Lens Spotlight: K17 Fisheye - Jason Doss

Lens Spotlight

smc Pentax-K 17mm f/4 Fisheye

This blog is a new idea I came up with to highlight a technique, lens, camera, film (when I start developing again), or subject using only three frames in order to try a new approach to photography and add some writing.  I have a lot of lenses, some would say too many, so I'm going to focus on cycling thru the collection in the short term and maybe discuss a little about my photography habits along the way.

The first lens I'm going to show off is the Pentax SMC 17mm f/4 Fisheye, aka the K17.  I've had this lens for several years now.  I bought it to use on my Sony APS-C camera with an adapter to use as a wide angle lens.  This, and the M20mm f/4, were the two lenses that drove me to experiment with film in the first place.  Why?  Because there was no full-frame camera available in 2014 (or so) and I really wanted to try it on a full-frame unit.  So, after I bought a manual film body and some  B/W film,  the K17 was the first lens I tried.

The lens is 17mm and shows a 180 degree diagonal field of view.  The lens is a fisheye, which means it's not corrected for linear distortion.  This means there will be curved lines around the center point.  That's the point of a fisheye, and allows for some fantastically creative images.

This lens was produced from 1975 and ceased in 1985.  The lens is compact, nearly qualifies as a pancake, and has a built-in hood.  There are no filter threads on the front, so the metal lens cap stays on with friction.  Because this method isn't exactly reliable, I have reinforced the inside of the lens cap with tape to provide a surface that actually provides friction.

The lens is 295g (about a half-pound) but feels lighter.  It's tiny, handles excellently, and is made of metal except for the rubber grip.  The lens has built-in filters, which aren't all that useful for digital, but might be for film.  Two of them are color filters (yellow and orange) for use on black and white film.

Here's a great example of the super-wide field of view with some of the fish-eye distortion that comes along with it.  We were waiting on a burrito and a chile relleno in this small tacqueria in Springdale when I caught this shot.  Aperture control doesn't do much for compressing depth of field on super-wide lenses, unless you have foreground subjects that are very close, but it does make a difference in sharpness sometimes.  This was shot at f/8 (I think).

I balanced this speaker on top of a light pole, and got within a couple of inches to get this shot.  One of the best uses of wide angles is to emphasize the main subject in its environment.  Unfortunately, not much environment to show off here, but I was really only looking for the close-up effect and the curved lines on the bottom.  Also, I tried to add interest to the dead space above the speaker by amplifying the contrast of the shadows on the wall.

The field of view is 180 diagonally across the frame, but not horizontally.  It's very wide, as you can see i got most of my relatively small living room.  One of the things to always keep in mind when shooting any wide angle is exposure.  Do you want to expose for the shadows and intentionally blow the highlights, or do you want to expose for the highlights and try and rescue the shadows in post-processing?  I tried for the latter here, but still blew out some highlights.  Metering with manual lenses always involves some guesswork, but that's part of the fun, isn't it?

So, there you go, the K17 Fisheye lens, a Carter/Reagan era lens that still works fine on digital.

Thanks for reading installment #1 of my new Three Frames series, and stay tuned for more in the future!

Let me know you were here! Leave comments below.

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