photos. Even if you might be tempted to blame it on the setting of the nodal point, it is in fact often due to another defect, viciously hidden in the lens formula: distortions. It is so important in panorama by stitching that I dedicated an entire page to it.
When the lens has lots of optical distortions, it often happens to see straight lines stitchings, especially, imperfect with most panorama software. Straight lines don't overlap perfectly. It is then necessary to perform edits in Photoshop after stitching. It is maybe even more essential in virtual tour creation because you're stitching photos taken in all directions. The less residual distortions your lens has (well-hidden behind the big distortion due to the optical formula of the fisheye lens!), the more perfect your stitching will be on first try, with no need for further edits.
You can imagine that all lenses aren't equal when it comes to distortions and there are lenses of all kinds! From very sharp and very distorted to very sharp and not so distorted, and even pretty good and not too distorted, etc.

My recommendation: I prefer a little bit less sharp lens but without distortions because I know that the stitching will be good on first try!

Remarks about lenses distortions

Thanks to my experience of trainings which made me see numerous pairs camera/lens - Canon, Nikon, Sigma, Tamron, Samyang mostly -, I now know that it is impossible to evaluate a priori if a lens or zoom lens will stitch correctly. There are several cases, themselves depending a lot on the panorama software:

A - The lens doesn't have distortions or it has distortions, but they're easy to correct directly in the panorama software. There's no need to prepare the photos before stitching. The panorama is then often perfect without needing further edits.
B - The lens has distortions that don't stitch well directly but that do once corrected with Lens Correction of Camera Raw or Lightroom for instance, before stitching. The image Stitchd seldom requires edits in Photoshop or they're very easy to perform. Most common case...
Cassure de lignesC - The lens has moustache distortions, the most vicious, and whether they're corrected or not before stitching doesn't make much of a difference most of the time. The final stitching shows numerous stitching artefacts - in the form of breaks in the lines for instance, as shown in the illustration above -. Even with a multilayer rendering in Photoshop, it is sometimes very complicated to "fix" the panorama. In this last case, I "strongly" advise my trainees to change lens to make virtual tours often.

Note! A very sharp lens, good for classic photography, can be very bad for image stitching.

Thanks to this same experience, I know that you should absolutely try the lens of your dreams before buying it if you want to use it to make panoramas by stitching regularly. No, there's no rule! No, fixed lenses are not always better than zoom lenses - about distortions, may I remind you -. No, lenses of big brands are not always better than multiclip ones, still regarding the only criteria that matters here: optical distortions.

I thus think that the nature of the distortions of a lens is the key point to watch when you want to make lors of panoramas by stitching. It is true that it becomes less of a problem from version of old Autopano Giga 4.4. Indeed, not all photographers realize that it's the main cause of failure when stitching a panorama, unlike the nodal point, which in the case of no foreground, won't really matter. If your stitchings are not perfect, look into your lenses rather than the settings of your panoramic head!top



Beams on light sources

When shooting indoors, a detail often draws my attention: beams! That's what gives a starry aspect to our punctual light sources. Their shape depends on the number of blades into the diaphragm, of their thickness and their position in the lens. They're thus more or less numerous and aesthetic, according to me.

Number of blades, Bokeh and beams...

Nowadays, the engineer who needs to choose an optical formula and the construction of his new lens must face a dilemma - no more, no less! Either he puts lots of blades in his diaphragm (from 9) and the lens will offer a nice Bokeh which means a nice middle ground blur, even when the diaphragm is shut. (Bokeh in full opening is always more beautiful because the diaphragm is completely open, thus circular by definition.) Or he decreases this number to 7 or 8 and the lens will offer nice beams, not too numerous, on punctual light sources, but detrimental to a nice bokeh. Blurs or beams? Your call!


Read my article about beams on my blog (in french) suivre

Here are a few examples gathered during my training sessions...

All these photos have been shot with the same diaphragm, F11.0.

Aigrettes du Nikkor 10,5mm Fisheye  
Aigrettes du Nikkor 16mm Fisheye  
Aigrettes du Canon 15mm Fisheye   Aigrettes du Canon 8-15mm Fisheye
Aigrettes du Sigma 8mm Fisheye   Aigrettes du Sigma 15mm Fisheye
Aigrettes du Samyang 8mm Fisheye  



My recommendations to make a choice...

Very short orthoscopic focals (not fisheyes) are all very distorted nowadays because of aspheric lenses in the optical formulas and require to shoot at least two ranges of photos: I avoid them, even with PTGui or Autopano which can stitch them correctly.
fisheye lenses, as for themselves, stitch at least correctly and sometimes even perfectly. It's almost a challenge with images presenting such a level of deformation. Sure, but a deformation isn't a distortion!

As such we can mention the Nikkor 10.5 mm DX for APS-C sensor like the awesome Nikon D7200, the brand new and beautiful Nikkor 8-15 mm fisheye for 24x36 sensors (D850, D810, D750, D610) all like the APS-C sensors (D7200, D7500 or D5300), the Canon 8-15mm fisheye Canon for 24x36 Canon sensor and not to mention the amazing Samyang 7.5 and 8mm fisheye. These optics are above the lot for what interests us here, their distortions (and incidentally are perfectly stitched). stitching a 180° x 360° panorama without an stitching artifact is not exceptional with these five optics!

Two Fisheye lens very good and which Stitchs very well.

With other ones, there will be more or less stitching artefacts and sometimes really too many for someone who wants to make virtual tour regularly.
The last good surprise comes from the 7.5 and 8 mm Samyang for APS or 4:3 sensor. Indeed, for $300 (instead of 280 dollars now that it features a chip in order to save exposure automatisms), even if the optical quality doesn't reach the top, it is completely sufficient at F11 (accentuation really helps), the six beams on light sources are quite thin, the depth of field at F11 is real and the manual focusing is smooth, perfect to make our shot, for which we really don't need the autofocus. Its value for money is really unbelievable!
And finally, the D850 + Nikkor 8-15 mm fisheye set, even if technically, it can be used, doesn't have any interest in practice, because the number of effective pixels is really very low, especially for the Nikon D5. Virtual tours are very small then...


In the next page, we'll detail my favorites fisheye lenses... Suivre

Next page 3bis/14 : my favorites lenssuivre


Pratical Guide N°1 :
The Nodal Point

$12.90 USD


My practical guides in e-books - N° 1!

"Find the nodal point or no parallax point accurately in less than an hour"... whether you are photographing a simple panorama or a 360° photo - PDF of 100 pages - More information... Suivre

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