In the standard model for a lens straight lines in the subject of a photograph will always end up straight. However I have seen a variety of photographs in which straight lines end up being curved, e.g. the horizon tapers down at the edges, or a fence near the photo border is mildly curved.

What could cause straight edges to come out curved in a photograph? I have no idea what cameras were used in these cases, but I am certain they are standard consumer grade cameras (so they aren't fisheye type lenses such as equisolid angle lenses). Believe it or not I have to make computations based around objects in photographs and have no way of accounting for why straight things turn out curved in some photographs. From what I know about optics, this shouldn't happen, but it does, so I am missing something. What is it?

Can anyone give authoritative information about this?

  • \$\begingroup\$ It is barrel and pincushion distortion. Wide angle lenses also have perspective distortion. I believe you can find a great deal of information on this site on these topics already. \$\endgroup\$
    – dpollitt
    Jan 18, 2012 at 20:39
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Like What are Barrel and Pincushion distortion and how are they corrected? \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Jan 18, 2012 at 20:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ Signpost! (filler text) \$\endgroup\$
    – dpollitt
    Jan 18, 2012 at 20:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you very much. I will look into those. Don't know what to do about an official question answer. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 18, 2012 at 20:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ You can leave it unanswered, it can be closed as a duplicate, or you can read the other topics, and answer your own question, if no one else does in the meantime. \$\endgroup\$
    – MikeW
    Jan 19, 2012 at 4:36

1 Answer 1


You only get completely straight lines using a pinhole camera. As soon as you put a lens element in the path of the light, you get the fisheye-like distortion to some degree.

Modern lenses contain several lens elements which compensate for each other to give straight lines, but you usually get a slight distortion anyway. For really expensive lenses you have a very small distortion, but it's still there.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Didn't know that. By fisheye like distortion do you mean that a single parabolic lens has barrel distortion? \$\endgroup\$ Jan 31, 2012 at 0:39

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