Geek Articles

Assembling the C-4 Optics 4.9mm f3.5 Hyperfisheye Prototype

Published February 19, 2019

You guys have watched us gut a lot of lenses and cameras over the years. So I thought it would be fun for you to see us put one together from scratch. Compared to many of the lenses we’ve taken apart, this is all mechanical lens is rather simple: no focus motors, image stabilizers, etc. But even a simple lens is a very complex structure. This post will probably give you a good idea of how much mechanical design is required to make even a very basic lens.

The lens is also unique; it’s a prototype C-4 Optics 4.9mm f/3.5 circular fisheye. It’s a massive lens giving a 270-degree field of view, meant for immersive video and specialty shots. To give you an idea of what 270 degrees means, the lens sees behind itself. An ultra-wide 15mm fisheye lens gives a 180-degree field of view while an 11mm rectilinear lens is less than 120 degrees.

HyperFisheye Lens

Image Courtesy C-4 Precision Optics, 2019


The closest thing that’s existed to this is the 1970s classic Nikkor 6mm f/2.8 fisheye, which gave a 220-degree field of view, weighed 5 kg, and can be rarely found for $100,000 and up these days. The C-4 optics lens weighs every bit as much as the Nikkor, but should be far sharper, have less distortion and vignetting, and cost somewhat less than those do today. (‘Somewhat’ being defined as ‘less than half’.)

So let’s put stuff together!

Potting Elements

Several of the elements need to be potted (glued) into their metal holders before we begin assembly, then let dry for 24 hours before we really get started. This requires a steady hand, which is why I write the posts and take the pictures while Aaron does all the work.

We start with the smallest element in the lens, a tiny one that sits right by the aperture when assembled.

Fisheye Ultrawide assembly

C-4 Optics, 2019

Fisheye Ultrawide assembly

C-4 Optics, 2019


Once the lens is placed in position, a syringe full of potting cement . . . .


is used to lay a bead around the edge of the glass, cementing it in place.

Fisheye Ultrawide Assembly


The much larger second element also gets potted. This is a two-syringe-worth-of-cement job. (Yes, everyone, we know it’s dusty. Cleaning comes during assembly.)

UltraWide Angle Lens

C-4 Optics, 2019


The third and fourth (already in place) elements both get potted into the main support plate.

Fisheye Lens Assemble

C-4 Optics, 2019


Fisheye Assembly

C-4 Optics, 2019


This all dries overnight and then we get on to the actual assembly. Aaron laid out the parts for the assembly before we quit for the day.

Fisheye Assembly

C-4 Optics, 2019


Base and Cap Assembly

You probably just think of these as accessories, but on a lens of this size, they are critical pieces that took up as much design effort as the lens itself. Actually, most of the parts you saw in the image above are for them.

Each extending leg/handle is six pieces.

Fisheye Ultra Wide Assembly

C-4 Optics, 2019


They go together like this: The inner leg threads get lubed, the lock ring inserted, and then the inner leg inserted into the barrel.


After handle’s locking ring is tightened down, the rubber foot gets put on and the leg screwed onto its mount.


The bottom platform just needs its three adjustable feet covered, their rubber bumper added, and then screwed in.


Finally, the lens cap (it really should be called the lens helmet) needs to be assembled. This isn’t just a cover; it has to be capable of supporting the entire lens since that’s the only way to place it face-down to attach cameras, follow-focus, and other assorted gear to it. The cap itself weighs almost a kilogram and has to have air-release vents; otherwise, it can become immovable if it suctions down around the lens. (Yes, there is a story about how we figured out the vents were necessary.)

C-4 Optics, 2019


The latches have a ‘ball-bearing screw’ inserted on each side as a latch-lock, then the latch itself goes on over an inserted rod which is then locked in place with a set screw.


After that, we screw on the rubber stopper, add another rod containing the tension springs, and then mount the latch assembly to the hood. The plastic of the hood is plenty thick enough that it has nice 5mm molded latches to attach the latch rods with.



