Extreme Wide


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.

The same scene photographed from two vantage points, one from a distance with a 500mm lens and the other close-up with a 15mm lens. Both are strong images, but their dynamics differ greatly.

                    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) 

Discussion 12

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I've been shooting with a Canon 16-35mm f2.8 L II for a while and have to say that it's a great lens - with a caution...

It seems that when shot at or near f2.8 on a full frame camera, it has a distracting vignette of about 2.5 stops.

Be sure to enable peripheral illumination correction in your camera if it's available - tht will reduce the vignette.  That way, you don't have to fix it in post.

And if you add a filter like a polarizer, be sure to get one that's low profile (thin) so it doesn't create an additional vignette by protruding into the field of view.

Charlie MacPherson


It's not uncommon to have a bit of light falloff towards the edges when shooting with extreme wide angle lenses, but 2.5 stops seems excessive in my experience. In many cases this falloff serves as a pleasing framing element for the image by leading the viewer's eye back towards the center of the frame similar in the way 'burning in' the corners of a print guides the viewer's eye.

You should also note Polarizing filters are not effective along the edges of lenses wider than 20mm (approx 99° AOV) on a full-frame DSLR. If you shoot with a Polarizing filter at the wide end of a 16-35mm on a full-frame DSLR you'll notice the edges start getting brighter along the extreme edges of the frameline.

 I love my 1.8 Tokina ultrawide on my Canon EOS 7D. It's my favorite lens!

I would like to bring to light the Tokina 11-16 for APS-C frame cameras. I keep mine on my camera almost constantly, and my telephotos seem to have lost their luster because of this lens. It's ultra-sharp (most times sharper than the Nikon equivalent), and reletively cheap. I use it for news and concert shooting, and love it because it is a 2.8 . This lens may not be marked as a professional lens, but with Tokina's build quality, it doesn't matter. I think just about any Tokina lens could match up pretty well with a 'pro' lens.

I have never encountered such a good definition of what an ultra-wide angle lens can do. Nor have I ever seen its use placed in such a propper perspective. Your examples of wide angle composition are superb.

Worthless without prices.


I'm with ajjjas above. The Tokina 11-16/2.8 definitely needs to be on this list!!! It beats lot of Nikon and Canon ultra-wide glass out there...

I myself have it (Nikon mount) and I think the only Nikon zoom that beats it, only slighty, is the ultra-expensive 14-24/2.8 which would be wasted on a DX format camera anyways.

 The depth of field can be awesome.  My first use of a wide angle lens, years ago, was on a 35mm Nikon F4.  With proper control the print from using a wide angle lens will remind you of a "Pin Hole" camera. 

I have always been a wide angle fan, starting with Canon's 19mm 3.5 FL lenses. So when DSLR's first appeared I was put off joining the rush because smaller sensors were all I could justify the cash to buy, and the widest views were no longer on the menu.  The Canon EOS5D and later 5D mkII changed all that and now I have plunged in with this system.

Careful selection of subject and distance are of course vital, it is easy to end up with a lot of empty foreground and or "distortion" of what looks right. A good wide angle shot is in my opinion either almost undetectable as such, or very obviously done deliberately.

There is also the slight difference in image scale from the edge to the centre of the lens to be taken into account. Hold one up and pan your camera to see what I mean. It makes stiching images together for a panorama shot impractical.

The very wide view of course gives a bit more latitude for longer exposure times and when necessary I have had success at 1/4 and 1/8th of a second. I always take several shots, because on this scale you can't see shake on the camera LCD.

However with all these things in mind I have now reduced my travel kit to just 3 lenses, starting with a Canon 15mm Fisheye and the Canon 16-35 mm II.

I am delighted with the performance of these and just returned from the Egypt with a superb set of images of the Nile, its temples and the Pyramids and Cairo.

I have considered the Canon Fisheye Zoom, but after experimenting with the old 7.5 mm Canon circular fisheye on film I never missed not buying it. So I'll just admire it as a technical achievement and wait to see what others do with it on a full frame sensor.

I used to use a 22mm when I was shooting film. When I switched to the 7D, I picked up the 10-22mm lens and love it. There is some chromatic aberration and fringing around the outside of the lens, but the overall quality is great. At 10mm there is som distortion of nearby objects in the corners which can be used to a creative effect if you want. I use this lens for landscapes and shooting architecture. This is the reason I chose it over a fisheye style lens, the lines stay straight through the frame. 

I actually wrote a blog about shoosing the right lens about 2 weeks ago.  In it, there's an image that I shot with the Canon 16-35mm L IS.

Even though it was shot on the 5D MkII and was at 16mm focal length, it didn't seem to show the vignetting that it does at full aperture - this image was shot af f22.

I'm sure there's some complicated optical explanation for that, but I just try to avoid shooting at full aperture - unless I want to vignette.

Charlie MacPherson

The sleeper lens here is the Nikon 16mm full frame fisheye. At 16mm the full 35mm size frame is filled corner to corner at 180 degree coverage across the diagonal so the coverage side to side is more like 140 degrees. But the flare control and sharpness are almost unbelievable. I've many shots with the sun in the frame and - no flare, great contrast. If you like a mild fisheye effect (sort of a cross between a full circle fisheye and an ultrawide linear optic) in wide shots, this is a great lens. As with any fisheye, watch out for your toes.

Also, isn't the 8mm Sigma fisheye a full frame optic? I have a copy of the first 8mm from Sigma and it is a full frame circular fisheye. Not very sharp, but good enough for circular 10-12 inch blowups. Lots of CA and vignetting correctable in PS.