The super wide

Lenses in the 15mm to 21mm focal length range can only be classified as super wide. It should be clear that this is refer to the rectilinear super wide angle lenses – that is, lenses in which straight lines in the subject are shown as straight lines in the image as well.

Rectilinear super wide possess all the advantages and disadvantages of the less extreme wide angles, but to a greater degree. They have even wider angels of view and can cover large subjects in even tighter quarters. Depth of field is so great that focusing is often unnecessary. Just setting the focusing scale of an 18mm lens at 61cm and the aperture at f/11, for example, will extend sharp focus from 30.5cm to infinity (as far as you can see). Larger apertures produce less depth, but it will still be tremendous.

The appearance of spaciousness is also increased by the super wide angle lenses. Objects just a few feet away seem to far more distant. Room interiors are huge and hallways stretch out interminably anything placed close to the camera is gigantic compared with something the same size just a little farther away. For this and other reasons these super short lenses are the very worst choice for portraiture. Getting close enough to a person to fill the viewfinder with just head and shoulders produces wild and grotesque distortion. Noses and foreheads bulge, chins and ears shrink and recognition becomes almost impossible.

The distortion caused by pointing a camera up or down is also greater with the super wides than with longer lenses. Unless your camera is held perfectly level, vertical lines will converge at outlandish angles, if you are seeking this effect deliberately, point your camera up or down sharply. If the angle is only a slight one, people may think you made a mistake, and your picture will label you are merely careless instead of creative. If you can avoid any deviation from level at all, straight line vertical distortion will disappear.

As with most wide angle lenses super wides have relatively modest maximum apertures. However, focusing in dim light (or in any light) may be even more difficult with the super wides than with the other wide angle lenses because of the still greater depth of field. A split image rangefinder built into your camera’s viewing screen may help the accuracy with some kinds of subjects. If not, the enormous depth of field will cover all but the most flagrant focusing errors in any case.

With super wide angle lenses it is difficult to use filters without cutting into the picture corners, although some of the more expensive lenses have a rotatable filter wheel built into the lens barrel. Lens hood too, can block out part of the picture, they are either not recommended at all or they are so shallow that they are almost totally ineffective.

A super wide angle lens isn’t purchased just to get a photographer out of tight spots. It is probably used most often to create eye catching photographic compositions. Its great depth of field and strong perspectives can conjure up fantasy landscapes which stretch from inches away to far in the distances with everything brittle sharp, rich in detail and intriguingly distorted in size. Otherwise common place objects and scenes take on the magic air of an alien world when submitted to the whimsical eye of a super wide angle lens.


More about telephotos lenses

- Shorter wide angle lenses
- Moderate wide angle lenses
- tips about using wide angle lenses
- fisheye lenses
- tips about using fisheye lenses