So you bought that awesome fancy new DSLR and now you are looking to up your photography game and buy a new lens so you can expand your creativity, but which lens? The answer to this question as is the answer to many questions in photography is: it depends.
I submit to you that buying something new isn’t always the way to rekindle the creative spark, rather take the time to really learn your current gear. Do you still shoot in P for Professional or Av or Tv mode? Do you know what those modes mean? Is the M on your camera dial full of dust because you never click your camera over to manual mode? Rather than looking for the next thing to buy take the time to learn something new on your camera. A simple YouTube search can yield hours of videos dedicated to learning more about the basic operation of your camera. Sure, learning the exposure triangle or basics of shooting in manual is not as fun or sexy as getting a cool new lens, but in many ways photography is like math, the stronger your foundation is, the easier it is to progress. Imagine learning Algebra without learning basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Well learning a wide angle lens without learning your kit lens inside and out adds another level of complexity to a skill you are trying to master.
Here is a short list to get you started:
- Learn about Manual mode and spend a few weeks shooting only in manual mode.
- Learn about the exposure triangle, how ISO, shutter speed and aperture work in unison to make a proper exposure.
- Learn about some of the history of photography. Look at images from the masters, really look at what they did and why in their images.
- Learn the basics of composition, line, point, form, shape etc.
- Learn your camera inside and out get to know what every button and dial does and why.
Done all that? Still want to buy a lens? Consider a wide angle. So how wide? 8mm? 14mm? 22mm? Again, it depends. What kind of sensor does your camera have? Wait – you don’t know, then you need to review my list of suggested learning topics! If your camera isn’t labeled as Full frame, then likely you have what is called a crop sensor, which is a smaller (less than 35mm) sensor, this includes cameras such as the Canon 7d and 7d mkII and the Canon Rebel Line of cameras.
Is my camera no good because it is a crop sensor? NO. Many photo “gearheads” would say otherwise, but they are (in my experience) often more concerned with the spec sheet of a camera rather than does it take a good picture. Most recent crop sensor cameras are extremely capable cameras. I have owned both and think that there are advantages and disadvantages to both kinds of sensors. A full frame camera like the Canon 5d will give you a wider angle of view when a wide angle lens is attached, which a crop sensor camera will not be as wide, because the sensors have a (usually) ~1.6X magnification factor. What this means is that a 100mm prime lens on a cropped sensor camera will be roughly equivalent to a 160mm prime lens. This can be a good thing however, if you are shooting sports or birds, you can get closer and fill more of your frame with the subject compared to a full frame camera.
The net result of this discussion is that you need to go a bit wider on a crop sensor camera to get that wide look. Most crop sensor cameras come with an 18-55mm kit lens, this gives a good starter zoom range of a bit wide to a bit zoomed. I personally like the 14mm range for wide angle lenses on a crop camera. Wider than this and you get too much of the fisheye distortion for my tastes. Note: my tastes are based on the price I pay for a lens compared to how much I would use it every day to shoot landscapes or other wide angle appropriate subject matter. I love the 17mm range for Full Frame cameras, specifically the 17-40mm. This is a great lens for shooting landscapes. It should be noted that you can counter a lot of the distortion effect in Adobe’s Lightroom.
These images illustrate the difference between a full frame and a crop sensor camera using the same lens. Hopefully this gives you an idea of the differences and how to purchase the lens that suites your artistic vision. One of the best solutions to finding the right wide angle lens is to try a few of them out at a lens rental place like https://www.borrowlenses.com/ They rent lenses for most makes of camera and for a small investment you can rent a few lenses, try them out and really be able to decide what will work for you. I especially suggest this if you are considering buying a ultra-wide angle lens like 8mm. My personal experience with this range of lens is that it is useful for my art in very specific circumstances.
Next, we will discuss some tips for getting started with a wide angle lens.