Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Peleng 8mm Fisheye

Let's have a look at the Peleng, which sounds like a Stereolab album - that was Peng! - but it's actually a fisheye lens. Made by Peleng of Belarus, a company that specialises in tank gunsights and satellite optics.

Why did they make a fisheye lens? I have no idea. Like BELOMO's 16mm Zenitar I assume that they made a batch of five hundred thousand lenses in the early 1980s for some reason or other, and have been selling them ever since. Mine has a simple Nikon mount. It's made of slightly wobbly metal and is manual-everything.

For the images in this post I stuck it onto a Canon 5D MkII, which is a full-frame digital SLR. There are essentially two types of fisheye lenses. Horizontal fisheyes project a bulging image that covers the whole frame from left to right, circular fisheyes make a little circle in the middle viz:

Astronomers often process their images to make full-size panoramas. I tried using PTRemap to do the same thing, with results that generally worked although the London Eye has seen better days:

On an APS-C camera an 8mm circular fisheye acts as a horizontal fisheye lens. Samyang of Korea makes a dedicated 8mm APS-C fisheye lens for this purpose, which is sold under many different brand names. The Peleng is widely available on the used market and, in the 1990s and 2000s, was part of the triad of interesting former-USSR fisheye lenses that flooded the market at the time (the third was the MC Arsat, a horizontal fisheye for medium format film cameras).

As with the Zenitar, the Peleng comes with little filters that screw onto the mount side of the lens. The transparent UV filter blocked my 5D's mirror, so I unscrewed it and put it away. This appeared to have no effect on the focus; surprisingly, the infinity mark on the lens is actually infinity.

Without further processing the fisheye effect gets old quickly. For non-astronomers fisheye images are a special effect unless you process the images with software, in which case you can make extremely wide single-shot panoramas. When a horizontal fisheye image is defished, it becomes a very wide strip:

But when a circular fisheye image is defished it becomes wide and tall. In this case not-quite-square, because the Peleng's images are cropped at the top and bottom slightly.

I used PTLens to unsqueeze the images - twice, because the necessary corrections are huge. As with the Zenitar, the Peleng is very sharp in the middle of the frame even wide open, and if it was a conventional lens it would be super. The borders have some CA and purple fringing but given the massive distortion I'm not surprised.

One of the biggest photographic challenges is finding something interesting to photograph. That's not specific to the Peleng; it's a general rule. In the case of defished circular fisheye images, people photography is difficult because fisheye lenses make people look tiny. Landscape photography is awkward because the horizon becomes a tiny strip in the distance and you end up with masses of sky and land overwhelming the image. You need something above and below you so that the image is interesting. And quite often a defished image ends up looking like a messy mass of jagged angles:

Large, enclosed spaces work well, and to this end I originally planned to travel to the ship-breaking yards of Chittagong, Bangladesh, to photograph the rusting hulks of gigantic oil tankers from the inside, and then I was going to visit NASA's Vehicle Assembly Building, and then the Large Hadron Collider at CERN followed by the interior of Christina Hendricks' bra, which is enormous. A man could get lost in there.

But then I realised that I don't have the necessary permits, and furthermore I don't have space in my travel schedule. If I had some kind of government grant the financial burden would be less worrisome, but when I spoke to the Arts Council about photographing Christina Hendricks' bra from the inside they grew impatient and asked me to leave.

The Science Museum has an exhibition of Julia Margaret Cameron's photographs. Instead of fannying about with perspective correction she... well, she exploited her social connections and great wealth to photograph the leading figures of the day. Because she could, she would have been mad not to. When access to fashionable celebrities was taken from her she withered and died.

Something about her leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Her photographs are often very pretty, but she did nothing to advance the art or science of photography, or of art, or science; unlike Jacques Henri Lartigue her photographs tell us nothing much about her life and times. She had one photographic idea and belonged to a generation that saw photography as a variation of painting, rather than a medium in its own right. She would never have produced "Derriere la Gare Saint-Lazare".

But she was the product of her age, and her photographs are often very pretty, and isn't that enough?

Instead the Arts Council probably decided to fund a fact-finding trip to Detroit or something, or a trip to Nigeria to photograph child soldiers with infrared film. Your loss, Arts Council. Your loss.