Lens distortion can be a big problem in photography. There are two different types of distortion in photography: optical and perspective.
It is important to know which is which. This will help you know how to fix the distortion.
For help in choosing lenses, here is our extensive article that will help you find the perfect set for you.
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Every lens has varying degrees of distortion, some more than others. Fisheye and wide-angle lenses have the most as they have a ‘wider’ view.
The distortion definition is simple. It comes from the optical design, or rather, how the lens was made. Optical distortion is down to the lens. This is why we often call it lens distortion.
Perspective distortion happens because of the position of the camera relative to the subject.
Optical lens distortion in photography is also known as an optical aberration. The straight lines in the photograph become bendy and wavy. This is why they are also known as “curvilinear”.
This distortion occurs due to the lens design, which is actually a lens error.
There are two types of optical distortion that we will look at. These are Barrel (Convex) and Pincushion (Concave).
This below image is our base as it has no distortion. This grid image is a great way to define distorted images and distortion photography.
‘Perfect’ lenses or lenses with no picture distortion are rare. Most lenses will suffer from one of these distortions.
Some lenses are made with elements that significantly reduce the aberrations. So much so that they are not noticeable to the naked eye.
Some lenses suffer from both types of distortion mentioned here.
Barrel distortion happens when lines curve towards you like the lines of a barrel. This distortion is very common to wide angle and fisheye lenses.
This is because the field of view from the lens is much bigger than the sensor, so it needs to be ‘squeezed’ in to fit.
This creates curved lines. These become more extenuated towards the edges of the frame. The centre will be straight as the image stays the same but changes the further the distance becomes.
This form of lens distortion effects camera lenses at small focal lengths. Even 50mm prime lenses can yield some distortion at close distances.
Some lenses will have compensating elements, but eliminating the distortion is near impossible. One way or another, you are going to have pincushion or lens barrel distortion.
Lenses house a multitude of these compensating optical elements. This adds to the weight and size of the lens. The Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 is a good example.
This is why wide-angle lenses are bigger and heavier than standard lenses. They need more elements to remove the wide angle lens distortion.
Fixing this picture distortion is pretty straightforward in Lightroom or other editing software. Each lens is different. And you could benefit from using lens profiles when correcting these aberrations.
Pincushion Distortion (Concave)
Pincushion distortion is the exact opposite of barrel distortion. The lines curve out from the centre. You can find this type of aberration in telephoto lenses. It’s due to increased magnification.
This time, the field of view is smaller than the sensor, so it appears to ‘stretch’ to fit.
As a result, the lines curve towards the centre. They more extenuated towards the edges of the frame. Again, the centre stays the same.
This is a very common aberration, found in zoom lenses. They do have compensating lens elements. These make the picture distortion difficult to spot.
This photograph of the Eiffel Tower is a great example of converging lines. The building looks to be leaning away from you.
This is a completely natural distortion as our eyes would see the same thing. It looks like it is leaning, as the top is much farther away than the bottom.
The height of the building extenuates the feeling of it leaning back away from you. Photographers often correct this picture distortion to make the image more appealing.
To find out how to correct lens distortion in a few quick and easy steps using Lightroom, check out our guide here.
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