As my fourth season in Antarctica drew near and I started to gather my photography kit together I realized I was feeling like a bit of a change was due. I made the decision to leave the amazing but heavy 200-500mm f5.6 at home and pack the AF-S 80-400mm G instead. But that wasn’t going to add anything new to my creative options. As chance would have it a local photographer posted his AF Fisheye-Nikkor 16mm f/2.8D for sale at a fair price for used with promises it was in mint condition. Now we were talking!
Deal done, I barely had 15 minutes to snap a few test images in the fading December light that evening, but that was enough to play around in Lightroom, download the Imadio HemiFisheye plugin and find a little corner in my camera bag to pack it. I’m excited to see what opportunities this little gem can take advantage of amongst the icebergs, islands and channels of the Antarctic Peninsula. I can already envisage the ship’s bow steaming down Lemaire Channel through that 180˚ field of view!
With a few hours to kill at Vancouver International Airport (YVR) on the start of my journey south I had my eye on a suitable subject for a fisheye, (and really the only one at an airport you can photograph without attracting unwanted attention) Bill Reid’s iconic sculpture: Spirit of Haida Gwaii.
This first teaser was fun! Moving around the sculpture (being careful not to bump the front element) the various elements morphed through all manner of perspective. I was pleasantly surprised to find that even in such a busy public place, with such a wide field of view, I could easily frame the artwork in part or whole without catching random passersby in the background.
Running an image through Imadio’s HemiFisheye Lightroom plugin yielded a pleasing ‘correction’. I use parentheses because there’s still ample distortion and as there is no user interface, you simply select the plugin on export and get what it gives you, it’s not so much an act of correction as one of faith. Still I prefer the result from the plugin, the face and hat of the man and the frog’s comb are noticeably more erect and visible in the frame after the correction, the eagle’s wing also has a more elegant curve.
I did take some closer detail images and pixel-peeped but the light was very low, with shutter speeds around 1/6 & 1/8 of a second and I could see clear variation between the image sharpness just from camera shake alone so I’ll reserve assessing sharpness for a subject with more light and faster shutter speeds.
That month flew by. Back at home reflecting on my visit to the Antarctic it was an outstanding experience and reinvigorated my interest in the work. The team, the weather and the places we visited all played a role in creating a special magic. Photographically (to get back to the point) I found the 16mm Nikkor Fisheye to be an integral factor in challenging me and providing new imaging opportunities. I was going to say ‘creative’ opportunities but I just don’t consider myself a creative photographer. As much as some photographers consider themselves artists I think of it as more a process of capturing and perspective. A photographer’s canvas already exists, she/he doesn’t actually create it but rather finds different ways to look at and record. But again, I digress.
Of the 17,000 ‘keepers’, over a month of shooting, 1,150 were taken with the 16mm Fisheye Nikkor, roughly 6.5%. Interestingly, I had, once again, brought my 14mm f2.8 Nikkor D but it barely came out of the case, accounting for only 140 images. For now I’ll put that down to new lens syndrome but I will have to keep that in mind for the future.
Creatively speaking (oops there’s that word again) the main advantage the 16mm Fisheye is getting into tight places. Situations that stand out in this shooting environment are especially: groups of people and enclosed spaces (rooms, zodiacs etc…).
I was very impressed with the results of using the Imadio HemiFisheye plugin true to its word it did an outstanding job correcting people even subjects close to the edge of the frame. In the above image note the straight fence post and gravestone on the left and the person on the right. Awesome! So indispensable became this plugin, that I created a Lightroom Export Preset to batch-apply it and add the corrected versions to my LR catalogue. Viewed side by side I’d display the corrected file every time.
It is also worth noting that there is a ‘built-in’ profile in Lightroom to correct jpegs shot with the 16mm Fisheye. I don’t know the ins and outs of why only 8 profiles are available for jpegs but it’s a happy fact that one of them is for the 16mm (and 10.5mm DX) Nikon Fisheye(s). The results are no where near the the HemiFisheye and I rarely used it.
Not surprisingly I took almost no images of wildlife using the 16mm Fisheye. The proximity required to make effective use of the perspective is simply prohibitive with ethical behaviour around animals. The only occasion that would have been permissible took place when a Sheathbill (known for their propensity for intimacy) landed on the front of a zodiac within inches of me. But I already had the 16-35mm f4 mounted and at the widest length that caught a pretty good image of the inquisitive bird.
Verdict? A lot of fun. It’s such a small, light lens I imagine I’ll bring it with me at almost every opportunity that calls for a multi-lens kit. I already have a mental list of images I want to revisit and reshoot with it. I can see this lens being especially useful in my guidebooks, getting unique perspectives on both smaller crags and mountain massifs.
I really have no complaints, this lens delivers what it promises in a 1990s era package. I suppose the obvious comparison is with the much newer AF-S Fisheye Nikkor 8-15mm f/3.5-4.5E. Using the 16mm has definitely got me thinking about the possibilities of the more versatile zoom but I think I’ll run with the 16mm for a while yet and see if the novelty wears off or the creative possibilities keep my interest – I have an inking it’ll be the latter, it is a lot of fun!
For more information about trips to Antarctica see Polar Latitudes web site>