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I am looking for a lens for my Sony Alpha 77 (APS-C), which gets me an as wide as possible viewing angle, but I also hate that fisheye effect one gets from using too low of a focal length. About where is the line between good wide angle and fisheye or is it lens-dependent?

I would use it mostly for Urbex.

  • In Urbex, if there are no people in your pictures, you can probably go pretty wide before the stretching becomes objectionable, as long as your lens is rectilinear. I would go for something like a 12–24 on APS-C. – Edgar Bonet Nov 23 '14 at 16:53
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The fisheye effect does not come from the wide focal length, but it comes from using a lens that is not rectilinear.

A rectilinear lens is one that, despite the focal length, will still ensure that there is no barrel or pincushion distortion: that all straight lines remain straight, not curved. Technically, it ensures that the image is the image that would be formed by a projection of a scene on a flat plane.

Fisheye lenses deliberately forego worrying about perspective correction or being rectilinear, for reasons such as:

  • At very wide angles, a rectilinear lens requires bigger, heavier glass and is more expensive. Fisheye lenses are significantly cheaper by comparison.

  • Just because an image is rectilinear does not mean that is doesn't look distorted: while all the straight lines will be straight and there will be no barrel distortion, the extreme wide angle will still make things towards the edges of the frame unnervingly large and stretched looking. Fisheye lenses minimise this effect at the expense of creating heavy barrel distortion and therefore no longer being rectilinear.

    Example (this is a rectilinear - not fisheye - image: all straight lines are straight - demonstrating the odd effect of rectilinear images at very wide angles):

    This particular image is probably a rectilinear conversion of a fisheye image. A rectilinear lens this wide, while technically possible, would be very unusual and the lens itself would probably look quite strange.

  • You can reach greater angles of view with a fisheye lens than you can with a rectilinear lens. A rectilinear image gets more and more stretched-looking as you approach 180 degrees of view, and it is literally impossible for it to have a full 180 degrees of view or more. A fisheye lens can be made which has more than 180 degrees of view.

    This is not just a limitation of lens technology but of geometry itself: it is just as impossible to create a 3D computer rendering of a scene with 180 degrees or more of angle of view, while making it rectilinear.

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    "Example (this is a rectilinear - not fisheye - image: all straight lines are straight - demonstrating the odd effect of rectilinear images at very wide angles)" - it would look fine if looked from little distance so that image occupies same solid angle as it did for camera though. – Euri Pinhollow Apr 7 '16 at 17:35
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What is too noticeable is up to you an/or the people watching your images. There are two different effects that causes the distortions commonly seen in wide angle and fish eye lenses. Look at this answer for a good explanation of them.

These two kinds of distortions are more or less present on all wide lenses and there are no single focal length where these effects go away. How noticeable they are also depends on the subject itself, where it is in the frame, if there are a lot of lines in the image that we know should be straight etc.

My suggestion is that you go to a camera store and try out a couple of lenses to decide when these effects become a problem for you.

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Yes, it is lens dependent. What you are looking for are rectilinear lenses. In order to have the least possible distortion, you will also need to either keep your lens perfectly horizontal or get a lens that allows shifting, like this one. Some distortion can be removed in software, e.g. Lightroom or DxO.

  • This is not entirely true. Rectilinear lenses also distort the image, so it is not certain that Andreas Hartmann wants this kind of lens wither. look at thomasrutter's answer for an example of this. – Hugo Sep 4 '14 at 3:01

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