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Tips on Buying and Using a Wide Angle Lens

written by: Balachandar Radhakrishnan•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 12/30/2008

Are you planning for your next digital camera lens purchase? Thinking about a wide angle lens? This article will help you decide if a wide angle lens is what you’re looking for and also provide photography tips for shooting with a wide angle lens.

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    Wide Angle Lenses

    Once you've exhausted all the possibilities of composing images with your standard kit lens or you feel ready to advance from “beginner photographer", which camera lens should you choose? Is there a type of lens that would profoundly change the overall results of your photography? The answer is yes. Wide angle lenses are the best bang for your buck as they provide an angle of view that’s different from the “norm", and therefore make a wonderful addition to your photography kit.

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    Wide Angle Lens Options Available

    Some aspects to consider when buying a wide angle lens include:

    Image Stabilization/Vibration Reduction – You don’t need to worry about this as much as you would when buying a different sort of camera lens since these lenses shoot at a very wide angle, the chances of image blur becomes less significant for handheld shooting. However, if you plan to take photos in low light conditions then a fast lens would come in handy.

    Crop Sensor or Full Frame Sensor – As their names suggest, full frame sensors allow you the maximum wide angle possible, whereas crop sensors bring the “cropping factor" into play. For example, a 10mm wide angle lens would give you the complete 10mm with a full frame sensor, whereas a crop sensor would provide around 15mm. If all this seems confusing to you, fear not. For most photographers, either sensor/lens will suffice.

    Fish eye lenses are a further advanced version of wide angle lenses and are named after the distortion of field of view they provide - similar to fish eyes! Though these camera lenses provide wonderful looking photos, ideally a photographer should first familiarise themselves with wide angle lenses in general.

    (Photo by Il conte di Luna, click on images to enlarge)

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    What Makes Wide Angle Lenses Special?

    Wide angle lenses provide what is called as a perspective distortion. It’s this perspective distortion coupled with the wide angle of view that makes these lenses a wonderful photographer’s tool. To put it in simple words, the wide angle lens can see more of the frame than your average standard lens. This in effect can be an advantage and a disadvantage. A wide angle will cause your pictures to be more intense with details. The depth view that these lenses provide keep the details in all regions of the frame. If you want to fill your frame with a subject the only way is to get close.

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    The advantage of the wide angle lens is a sense of dimension or depth it provides. By placing an object in the foreground you can make a very compelling image with a sense of depth and angle. The placement of an object is important to create a sense of depth in an otherwise dense and rich frame. In fact, leaving out a foreground object is a common mistake that most beginners of wide angle photography make!

    (First photo by boroda, second photo by theboybg)

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    Tips for Shooting with Wide Angle Lenses

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    1. Compose your photo with a primary foreground object. This helps create a sense of depth and adds to the intensity of the wide angle.
    2. Try taking a photo by getting close to your subject; it can give you interesting and fun results!
    3. The distortion created by wide angle lenses can be used creatively for some shots, in other instances they may have to be corrected by using software.
    4. Typically, portraits are shot with medium telephoto lenses or standard angle lenses, try using a wide angle for portraiture!
    5. Wide angle lenses are great for panorama photography. Since they cover more of the frame, they provide much better looking panoramas.
    6. Try taking photos of children with wide angle lenses; they're one of the best subjects for wide angle lens portraiture.

    (Photo on left by akaporn, photo on right by nebelkerze)

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    Wide Angle Lenses are Pricey!

    As with any lens purchase, wide angle lenses don’t come cheap! Since wide angle lenses are difficult to manufacture, they almost always cost more than simple standard or normal zoom lenses. If you're not sure as to whether wide angle photography is your "thing", I suggest starting off with a second hand lens or, better yet, rent a lens.