Head to head

Which is the best lens for cap­tur­ing ul­tra-wide im­ages? We pit a fish­eye against a zoom

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Nikon AF DX 10.5mm f/2.8G ED fish­eye

Al­though it's de­signed for DX for­mat D-SLRs this lens can be called a full-frame or di­ag­o­nal fish­eye. That’s be­cause, un­like with cir­cu­lar fish­eye lenses, the im­age cir­cle it pro­duces cov­ers the whole of the im­age sen­sor, rather than just a cen­tral, cir­cu­lar re­gion.

Like other di­ag­o­nal fisheyes, this de­liv­ers an im­mense view­ing an­gle of 180 de­grees on the di­ag­o­nal of the frame. That’s pretty as­ton­ish­ing, but less than the view­ing an­gle of a cir­cu­lar fish­eye, which is 180 de­grees in both the hor­i­zon­tal and ver­ti­cal planes.

Part of the at­trac­tion of a curvi­lin­ear lens is that it pro­duces mas­sive bar­rel dis­tor­tion, which gives im­ages their unique fish­eye look. It can be a use­ful cre­ative tool, but the at­trac­tion can soon wear thin for landscape and ar­chi­tec­tural pho­tog­ra­phy.

Aut­o­fo­cus in this lens is driven from a mo­tor in the cam­era body, via a screw mech­a­nism in the mount­ing plate. This makes aut­o­fo­cus im­pos­si­ble with D3XXX- and D5XXX-se­ries cam­eras, and other en­try-level D-SLRs that don’t have a built-in AF mo­tor.

The depth of field in this and other fish­eye lenses is so enor­mous that you can keep close fore­ground ob­jects and the dis­tant hori­zon sharp si­mul­ta­ne­ously, even at wide aper­tures. Ac­cu­rate fo­cus­ing is largely un­nec­es­sary, so in fact cam­eras with­out AF are fine.

Sigma 8-16mm f/4.5-5.6 DC HSM

Whereas fisheyes are curvi­lin­ear op­tics, this Sigma is a rec­ti­lin­ear lens that aims to keep dis­tor­tions to a min­i­mum. Even so, it has the short­est fo­cal length of any rec­ti­lin­ear zoom lens for Nikon D-SLRs, and cor­re­spond­ingly has the widest avail­able view­ing an­gle.

Even at its widest zoom set­ting, the Sigma loses out to the Nikon, with a max­i­mum view­ing an­gle of 'just' 121 de­grees on the di­ag­o­nal. But that’s no­tice­ably more than on most ul­tra-wide zooms – the Nikon 10-24mm has a max­i­mum view­ing an­gle of 109 de­grees.

De­spite its ex­tended max­i­mum view­ing an­gle, the Sigma pro­duces less bar­rel dis­tor­tion at its widest zoom set­ting than the Nikon 10-24mm rec­ti­lin­ear zoom lens, and there’s barely any dis­tor­tion what­so­ever to­wards the long end of the zoom range.

The Sigma lens has a ring-type ul­tra­sonic aut­o­fo­cus sys­tem that is both rapid and whis­per-quiet. It can aut­o­fo­cus on any Nikon D-SLR body, and comes com­plete with the usual pro­vi­sion of full-time man­ual over­ride in Sin­gle AF mode.

It’s no match for a fish­eye, but depth of field is still im­pres­sive. The hy­per­fo­cal dis­tance at the widest zoom set­ting and an aper­ture of f/8 is 40cm, so ev­ery­thing from 20cm (mea­sured from the fo­cal plane near the rear of the cam­era) to in­fin­ity will be in fo­cus.

Ef­fec­tive fo­cal length (DX) 15.75mm Aper­ture range f/2.8 to f/22 El­e­ments/groups 10/7 (1 ED) Aut­o­fo­cus Driven from cam­era body Min­i­mum fo­cus dis­tance 0.14m Di­aphragm blades 7 Fil­ter Rear gelatin Di­am­e­ter x length 63x63mm Weight 305g Price £585/$775

Ef­fec­tive fo­cal length (DX) 12-24mm Aper­ture range f/4.5-5.6 to f/22 El­e­ments/groups 15/11 Aut­o­fo­cus Ring-type ul­tra­sonic Min­i­mum fo­cus dis­tance 0.24m Di­aphragm blades 7 Fil­ter N/A Di­am­e­ter x length 75x106mm Weight 555g Price £500/$700

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