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…
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.