Fisheye Lens

C-4 Optics, 2019


Now to the Lens

Focusing Barrel

We start with the focusing group, a doublet that comes to us cemented with black lacquered edges.


This gets placed into the larger focusing barrel and an internal retaining ring used to fix it in place.


It doesn’t show well in the above pictures, but the outer barrel is threaded to receive the focusing link; the metal arms that will mount it to the mechanical focusing apparatus. Once this is started by hand, a spanner is used to thread the barrel to a measured position. Then the focus lock ring is placed to keep everything there.


Main Barrel

The main barrel, which contains the aperture and several optical elements, is the most complex part of the lens. The first piece in is a tiny doublet that goes right behind the aperture.


And then gets locked in place with a retaining ring.


Behind that goes a cemented triplet that is slightly larger.


A flat element gets mounted in its holder and then placed at the very rear of the lens. You can see by the knurled finish that this can be removed and replaced with various filters if needed.


Turning the barrel over, the aperture assembly gets placed in the other end, right in front of the doublet we inserted first. It has to be rotated to the proper orientation, then it’s locked down with a hex screw.


We finish up the barrel with an old friend. The small element we potted yesterday mounts to the front of the barrel. It’s hard to see in the pictures, but its mount is threaded and screws into the barrel.

C-4 Optics, 2019


Main Barrel and Gear Assembly


We start by lubing the focus gear and inserting the focusing helicoid, which is then adjusted to a measured depth.


The aperture fork is mounted to the aperture ring. The fork comes in two pieces that overlap. The reason for the two pieces is that these are adjusted to be the aperture stops on either side.


A hard stop is screwed in place in the focusing barrel and two more into the main barrel. The ones in the main barrel are eccentric; adjusting them sets the focus stops accurately.


Now the focus gear is slipped over the main barrel and the stops all aligned.


Then the focusing group that we assembled earlier is placed into the focusing helicoid and screwed in place.


Following that, the aperture / rear optical assembly gets put in place.


The aperture pin then gets screwed in place with a really nice, expensive tool that does nothing other than screw the aperture pin in place. That’s it.

C-4 Optics, 2019


Then a nylon spacer goes on (the green shim), which keeps the focus smooth and with just a bit of resistance. After that, the index barrel is placed and screwed down, and then the aperture gear can be slid on.


We’re getting close to being done with the rear part of the lens. The mounting ring goes on, then an infinity spacing shim (we just guess the thickness at this point, it gets reshimmed later), and finally the bayonet mount.


There’s only one more step to completing the assembly of the rear part of the lens; calibrating the aperture. We use an occulter, basically a semitransparent disk with a blackout that will be the size of the aperture at f/16.

The lens is placed on a light table, the occulter placed over the rear element, and the iris adjusted until the f/16 setting just occludes the occulter’s central black disk (it’s not quite there in the image).


Putting It All Together

All of the complicated parts of the lens are in the rear we’ve just assembled, but that’s not really the part you notice when you look at the lens. It’s time to put those together now.

First, we get the base plate (AKA cheese plate) that we had potted the third and fourth elements to. The top side of the plate is the base of the large front elements, the back side functions as a cheese plate for inserting rods and other support items. The second element, which we also potted yesterday, then threads on.


Finally, we unwrap the first element. These cost about $5,000 each so we tend to be a little paranoid about them.

Ultra Wide Fisheye Lens


Once it’s set in place, it will be held by what we think is the world’s largest retaining ring.


How do you tighten such a big ring? You temporarily put some big-ass screws in the locking slots to serve as handles. Once the ring is mounted, the front assembly gets put into its cap, which is the only reasonable way to hold it while we work on the back.


Now we can align and mount the rear assembly, the tripod legs, and finally the bottom platform.


With the legs in place, we turn it back over and put in a leverage screw for one last torque of the retaining ring. Then the ‘handle’ screw is removed and set screws placed in those three holes to keep the ring in place.


And assembly is done.


We’ll have to take the bottom platform off and fine tune the shims under the bayonet mount for infinity focus before we start taking pictures, but that’s about it.

