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Tips & Tutorials >> All Tips & Tutorials In Focus: Lens Basics- Part 7

Lens Basics #6: Wide-angle Lenses

Wide-angle lenses can capture an astoundingly wide scope of a scene, as well as create images with a strong perspective effect. In this article, we explore the characteristics of wide-angle lenses and pick up some techniques for mastering their use. (Reported by Tomoko Suzuki)

Lens Basics top image

 

Characteristics of wide-angle lenses

1. Can capture an astoundingly wide field-of-view
2. Can be used to emphasise perspective
3. Distorts image peripheries
4. Achieves deep focus easily


Wide-angle lenses generally refer to lenses with a 35mm film-equivalent focal length of 35mm or below. The shorter the focal length, the wider the angle-of-view. In fact, a wide-angle lens can capture more of the scene than what the human eye can see.

As wide-angle lenses also emphasise perspectives, nearby objects will appear bigger and faraway objects will appear smaller in the resulting image. This is part of the charm of a wide-angle lens, but at the same time, it may causes unwanted distortion in the image depending on the subject matter. The distortion effect is strong at the edges of the image, so you might want to place subjects in the centre of the frame if you do not want them to appear distorted.

Wide-angle lenses also have a large depth-of-field, which makes it easy to deep focus and create an image where the entire image is in-focus all the way from the foreground to the background. This wide angle also means that it is relatively resistant to camera shake, and therefore well-suited for photographing grand landscapes, narrow rooms, roads and buildings.

For more about wide-angle lens characteristics, read:
Wide-angle Lens Characteristics and How to Get More Out of Them
Exploring Wide Angle Lenses Part 1: Photo Effects of Wide Angle Lenses

 

Main types of wide-angle lenses

L lenses for full frame cameras

EF16-35mm f/2.8L III USM

 

EF16-35mm f/2.8L III USM
Click here for more details

 

EF35mm f/1.4L II USM

 

EF35mm f/1.4L II USM
Click here for more details

 

IS lenses for full-frame cameras

EF24mm f/2.8 IS USM

 

EF24mm f/2.8 IS USM
Click here for more details

 

EF35mm f/2 IS USM

 

EF35mm f/2 IS USM
Click here for more details

 

EF-S/EF-M lenses

EF-S10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM

 

EF-S10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM
Click here for more details

 

EF-M11-22mm f/4-5.6 IS STM

 

EF-M11-22mm f/4-5.6 IS STM
Click here for more details

 

Canon’s wide-angle lenses can be divided into three large categories:

1. L lenses for use with full-frame cameras,
2. IS lenses for use with full-frame camera, and
3. EF-S/EF-M lenses.

L lenses are premium lenses and tend to be bigger in size, with their premium quality reflected in the pricing.
Lenses with IS (built-in image stabilisation) are mostly prime lenses, and are much more compact in size compared to L lenses.
EF-S/EF-M lenses are dedicated lenses for use on APS-C DSLR cameras and EOS-M cameras respectively, and many of them are compact and lightweight in size.

 

The wide-angle focal length

Wide-angle lenses with a 35mm-equivalent focal length of less than 20mm are considered ultra wide-angle lenses. The shorter the focal length, the wider the angle-of-view, and the greater the perspective effect.

 

Techniques for skillful wide-angle lens usage

1. Move closer to the subject to maximise the perspective effect
As covered in Lens Basics #5: Perspective, how strong or weak the perspective effect turns out depends on the shooting distance, i.e., the distance of the camera from the subject. The examples below were shot with the same focal length (16mm). However, in the image that was shot from nearer the subject (right), the subject in the image foreground appears bigger and gives the image more impact. This reinforces the concept that the closer the camera to the subject, the stronger the perspective effect.

Perspective effect is weaker when further away from the subject

Shot with wide-angle lens (weak perspective effect)

EOS 5D Mark III/ EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM/ FL: 16mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/4.0, 1/200 sec, EV-1.0)/ ISO 100/ WB: Manual

Moving closer to the subject increases the perspective effect

Shot with wide-angle lens (strongperspective effect)

EOS 5D Mark III/ EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM/ FL: 16mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/4.0, 1/200 sec, EV-1.0)/ ISO 100/ WB: Manual

 

2. When shooting portraits, place your subject in the centre of the frame
When shooting portraits, be especially careful of the distortions caused by aberrations that occur particularly on wide-angle lenses. The examples below were shot at the same focal length (17mm). However, in the image on the left, which has the subject placed to the side of the frame, the subject’s face is distorted because of the above-mentioned aberrations. Such distortions become more prominent the closer to the edges of the image. This is why it is best to place human subjects in the centre of an image when you are shooting with a wide-angle lens.

One exception is if you want to make a person’s legs look longer. This and more ideas at:
Exploring Wide Angle Lenses Part 2: Composition Techniques for Wide-Angle Lenses

Face distortion towards the edges of the image

Wide angle portrait - Face distortion

EOS 6D/ EF17-40mm f/4L USM/ FL: 17mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/4, 1/500 sec, EV+0.7)/ ISO 100/ WB: Daylight

No distortion when placed in the image centre

Wide angle portrait – No face distortion

EOS 6D/ EF17-40mm f/4L USM/ FL: 17mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/4, 1/400 sec, EV+0.7)/ ISO 100/ WB: Daylight

 

Use a wide angle lens for these scenes

Broad, expansive shot of a narrow room using a wide-angle lens

EOS 5D Mark III/ EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM/ FL: 16mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/5.6, 1/40 sec, EV-1.3)/ ISO 4000/ WB: Auto

In narrow indoor settings where you want to capture a wide field-of-view
Use a wide-angle lens for capturing a wide view of a narrow indoor setting. To further create an illusion of breadth and expanse, hold your camera tilting upward at a low position and low angle.

 

Buildings shot to appear taller using a wide-angle lens

EOS 6D/ EF17-40mm f/4L USM/ FL: 17mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/4, 1/100sec, EV+1)/ ISO 100/ WB: Daylight

To make buildings look taller
The wide angle-of-view of a wide-angle lens is also perfect for making buildings look taller. Move closer to the walls of the building and aim the camera directly upwards to bring out the perspective effect. To further enhance the effect, compose using a portrait orientation.

For more tips on photographing buildings and interiors, check out our series on architectural photography tips:
Architectural Photography #1: 3 Basic Concepts
Architectural Photography #2: Using Wide-angle/Telephoto Focal Lengths
Architectural Photography #3: Effective Composition Techniques
Architectural Photography #4: Photographing Buildings at Night

 


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A monthly magazine that believes that enjoyment of photography will increase the more one learns about camera functions. It delivers news on the latest cameras and features and regularly introduces various photography techniques.
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Tomoko Suzuki

Tomoko Suzuki

After graduating from the Tokyo Polytechnic University Junior College, Suzuki joined an advertisement production firm. She has also worked as an assistant to photographers including Kirito Yanase, and specializes in commercial shoots for apparels and cosmetic products. She now works as a studio photographer for an apparel manufacturer.