The first words usually uttered by somebody peering through an ultra wide-angle lens for the first time is usually something along the lines of “Whoa!”—and the wider the lens, the louder the “Whoa!” While peering through an extreme telephoto lens can also coax a “Whoa!” from the viewer, it’s because of its ability to bring distant subjects seemingly within arm’s length. Ultra-wides are different in their ability to interpret objects that actually are within arm’s-length distance in a different light. And that’s what makes them special.
Extreme, ultra wide-angle lenses have been around for quite some time, but in the earlier days of digital photography they were all but absent from the scene due to the difficulty involved in manufacturing imaging sensors that could capture and record wide-angle imagery with sharp details toward the outer edges of the frame. The center portions of the frame would be fine, but as you looked towards the corners, everything became bleary and smeared. Pixels capped with angled microprisms eventually solved the problem making ultra wides and fisheye zooms possible in the world of digital imaging. Astronomical manufacturing costs aside, this was one of the key reasons full-frame DSLRs were absent from the scene until fairly recently.
Shooting with ultra wide-angle lenses can be a hoot, and if you have a habit of shooting in tight quarters, they're a godsend. But if you've used them enough you've (hopefully) learned to use them with respect. I say this because the novelty of shooting with super wides can easily get in the way of actually "seeing" your subject. If you own a wide zoom such as a 16-35mm for full-frame or an equivalent zoom lens for an APS-C or FourThirds-format camera, it shouldn't come as a surprise to find that as cool as your subject might look at the widest setting of your lens, the best photograph of your subject might really be at a slightly longer point in the zoom range.
But this is something one can only learn by shooting, carefully studying your results and being honest about acknowledging the difference between a "cool-looking" photograph and one that does justice to or captures the essence of one's subject.
All photographs © Allan Weitz 2010. May not be reproduced without written permission.
Composition is an important part of the picture-taking process regardless of what lens you happen to be shooting with, but it's more so with wide-angle lenses. Part of the reason for this statement is that, when you're looking through a wide-angle lens, everything looks amazing. The problem is that when you play these "amazing" pictures back on your computer screen or in print form, they're usually a lot less impressive than they appeared back when you pressed the shutter button.
One reason for "post-capture letdown" is that there’s nothing strong going on in the foreground. While composition is equally important when shooting with telephotos, because all of the elements in the frame are compressed into a narrower plane, the dynamics differ. With wide-angle lenses, it’s far more important to have a central point of focus where the eye can return.
All photographs © Allan Weitz 2010. May not be reproduced without written permission.
When taking pictures with wide-angle optics, you're taking an environmental portrait, and I use the word "portrait" regardless of whether your subject is a flower, an old boat or an old boat builder, for that matter. Wide-angle photographs invite you into a scene. There's the main subject and everything going around the main subject. And a well-composed wide-angle photograph invites the viewer in, shows them around and returns the viewer's eye to the main subject. That's exactly how our eyes work—we have two, each with an approximate field of view of about 84°, which combined with a bit of overlap, give us a total field of view of about 138°.
