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Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Mastering The Wide-Angle

Exploring with the wide end of the focal spectrum opens up a world of creative compositional possibilities

Such tiny apertures provide tremendous depth of field, but they also do something else: diffract the light waves (bend the waves around the edges of the tiny diaphragm opening) severely, which reduces fine detail. Diffraction is why those tiny lenses in consumer digital cameras rarely stop down beyond ƒ/8. It's also why you should stop a wide-angle lens all the way down only when maximum depth of field is essential to a shot; don't arbitrarily shoot everything at the lens' minimum aperture figuring that will produce the sharpest image: it won't.
Fish Eye Alternative
If you're fascinated by fish-eyes
but don't want to invest hundreds of dollars in such a specialized-use lens, try a fish-eye converter, an attachment that screws into threads on the front of the camera lens and turns it into a quasi-fisheye. Adorama offers two Pro Optic Fisheye Auxiliary Lenses, a 0.42X version that produces circular images when attached to a 28mm camera lens and a full-frame fisheye effect on lenses of 40mm or longer, and a 0.25X version that produces a 180-degree angle of view when attached to a 50mm camera lens. The images aren't as sharp as those of a true fish-eye lens, especially at the edges, but the cost is minimal and the effect is interesting. Contact: Adorama, (800) 223-2500, www.adorama.com

See how it works with your wide—angle lens. Mount the camera on a tripod, focus carefully on a subject five feet away and shoot images at all the lens' apertures (adjusting the shutter speed accordingly to maintain correct exposure, of course). Then carefully focus on a subject 10 feet away and repeat the sequence. Examine the resulting slides, negatives or prints with a loupe or at 100% on screen for digital images. This will give you a good idea of how your lens performs at different apertures (and how clean your D-SLR's image sensor is; stopping a wide-angle lens all the way down brings any dust spots on the sensor into sharper focus, making them much more evident in photos).

Focusing Considerations

Because the subject is generally smaller and there's more depth of field, it's harder to tell when the viewfinder image is at its sharpest when focusing a wide-angle lens manually. When autofocusing, make sure the active AF target is over the subject you want focused—it's easier to "miss" with a wide-angle's wider angle of view. It doesn't hurt to check the minimum focusing distance when comparing lenses because a longer minimum focusing distance limits your ability to maximize the wide-angle "distortion" effect—you can't move as close to the subject.

Minimum focusing distance refers to the distance from the subject to the focal plane (film plane or image sensor) when the lens is focused as close as it can focus. Minimum object distance is the distance from the subject to the front of the lens when the lens is focused as close as it can focus. Obviously, minimum object distance will be shorter than minimum focusing distance, something to keep in mind when comparing lens specs.




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