How to get the best-quality lens.
Prime lenses usually outperform wide-angle zoom lenses, as they have fewer moving parts and can accommodate a wider maximum aperture. But for most situations and applications, the difference is marginal, and what you may sacrifice in image quality you gain with the convenience of a zoom range. Standard zoom lenses often cover a range of focal lengths, such as a wide zoom 16–35mm, or ultrawide zoom 12–24mm, which makes them more versatile than being locked into one focal length.
The best wide-angle lenses usually have features such as a maximum aperture of f/2.8 or wider, for a shallow depth of field, image stabilization, or autofocus. They might be made with an aspherical lens element, which produces sharper images and reduces distortion. Their overall build quality is superior, but if you go looking for these features on a lens, a large price tag will follow. The good news is that you can find used versions of most lenses for much less than their retail price. And while they might be old, the quality of the glass doesn’t degrade. A premium wide-angle lens from popular DSLR camera brands such as Canon, Nikon, Sigma, or Sony will fetch decent resale values, even as newer models are released.
No matter what type of camera lens you’re in the market for, go for the best quality you can. “Invest in high-quality glass,” photographer Crosby Dove advises. “Sometimes the lens can cost more than the camera itself. It’s a big investment, but lenses hold their value better than cameras.”
What to watch for when you go wide.
Distortion is the number one issue to watch out for when you use a wide-angle lens. Barrel distortion, where straight lines appear to bow outward, will often show up in your photos the wider you go. Be especially mindful of this when you photograph people, and watch out for objects at the edges of your frame.
“At the edges of the photo you’ll sometimes see some curvature,” says Dove. “Sometimes you get vignetting, which is the darkness at the corners of the photo. The nice thing about editing software like Adobe Photoshop Lightroom is that you can edit or adjust the vignette effect.” Fix lens warping and vignetting with the Lens Correction panel, or exaggerate the look and add your own stylistic vignette in the Effects panel.
Cropped sensor conversion
The focal length doesn’t directly translate to the angle of view. How much you can actually fit in the frame depends on your camera’s sensor size. For example, a 24mm lens translates to about 84 degrees of view on a full frame camera. But if you put that same lens on a cropped sensor camera, such as an APS-C, your lens’s focal length would crop to about 38mm, and you would get only 61 degrees of view.
Investing in a high-quality wide-angle lens for your crop sensor camera is a great way to maximize your budget and get the best image quality out of your setup, but keep the crop factor in mind as you shop for the right focal length. If you’re shopping for a mirrorless camera, remember that these cameras require a lens that is compatible with their mounting system. And remember, you can always buy a lens converter and use DSLR lenses with your mirrorless.