5 Reasons to Go Wider - super wide angle lenses

A number of kit zooms start at around the 28mm mark - or “full frame equivalent” focal length, some start a bit wider, but the focus of this article is to look at some of the attractions of going out specifically with a super-wide, 24mm or wider for “normal” people and travel photography.

A 21mm Voigtlander Color Skopar, honestly bought on a bit of a whim to try landscape with my Leica MP, first opened my eyes to the possibilities of a very wide angle lens. Working with a prime forces you to think about how to use the angle of view. I have always preferred prime lenses and never really got on with the Nikon 10-24 DX lens for my D200 and although the 24-120mm f4 was excellent on my D750, I kept coming back to primes. The Nikkor 20mm for my D750 was the first really wide lens that I bought primarily for people / street photography.

1. A new perspective

Using a super wide gives a very different look to pictures - it’s refreshing. In addition to the creative changes, a new perspective on images helps me stay interested and changing lens has ended a creative block on more than one occasion.

Nikon 20mm f3.5 AI-S lens on Nikon D750

2. You can crop

There are always those that frown on cropping, extolling the virtues of the purity of an un-cropped image, what nonsense. Sometimes you can move around to recompose, sometimes it’s just not possible. Often what you have in mind when you make the picture can be developed further in post processing. I am not a fan of highly or over-processed images myself, nor of “enhancements” in the field of documentary photography, but since my days in the darkroom I have cropped, dodged, burned and progressively exposed pictures from time to time, to balance the image and I continue to do so in digital post-processing. 

Some of the most iconic images are rather heavily cropped, I’m thinking of Elliott Erwitt’s Chihuahua and Stuart Franklin’s Tiananmen Square photographs as prime examples (off topic, but there are a number of versions of the famous Tiananmen Square, Tank Man photograph probably the most known being that of Jeff Widener / AP) .

A super wide certainly gives more scope to crop and with modern high pixel count sensors and lenses capable of resolving very fine detail, good prints can be achieved even after a reasonable amount of cropping.

3. Angle of view and getting close

Getting close adds something to pictures, a sense of involvement. If you fill a third of your picture with a head and shoulders on a 20mm lens, you will need to get close, about a metre at most, the angle of view of a super wide means more background will be included which helps add this sense of scene. As well as being a personal challenge to be involved with the scene, it can be an advantage to be with and speak with the people you are photographing.

Sometimes people are less aware of being photographed when you are that close, than when you are a long white lens, shooting from afar.

Olympus 12mm f2 lens on Olympus OM-D E-M1 mkii

4. Cheap 

Prime wide angle lenses tend to use less glass than telephotos, they are smaller and designs can be quite simple. Having a very fast lens to facilitate quicker shutter speeds is less necessary, as is vibration reduction. This means prices can be reasonable - second hand there can be some real bargains - older manual focus lenses are also a sensible choice, given the huge depth of field at middle apertures, critical focus accuracy is not hugely important. A good Canon or Nikon 20mm or 24mm f2.8 can be purchased for under £200.

Nikon 24mm f2.8 AI-S lens on Nikon FE

5. Depth of Field

There is a trend for razor thin depth of field and huge discussions around bokeh, whilst this has its place, for street photography, environmental portraiture and documentary photography, quite often you need the greatest depth of field possible. Even focussed quite close, at 2 metres a 24mm lens at f8 will give acceptable sharpness from about 1.2 to 12 metres.

Give a super wide a go, they are compact, forgiving (with focus, composition and shutter speed), great value and good fun.

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