For those of you who are curious, a smaller Sony camera (A7xxx) fits nicely protected within the legs. For larger cameras the bottom platform can be removed, the legs extended or removed, and various apparatus (rods, follow focus, aperture control, etc. ) mounted directly to the cheese plate.

This lens is one of two developed for C-4 Optics, so it likely won’t ever show up on our rental list. But it is a passion project of mine, so I wanted to show off some of the things I’m working on on the side. If you are looking for an ultra-wide, I’ve gone ahead and listed the widest lenses we have available for rental below.

Lens Angle of View
Canon 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye 180 degrees
Sigma 8mm f/3.5 EX DG Fisheye 180 degrees
Sigma 4.5mm f/2.8 EX DC HSM Fisheye (crop sensor) 180 degrees
Nikon 10.5mm f/2.8G AF DX Fisheye 180 degrees
Panasonic 8mm f/3.5 Fisheye 180 degrees
Rokinon 8mm T3.8 Cine Fisheye (crop sensor) 167 degrees
Canon 11-24mm f/4L 126 degrees
Sigma 12-24mm f/4 DG HSM Art 122 degrees
Sigma 8-16mm f/4.5-5.6 DC HSM (crop sensor) 114 degrees
Olympus 7-14mm f/2.8 ED PRO 114 degrees
Fuji XF 10-24mm f/4 R OIS 110 degrees
Sony E 10-18mm f/4 OSS 109 degrees
Panasonic/Leica 8-18mm f/2.8-4 ASPH 107 degrees
Rokinon 10mm f/2.8 ED AS NCS CS (crop sensor) 105 degrees

We’ve got some urgent things that are going to take up the next week, but we should have another post with images from the lens in 10 days or so. In the meantime, here is a quick teaser to give you an idea of how wide 270 degrees really is. 

C-4 Fisheye Lens


Roger Cicala, Aaron Closz, Brian Caldwell, and Wilfried Bittner

February, 2019

Author: Roger Cicala

I’m Roger and I am the founder of Hailed as one of the optic nerds here, I enjoy shooting collimated light through 30X microscope objectives in my spare time. When I do take real pictures I like using something different: a Medium format, or Pentax K1, or a Sony RX1R.

Posted in Geek Articles
  • rocketride

    You don’t, that’s why the front element it only costs $5,000. Also, it was scary to manufacture (the element itself AND the entire assembly), it should be scary to use. ;<)

  • rocketride

    As seen below, for that large a field, you’re either going to have fisheye distortion, or panoramic distortion. There is no way to map that in a rectilinear manner in a single continuous piece

  • 1) You don’t and we are.
    2) Multiple ways, but other than the built-in tripod you’d generally use rods into either the cheees plate or base plate.
    3)Yes it is.

  • There are some spacing adjustments, but in a fisheye like this you don’t adjust tilt.

  • Brian Caldwell

    I assume by “torus” you mean the weird edge of the front element. This is caused by the default method Zemax uses to square off element edges. Allowing the second surface to extend further back is a non-starter because it would become a concave hyper-hemisphere, which is strictly a NO-NO. Here is the actual shape of the front element, where all issues are cured by huge 45-degree chamfers:

  • rocketride

    Things get weird in Zemax* when you have HFOVs greater than 90 deg and some of the rays are not coming from ‘in front of the lens. I’ve only done camera lenses up to 190 deg. It hasn’t gotten manufactured, yet. OTOH I have done telescope eyepieces up to 110deg, which are in production.

    *AFAIK, other software would handle it pretty much the same, so you’d still get that torus.

  • Mike Fried

    A few questions:
    1) How do you protect the outer lens element from elements? I’d be pretty scared of messing up that huge outer lens element in a dusty, windy, salty, or rainy outdoor setting.
    2) How might you mount this to a tripod? I’m guessing you have some system with the base plate.
    3) Is the video reversed? It looks like you’re taking the lens apart, not putting it together.

    This is really exciting. Thanks so much for sharing!

  • Claudia Muster

    No optical adjustment mechanism?

