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.
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