Sigma 10mm f/2.8 EX DC HSM Fisheye Lens mounted on a Canon EOS 7D

I have new piece of gear: the Sigma 10mm f/2.8 EX DC HSM Fisheye Lens. I picked one up on the recommendation of photographers Clay Bolt & Paul Harcourt Davies, whose wide-angle macro eBook makes considerable use of the lens's close-focus abilities. The Sigma 10mm costs about $650 and comes in versions compatible with Sigma, Canon, Nikon, Sony, and Pentax small-sensor dSLR mounts. The lens will vignette if used on a full-frame 35mm camera.

This lens is good for two things.

First, the 10mm is a fisheye. So it's weird. Heavy barrel distortion over an extreme field of view grants a perspective more exaggerated than we're used to seeing with mere human vision. The effect is surreal. And fun! Creative types will do well with the Sigma 10mm's unique vista.

Second, the 10mm performs superbly for up-close photography. The lens focuses as close as 1 cm to the front element, rendering it capable of a bug's eye view of the world. Of course, this property is handy for insect photographers.

What follows is not a full review- I've only just started playing with with the lens- but a series of test shots and first impressions.

ISO 400, f/11, 1/250 sec

Mounted on my Canon APS-C cameras the lens does not quite reach 180. Thus, it is not the ideal tool for pushing the boundaries of the fisheye look.

ISO 800, f/8, 1/125 sec, diffuse overhead flash; dark corners at the right side are not vignetting but an artifact of the flash.

The close-focus distance presents a lighting problem as the lens tends to shade the subject. For this shot I used a hand-held fill flash just above the frame to keep Jasmine the Cat from being a mere silhoutte.

Also, when photographing cats just a couple centimeters from their noses they will attempt to snuzzle the lens. You'll want to keep the lens cleaner close.

ISO 200, f/11, 1/320 sec

I will definitely be taking this lens to forests. I love what it does with trees!

ISO 400, f/14, 1/320 sec

The Sigma 10mm fisheye shines up-close. The intimately close focus provides detail of small subjects like an acorn, yet the ultra-wide angle means the big picture stays in frame. This is a lens to shoot little things in their environment.

ISO 400, f/9, 1/100 sec

Details of a frost-covered rail line photographed from about 25 cm away.

ISO 200, f/11, 1/320 sec

Did I mention how much I like what this lens does with trees?

ISO 200, f/16, 1/60 sec

Fisheye lenses are prone to chromatic aberrations and degraded quality toward the edges. The Sigma is no exception. To my eye these artifacts are acceptable for a specialty lens, especially as the center portion is clear and sharp.

ISO 100, f/16, 1/60 sec

Again, the Sigma 10mm fisheye produces dramatic images when the subject is close.

The lens is heavier and better-built than I expected. It is priced reasonably for the quality. Barrel distortion is pronounced, but this can be either a bug or a feature, depending on your creative tastes. I suspect my lens will come into heavy rotation when I wish to make more flamboyent images of my little insect subjects in their natural environment.

Preliminary verdict? Worth the $650.