Wide and Extreme Wide-Angle Lens Roundup
“The best wide-angle lens? Take two steps backward, look for the ‘ah-ha’.” —Ernst Haas
Notwithstanding Mr. Haas’ 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 to 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, new, and interesting wide-angle lenses that are available to enhance your shooting in the coming year.
“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 workhorse AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED, that start being wide angle but reach standard or telephoto lengths when zoomed in.
Newest 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 widest Nikon lenses are the AF DX Fisheye-Nikkor 10.5mm f/2.8G ED lens and the AF Fisheye-Nikkor 16mm f/2.8D lens, both of which capture 180° imagery for FX and DX 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. Also, the PC-E NIKKOR 24mm f/3.5D ED is available as 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 new AF-S 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 ten wide and ultra-wide EF and EF-S prime lenses for its lines of full-frame and APS-C format DSLRs, and six wide-angle zoom 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 is new as of May, 2014, and is also an L-series lens. It 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 also new to the Canon lineup, as 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 2+ years, Canon has added the EF 24mm f/2.8 IS USM, EF 28mm f/2.8 IS USM, and EF 35mm f/2 IS USM as image-stabilized alternatives. New this year is the EF-S 24mm f/2.8 STM lens for APS-C cameras. It 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/4L and TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II lenses.
For Sony A-mount DSLRs, there are several prime and zoom options. 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 Vario-Sonnar T* 16-35mm f/2.8 ZA SSM Zoom lens, with a fast, constant maximum aperture and three aspherical elements. 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.
While Pentax currently only makes APS-C format DSLRs, 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 K-mount. Of these lenses, the FA series offers the smc 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 smc PENTAX DA 14mm f/2.8 ED IF lens, with a 21mm focal-length equivalence, ED lens elements, and internal focusing, and the smc PENTAX DA 12-24mm f/4.0 ED AL IF lens and smc PENTAX DA 10-17mm f/3.5-4.5 ED IF Fisheye lens with 180° angle of view and ultra-close-focusing capability.
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 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 f/3.5-4.5 Di II takes in an angle of view from 108° to 60° (approximately 16 to 36mm equivalence in 35mm format). Brand new from Tamron is the SP 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD lens for full-frame Canon EF and Nikon F-mount cameras. With this lens, 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 coating to reduce ghosting and flare, and fluorine coating on the front element to resist water, oils, and smudges.
Tokina offers a handful of wide-angle zooms, including the 10-17mm f/3.5-4.5 AT-X AF DX Fisheye lens for Canon and Nikon, creating 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 new 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".
Mirrorless System Lenses
For its X-mount series of compact mirrorless cameras, Fujifilm provides four 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 XF 14mm f/2.8 R lens, with 21mm equivalency and minimal distortion, the XF 18mm f/2.0 R lens, with its fast maximum aperture and 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.
In the past year, Sony has introduced several new lenses for its E-mount mirrorless cameras, including several specifically for full-frame E-mount cameras. Brand new for full-frame cameras is the Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35mm f/4 ZA OSS lens. 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 E 20mm f/2.8 Alpha E mount, as well as the E 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 is a newly updated lens that provides 28mm equivalency, with three aspherical elements and a stepping motor in a barrel less than 1" long. Also new this year is the Lumix G Leica DG Summilux 15mm f/1.7 ASPH lens, with 30mm equivalency and very fast maximum aperture. 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 three prime wide-angle lenses and one true wide-angle zoom. 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.
This year Samsung introduced the 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.
New from Samsung this year is the NX-Mini lens mount, which is an ultra-compact interchangeable-lens camera system. For this new 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.
Leica also introduced a new mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera system in 2014, and for its 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.
The Nikon 1 mirrorless camera system’s most recent prime wide-angle addition was the 1 NIKKOR 10mm f/2.8 lens for CX Format, which provides 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.
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.