If you take your camera to your aquarium, you will be surprised to see how much there is to photograph. The little world of your fishy friends can offer some great photo opportunities. Especially if you have a planted aquarium, adjustable lighting, or a community fish tank. But just like preparing a beautiful and functional aquarium requires the right equipment, so does aquarium photography.
Aquarium photography is a bit different from other types of photography. Most of the difference is due to the reflections and refractive nature of the glass walls of the aquarium. Two other challenges are the lack of light and the cloudiness of water. You can’t floodlight into an aquarium because it will disturb and upset the fish.
But thanks to the advances in camera technology and optical attributes of lenses, aquarium photography isn’t only easier and much more comfortable than it used to be, it’s also much more beautiful.
Further Reading: Need help? learn how to photograph aquarium fish.
Table of Contents
Overall Best Canon Lens For Aquarium Photography
After going through the different lens types and their examples, you might have reached the same conclusion. The best lens of aquarium photography is the Canon’s Macro EF 100 mm.
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM Macro Lens Body Only Lenses, Black
It offers the inner focusing feature, which makes it easy to use in close distance photography. It has a minimum focusing distance of 1 foot, which will allow you to cover a much deeper area of your tank than other macro lenses might allow. The autofocus feature that relies on the ultrasonic motor will allow you much more flexibility with your angles and distances.
- Reasonably priced, compared to similar quality cameras in the market.
- The efficient design eliminates the need for a lens hood by controlling the lens flare.
- Extremely sharp and high-quality images.
- No chromatic aberration, which makes it ideal for the refractive nature of aquarium photography.
- No image stabilization, which makes it harder to take macro shots without a tripod.
- Many novice photographers find the autofocus feature inadequate.
Different Lens Types & Their Uses
Lenses play a vital role in aquarium photography. The type of lens you have or choose can influence your photography much more than any other factor.
Normal/standard zoom lens
A standard zoom lens (or a normal zoom lens) covers the normal focal length. The normal focal length doesn’t refer to the actual human eye’s focal length; instead, it means that through a standard zoom lens camera, the objects will look almost the same size as they usually look from that distance. It also offers two distinct fields of view (wider and narrower). In a full-frame camera, a standard zoom lens comes with the focal length range of 24-70 mm (It would be different for an APS-C).
These lenses are versatile and all-purpose. They are preferred for events, portraits, and wildlife photography. For aquarium photography, standard zooms are great for taking the whole tank in (small and medium-sized tanks). One great example would be the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Standard Zoom, which covers the focal length range of 24 to 70 mm. The maximum aperture is 2.8, and the lens offers very precise autofocus. The quiet Ultrasonic Motor makes focusing much faster. It’s a good general-purpose lens that can help you greatly with your aquarium photography.
A telephoto lens is essentially a long reach camera, which allows you to capture faraway subjects as if they were standing nearby. If you are shooting a subject from a close range, a telephoto lens will make the subject properly fill the frame. Most experts agree that a lens with a focal length of 60-65mm or more (usually up to 400mm) is considered a telephoto camera.
These lenses are usually bulky and lacking in aperture settings. It’s one of the reasons they are preferred for photography in well-lit areas. But they offer a relatively much higher quality of photographs from a distance, and they emphasize a blurred background, bringing the subject sharply into focus.
An excellent example of a telephoto lens would be the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM. The zoom range in this lens focal length (100 to 400 mm) offers excellent flexibility and is well suited for wildlife photography. It’s high quality enough for aquarium photographs from a distance, and with the right lighting, it can help you take amazing close up pictures of your fish.
A wide-angle lens is used to take in the “big picture,” quite literally. These lenses have a smaller than the standard focal length, and that allows them to take a larger area into the frame. They are preferred more for architectural and scenic photography, then focusing on a single subject or subjects. They usually have a focal length of and under 35 mm.
They can be great for outdoor aquariums, where you have to capture a broader perspective in the frame. For indoor aquarium photography, you should use the wide-angle lens when you have to shoot your whole aquarium setup. They are instrumental for larger fish tanks.
Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM lens is one of the best wide-angle lenses out there. More accurately, it’s categorized as an ultra-wide, compared to a regular wide-angle lens, on account of its 14mm focal length. It’s a prime lens, so you get a better image quality, a shallow depth of field, and better results in a low-light environment, which comes in handy when it comes to low-light aquarium photography.
A prime lens is a lens with a single focal length. It’s usually compared to a zoom lens, which gives you a range of focal lengths to choose from. The most apparent advantage of a prime lens is its superior quality. A photo taken with a prime lens with a focal length of, say, 35 mm, will usually be superior to images taken with a zoom lens (for example, a kit zoom lens) that is adjusted for 35 mm. That being said; however, many high-end zoom lenses are catching up to prime lenses in quality. Another benefit of a prime lens better aperture.
