Wide-an­gle primes

Want a qual­ity land­scape lens? Matthew Richards com­pares eight top wide-an­gle primes

NPhoto - - Pro Zone -

To com­ple­ment this is­sue’s land­scape fea­ture, we take an in-depth look at eight top wide-an­gle prime lenses to suit a range of bud­gets

Like op­ti­cal shoe­horns, wide-an­gle lenses help you to squeeze more in. When tak­ing great land­scape pho­tographs (us­ing the ad­vice in our main fea­ture, page 16) they en­able you to in­clude huge, sweep­ing vis­tas in the frame, and ex­ag­ger­ate the per­spec­tive be­tween the fore­ground and back­ground for cre­ative ef­fect. They’re not just for the great out­doors, ei­ther. When you’re pho­tograph­ing in­te­ri­ors of build­ings and have your back against the wall, a wide-an­gle lens en­ables you to pack ev­ery­thing in – in­clud­ing, if needed, the kitchen sink.

Apart from spe­cial­ist fish­eye lenses that give a spe­cific cre­ative ef­fect, there are very few wide-an­gle prime lenses avail­able for DX-for­mat (cropped-sen­sor) cam­eras. It’s a great shame be­cause, while ul­tra-wide zoom lenses like the Nikon DX 10-24mm pro­vide ver­sa­til­ity in terms of fo­cal length,

A rel­a­tively small, light­weight and less ex­pen­sive prime lens can be prefer­able when you want to go large on view­ing an­gle

there’s a lot to be said for go­ing for a prime lens. Im­age qual­ity is of­ten su­pe­rior and many pho­tog­ra­phers only tend to use ul­tra-wide zooms at or near their short­est fo­cal length any­way. A wide range When it comes to FX (full-frame) Nikons, how­ever, most main­stream man­u­fac­tur­ers of­fer an ex­ten­sive range of wide-an­gle primes in a va­ri­ety of fo­cal lengths (and it’s worth re­mem­ber­ing that FX lenses can be used on DX cam­eras). Com­pared with stan­dard zooms at their widest fo­cal lengths, ad­van­tages of wide-an­gle primes can in­clude re­duced bar­rel dis­tor­tion, bet­ter sharp­ness to­wards the edges of the frame, re­duced colour fring­ing and less vi­gnetting (dark­ened im­age cor­ners).

It’s worth not­ing that with FX stan­dard zooms (as op­posed to primes) these prob­lems tend to be at their most ap­par­ent at the lens’s short­est fo­cal length, which in most FX stan­dard zooms is 24mm. At zoom set­tings of 28mm or 35mm, the ef­fects of dis­tor­tion and vi­gnetting are likely to be re­duced, and cor­ner sharp­ness im­proved. There’s there­fore less of a need to swap to a 28mm or 35mm prime lens to op­ti­mise im­age qual­ity. For this big test, we’re there­fore con­cen­trat­ing on lenses that have a fo­cal length of 24mm or shorter. The aim is ei­ther im­proved im­age qual­ity at 24mm, or a sig­nif­i­cantly wider view­ing an­gle, or both.

There are of course some ex­cel­lent ul­tra-wide zooms on the mar­ket which keep prob­lems like dis­tor­tion and vi­gnetting to a min­i­mum, but they tend to be bulky and ex­pen­sive: Nikon’s AF-S 14-24mm f/2.8G ED, for ex­am­ple, weighs in at a kilo, and costs £1620/$1900. A small, light and less ex­pen­sive prime lens can there­fore be prefer­able when you want to go wide. Prime doesn’t al­ways mean small, mind: Sigma’s new 20mm Art lens tested here is a beast of a lens. The ques­tion then is if the big­ger build pays div­i­dends in terms of im­age qual­ity.

Half the lenses on test only have man­ual fo­cus, but that’s not as much of a draw­back as you might think. Wide-an­gle lenses de­liver a big depth of field, so fo­cus­ing ac­cu­racy gen­er­ally isn’t crit­i­cal. Depth of field mark­ings are of­ten in­cluded for use with the fo­cus dis­tance scale, en­abling zone fo­cus­ing and use of hy­per­fo­cal dis­tances (see Jar­gon buster, be­low). This is of­ten prefer­able for, say, street pho­tog­ra­phy and land­scapes, as it en­ables you to pre­set the fo­cus dis­tance so you can con­cen­trate on shoot­ing. And all the man­ual fo­cus lenses on test will still trig­ger the fo­cus con­fir­ma­tion lamps in your

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