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The best wide-angle lens? Take two steps backward, look for the ‘ah-ha’.” —Ernst Haas
Notwithstanding Mr. Haas’s very astute comment, I have always loved wide-angle lenses. Well, more accurately, I love the inclusive, often distorted, sometimes messy perspectives they create; those of the street photographer, the documentarian, the artist. It is often noted that a 50mm lens is closest to the human eye’s perspective, but that is too narrow; my view includes what is on the periphery and that is crucial to what I see and feel and how I interpret a developing scene. Where the frame cuts on a 28mm or 35mm full-frame perspective is what I take in with my eye and what I like my photographs to include.
Personal taste aside, wide-angle lenses are, of course, crucial to many photo applications from photojournalism to landscape and architecture work. When employed judiciously, they are a great addition to the kit of sports, adventure, and wildlife shooters and are an important option for portraitists wanting to include environmental context. For the casual photographer, they are indispensable when shooting group shots and friends gathered around a table. They also often provide a very short focus distance, allowing the photographer to get close to the subject and still include background information.
Wide-angle lenses encompass a much broader category than simply 28mm or 35mm lenses and B&H offers hundreds of wide-angle lenses, from circular fisheyes and “ultra-wide angles” through versatile zooms all the way to 40mm primes that represent the blurry line where a wide-angle perspective becomes a “standard” perspective. Below, organized by manufacturer, is a sampling of some high-performance and interesting wide-angle lenses that are available to enhance your shooting.
“Cleverness is like a lens with a very sharp focus. Wisdom is more like a wide-angle lens.” —Edward de Bono
Nikon offers a choice of 19 prime wide-angle lenses for Nikon FX (full-frame) and DX (APS-C) format DSLRs, and another five zoom lenses that incorporate strictly wide-angle focal lengths. Of course, there are several lenses, including the latest version of their workhorse AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR, that begin at wide angle but reach standard or telephoto lengths when zoomed.
The most recent comer to the Nikon wide-angle lineup is the AF-S NIKKOR 20mm f/1.8G ED lens with its very fast maximum aperture and a minimum focus distance of just 7.8". On a DX format sensor, it provides the 35mm focal-length equivalent of 30mm. The AF DX Fisheye-NIKKOR 10.5mm f/2.8G ED lens and the AF Fisheye-NIKKOR 16mm f/2.8D lens capture 180° imagery for DX and FX format Nikon DSLRs, respectively.
Numerous fast-aperture, ultra-wide primes, from the AF NIKKOR 14mm f/2.8D ED lens to the AF-S NIKKOR 24mm f/1.4G ED, represent some of the finest glass Nikon makes and are staples of pro kits. The AF-S NIKKOR 24mm f/1.8G ED is a new FX offering and the PC-E NIKKOR 24mm f/3.5D ED is a tilt-shift option for exacting perspective control. In terms of zooms, the AF-S NIKKOR 14-24 f/2.8G ED, AF-S NIKKOR 16-35mm f/4G ED VR, and the AF-S Zoom-NIKKOR 17-35mm f/2.8D IF-ED are incredible lenses for the kind of versatility needed by working photographers and enthusiasts.
Nikon offers a total of eight different 28mm and 35mm prime lenses with one that’s sure to match your budget and needs, including the AF-S DX NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G ED lens, as well as the AF-S NIKKOR 28mm f/1.8G, and AF-S NIKKOR 35mm f/1.4G fast prime staples.
Canon currently offers thirteen wide and ultra-wide EF and EF-S prime lenses for its lines of full-frame and APS-C format DSLRs, and seven wide-angle zoom lenses. Newest to the lineup are the EF 11-24mm f/4L USM and the EF 35mm f/1.4 II USM lenses. The coolest of the zooms might be the EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM lens, which on a full-frame DSLR runs from circular 180° fisheye to a 108° angle of view. When used on an APS-C format camera, you get full-frame 180° image coverage at the lens’s widest setting. Canon offers two versions of the very practical 16-35mm focal length zoom. The EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM offers a fast, constant aperture and the L-series weather-resistant build. The EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM offers a constant f/4 maximum aperture but adds image stabilization for reduced blur in low light. The EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM is an ideal wide-angle option for APS-C shooters.
The EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM, EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM, and the EF 35mm f/1.4L USM are all L-series, high-end prime stalwarts found in many pro bags but, over the past few years, Canon has added the EF 24mm f/2.8 IS USM, EF 28mm f/2.8 IS USM, and the EF 35mm f/2 IS USM as image-stabilized alternatives. The EF-S 24mm f/2.8 STM lens for APS-C cameras is a remarkably slim “pancake” lens with 38mm equivalency and a stepping motor for smooth and quiet autofocus. Canon also offers several tilt-shift lenses, including the wide-angle TS-E 17mm f/4Land TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II lenses.
For Sony A-mount DSLRs, there are six prime and eight zoom options, including three multi-purpose zooms for APS-C format that start at 18mm on the wide-angle end. The 16mm f/2.8 Fisheye lens is the widest prime available for A-mount and, with ED and aspherical elements, provides notable corner-to-corner sharpness. Ascending the ladder, there is also the 20mm f/2.8 Wide Angle Prime Lens, a Zeiss-built Distagon T* 24mm f/2 ZA SSM Prime lens, with Super Sonic wave motor and a 35mm f/1.4 G Prime lens. Also from the Sony-Zeiss partnership is the second generation 16-35mm f/2.8 ZA SSM II Vario-Sonnar T* lens, with a fast, constant maximum aperture, extra-low and super extra-low dispersion elements and the Zeiss T* (T-Star) coatings. Notable for APS-C shooters is the DT 11-18mm f/4.5-5.6 Wide Zoom lens, with its 16.5-27mm focal-length equivalency and the DT 30mm f/2.8 Macro lens with 1:1 ratio close-up capability.
While Pentax currently only makes APS-C format DSLRs, their long-awaited full frame DSLR is expected to arrive in Spring, 2016 and they still offer full-frame lenses designed for film cameras that are perfectly usable on digital SLRs—just be sure to take note of the focal-length equivalency when choosing such a lens for your digital APS-C K-mount camera. Of these lenses, the FA series offers the smcP PENTAX FA 31mm f/1.8 Limited lens, with 46.5mm equivalency when used on APS-C cameras, a very fast maximum aperture, and a compact, durable build. The DA Limited series is the company’s durable, high-end class of lenses made for digital SLR cameras, and new additions to this series include the DA 15mm f/4 ED AL Limited lens and the DA 21mm f/3.2 AL Limited.
The standard DA lenses include primes such as the PENTAX SMCP-DA 14mm f/2.8 ED (IF) lens, with a 21mm focal-length equivalence, ED lens elements, and internal focusing, and the PENTAX SMCP-DA 12-24mm f/4.0 ED AL (IF) lens and PENTAX SMCP-DA 10-17mm f/3.5-4.5 ED (IF) Fisheye lens with 180° angle of view and ultra-close-focusing capability.
If you are looking forward to the upcoming full frame camera or simple want a premier zoom for your APS-C, the latest Pentax offering is the HD PENTAX-D FA 24-70mm f/2.8ED SDM WR lens with aspherical, ED and Anomalous Dispersion Aspherical lens elements, a supersonic direct-drive autofocus motor and a weather-resistant construction.
Making a significant addition to their “Art” series of lenses, Sigma has released three “full frame” wide-angle lenses over this past year. The 24mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art lens is available for Canon EF, Nikon F and Sigma SA mounts. Its impressive optical design, Hyper Sonic AF motor and thermally stable composite material complements its wide maximum aperture. The 20mm f/1.4 DG HSM is similar in optical and physical design to the above 24mm but offers a bit wider focal length, a fixed lens hood and has been recommended as an ideal lens for astrophotography. Like the 24mm, it is compatible with the Sigma USB dock and offers mounts for Canon, Nikon and Sigma. Perhaps most interesting of their new lenses is the 24-35mm f/2 DG HSM Art lens, a wide-angle zoom with a fast maximum aperture for Nikon, Canon and Sigma mounts. Having used this lens, its large form factor does not stand in the way of it being an incredible optical performer for architectural, landscape or wedding photographers.