The primary cons of prime lenses are their lack of flexibility and cost. With a prime lens, you have to experiment a lot more with light, angle, and distance. And it will cost you substantially more to have a full range of prime lenses than having just a few zoom lenses. But it never hurts to have a few prime lenses around. Individually, they cost much lesser, and they may allow much sharper aquarium photographs in low light conditions than other types of lenses.
A straightforward way to describe macro lenses is that they can take high-quality images of small objects from close distances. And they are hands down, the best lens type for aquarium photography. They allow you to take sharp and detailed images of a subject that is barely an inch away from your camera. The simplest example of it would be close up photography of small animals and insects, which depict the pitch-perfect detail of intricate patterns of their skin and color. These are sometimes the things that you can’t even focus on with your eyes.
Thanks to this ability, the macro lenses are perfect for aquarium photography. You can get as close to your fish as you want (with the lens) and capture their stunning images. Photos taken with a macro lens will reflect the beauty of a fish’s scales and colors. Macro lenses come in the focal lengths between 50 mm to 180 mm. This puts them eerily close to the telephoto lenses, but the significant difference between macro and telephoto is the 1:1 magnification ratio. A macro lens is capable of projecting a tiny subject, in its exact dimension, onto the camera’s photosensor. This is what allows a macro lens to capture minute details of small subjects. They are almost always prime in nature (fixed focal length), but they offer a much higher quality of images.
A tried and tested example of an excellent macro lens would be Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM lens. It has a 100 mm focal length and a maximum aperture of 2.8.
Despite the name, a Fisheye lens is not the best fit for aquarium photography. It’s basically an ultra-wide-angle lens with a twist. The twist is that instead of capturing a wider perspective in the conventional rectilinear fashion, it creates a hemispherical (panoramic) image. It was initially intended for night-sky and meteorological photography. The name ‘fisheye’ is supposed to be connected to how a fish sees the world from under the water.
Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM Ultra-Wide Zoom Lens is a good fisheye lens that you can choose. It’s a zoom lens with an ultra-wide range of 8 to 15 mm and the max aperture of 4. It has an extensive-angle of view: 180 degrees, which can help you capture an insane frame. For aquarium photography, it might capture too much detail to focus on the fish properly, or if you’re shooting from a close distance, you might get a weirdly angled but fun zoomed-in photo of your fish.
Things You’ll Need To Understand When Taking Photos Of Fish
When it comes to aquarium photography (or any type of photography), there is much more to taking a great photo than simply choosing the right camera body and a fantastic lens. This is why you should be familiar with a few more camera features and terms. This will broaden your understanding of photography and allow you to work in a wider variety of situations. It will also help you make the best of the equipment you have.
The aperture of a camera lens (denoted after the letter ‘f’ in lens specifications and names, like f/2.8 and f/4), determines the brightness of the image. If we compare a camera to a human eye, the aperture would be the iris. By controlling the opening and closing of the aperture, you can decide how much light is going in through the lens and into the sensor. The f-numbers work in the inverted order, meaning a larger f-number would mean less light going in. F/2.8 will allow more light to pass through than f/4. Aperture also has an impact on the depth of the field. Since most aquarium photography is done in a low light environment, a larger aperture of f/2.8 is fine.
ISO is simply the level of your camera’s sensitivity to light. Higher ISO means your camera is more sensitive to light, so less of it is needed (suitable for low-light environments). But turning the ISO to his highest setting means you will have noise (distortions) in your image, which impacts the quality of the image. If your camera has a decent noise reduction feature, you can turn your ISO up to get the most out of a low-light situation for your aquarium photography.
Depth of Field
The aperture controls the depth of field of an image. A higher aperture, like f/2.8, will focus more on the subject and blur the background, than an f/4 lens. But in a low light situation, there might be not much you can do about it. If you are shooting your fish in the day time or in a well-lit environment, you may go for better background detail by using a higher aperture.
The third central part of exposure in photography (after aperture and ISO), is the shutter speeds. It’s time a shutter opens for, to take the light in. Shutter speeds control the motion in the photograph, something that is rarely needed in aquarium photography. Shutter speeds can mean the difference between a blurry image and underexposure. You have to set the time just right. It will depend a lot on the lighting condition in which you have to shoot.
Focus is the act of moving the camera towards or away from the subject until you achieve the sharpest possible image. You can do it physically, with prime lenses, or using the zoom feature in zoom lenses. In most aquarium photography scenario, you will be working with auto-focus.
Exposure is the amount of light reaching the photosensor of your camera. We have discussed three major elements that control the exposure, aperture, how fast the shutter speed is, and the ISO. Together, they control how much light is going in, affecting the brightness and noise of the image.
Reflections off the glass walls of your fish tank play an important role in aquarium photography. It might be an issue even when you are working with macro lenses that are perfect for photographing a fish tank. It also depends upon how close to the glass you are and the use of flash. A simple way to prevent unwanted reflections is to angle the camera a bit, instead of keeping the flash perpendicular to the glass.
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