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