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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Wide-Angle Zooms

The ins and outs of a landscape photographer’s most used lens

Labels: LensesGear
This Article Features Photo Zoom
Other Lens Attributes To Consider
Some wide-angle zoom lenses use a twist ring to zoom, while some use a push-pull ring. Either way, the zoom control should operate smoothly, and the focal length shouldn't change when you tilt the camera up or down as much as you're likely to when shooting.

Fast pro zooms can be rather heavy, and this can cause the lens to extend to its longest setting as you walk with the camera on a neckstrap. Some zoom lenses, mostly telezooms, have zoom locks that prevent this from happening.

At first thought, the superzooms—18-200mm, 18-250mm, 18-270mm, 28-200mm and 28-300mm—seem like a great idea: One lens that takes you from wide-angle through supertelephoto. And these versatile lenses are worth considering for situations like travel, when you need a single-lens solution. However, most serious landscape shooters will be better off with a shorter-range wide-angle zoom, which produces higher overall image quality and sharpness simply because fewer compromises have to be made to manufacture it. Different focal lengths produce different aberrations and distortions, and correcting them for a wide range of focal lengths in a single lens is difficult. The superzooms manage to do it very well, but not as well for wide-angle focal lengths as can be done with a wide-angle zoom that just covers wide-angle focal lengths. In short, there's no free lunch.

If you like to move close to a small object to exaggerate its size relative to the surroundings—"close-up wide-angle" shooting—you'll want a lens with a close minimum focusing distance. You also may want to consider the maximum magnification possible with the lens. Wide-angle lenses have short focal lengths and aren't known for their magnification, but one that provides greater magnification can be helpful when you want to get a smaller object as large as possible in the frame.

Lens hoods can reduce flare and, thus, enhance image contrast. But superwide-angles generally don't accept lens hoods because their wide angles of view would cause the hood to appear in the image. Hoods for wide-angles often stick out farther at top and bottom than at the sides since the angle of view is greater horizontally than vertically. Make sure you install this type of hood in the proper orientation or you risk significant vignetting.

Like lens hoods, filters can be problematic when shooting wide. Some ultra-wide-angles don't have filter threads because of the shape of the front lens element and the risk of vignetting. Even if your lens is threaded for filters, look carefully through the viewfinder when using one. Some low-profile filters have narrow rings to avoid vignetting, but even these don't always do the trick, especially at wider apertures. You certainly can use filters, but take extra care when doing so.

Canon EF 24mm ƒ/1.4L II USM; Nikon AF-S Nikkor 24mm ƒ/1.4G ED
Wide-Angle Primes
While wide-angle zooms offer the benefits of many focal lengths in a single package and the ability to change them without exposing the sensor to dust, wide-angle primes have benefits of their own. They're generally sharper and better corrected for distortion and aberrations than zooms since they must be corrected only for a single focal length. Wide-angle primes are generally faster than wide-angle zooms, useful in low-light situations and for selective-focus work. Wide-angle primes are popular with video shooters, in part because of their wide maximum apertures, useful for creating a cinematic look. Having at least one wide-angle prime in your bag is incredibly useful. Except for the very fastest models, primes are relatively inexpensive, they tend to be very sharp, and they're small and lightweight, making them ideal when you don't want to haul a large heavy zoom.


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