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What is a Wide Angle Lens

January 01

19 min. to read

It can be hard for beginners to understand what is a wide-angle lens. Check out more about it! Lens for wide-angle shots can be very useful.

If you are a beginner at photography then you might be satisfied with the kit lens you get included in the package. The most common type of lens included with most cameras is one with an 18-55mm focal length, which is a nice focal range to start practicing photography. However, as photographers move forward with their art, they tend to start investing in better lenses. That's why you should find out more about what is a wide-angle lens.

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The Various Kinds of Lenses 

There are different kinds of lenses that specialize in specific kinds of photography. Let’s take a brief look at the most popular types of lenses available: 

  • Standard Lenses 

A standard lens is essentially one that has a fixed focal length. What this means in simple terms is that with a prime lens you cannot zoom into a subject. While this may sound like a downside to beginners, rest assured that prime lenses are preferred by a number of photographers because of their incredible image quality and usually wider apertures when compared with ‘zoom’ lenses.

  • Telephoto Lenses 

This is the technically correct name for what are commonly known as ‘zoom lenses’. Telephoto lenses have a very long focal range which helps in reaching far off subjects very easily. Focal ranges like 55-200mm and 70-300mm are common, and can go as far as 5200mm.

  • Macro Lenses 

Macro lenses have very close minimum focus distances, and are used to take very detailed photos of small objects like insects and flowers. Macro lenses are not limited to taking macro photos and can also be used for other types of photography.

  • Wide Angle Lenses 

How to use a wide-angle lens? They are the best when it comes to taking photos where you want to show a very wide field of view, like in landscape or architectural photography. Common focal lengths are 14mm, 20mm, 24mm, and 28mm.

Out of all these lens types, a beginner photographer is most likely to underestimate the uses of a wide angle lens. Let’s see why wide angle lenses should not be looked down upon, and how to use them for various kinds of landscape as well as indoor shots.

​​What Is a Wide-Angle Lens?

A wide-angle lens can be a powerful tool for emphasizing depth and relative size in an image. However, it is also one of the most difficult types to master. It is usually called so if its focal length is less than 35 mm. This is the wide-angle lens definition.

This corresponds to an angle of view that exceeds 55° on the wide side of the frame. The definition of an ultra-wide angle is somewhat vague, but most agree that this part starts at focal lengths on the order of 20-24 mm or less. For compact cameras, a wide angled lense often means maximum zoom opening, but an ultra-wide angle is usually not available to them without a special adapter. In any case, the key concept is this: the shorter the focal length, the more the unique effects of a wide-angle lens become apparent. Now you know what is considered a wide-angle lens.

What makes this option unique? A common misunderstanding is that such lenses are mostly used when you can't get far enough away from your subject, but you nevertheless want to fit the subject into a single frame. However, if that were the only use, that would be a big mistake. In fact, these lenses are often used for just the opposite: to be able to get closer to the subject! Using a wide-angle lens will not cause much trouble even for beginners. Well, let's take a closer look at what makes a wide-angle lens unique:

  1. It covers a wide angle of view.

  2. It usually has a minimum focus distance.

While these characteristics may seem quite basic, they mean a fair amount of possibilities. Now we focus on ways to make the best use of these features to get the best out of wide-angle lens photography.

Does a Wide Angle Lens Zoom?

All lenses, including wide-angle, can be fixed focal lengths or zoom lenses. With a fixed lens (prime lens), you can change the field of view by physically moving closer or farther away from the subject. Primes are usually lighter, faster, and cheaper than wide-angle lens examples. A zoom lens has a variable focal length (zoom range). Some universal travel zoom lenses cover both wide and standard focal lengths as well as telephoto. 

Universal zoom lenses keep the amount of photographic equipment to a minimum. But they tend to be heavier and more expensive because of the extra mechanisms and glass inside the lens. Kit lenses are the exception, they are often quite small but have serious drawbacks. The image stabilization and quality are usually worse than fixed lenses in the same price range. 

How Wide Is a Wide Angle Lens?

The camera you use affects how the lens will look at reality. Smaller sensors frame the central part of any lens, resulting in a narrower field of view. For simplicity, all the focal lengths listed here are equivalent to a full-frame image. Focal lengths from 35mm to 24mm are considered standard wide-angle. From 24mm to 16mm is generally considered a camera wide lens. Focal lengths less than 16mm are considered ultra wide-angle. 

The fisheye angle of view is usually 180 degrees. Such lenses have a characteristic, hemispherical type of distortion with an aspherical lens element. They don't create straight lines. As for the focal length, they are at the bottom of the scale. There are also fisheye-type zoom lenses.

The other type is a rectilinear wide-angle lens for the camera. They have a distortion, but they keep the lines straight, although you can still see a moderate barrel distortion on some. This is more obvious in architectural photos, where the lines bow outward, away from the center. Basically, any lens that is not explicitly labeled as a fisheye shows a rectilinear image. You can use lenses with shorter focal lengths, but they are only for cameras with a crop sensor. 

Although tilt-shift lenses don't necessarily need to be wide-angle camera lenses, most of them are. Neither of the two lens types previously mentioned can correct perspective distortion. Tilt-shift lenses project much larger images than a full-frame sensor. You can move the wide-angle camera lens in a plane parallel to the sensor both horizontally and vertically. So they can make converging lines parallel or make parallel lines converge. 

