Big test

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Fit more in while get­ting closer to the ac­tion with eight wide-angle zooms, for DX and FX Nikons

Go­ing wide can give you a new per­spec­tive on life. Matthew Richards in­ves­ti­gates…

How wide is wide? Back in the days of 35mm film, a 35mm lens was con­sid­ered ‘wide-angle’, and any­thing with a shorter fo­cal length was sim­ply ex­trav­a­gant. We ex­pect more from our wide-angle lenses nowa­days. Most ‘stan­dard’ zoom lenses for full-frame cam­eras shrink to 24mm at the short end, while the typ­i­cal min­i­mum of 18mm for DX­for­mat stan­dard zooms gives an ‘ef­fec­tive’ 27mm fo­cal length. That equates to max­i­mum view­ing an­gles of around 84 de­grees and 76 de­grees re­spec­tively, mea­sured on the di­ag­o­nal of the im­age frame. But is even that re­ally wide enough?

Even with the rel­a­tively gen­er­ous max­i­mum view­ing an­gles of mod­ern stan­dard zoom lenses, you can still find your­self want­ing more. When you’re shoot­ing in­doors you’re lit­er­ally walled in, and can’t al­ways move back far enough to fit ev­ery­thing you want to in­clude into the shot. Ven­ture to the great out­doors and shoot any­thing from ex­pan­sive cityscapes to rolling hills, and you might still not be able to squeeze ev­ery­thing you want into the frame.

A wide-angle zoom comes to the res­cue with a

much greater than aver­age max­i­mum view­ing angle. To make the most of this type of lens, you’ll need to buy one that’s spec­i­fied as DX- or FX-for­mat, to suit your cam­era body. For DX wide-angle zooms, the short­est zoom set­ting is usu­ally 10mm, whereas it’s gen­er­ally be­tween 14mm and 16mm for FX lenses. 10mm on DX and 15mm on FX both give you a max­i­mum view­ing angle of around 110 de­grees. It’ll de­liver a se­ri­ous ‘wow’ fac­tor when you put your eye to the viewfinder.

Wide-angle lenses aren’t just use­ful for shoe­horn­ing more of a scene into the im­age frame. They’re also bril­liant for ex­ag­ger­at­ing the ef­fect of per­spec­tive. Get up close to the main sub­ject of in­ter­est and you can re­ally stretch the ap­par­ent dis­tance be­tween it and the back­ground. You can make ob­jects look larger than life com­pared with their sur­round­ings, and make par­al­lel lines con­verge rapidly as they re­cede into the dis­tance. There’s mas­sive po­ten­tial for cre­at­ing eye-pop­ping vis­ual ef­fects.

Straight up

All the lenses in this test group are ‘rec­ti­lin­ear’. This means that, as far as pos­si­ble, dis­tor­tions are kept to a min­i­mum and straight lines are re­pro­duced as straight in the re­sult­ing im­age. For a wider angle of view, you’d need a ‘curvi­lin­ear’ or fish­eye lens (see page 42). These typ­i­cally de­liver a view­ing angle of ei­ther 180 de­grees on the di­ag­o­nal or 180 de­grees in both the ver­ti­cal and hor­i­zon­tal planes. They’re called di­ag­o­nal and cir­cu­lar fisheyes, re­spec­tively, the for­mer pro­ject­ing an im­age cir­cle that cov­ers the whole im­age sen­sor for rect­an­gu­lar images, the lat­ter giv­ing a smaller im­age cir­cle that cov­ers only the cen­tral re­gion of the sen­sor, re­sult­ing in cir­cu­lar images. In both cases, the amount of bar­rel dis­tor­tion is se­vere. Straight lines, for ex­am­ple in the outer edges of walls, take on a very bowed ap­pear­ance.

There are bar­gains to be had in both DX and FX camps when buy­ing a wide-angle zoom. How­ever, fully pro­fes­sion­al­grade Nikon FX-for­mat lenses tend to be ex­pen­sive, as you’d ex­pect. Dif­fer­ences in price typ­i­cally have more to do with the qual­ity of the lens than the max­i­mum width of the view­ing angle. Even so, ‘ul­tra-wide’ lenses with more ex­treme view­ing an­gles rep­re­sent more of a tech­ni­cal chal­lenge in terms of both de­sign and man­u­fac­ture. Let’s take a closer look at what’s on of­fer, and how qual­ity and prices com­pare.

Dif­fer­ences in price typ­i­cally have more to do with the qual­ity of the lens than the max­i­mum width of the view­ing angle

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