It’s hard not to notice the fact that Sigma offers four distinct fisheye lenses: two for APS-C format cameras only (4.5mm and 10mm) and two for full-frame and APS-C format DSLRs (8mm and 15mm). The Sigma 4.5mm f/4.5 EX DC HSM is available for Sigma, Nikon, Pentax, and Canon DSLRs and provides a circular fisheye perspective, while the faster 10mm f/2.8 EX DC HCM Fisheye is also available in Sony A mount and offers a diagonal “full-frame” fisheye perspective. For full-frame DSLRs from Sigma, Nikon and Canon, there’s the 8mm f/3.5 EX DG Circular Fisheye lens with a 180° angle of view and close-focusing ability, and the 15mm f/2.8 EX DG Diagonal Fisheye lens, which also includes a Pentax mount.
In addition to 19mm, 20mm, 24mm and 28mm primes, the zoom offerings from Sigma include extreme wide zooms starting with the 8-16mm f/4.5-5.6 DC HSM lens built for APS-C DSLR cameras and with 12-24mm equivalency in the 35mm format. There are also a 10-20mm f/3.5 EX DC HSM lens and a variable-aperture 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM, each of which is designed for use with APS-C DSLRs from Pentax, Nikon, Sony, Canon, and Sigma. For full-frame (and APS-C) DSLRs, Sigma offers a 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6 DG HSM II lens, with a moisture-resistant design. And, even though it reaches past the purely wide-angle domain in equivalency, the APS-C 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM lens is notable for its very fast, constant maximum aperture.
Tamron’s lens lineup tends to lean toward telephoto primes and all-in-one zooms, but if you own an APS-C format DSLR from Sony, Canon, Nikon, or Pentax and you’re looking for an ultra-wide to wide-angle zoom, there is the SP AF 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5 DI II. Featuring aspheric-surfaced elements and micro motors for fast and smooth focusing, the Tamron 10-24mm takes in an angle of view from 108° to 60° (approximately 16 to 36mm equivalence in 35mm format).
Perhaps in an attempt to compete with Sigma’ Global Vision line, Tamron has recently released two high quality, moisture-resistant, wide-aperture prime lenses. The SP 35mm f/1.8 Di VC USD lens and the SP 45mm f/1.8 Di VC USD Lens, both for Canon EF, Nikon F and Sony A mounts, complement their wide maximum aperture with VC image stabilization, specialized lens coatings and the USD autofocus motor.
For full-frame Canon EF and Nikon F-mount cameras is the SP 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD lens. Like the above primes, Tamron has pulled out the stops to create a high-performance, wide-angle zoom with Vibration Compensation image stabilization, an Ultrasonic Silent Drive AF system, XGM aspherical and Low Dispersion elements, eBAND and BBAR lens coatings, and fluorine coating on the front element to resist water, oils, and smudges.
Tokina offers a handful of wide-angle zooms, including their most recent, the AT-X 11-20mm f/2.8 PRO FX lens for APS-C format Canon and DX format Nikon DSLRs. Three Ultra-low dispersion lens elements and aspherical elements reduce aberration and a one-touch clutch mechanism allows seamless switching from manual to auto focus.
The 10-17mm f/3.5-4.5 AT-X AF DX Fisheye lens for Canon and Nikon, creates an ultra-wide 180° field of view with dramatic curvature of field. An “NH” version of this lens is available without the integrated lens hood, which enables its use on full-frame cameras.
