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Understanding The Value of Wide Angle Lenses

Wide angle lenses are, in my opinion, the most overlooked “next step” for amateur photographers. Everyone has the “kit” lens that was packaged with their camera and then they go buy the 75-300mm zoom and then they’re done. I knew I wanted the 18-200mm when I purchased my camera, but was on a waiting list, so the first lens I bought was the 10-20mm Sigma wide-angle. Wow. It gave me the opportunity to see the awesome potential of wide angle lenses (and their limitations).

Why Do I Need One?

If you are trying to capture landscape shots or just the “size” of a scene, then wide angle lenses will help you. Think of the angle of how light enters the camera lens. As this widens, it allows more detail to be focused on the film/sensor.

Ask yourself this. Have you ever been in a room taking a group photo or photo of something in the room, but you could not zoom out enough and you couldn’t back up enough without leaving the room? This is where wideangle lenses come in. They will distort the image slightly, but it still lets you take a photo that is otherwise impossible.

One of the neat features is composing a picture with a subject close up with a wide swath of detail in the background. When you first look through these lenses, everything seems far away though. The trick is getting your main subject as close as possible to the camera (sometimes you can be inches away from it) and the rest of the background will fill the frame.

Here is an example. I pointed my camera in the mirror. I zoomed in at 20mm first. I then zoomed out to 10mm, but I made sure the camera lens still maintained the same size in each photo. Look at how much more background was included because of the angle light was allowed in at. Also notice how much farther away even my head looks, though I’m looking through the viewfinder just as I was in the first photo. My hands are also distorted in a cool way.

Zoomed In

Zoomed Out

Wow, what a difference. Look at how much more of the room is included in the photo. You will notice that it is distorted however. Lines aren’t perfectly straight. This is a drawback/feature of wideangle lenses. They give cool perspective, but sometimes that isn’t always wanted.

I have included some more photos as examples. Here is a cool shot of a piano at my in-laws.

Wide Angle Piano Photo

My wife was preparing a beautiful buffet dinner and this was the table when just the drinks were set out. I couldn’t have taken this photo without my wide angle lens.

Wide Angle Table Shot

I was staying at this cabin in Invermere, BC in February of 2006 and I wanted a picture of the front entrance. This allowed to stand in the entrance and still capture a lot of the entryway to give a feel for how it actually looks.

Wide Angle Entryway Photo

If you are still questioning whether you need one. Just pay attention when you are taking photos and think what photos you could take if you had a lens like that. Look at other websites. A lot of the prize winning photos aren’t some zoomed in shot, but wide angle shots that really captured the essence of a scene. If you have a friend with one of these lenses, borrow theirs.

I don’t own a fancy one, but I did drop $600 for my Sigmas 10-20mm lens. This is a cheap, does the trick lens you can get for any camera. I think Tamron has one too. If you want to pay more and get Vibration Reduction or Image Stabilization, you can buy the Nikon/Canon ones starting at $1000.

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