FUN­DA­MEN­TALS OF WIDE- AN­GLE LENSES

BE­FORE WE GET INTO HOW, WHY AND WHEN TO USE A WIDE- AN­GLE, LET'S GET TO KNOW THIS VER­SA­TILE TYPE OF LENS…

Digital SLR Photography - - The Beginner ’s Guide -

LOOK INTO MOST en­thu­si­ast and pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­phers' kit bags, what­ever type of sub­ject they shoot, and you’re al­most cer­tain to find a wide- an­gle lens of some de­scrip­tion. If you’ve not yet added one to your lens arse­nal then it’s time to find out what you’ve been missing out on – dra­matic im­ages with a gi­gan­tic field- of- view, big skies, huge land­scapes, wacky por­traits and dy­namic im­ages are but a click away.

Be­fore dis­cussing the ben­e­fits and the down­sides of us­ing wide- an­gle lenses, as well as some of the suit­able sub­jects and scenes that ben­e­fit from their ex­ag­ger­ated field- of- view, we should first clar­ify ex­actly what we mean by ‘ wide- an­gle’. Al­though there are no strict lines in the sand when clas­si­fy­ing lenses, the gen­er­ally ac­cepted cut- off point is that we re­fer to op­tics with a fo­cal length of around 35mm and shorter as wide- an­gle lenses. Within the term ‘ widean­gle’, we also have sub- cat­e­gories such as ul­tra wide- an­gle and fish- eye too.

Gen­er­ally speak­ing, a wide- an­gle lens has a fo­cal length any­where be­tween 24mm-35mm, whereas an ul­tra- wide ranges from 16mm- 24mm and fish- eye lenses are wider than 16mm. Fish- eye lenses can be split into two fur­ther types – rec­ti­lin­ear ( which cap­ture a stan­dard rec­tan­gu­lar im­age) and cir­cu­lar ( which cap­ture a cir­cu­lar im­age).

Of course all of these fo­cal lengths are made un­der the pre­sump­tion that you’re us­ing a full- frame cam­era. If your cam­era fea­tures a smaller sen­sor, such as APS- C or Mi­cro Four- Thirds, then you have to take into ac­count the crop fac­tor when clas­si­fy­ing if a lens is wide- an­gle or not. For ex­am­ple, a 12mm fo­cal length would be con­sid­ered a fish- eye lens on a full- frame cam­era, but on an APS- C model with a 1.6x crop fac­tor it of­fers ap­prox­i­mately a 19mm equiv­a­lent field- of- view, so it there­fore classes as an ul­tra wide- an­gle. Re­fer to the ta­ble to the right for more ex­am­ples.

With that cleared up, where do wide- an­gle lenses find their place in pho­tog­ra­phy? First and fore­most, the wide- an­gle lens is the land­scape pho­tog­ra­pher’s work­horse. Be­cause of their vast field- of- view and in­her­ent per­cep­tion of a greater depth- offield, wide- an­gle lenses are the per­fect op­tics for cap­tur­ing as much of the world around you as pos­si­ble. It’s not just about fit­ting it all in the frame ei­ther – wide- an­gle lenses can be used to achieve pleas­ing land­scape com­po­si­tions util­is­ing fore­ground in­ter­est. They stretch per­spec­tive and make fore­ground ob­jects seem larger in re­la­tion to the land than they ac­tu­ally are. We’ve plenty more info on this and other land­scape tech­niques on page 58. Wide- an­gle op­tics can also be used suc­cess­fully in many other forms of pho­tog­ra­phy, such as when shoot­ing build­ings and ar­chi­tec­ture, events, ac­tion and even por­traits.

Above: A wide- an­gle zoom lens, in the re­gion of 16- 35mm, of­fers a ver­sa­tile fo­cal range for many kinds of pho­tog­ra­phy.

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