  • Brandon Dube

    The blue band you can see at the bottom of the frame is due to chromatic aberration of the pupil. The pupils of such wide angle designs are very noncircular, and not of high quality. If you peer into the front of Canon’s 11-24L, you can watch the pupil distort, blur, and pick up chromatic aberration severely as you go into the corner of its field of view.

    Then double its field of view, and here you are.

  • Dragon

    I have faith that some special person will rent this optic 🙂 (or maybe even buy it).

  • Not at a really soon point, no. It’s taken 3 years to get this one done.

  • Ilya, I’m going to have to wait for Brian to come answer this part because he explained to me once about how it was color corrected, but I honestly don’t think I followed it and I SURE don’t remember it.

  • What David said.

  • Maxim, not in the near future. It took 3 years to get this one produced and we haven’t gone past the optical designs on the others. Plus there’s the part about no money left. 🙂

  • TheInfinityPoint

    Fun fact: A 270 degree fisheye covers a solid angle of (sqrt(2) + 2)*pi steradians (4pi steradians for an entire sphere), which is 85.3% of all possible directions. As a comparison a ‘regular’ circular fisheye (180 degree coverage) only covers 2pi steradians, which is half a sphere, i.e. hemisphere.

  • obican

    I knew you weren’t kidding when you had published that article four years ago 😀

  • David Bateman

    See if you can compare it to this CS mount lens:

    M12 lenses can actually work on m43rds cameras using a M12 to c-mount adapter and then c-mount to m43rds adapter. However, you have to use electronic shutter as M12 lenses will extend beyond the shutter, close to the sensor. Thes give crazy fisheye angles as well.

  • David Bateman

    No, his list is for wide angle and fisheye lenses you can rent from them only.
    A full list would be much much longer. My favorite is the cheap Fujinon 2.7mm f1.8 c-mount, that covers m43rds and is 185 degrees.

  • No beard cover, Aaron?

  • Ilya Zakharevich

    From the sample photo, it may look as if your vignetting at 90° to the optical axis may be well-controlled! (How large is it?!) However, what is the reason for the blue-band near 135°? How can vignetting be color-specific without strong chromatic aberration?

    Or are you correcting for CA in software too?

    Without glued elements, my guts feeling is that it may be a bitch to cancel CA…

  • Kelraz

    Would absolutely rent this from you, probably 4-6 times a year. VR and full dome stuff.

  • Not THAT Ross Cameron

    Skateboarding – pffffft. The best way to test this is with cat photos, or maybe as a reversing camera on a car, or perhaps attached to a smart phone with a selfie stick (and a crane to support it) ;~)
    Wonder if LR will make a waterproof housing for underwater photos, although it might need somebody extra buoyancy….
    I’ve got it – attach it to the roof of a car and drive around taking photos of the streets.
    Or has a commercially available drone been made that can carry 25lbs+ payload?
    OK, think I’ll stop before I jump the shark ;~)

  • Maxim Podtopelny

    Also I feel this question should be asked: will we see The Mark of the Beast and The Night Stalker in the future?

  • Wilfried’s amazing opto-mechanical design does indeed make him the 4th wheel of the bus.

  • Maxim Podtopelny

    When you develop and produce insane optical design regardless of market demands, cost optimisations and other boring limitations but just for fun, it’s undeniably unquestionably The Best Job In The World

  • Ryan Thomas

    True that!

  • Ognjen Golubovic

    This is hands down the best blog post ever that I have read in my entire life. Its not only due to extremely interesting topic, but style as well, everything fits so perfectly.
    You have my eternal respect.

  • JoergenGeerds

    I think you missed the HAL250 lens from Entaniya in your list of lenses, it is a similar “monster”, and comes with different mounts and configurations. We have a set of two, fitting both RED 8k and MFT, ready to rent if interested

  • Khoshekh

    Does that mean there’s a chance you’re going to make the night stalker too at some point? I mainly photograph plays and musicals so that’s the one I got excited for.

  • Alberto Azzoni
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