Ultra wide-angle lenses are considered one of the most difficult interchangeable lenses to master. While such lenses can capture a wider range than standard lenses, they have the rather unique characteristic of causing perspective distortion by exaggerating perspectives. In Part 1 of this series, I will explain the characteristics of ultra wide-angle lenses and how you can make use of them. (Edited by studio9)
EOS 5D Mark III/ EF16-35mm f/2.8L USM/ f13/ 1/80/ ISO 640
What is a wide-angle lens?
A common gripe photographers often have is the difficulty of using wide-angle lenses.
Wide-angle lenses generally have an (full frame) equivalent focal length in the region of 35mm or less. Wide-angle lenses with an equivalent focal length of 24mm or less are sometimes called ultra wide-angle lenses. On APS-C DSLRs, lenses with a focal length of around 24mm or less are considered wide-angle, and those at 16mm or less are ultra wide-angle.
For people who regard wide-angle as difficult, you often hear them saying that the difficulty lies in composition due to a large number of objects being included in the field of view. However, I think that this is probably because they have equated a wide-angle lens to a lens that captures a wide range. However, that is but one aspect of wide-angle lenses.
Another characteristic of wide-angle lenses is its unique perspective distortion effect, where relative sizes and distances between objects and the camera are exaggerated, causing nearby objects to look much nearer and bigger and faraway objects to appear even smaller and further away. Once you are able to master this characteristic of perspective exaggeration, you will probably be struck by how appealing wide-angle lenses are.
For wide-angle lenses, all lines will converge somewhere
To better understand perspective exaggeration, you will need to learn about visual perspective. However, when using a wide-angle lens to take photos, you need not understand the lens in detail straight from the get-go. Rather, the first thing you should be aware of is where the lines in the photo converge. For example, in the photo below, I tried capturing a shot of a simple hallway with an ultra wide-angle lens (FL: 16mm). You can see that the lines converge in a way that makes the end of the hallway vanish into the centre.
EOS 5D Mark III/ EF16-35mm f/2.8L USM/ f/4.5/ 1/20/ ISO 1600
While this kind of convergence can be seen even with standard, non-wide-angle lenses, the wider the angle, the more striking the convergence effect. Mastering this convergence effect is the first step to mastering wide-angle lenses.
2 rules for getting comfortable with the characteristics of wide-angle lenses
So, where on earth do the lines converge when using a wide-angle lens?
This point of convergence is sometimes termed the "vanishing point". This is apparent in the photo of the hallway, where the lines converge into a single point in the centre.
However, a convergence point (or vanishing point) is not limited to the centre. It could also be on the left or right side of the photo, or even outside of the photo. Even so, there is no need to think of it as something complicated. The following two guidelines are all you need to consider when you start out taking shots!
- Lines of the subject converge from the edges of the image towards each other.
- Convergence makes objects on the edges of the image appear larger, while objects in the centre appear smaller.
Let's look at specific examples of each to understand the characteristics of wide angle.
Get a feel for the characteristics of wide angle
Even if you don't have an ultra wide-angle lens on hand, the wide-angle end of a standard zoom lens is sufficient to let you get a feel for the characteristics of wide angle. The wide-angle end of a standard zoom lens is generally 24 to 28mm equivalent, which is more than enough wide-angle to have some fun with at first. Of course, the perspective distortion effects at 24mm and in the ultra wide-angle range of 16mm is completely different. To benefit even more from the characteristics of wide-angle, I would suggest getting an ultra wide-angle lens going forward.
1. Lines of the subject converge from the edges of the image towards each other
This is the most important point to keep in mind. When you use a wide-angle lens, the lines of the subject converge from the edge of the image towards each other.(Convergence occurs even with standard lenses, but to a lesser degree)
Lines converge from the edges of the image towards each other
When the subject appears from the bottom
When the subject appears from the left
When the subject appears from a corner
A subject that appears from the bottom of the image converges upward. If appearing from the left, convergence occurs toward the right, and likewise for subjects that appear from one of the corners.
EOS 5D Mark II/ EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM/ f/8/ 1/800/ ISO 200
Using this photo as an example, the tower "springs" up from the bottom, so it converges upward. Some of you might be thinking, "That’s obvious!", but this isn’t something we usually think about when looking through the viewfinder. Rather than simply observing that the subject converges when you look at it through the viewfinder, wouldn’t it be better if you thought about how positioning the subject a certain way would make it converge correspondingly?
Next, the train in the photo below appears from the left side of the image, so the lines converge toward the right.
EOS 5D Mark III/ EF16-35mm f/2.8L USM/ f/5.6/ 1/320/ ISO 3200
A: Top and bottom corners of the image (on the near end)
If you shoot while thinking about the composition, you should keep in mind that the lines of objects appearing from the corners of an image converge towards each other.
2. Convergence makes objects on the edges of the image appear larger, while objects in the middle appear smaller
I think most people experience the first guideline without being aware of it, but how about this next one? When using a wide-angle lens, objects on the edge of the image appear larger due to perspective exaggeration, while objects in the centre are not as affected.
Objects on the edges of the image converge more, while objects in the centre converge less
Objects on the edges converge more
Objects in the centre converge less
For example, here is a photo taken among high-rise buildings in Manhattan. Because I took this shot looking up from nearby, the buildings appear from the bottom of the image. Therefore, looking from bottom to top gives a strong perspective exaggeration effect. This is definitely a photo that screams “wide-angle!”.
EOS 5D Mark III/ EF16-35mm f/2.8L USM/ f/16/ 1/125/ ISO 500
In contrast, the next photo is of Manhattan taken from a distance over the water. Even though they are the same buildings, the perspective exaggeration effect is not as strong because they are near the centre of the image.
However, if you look more closely, the sea and sky in the foreground are in the top and bottom edges of the image, and the perspective exaggeration effect is rather strong for them.
From the point of view of someone with a thorough knowledge of visual perspective, this can seem like a guideline that is full of exceptions. However, if you are able to compose your shots with an understanding of these two guidelines for the time being, you should have nothing to fear about the characteristics of wide-angle lenses.
The lens that I usually use is the EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM. I really love this lens due to the beautiful beams of light that appear from the sun or street lights of a nightscape when I narrow the aperture. Because this lens is bright even at maximum aperture, it can also be used for taking shots of stars.
EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM
If you are using an APS-C camera, I would recommend choosing an EF-S lens. The actual angle of view of APS-C cameras is equivalent to 1.6 times the angle of view of the focal length described on the lens. So, for a wide-angle end with a focal length of 10mm, the actual angle of view will be equivalent to 16mm.
EF-S10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM
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