The updated AF 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X 116 Pro DX-II is compatible with Sony, Nikon, and Canon APS-C DSLRs and provides an approximate 35mm focal-length equivalency of 16-24mm. For both full-frame and APS-C cameras, the AT-X 16-28mm f/2.8 Pro FX lens is available in Canon EF and Nikon F mounts and, in addition to sharp coverage due to aspherical and super-low dispersion elements, it features a silent DC autofocus motor. Also for full-frame Nikon and Canon cameras is the 17-35mm f/4 Pro FX lens with pro features, super-low dispersion elements, and a focus clutch mechanism for fast switching between manual and autofocus.
Rokinon, Samyang, and Bower
These manufacturers offer several wide-angle focal lengths, including impressive fisheye lenses for both full-frame and APS-C DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. The Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 ED AS IF NCS UMC Fisheye is available in Nikon F, Canon EF, Pentax K, Sony A, and Sony E mounts. Extra-low dispersion and aspherical elements control aberrations, and both Nano Crystal and UMC coatings improve light transmission. The minimum focus distance is a short 7.9". Their 14mm f/2.8 IF ED UMC lens is available for Canon EF, Nikon F, Sony A, and Pentax K mounts. Manual focus lenses with aspherical elements and multi-layer coatings, they are compatible with full frame and APS-C cameras and provide 21mm focal length equivalence on APS-C formats. The Nikon and Canon mount lenses include an AE chip for auto exposure compatibility and focus confirmation. Samyang offers a 24mm f/1.4 ED AS UMC Wide-Angle lens for Nikon F, Canon EF, Pentax K and Sony A mount cameras. They are durable, manual focus lenses with wide maximum apertures for full frame and APS-C formats.
With their long tradition of making outstanding lenses for a variety of cameras, it’s no surprise that Zeiss continues to release innovative and optically precise optics for DSLR bodies. The new Milvus 21mm f/2.8 lens and Milvus 35mm f/2 are available for full frame Canon EF mount cameras and FX format F mount Nikons. A manual focus lens with an updated exterior design, the Milvus utilizes the Distagon design to control distortion and produce sharp imagery with a dynamic perspective. The F mount versions provide a de-clickable manual aperture ring for enhanced use when shooting video. The 21mm pairs its ultra-wide perspective with a minimum focus distance of just 8.7”. With a 110° field of view, anti-reflective coating, an integrated lens hood and excellent build quality, the Distagon T* 15mm lens for F mount and EF mount cameras is another fine example of Zeiss wide-angle glass. Other available Zeiss wide-angle lenses for Canon EF and Nikon F mounts include the Distagon T* 18mm f/3.5 lens and the Distagon T* 21mm f/2.8 lens.
For its X-mount series of compact mirrorless cameras, Fujifilm provides five prime wide-angle lenses and one zoom. The XF 10-24mm f/4 R OIS lens is the 35mm focal-length equivalent of 15-36mm and, with optical image stabilization and a constant f/4 maximum aperture, it is effective in low light. A stepping motor and internal focus system enable smooth and precise focus, and a macro mode can focus as close as 9.4". The prime lenses include the latest, XF 16mm f/1.4 R WR with a very fast maximum aperture, weather sealing and Nano-GI and HT-EBC coatings. The other primes include the XF 14mm f/2.8 R lens, with 21mm equivalency and minimal distortion, the XF 18mm f/2.0 R lens, with its compact build, and the XF 23mm f/1.4 R lens, with a very fast maximum aperture for shallow depth-of-field control, with its 35mm focal-length equivalence. Lastly, the XF 27mm f/2.8 lens, available in Silver or Black, pushed the boundary of the wide-angle category with its 41mm focal-length equivalency. Its ultra-compact build offers a high-torque AF motor and Fujinon's HT-EBC lens coating for minimal flare and ghosting.
Sony continues to release new lenses for its E-mount mirrorless cameras, including several specifically for full-frame E-mount cameras. New for full-frame cameras is the Sony FE 28mm f/2 lens with weather sealing, a linear actuator AF system and optional converters and the Distagon T* FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA with the fast aperture, Direct Drive Super Sonic Wave AF System and the de-clickable aperture ring.
The Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35mm f/4 ZA OSS lens is the perfect all-in-one wide-angle zoom. Also for full frame E-mount is the Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA lens, with internal focusing mechanism and dust- and moisture-resistant sealing. APS-C E-mount lenses include two ultra-slim pancake lenses, the E 16mm f/2.8 Alpha E mount and the pancake 20mm f/2.8 Alpha E mount, as well as the 30mm f/3.5 Macro lens, with 1:1 magnification, the fast aperture Sonnar T* E 24mm f/1.8 ZA lens, and the E 10-18mm f/4 OSS Alpha E mount lens, with 15-27mm equivalence, constant aperture, and Optical SteadyShot image stabilization.
Panasonic offers four wide-angle prime lenses for the Lumix G series of Micro Four Thirds format cameras, the first of which is the Lumix G 8mm f/3.5 Fisheye that delivers a full-frame 180° angle of view. Panasonic’s fisheye lens features ED glass elements, close focusing down to 4", a quiet AF stepping motor, and a rear slot for gel filters. In addition, a 14mm f/2.5 ASPH II provides 28mm equivalency, with three aspherical elements and a stepping motor in a barrel less than 1" long. Also available is the Lumix G Leica DG Summilux 15mm f/1.7 ASPH lens, with 30mm equivalency and very fast maximum aperture and rounding out the primes is the compact 20mm f/1.7 II ASPH lens, available in Black or Silver.
The company’s wide-angle zoom offering is the Lumix G Vario 7-14mm f/4 ASPH, a Zeiss-designed ultra wide with two aspheric surfaces, four ED elements, and an angle-of-view range of 114° to 75°, which is equivalent to a 14 to 28mm lens on a full-frame 35mm DSLR.
The M.ZUIKO series of lenses for Olympus’s Micro Four Thirds features four prime wide-angle lenses and two true wide-angle zoom. The latest zoom is the M.ZUIKO Digital ED 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO lens with a 14-28mm equivalency, a sophisticated optical design and weather-resistant build. The M.ZUIKO Digital ED 9-18mm f/4.0-5.6 lens focuses to 6" and is just 1.9" long, providing an 18-36mm focal length equivalency. The M.ZUIKO Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 is available in Silver or Black, and provides 24mm focal-length equivalency and a fast maximum aperture. Its compact and durable all-metal construction matches well with the OM-D and PEN series of cameras. Two distinct 17mm lenses are also available, one with a very fast f/1.8 maximum aperture and silent MSC autofocus, the other a very compact f/2.8 version. Lastly, a novel 15mm f/8.0 Body Cap lens can remain on your camera as a protective body cap but also serves as a fixed-aperture lens with 30mm focal length equivalency.
New to the M. ZUIKO lineup is the Digital ED 8mm f/1.8 Fisheye PRO lens which offers a 16mm equivalent, 180° angle of view. Its fast maximum aperture is complemented by a silent autofocus system and a dust, splash and freeze resistant design.
Samsung has its 10mm f/3.5 Fisheye lens, which offers a 180° angle of view with 15.4mm focal-length equivalency. A micro-stepping AF motor enables smooth, quiet autofocus, and the iFunction button allows lens-based control over certain camera functions. With a highly compact form factor, it is available in Black or White for the Samsung NX mount mirrorless cameras. Other primes include the 16mm and 20mm pancake lenses with 24mm and 30mm respective focal-length equivalencies. The 12-24mm f/4-5.6 ED lens is a comprehensive wide-angle zoom for NX cameras, with 18-36mm equivalency, ED and aspherical elements, and iFunction control.
In 2014 samsung introduced the NX-Mini lens mount, which is an ultra-compact interchangeable-lens camera system. For this camera series, Samsung introduced the NX-M 9mm f/3.5 ED lens, a 24.3 focal-length equivalent; it is 0.5" long and weighs just 1 oz. The NX-M 17mm f/1.8 OIS lens is also available for NX-M cameras and it provides a 46mm focal length equivalence in the 35mm format.
