Review: The World Through a Fisheye Lens

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Photograph using Lomography Fisheye Number 2Photograph using Lomography Fisheye Number 2

image: Close-up of sister in car seat, manual shutter (Li'l X.)

My mother is a vocalist and my late father was a painter — two very classic examples of human artistry. I, on the other hand, typically get my creativity on by blogging… about video games and nerdy music. So suffice it to say that I endeavor to encourage my children to express themselves through whatever media strike their fancy.

My inquisitive five-year-old, for example, is very interested in photography. It’s an art form with which I’ve long been fascinated, if not particularly adept, so I’ve done what I could to support this interest. He has his own inexpensive digital camera that’s often at his side during his adventures in and around our suburban home, and it’s proven itself a valuable asset in teaching him that art is about creation and enjoyment.

Recently I stumbled across Lomography, a company formed by two Austrian students who found inspiration when they themselves stumbled across a strangely stylistic Russian camera. It was out of its odd, imprecise images that Lomography grew both as a company and as a movement. Emphasizing a casual, flexible approach to photography, it seemed to reinforce the same concepts I was trying to communicate to my son while summarily squashing my own anxiety concerning my ineptitude as a camera-slinger.

Photograph using Lomography Fisheye Number 2Photograph using Lomography Fisheye Number 2

image: Multiple exposure of bamboo (Z.)

I was pleased to discover that their Lomography Fisheye Number 2 camera was just as quirky as the company behind it. Packaged in a large plastic bubble encased in a foldaway cardboard box, the Fisheye 2 refuses to take itself too seriously. This point is further driven home by the tiny crab embossed in the shiny black plastic next to its shutter release button.

Admittedly, the camera feels a tad cheap and flimsy (not unlike a child’s toy), but the hefty metal band running across its middle both supports the considerable lens and adds some much-needed heft. This lens, of course, is a 180 degree fisheye with the requisite barrel distortion. The Fisheye Number 2 also comes equipped with a helpful fisheye viewfinder already mounted on its hotshoe attachment, which serves to give you a fair idea of a picture’s actual composition and further adds to the unique visual style of the device itself.

The same hotshoe supports an optional secondary flash, and the unit itself includes a very good built-in flash for low-light shooting. To that end the Fisheye Number 2 also includes a variable exposure switch. The shutter can be locked to prevent accidental misfires in your camera bag, set to a normal, instant exposure or, by using the “Bulb” setting, it can be kept open as long as you like – until you manually release the shutter button. This invites in all sorts of ambient light, and can be used to great effect in even the dimmest of environments. Another great feature is its multiple exposure switch. It allows you to layer as many shots as you wish right on top of each other by momentarily disengaging the film feed.

Photograph using Lomography Fisheye Number 2Photograph using Lomography Fisheye Number 2

image: Distance shot of elephant enclosure w/ flash (Z.)

With its big, beautiful lens and retro design aesthetic, the Lomography Fisheye Number 2 is a great 35mm camera that’s made for a hipster, but strong enough for even the most discriminating GeekDad and his rowdy son. Though far from indestructible, it can take its lumps in stride, and it proved such by accompanying my family on various outings to such glamorous destinations as local parks and the regional zoo.

It even comes equipped with a nice silicon lens cover. Unfortunately said cover is also one of my principle knocks against the device. It does a fine job of protecting the sensitive lens from dirt and damage when it’s in place, but that’s sadly far less often than expected. The cap is tethered to the system’s wrist strap, and the weight and movement this entails often causes it to pop off at inopportune times.

Another definite drawback is the fact that the fisheye lens is there to stay. It can’t be removed and replaced with a standard-angle lens, which makes the camera a bit of a one-trick pony. But it certainly performs its singular trick admirably.

As a part of the lo-fi photography movement, Lomography promotes a spontaneous, low-pressure approach to taking pictures. The included documentation even goes so far as to suggest a set of Ten Golden Rules, most of which involve simply capturing events as they unfold and eschewing things like forced posing and overanalyzing your subjects. Still, it doesn’t take this concept so far as to totally leave fledgling photographers out in the cold. The camera ships with a roadmap-sized fold-out packed with flash, shutter speed and exposure suggestions to achieve a myriad of interesting effects.

Photograph using Lomography Fisheye Number 2Photograph using Lomography Fisheye Number 2

image: Extreme close-up of "that big spikey leaf" (Li'l X.)

Most importantly, the thing that really comes through in everything from the camera’s design to its packaging and literature is the message that photography is meant to be fun and personal and spontaneous. It’s hard not to realize that we could get a higher quality image using our family’s regular digital point-and-shoot without having the added fuss of selecting the correct film speed or worrying with things like cross processing (or film development in general), but, just as I sometimes prefer vinyl to MP3, there is a something both novel and rewarding about relying on pre-digital technology for capturing the images of daily life.

If you’re looking for a fun fisheye 35mm that won’t break the bank, the Lomography Fisheye Number 2 is an excellent option. It won’t likely replace your day-to-day use digi-cam, but it can ably supplement your photo album with some odd distortion and outlandish colors. And everyone’s life can use a little more color.

WIRED: good image quality, ease of use, classic fisheye lens, fun visual aesthetic

TIRED: flimsy plastic frame, non-removable lens, paying for film and development gets old fast

Review materials provided by Lomography

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