How to Choose and Use Wide Angle Lenses

July 6, 2010 | Mark Goldstein | Photography Techniques | 16 Comments | |
How to Choose and Use Wide Angle Lenses Image

Take my 17mm f4 L TS-E tilt and shift lens. Basically it's a handy bendy lens capable of contorting itself into strange shapes by shifting up and down, right and left, and tilting backwards and forwards. Why? Shift movements are handy for correcting converging verticals, and with a bit of tilting we can achieve massive depth of field without having to stop down to a minimum aperture. Now I could talk to you about Scheimflug's Principle concerning the intersecting lens, sensor and subject planes but I can hear you nodding off from here. In a nutshell by tilting the lens forward almost infinite depth of field can be achieved.

How much tilt is needed? You'll have to read up on Scheimflug and practice. It takes a bit of thought and fiddling about, but the rewards are significant. Firstly, the lenses themselves are bighting sharp, in Canon's case arguably the sharpest lens you can bolt on a 5D mkII or 1Ds mkIII. Secondly the option of using tilt to deliver the required depth of field whilst working at a mid range aperture without diffraction rearing its ugly head means that premium lens performance really shines through. Of course auto focus is out, and TTL metering goes to pot when movements are dialled in. They also cost an arm and a leg. Nothing's ever simple in this life, is it?

How to Choose and Use Lenses - Part 3

The Eiffel Tower in spring, Paris, France. Canon 1Ds mkII converted for infra red, 17mm f4 L TS-E lens, ISO160, 1/80 sec @ f11

There's no doubt tilt and shift, or perspective control lenses to give them their proper title, are incredibly handy for architectural, travel and landscape work. They're also expensive, are only available in a few focal lengths and relatively bulky. But the promise of almost infinite depth of field combined with the very best optical performance is just too tantalising to pass. Now for my landscape work the 17mm and 24mm tilt & shifts are de rigueur.

That's all well and good, but in a crowded market place in Laos auto focus and a fast maximum aperture are the order of the day. Back to square one. More compromises to be considered. Do you know what I'd recommend? Ignore all this, get a useful flexible wide-angle lens you're happy with and get on with the business of making stunning, perceptive, unique pictures. That's what it's all about.

How to Choose and Use Lenses - Part 3

The Jurassic Coast from Golden Cap, Dorset, England. Canon 1Ds mkII, 15mm fisheye lens, two exposures, f16


Born in England in 1957, David spent much of his youth travelling with his family between the UK, California and Canada. After leaving school David joined the Navy in search of further travels and adventures – and it was while sailing the seven seas that his interest in photography grew. After several years at sea he decided to pursue his passion for photography and returned to study in Gloucester, England.  After leaving college in 1985 he began work as a freelance photographer specialising in landscape and other travel subjects, which over the last 25 years, have taken him to almost every corner of the globe.

David is now established and recognised as one of the UK's leading landscape and travel photographers. His images sell all over the world – both as fine art photography and commercially in advertising and publishing. He has won international awards for: British Gas/ BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards in 1985,1989 & 1990 and also writes regularly about landscape and travel photography for a number of national and international magazines. David has worked for numerous clients including British Airways, Sainsbury's, Geo, Toyota, Qantas, Sunday Times and the Telegraph.  During the last twenty years he has also worked extensively for the National Trust covering much of the UK's landscape and coastline, which has featured in many high profile publications and several highly acclaimed photographic exhibitions. Most notably:

'New Vision' Contemporary Art Photography – AOP Gallery
'The Coast Exposed' – Maritime Museum Greenwich and the Lowry
'Climate Change – in Britain's Back Yard!' – London, Nottingham, Wales, Belfast, Bristol

“l'm still passionate about photography. All aspects fascinate me; from capturing the first light of day on a frosty landscape or making the most of a bustling market in Vietnam to portraying the dignity of a wrinkled face in China.”

David spends much of the year travelling with his wife Wendy. When not travelling they live in England, near Sherborne in Dorset.

All images in this article © David Noton

Entry Tags

lens, wide-angle, DSLR, zoom, prime, wide angle, landscape, wideangle, SLR, David Noton, lenses, wide, choose, use, wide lens

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16 Comments | Newest Oldest First | Post a Comment

#1 Francoise

what is wild angle?

11:36 pm - Tuesday, July 6, 2010

#2 peterk

As usual, Mr. Noton proofs to be not only a great photographer, but also a great teacher. Fine article (again as usual !) and thanks a lot for the things I’ve learned today !

6:01 pm - Wednesday, July 7, 2010

#3 Cindy

Excellent article. I agree with the above poster- he is indeed a great teacher and skilled photographer

9:28 pm - Wednesday, July 7, 2010

#4 Jim

It is difficult to take seriously the writing of someone who doesn’t know the difference between “than” and “then”.

8:18 am - Saturday, July 17, 2010

#5 Liz

Comments about spelling are cheap and childish. This is a really useful piece written by someone generous enough to share their knowledge. I’m about to invest in a wide angle for my 5d and found this very helpful. Thanks!

9:18 am - Friday, September 10, 2010

#6 Palau Blue

The statement about being “overly obsessive about lens sharpness” rings so true.  Obviously, someone who knows what he is talking about.

3:14 am - Thursday, September 23, 2010

#7 Larry Miller

What “Liz” said!!!!!!!!

8:21 pm - Thursday, November 11, 2010

#8 Building Moments Photography

Great article.  I’m an architectural photographer and the choice of wide angle lense is critical to my practice.

2:11 am - Tuesday, January 25, 2011

#9 Marcus

Thank you!
Confidence-inspiring stuff; thank you again!
(And I’d just like to ask d1ck-h3ad Jim if he’s never made a typo before? Wow, he must be perfect!) (Shame he has nothing useful or practical to add to the topic, though)

1:15 am - Monday, April 9, 2012

#10 Rusie

Thanks for the useful tips, I never really tried wide-angle lenses, but after reading the article I definitely will since now I am aware of how to choose them right.

10:38 am - Wednesday, April 11, 2012

#11 Tommy

Really useful tips and well written - thanks David! I’m thinking about taking the plunge and getting a 24mm prime.

ps. Is there some sort of process for getting Jim’s pedantic, unhelpful and irrelevant comment removed? He’s making the Internet smell.

7:41 pm - Wednesday, August 1, 2012

#12 ken

what a great intstructive article. will soon be takingh a trip into the southern usa (texas, louisiana, mississippi & tennessee) and want a wide angle lense.  now i have to consider tilts! (smiling)

i learned so much in this article about aperture settings as well as wide angle lense options.  Thank you so much!

7:15 pm - Monday, February 4, 2013

#13 Ali

I can not find words to thank you!

Unfortunately there are people like ‘Jim’ below, mentally sick, write a critic here with than and then… We have to ignore these sick poor, most probably never satisfied people…

Thank you for taking time and writing these teachings!

4:10 pm - Tuesday, June 3, 2014

#14 Clipping Path

It is very helpful for the camera users.I really impressed.Thanks for sharing.

5:39 pm - Friday, November 6, 2015

#15 Matt

I agree with Jim

3:47 am - Monday, December 7, 2015

#16 Mimi Anson

Hi there,
I’m a beginner photographer with a canon rebel t3. I’m sorry I didn’t read your whole article, is there a lens you’d recommend for me? I’m planning on doing landscape and construction project pictures with it. Thanks for your time!

4:19 am - Monday, August 15, 2016