In 2014, Leica introduced an APS-C mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera system, the T-System, and in 2015 arrived the full-frame mirrorless Leica SL camera with its L mount. T-mount and L-mount lenses will fit on both T and SL cameras, however the T-system is an APS-C format. Confused yet? And this does not even include the venerable M-mount which is technically a mirrorless, but for the sake of this article will be considered a rangefinder and discussed in a later piece. For now, the only wide-angle perspective for the SL camera is the Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm f/2.8-4 ASPH. lens with a stepping autofocus motor, optical image stabilization and a moisture resistant design. For the T-system the company offers the Summicron-T 23mm f/2 ASPH lens, with 35mm focal length equivalency. It features autofocus with manual focus override and a fast maximum aperture. Leica’s wide-angle zoom offering is the Super-Vario-Elmar-T 11-23mm f/3.5-4.5 ASPH lens, with 17-35mm equivalency. Four aspherical lens elements are housed in a compact, handsome metal lens barrel.
For Sony E-mount mirrorless cameras, Zeiss has been producing numerous high quality manual and auto focus lenses. The Batis 25mm f/2 Lens for Sony E-mount is a full-frame compatible lens with a linear autofocus motor and the Distagon optical design with floating lens elements. The Loxia line of manual focus lenses features the Loxia 21mm f/2.8 Lens for Sony E-mount and the Loxia 35mm f/2 Biogon T* Lens for Sony E-mount, both for full-frame cameras. The Loxias feature the T* anti-reflective coating, an all-metal, weather-resistant barrel and a manual aperture ring that can be de-clicked.
Also available from Zeiss for Sony E-mount APS-C cameras and Fujifilm X-mount cameras is the Touit line of autofocus lenses including the Touit 32mm f/1.8 lens with the Planar optical design, T* coating and a handsome metal barrel with large rubberized rings. The ultra-wide Touit 12mm f/2.8 provides the 35mm focal length equivalence of 18mm. Its Distagon optical design is complemented with two aspherical elements as well as the above mentioned T* lens coating and solid build.
The Nikon 1 mirrorless camera system offers one prime wide-angle lens for the CX format. The 1 NIKKOR 10mm f/2.8 lens provides a 27mm focal length equivalency. Aspherical elements reduce aberrations and multicoating reduces ghosting and flare. It is a very compact pancake lens available in Black or White. The 1 NIKKOR 6.7-13mm f/3.5-5.6 VR lens is an 18-35mm equivalent zoom, available in Silver or Black, with an internal focus system and vibration reduction for reduced blur in low light. Three multipurpose zooms provide wide-angle capability as well. The 1 NIKKOR 10-100mm f/4.0-5.6 VR has a 27mm equivalence at the wide end and the 1NIKKOR 11-27.5mm f/3.5-5.6 lens has a 30mm equivalence at the wide end. A retractable design maintains a compact form factor. Also retractable and very compact is the 1 NIKKOR VR 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 PD-ZOOM lens with a Power Drive Zoom Motor.
The Canon M system mirrorless cameras have one wide-angle prime available. The EF-M 22mm f/2 STM lens provides the 35mm focal-length equivalence of 35mm and, with its f/2 maximum aperture, is effective in low light. Its stepping motor offers smooth and quiet AF and its compact build fits well with the M camera. The EF-M 11-22mm f/4-5.6 IS STM lens is their wide-angle zoom with an18-35mm equivalence, a built-in stepping motor AF system and Dynamic Image Stabilization.
Rokinon, Samyang, and Bower
These three manufacturers make numerous wide-angle lenses for mirrorless cameras including the full frame Sony E-mounts. The manual focus Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 ED AS IF NCS UMC Fisheye Lens for Sony E-mount is full-frame compatible with a 180º angle of view, Nano Crystal lens coating and an optical design that includes three Extra Low Dispersion elements and two aspherical elements. The Bower 8mm f/2.8 Ultra Compact Fisheye Lens is available for Samsung NX mount, Fujifilm X mount and Sony APS-C E-mount cameras. It also offers a 180º angle of view with its 12mm equivalent focal length complemented by low dispersion multi-coated optics and a built-in lens hood.