How to choose the best wide-angle lens?

When most photographers start using their first DSLR, they usually use the spare lens that comes with the camera body. With more experience, they found they were ready to upgrade their kit to something that provided better quality images — wide-angle lenses. Understanding how wide-angle lenses work, and what to look for when buying a wide-angle lens will help you to choose the best wide-angle lens.

1. What is a wide-angle lens?

A wide-angle lens is any lens with a short focal length and wide field of view — typically measuring about 110 degrees diagonally on the frame. In layman’s terms, using wide-angle lenses is like removing the blindfold on a camera, as these types of lenses offer a wider field of view than the human eye naturally sees.

Any lens with a focal length of more than 50 mm on a full-frame camera or 35 mm on a cropping sensor is considered a wide-angle lens.

Note that the wider the angle, the lower the focal length number on the lens. For example, 15mm focal length will provide an extra-wide field of view.

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2. What is the role of a wide-angle lens?

Wide-angle lenses distort things and enhance perspective. This means that objects in the foreground of the picture will appear larger and more exaggerated than objects in the background, even if they are the same size in reality. Using a wide-angle lens also adds depth and containment. You’ll feel more like you’re part of the scene than a photo taken with a longer telephoto lens.

3. Avoid common problems with wide-angle lenses

Don’t be fooled by the creative opportunities wide-angle lenses offer you and your digital camera. You can take some dramatic pictures with wide-angle lenses, but they can also cause some photographic disasters. Avoid these pitfalls:

(1) Avoid inclined horizontal and vertical lines

Observe the vertical lines of the horizon and buildings, so they don’t look askew in your photos. Keep the camera at as level as possible.

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(2) Look at the proportion

Because wide-angle lenses exaggerate the relative size of objects close to the camera, your photos can end up with strange proportions.

(3) Don’t let lens defects ruin your photos

Wide-angle lenses may add a purple or cyan glow around a backlit subject.

(4) Avoid vignetting

Camera accessories may actually invade the image area through a wide-angle lens.

(5) Watch that flash

Your digital SLR’s built-in electronic flash may not spread out enough to cover the entire frame of a wide-angle lens. Use a diffuser or wide-angle adapter on the flash.

4. Considerations when choose the best wide-angle lens

Like any camera, choosing the best wide-angle lens depends on how you plan to use it, and more importantly, what camera you want to shoot with. Landscape photography is usually the first type that comes to mind when considering wide-angle lenses, and while landscapes are one of the most common uses for wide-angle lenses, there are many more, including street photography, environmental portraits, architecture, underwater and night sky photography.

For example, the 14mm lens is great for underwater photography and night sky imagery. Street photography and ambient portraits are usually best done with 35mm lenses, as they are wide enough to contain the subject’s surroundings without distorting the face. When you choose wide-angle lenses for landscapes and buildings, you have more flexibility because the best view depends on the scope of the scene.

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A wide-angle lens is generally considered to be any lens that is more than 50mm wide on a full-frame camera. Apparently, cropping sensor cameras need a wider lens to meet the “wider than 50mm” criteria than full-frame models.

The other criteria to consider is whether you want a prime or zoom lens. Of course, zoom lenses can offer a wider range, and prime lenses can be smaller and lighter, sometimes offering a faster maximum aperture (which shrinks when zooming in on certain lenses). A faster maximum aperture, such as F/2.8 or faster, translates to a shallow depth of field when you want a soft, beautiful background.

If you have enough money and want to take up architectural photography, you can choose an off-axis prime lens to offset the slanting angle.

5. Conclusion

No matter what your camera format, there are a variety of wide-angle lenses available for a wide range of prices. Adding a wide-angle lens (or two) to your camera outfit can inspire you to add versatility to image-making. The best wide-angle lenses may give you a whole new perspective on the world.


What’s the best size for a wide-angle lens?

It depends. If you want an extremely wide Angle, choose a 14mm equivalent focal length (or zoom). This is ideal for landscapes with wide views. The 14mm is a favorite of underwater shipwreck photographers and those who capture the stars and the Milky Way at night. However, if you’re more likely to be shooting street scenes or subjects for work or pleasure, the 35mm equivalent is a better choice.

What are the advantages of wide-angle lenses?

In short, wide-angle lenses allow you to put more content into a frame — more scenery, mountains, more buildings, more things. Be careful if you are photographing a large group of people, as people close to the edge of the picture can distort.

Should I buy a wide-angle lens?

The short answer is yes. Wide-angle lenses add versatility to your creative choices. But choose your focal length carefully. You may not need an ultra-wide-angle 14mm lens. Instead, you might want to start with a wide-angle lens (35mm or so) and see if you need or want a wider field of view.

What are wide-angle lenses good for?

Wide-angle lenses allow photographers to get as close to the subject as possible without excluding crucial elements in the background scene, giving viewers the feeling of being—as though they’re viewing the scene with their own eyes rather than through a photograph.

What is a wide-angle lens called?

Any camera lens with a focal length of less than 35mm is considered a wide-angle. A lens with a focal length of less than 24mm is considered an ultra-wide-angle lens – these are commonly called fisheye lenses because of the extreme angle of view. Wide-angle lenses tend to be 35mm or lower.

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