What is a Wide Angle Lens? Everything You Need to Know

This is a guide covering wide-angle lenses.

In this glossary definition you’ll learn about:

From the moment you dip your toes into the realm of photography, you will quickly realize the abundance of available add-ons. There are so many options that you can use to elevate the quality of your works.

Now, let us “widen” our knowledge, shall we?

wide angle lens

What is a Wide-Angle Lens?

A wide angle lens generally has focal lengths below or equivalent to 35mm (65 degrees of diagonal FoV), providing a wide field of view.

Almost every wide-angle lens will come in fixed and various focal lengths. It is also known as wide prime and wide zoom.

wide angle lens

What is a Wide-Angle Lens Used For?

Since wide-angle lenses can catch a much wider field of view, they are often used in architectural photography, landscape photography, and pretty much anything else that requires the photographer to shoot broader background.

Wide-angle lenses will also allow the photographer to shoot the subjects from a personal distance without excluding the beautiful background. The background and its crucial elements will stay clear, giving an immersive experience to the viewers.

wide angle lens on table
Photo by Markus Spiske

What is Considered a Wide-Angle Lens?

A wide angle lens will typically have a focal length of 35mm and below. If your lens has 24mm or more expansive, it will be considered the ultra-wide-angle lens. 

You can easily find popular wide-angle zoom lenses ranging between 16-35mm. Standard zoom lenses will be around 24mm or 28mm. In contrast, the widest lenses are the 8mm fisheye lenses and the rectilinear 10mm.

Based on its distortion, there are three main types of wide-angle lenses. Starting from the fisheye lenses, rectilinear lens, and tilt-shift wide-angle lens. 

Fisheye Wide-Angle Lens

The fisheye lens is a special kind of wide-angle lens. It can capture 180 degrees angle that helps you to see half of the full rotation. 

When you take a shot using a fisheye lens, the view may seem odd at first, but that makes it special. The hemispherical lens distortion gives its unique fisheye look to the photograph since it cannot produce straight lines, cramming as much information into your image.

You can find built-in fisheye lenses featured in most GoPros and action cameras. The fisheye zoom lens is quite hard to find. So, sticking to the wide-angle fisheye lens will save you time and money. 

fisheye lens
Photo by Clu Soh

Rectilinear Lens

The distortion also binds the rectilinear lens, but it keeps any lines almost perfectly straight. Moderate barrel distortion will still be noticeable in their images, especially on architectural photos. If it doesn’t please you, you can correct it in the post-production phase. 

A Rectilinear Lens will also give you an almost 180-degree view. The widest rectilinear lens on the market is the Voigtlander 10mm f/5.6 and the Laowa 9mm f/5.6 for full-frame cameras. Shall you need a shorter focal length, go for the Sigma 8-16mm (exclusively for cropped sensor cameras). 

Please note that you can’t compare these types of lenses with the fisheye lens at the same focal length. Both lenses have different distortions, hence making images from the fisheye lens slightly wider. 

I recommend the jack of all trades Canon EF 28mm f/1.8 USM. If you already have the right lenses and have some spare money to spend on a better rectilinear lenses, go for the Canon 24mm f/1.4L II

Tilt-Shift Wide Angle Lens

Not all tilt-shift lenses can be classified as wide-angle lenses, but most of them are. This type of lens is highly sophisticated and pricey, worth its capabilities.

It allows you to correct perspective distortion and manually tilt the plane of focus. This ability makes them favored by professional architectural photographers.

The tilt-shift lens projects larger images compared to the full-frame sensor. You can move both of the lenses (horizontally and vertically) on each plane parallel to the sensors, making the parallel lines converge or the converging lines parallel. 

I recommend the Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II. The lens is just perfect for any architectural photography needs that you might have. 

tilt shift photography
Photo by Ales Krivec

What is the Difference between Wide-Angle Lens and Regular Lens?

With the wide-angle lens photography already briefly explained in the first part, I figure that some further regular lens explanation is required.

The standard/normal lens does a decent job at producing images that mimic human eyes. The lens itself sits between the wide-angle lens and telephoto lens.