When we enter a new space, we take it in as a whole, visually zoom in to details and pull back again. And if there's something familiar or "homey" about viewing a good wide-angle photograph, it's because unlike the crushed, 2D dynamics of telephoto imagery, wide-angle lenses see the world with the same 3D sense of depth and dimension as our eyes see the world.
A Selection of Extreme Wide-Angle Lenses
|Format||Image Stabilized||Angle-of View||Min. Focus||Filter Size||Weight|
|Nikon AF DX Fisheye Nikkor 10.5/2.8G ED DX||APS-C||No||180° (Full-frame)||5.5" (0.14m)||Rear Gel Slot||10.8 oz (306 g)|
|Nikon AF Fisheye Nikkor 16/2.8D||Full-frame APS-C||No||180° (135° APS-C)||10.2" (0.259m)||None||10.08 oz (285.76g)|
|Nikon AF Nikkor 14/2.8D ED||Full-frame APS-C||No||114° (90° APS-C)||8" (0.2m)||Rear Gel Slot||23.6 oz (670 g)|
|Nikon AF Nikkor 20/2.8D||Full-frame APS-C||No||94° (70.5 APS-C)||10.2" (0.259m)||62mm||9.28 oz (263 g)|
|Nikon AF-S Nikkor 24/1.4G ED||Full-frame APS-C||No||84° (61° APS-C)||9.84" (0.25m)||77mm||21.9 oz (620 g)|
|Nikon AF Nikkor 24/2.8D||Full-frame APS-C||No||84° (61° APS-C)||12" (0.3m)||52mm||9.28 oz (263 g)|
|Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 10-24/3.5-4.5G ED||APS-C||No||109-61°||9.6" (0.24m)||77mm||16.2 oz (460 g)|
|Nikon AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor 12-24/4G IF-ED||APS-C||No||99-61°||11.8" (0.3m)||77mm||17.1 oz (485 g)|
|Nikon AF-S 14-24/2.8G ED||Full-frame APS-C||No||114-84° (90-61° APS-C)||11" ( 0.279m)||None||35.2 oz (997 g)|
|Nikon AF-S Nikkor 16-35/4G ED VR||Full-frame APS-C||Yes||107-63° (83-44° APS-C)||11.4" (0.289m)||77mm||24 oz (680 g)|
|Nikon AF-S 16-85/3.5-5.6G ED VR DX||APS-C||Yes||83-18.5°||14.96" (0.38m)||67mm||17 oz (485 g)|
|Nikon AF-S Zoom Nikkor 17-35/2.8D IF-ED||Full-frame APS-C||No||104-62° (78-46.5° APS-C)||11" (0.279m)||77mm||26.56 oz (752.96g)|
|Nikon AF 17-55/2.8G ED-IF||Full-frame APS-C||No||
79-28° (59.25-21° APS-C)
|14.2" (0.36m)||77mm||26.59 oz (754 g)|
|Nikon AF Zoom-Nikkor 18-35/3.5-4.5D IF-ED||Full-frame APS-C||No||100-62° (75-46.5° APS-C)||13.2" (0.335m)||77mm||12.96 oz (367 g)|
|Nikon AF-S 24-70/2.8G ED||Full-frame APS-C||No||85-35° (63.75-26.25° APS-C)||14.4" (0.366m)||77mm||32 oz (907 g)|
|Canon EF 8-15/4L Fisheye USM||Full-frame APS-H/APS-C||No||180-108° (135-81° APS-C)||6.2" (0.16m)||Rear Gel Slot||19.04 oz (540 g)|
|Canon EF 15/2.8 Fisheye||Full-frame APS-H APS-C||No||180° (137° APS-H 108° APS-C)||8.4" (0.21m)||Rear Gel Slot||11.6 oz (330 g)|
|Canon EF 14/2.8L II USM||Full-frame APS-H APS-C||No||114° (APS-H 100° APS-C 88°)||7.9" (0.2m)||Rear Gel Slot||22.75 oz (645 g)|
|Canon EF 20/2.8 USM||Full-frame APS-H APS-C||No||94° (APS-H 80° APS-C 68°)||9.84" (0.25m)||72mm||14.24 oz (403 g)|
|Canon EF 24/1.4L II USM||Full-frame APS-H APS-C||No||84° (APS-H 70° APS-C 59°)||9.84" (0.25m)||77mm||22.9 oz (650 g)|
|Canon EF 24/2.8||Full-frame APS-H APS-C||No||84° (APS-H 70° APS-C 59°)||9.84" (0.25m)||58mm||9.44 oz (267.6 g)|
|Canon EF-S 10-22/3.5-4.5 USM||APS-C||No||107.5-63.5°||9.5" (0.063m)||77mm||13.6 oz (385 g)|
|Canon EF-S 15-85/3.5-5.6 IS USM||APS-C||Yes||84-18°||13.78" (0.35m)||72mm||20.28 oz (575 g)|
|Canon EF 16-35/2.8L II USM||Full-frame APS-H APS-C||No||107-63° (APS-H 93-51° APS-C 80-42°)||10.8" (0.27m)||82mm||22.39 oz (635 g)|