You also have the ability to independently control the tilt of the plane of focus. These lenses are extremely complex and expensive. They are the most popular lenses among professional architecture and fine art photographers. 

When A Wide-Angle Lens Really Shines

So, what are wide-angle lenses used for? They can be used for DSLRs in the street photography genre. When you get closer to your subject, it can give a dramatic perspective and a sense of presence. Professional photographers recommend a fast lens with a constant focal length of 35mm or 24mm for street photography, especially in difficult lighting conditions. 

Lighter gear means more room for other things in your suitcase. That's why most photographers prefer to use a standard zoom lens, maybe an extra telephoto lens for travel. When to use a wide-angle lens? If you're going to places with lots of sights or expansive scenery, take at least a moderately wide lens with you. 

For interiors, an ultra-wide-angle lens is recommended. Aperture and build quality are not important here. What you need is a versatile, sharp, and wide-angle lens. You can choose a tilt-shift that provides excellent image quality, advanced control, and distortion-free results. 

Event photography and photojournalism require a wide-angle lens camera. You have to be prepared for many possible lighting and action situations. A wide angle comes in handy when you need to take a shot that covers most of the picture or to get a really close-up for dramatic angles. 

You can choose a zoom wide-angle lens and it may be a good solution. To shoot moving subjects in low light, you'll still have to raise the ISO a bit, which will result in more noise in the frame. If you want to take pictures of the night sky, a fast lens with a constant focal length is fine. This lens will give a perfect result.

Far More Than Just Landscapes 

When someone talks about a wide-angle lens, the first thing that usually comes to everyone’s mind is an immense landscape photo. While it can take a natural landscape picture like no other lens out there, it can do a lot more than that. Wide-angle lenses are great for indoor or architectural photos, where you need to capture more of the scene in front of you. Note that they are usually designed to distort the image by making lines converge faster at the edges of a photo, hence allowing photographers to be more creative with their wide-angle lens photos.

The ultimate form of wide angle lenses is the fisheye lens. This lens is specially designed to show a spherical view of the world around you. They take in a lot of visual information, and present it in a highly distorted and spherical way. It’s very easy to see then why fisheye lenses have their importance when it comes to creative landscape or street photography. 

What To Remember When Using Wide Angle Lenses 

Now that you have read through the uses of a wide angle lens, it is time to take a look at what you need to be careful about while using one.

  • Close Focal Point

In order to use a wide-angle lens for taking visually striking images, it is better to have something very close to your lens as the focal point. This makes the subject more prominent while creating interesting, distorted backgrounds with a wide-lense camera.

  • Not for Portraits 

It is important to remember that wide-angle lenses are not made for portrait photography. Because of their heavy distortion in images, these lenses make faces look unflattering at best. Wide angles in photography may not always look appropriate.

  • Distortion 

Of course, the most obvious effect that is seen when using a wide-angle lens is the distortion in the pictures. While this can be used for creative effects in your images, wide-angle photography can also become a problem if not handled properly.

How To Edit Wide Angle Photos 

If you are not happy with how your wide angle photos look because of the distortion and chromatic aberration that comes with using wide lenses, you can always edit them a little to get your desired effect. This may usually happen when you are taking landscape photos, where you want a wider field of view but don’t want your image to get distorted towards the edges.

  • Correcting Lens Distortion 

If you want your photos to not look distorted with photography wide angle, Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom both have you covered. Photoshop now comes with a simple to use Adaptive Wide Angle Filter that can detect which camera and lens combination you used for your image, and then fixes the perspective of your image accordingly. Alternatively, you can use the whole host of manual controls that this tool brings, allowing you to set constraint points along the lines that you want to straighten, in order to make your landscape photos look the way you want. 

Lightroom has a similar feature where it can fix images automatically after detecting what gear and camera lens wide angle you used. It also has manual controls based on sliders that you can tweak around to fix your image.

  • Cropping or Straightening Horizon 

Another way to fix the distorted edges of your landscape or interior photos is to crop them. This can easily be done by using the straightforward Crop tool in Luminar Neo by Skylum. It is ideal for images that were taken with a photography wide-angle lens (editing and retouching). This new software makes it very easy to crop images the way you want, allowing you to even straighten the horizon line of your images with simple click and drag actions. You can take help from the various kinds of grids at your disposal as well, ranging from the Golden Ratio and Rule of Thirds to the usual Widescreen and Square ones.

Whether it is a vast landscape or a tight interior that you want to capture in a single photo, using a wide-angle lens is probably your best bet for getting great results. If you like photographing nature or architecture, it is vital to invest in it. If you are worried that your images won’t look very good with distortion, using the tips mentioned in this article will help a great deal in getting the kind of images you want. Take your best wide-angle lens shots and edit them with Luminar Neo.

What is a Wide Angle Lens | Skylum How-to(2)

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Written by

Kateryna Didyk

Amateur photographer

Kateryna Didyk is an amateur photographer perfectly familiar with photo editing apps. She especially likes Luminar Neo which allows her to create real photographic masterpieces. Kateryna's favorite genres are pet photos and landscapes; these are the topics she talks about with pleasure and shares her professional secrets. She often travels around the country in search of inspiration. Kateryna's second profession is a copywriter, so she creates expert and exciting articles and explains everything in a way that beginners can easily understand.

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What is a Wide Angle Lens | Skylum How-to(14)