The standard lens has a viewing angle of around 50 to 55 degrees (similar to the human eye), making it comfortable on the eyes. In comparison, the wide-angle lens shoots widely, allowing it to fit more items in the shot.

Because the wide-angle lens produces more zoomed-out pictures, this lens becomes less versatile since you can’t use it for every photography genre.

A wide-angle lens isn’t as flexible as its regular counterparts. The wide-angle isn’t that great at shooting subjects at a far distance, partly because there already exists a lens that does just that.

You could say that wide-angle lenses are the opposite of the standard lens. The more specific the camera is, the more expensive and less flexible it becomes. But they sure shine their brightest in their comfort zone.

How Do You Choose a Wide-Angle Lens?

To choose the best wide-angle lens, firstly, you need to understand the uses of each lens.

The standard 24-35mm wide-angle lens performs best when shooting natural landscapes or broad scenes. Since it gives fewer distortions, you can also photograph humans or animals without making them look disproportionate. 

The wide-angle lens also offers a significant depth of field that enables you to shoot fast-moving objects without much focusing. The center of the area with a medium aperture will make taking street photos feel effortless.

On the other hand, even though the fisheye lens is so pricey yet doesn’t offer versatility, it sure gives your images unique and striking effects. It is excellent for capturing beautiful landscapes or jaw-dropping underwater views. 

If you want to shoot skyscrapers, real estate, historic buildings, or other fascinating architecture, I highly recommend using a tilt-shift lens. It gives you outstanding image quality, advanced controls and helps you avoid distortion. 

If you still fancy a tilt-shift wide-angle lens but can’t afford the expensive Nikon and Canon lenses, try Samyang. Samyang is a third-party manufacturer that provides tilt-shift lenses at a more affordable price tag. 

wide angle lens on rock
Photo by Erwan Hesry

What are Common Mistakes that Photographers Make when using a Wide-Angle Lens?

We all make mistakes when using new equipment for the first time – and that’s okay! So do the pro photographers. There are some common mistakes that newcomers make when arriving in the realm of the wide-angle lens.

1. No Main Subject

Every photo must have a main subject to make the viewer understand what the photographers main thought was when taking the picture. However, a wide-angle lens will often capture too many objects and distract people’s attention.

To overcome this, you can try this simple trick: get closer to your main subject. As the award-winner photojournalist Robert Capa once said: “If your pictures aren’t good enough, then you aren’t close enough.” The wide-angle lens can still incorporate the background regardless of how close the subject is.

Try to capture objects in the scene at three different distances: the close ones, the average ones, and far away in the horizon. This trick will make the viewers feel immersed in the picture.

2. Using Wide-Angle to Cram Everything Into The Image

It can capture a broad scene, so I can fit everything into an image, right? Well, yes, but please don’t.

Capturing too many objects at once will make your picture look crowded and messy. To avoid this mistake, try to push away some things around your main subject.

Don’t be discouraged if you fail to capture some good photos at first. No photographers build a solid career in one night.

Hop to every exciting spot in the location to find an interesting subject for the picture. Don’t forget to try various angles and settings to get the best combination possible. Keep in mind that giving up won’t take you to places!

3. Using It for Taking Portraits Picture

The wide-angle lens creates distortion, and it… isn’t something great in a portrait.

Distortions are unflattering and turn your subject into a caricature if you get too close. You will realize that their faces and features look odd or slightly longer than they really are.

Final Remarks

The wide-angle lens can produce a wider field of view than our eyesight, allowing it to fit more objects into your image. That characteristic makes photographers commonly use it for architectural, landscape, and street photography.

Like other specified lenses, the wide-angle lens is less versatile than the standard lens and more expensive. That’s why you should carefully choose which type to choose for your project.

This lens may make you feel awkward at first because it automatically makes your subject look different than it actually is.

The key to avoiding the common mistakes are simple: chose an interesting main subject, get close to it, and keep its surrounding simple. By doing this, you will draw your viewer’s attention and blow them away instantly.

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