|Canon EF 17-40/4L USM||Full-frame APS-H APS-C||No||104-57° (APS-H 89-45° APS-C 78-37°)||11" (0.279m)||77mm||17.5 oz (500 g)|
|Canon EF-S 17-55/2.8 IS USM||APS-C||Yes||78-27°||13.77" (0.35m)||77mm||22.75 oz (645 g)|
|Canon EF 24-70/2.8||Full-frame APS-H APS-C||No||84-34° (APS-H 70-27° APS-C 59-22°)||14.96" (0.38m)||77mm||33.5 oz (950 g)|
|Canon EF 24-105/4 IS||Full-frame APS-H APS-C||Yes||84-23° (APS-H 70-18° APS-C 59-14°)||17.7" (0.45m)||77mm||23.6 oz (670 g)|
|Sony 16/2.8 Fisheye||Full-frame APS-C||In-camera||180° (110° APS-C)||8" (0.2m)||None||14.1 oz (400 g)|
|Sony / Carl Zeiss 24/2||Full-frame APS-C||In-camera||84° (61° APS-C)||7.5" (0.19m)||72mm||19.58 oz (555 g)|
|Sony Carl Zeiss 16-35/2.8||Full-frame APS-C||In-camera||108-62° (83-44° APS-C)||12" (0.28m)||77mm||30.3 oz (860 g)|
|Sony DT 11-18/4.5-5.6||APS-C||In-camera||104-76°||9.6" (0.25m)||77mm||12.7 oz (360 g)|
|Sony DT Carl Zeiss 16-80/3.5-4.5||APS-C||In-camera||83-20°||13.8" (0.35m)||62mm||15.5 oz (440 g)|
|Sony AF DT 16-105/3.5-5.6 D||APS-C||In-camera||71-15°||15.7" (0.4m)||62mm||16.57 oz (470 g)|
|Sony SAL 24-70/2.8 Vario-Sonnar T*||Full-frame APS-C||In-camera||84-34° (APS-C 59-22°)||13.77" (0.35m)||77mm||35.2 oz (997.9 g)|
|Pentax smc DA 10-17/3.5-4.5 ED IF Fisheye||APS-C||In-camera||180-100°||5.6" (0.14m)||None||11.3 oz (320 g)|
|Pentax smc DA 12-24/4 ED AL (IF)||APS-C||In-camera||99-61°||12" (0.8m)||77mm||15.2 oz (430 g)|
|Pentax smc DA 16-45/4 ED AL||APS-C||In-camera||83-35°||11.8" (0.3m)||67mm||13 oz (365 g)|
|Pentax SMCP-DA* 16-50/2.8 ED AL (IF) SDM||APS-C||In-camera||83-31.5°||12" (0.8m)||77mm||19.9 oz (565 g)|
|Panasonic Lumix G 8/3.5 Fisheye||Micro FourThirds||No||180°||3.96" (0.1m)||Rear Gel Slot||5.82 oz (165 g)|
|Panasonic Lumix 7-14/4||Micro FourThirds||No||114-75°||9.84" (0.25m)||None||10.58 oz (306 g)|
|Olympus Zuiko Digital ED 8/3.5 Fisheye||FourThirds||No||180°||5.3" (0.134m)||None||16.1 oz (455 g)|
|Olympus Zuiko Digital ED 7-14/4||FourThirds||No||114-75°||4" (0.1m)||None||27.5 oz (780 g)|
|Olympus Zuiko Digital ED 9-18/4-5.6||FourThirds||No||100-62°||9.8" (0.248m)||72mm||9.7 oz (275 g)|
|Olympus Zuiko Digital ED 11-22/2.8-3.5||FourThirds||No||89-53°||11.02" (0.28m)||72mm||15.6 oz (485 g)|
|Olympus Zuiko 12-60/2.8-4 ED SWD||FourThirds||No||84-20°||9.8" ((0.248m)||72mm||20.2 oz (575 g)|
|Tamron SP AF 10-24/3.5-4.5 Di II LD ASPH (IF)||APS-C||No||108-60°||9.4" (0.24m)||77mm||14.3 oz (406 g)|
|Tamron SP AF 17-50/2.8 XR Di II||APS-C||No||78-31°||10.6" (0.27m)||67mm||15.3 oz (434 g)|
|Sigma 4.5mm/2.8 EX DC HSM Fisheye||APS-C||No||180°||5.3" (0.134m)||Rear Drop-in||16 oz (470 g)|
|Sigma 8/3.5 EX DG Fisheye||APS-C||No||180°||5.3" (0.134m)||Rear Drop-in||14.1 oz (400 g)|
|Sigma 10/2.8 EX DC HSM Fisheye||APS-C||No||180°||5.3" (0.134m)||Rear Drop-in||NA|
|Sigma 15/2.8 EX DG Fisheye||APS-C||No||180°||5.9" (0.149m)||Rear Drop-in||11.7 oz (330 g)|
|Sigma 8-16/4.5-5.6 DC HSM||APS-C||No||114.5-75.4°||9.4" (0.238m)||None||19.6 oz (555 g)|
|Sigma 10-20/3.5 EX DC HSM||APS-C||No||102.4-63.8°||9.4" (0.238m)||82mm||18.3 oz|
|Sigma 10-20/4-5.6 EX DC HSM||APS-C||No||102.4-63.8°||9.4" (0.238m)||77mm||16.4 oz (470 g)|
|Sigma 12-24/4.5-5.6 EX DG ASPH HSM||Full-frame APS-C||No||122-84.1° (91.5-63° APS-C)||11" (0.279m)||Rear Gel Slot||21.69 oz (615 g)|
|Sigma 17-70/2.8-4 DC Macro OS HSM||Full-frame APS-C||Yes||72.4-20.2° (54.3-15.15°APS-C)||8.7" (0.22m)||72mm||18.87 oz (535 g)|
|Tokina AT-X AF DX 10-17/3.5-4.5 Fisheye||APS-C||No||180-100°||5.6" (0.142m)||None||12.3 oz (350 g)|
|Tokina AT-X 12-24/4 Pro DX II||APS-C||No||99-61°||11.8" (0.229m)||77mm||20.1 oz (570 g)|
|Tokina AT-X 16.5-135/3.5-5.6 DX AF
||APS-C||No||82-12°||19.7" (0.5m)||77mm||21.5 oz 610 g)|