While long lenses bring drama to an image by compressing space, limiting depth of focus and enlarging subjects, wide-angle and fish-eye lenses offer photographers a completely different, but equally dramatic set of optical effects. Here's a guide to wide an wider lenses, and what they can do.
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The range from 28-45mm (or 35mm angle of view equivalent in smaller sensor cameras) would be considered standard wide-angle focal lengths; many wide-angle zooms cover the extreme-to-standard range but could be rather pricey; prime lenses cost less, tend to be slightly sharper optically (although the casual observer my not notice the difference) and sport wider apertures. At this range, optical distortion is minimal or non-existant, making these lenses desirable for a wide variety of photos.
Uses: Standard wide-angle lenses are often used for street photography and photojournalism, as well as for travel, landscapes and architectural photography. (A handful of Tilt-Shift wide-angle lenses are designed especially for architecture photography, but they are expensive; a more affordable alternative is to fix distorted lines in architectural shots in Photoshop, but that's a separate article.)
Selected Standard Wide-Angle Lenses for MILCs
Selected Standard Wide-Angle Lenses for APS DSLRs
Selected Standard Wide-Angle Lenses for 35mm DSLRs
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Ultra wide-angle lenses take in a much wider angle of view, and are in the 10-24mm focal length range. There are specific individual lenses, but you are more likely to find zoom lenses that cover this range.
Uses: The shortest of these lenses are almost fisheyes, and you can have fun with the proximity distortion that is their trademark. These are great lenses for eye-catching travel photography photos, and to a lesser extent, may be used by photojournalists working in tight quarters.
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Selected Ultra Wide-Angle Lenses for MILCs
Selected Ultra Wide-Angle Lenses for APS DSLRs
Selected Ultra Wide-Angle Lenses for 35mm DSLRs
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There are two kinds of fisheye lenses: Full-Frame Fisheye, and Circular Fisheye. A Circular fisheye is what most people think of. These lenses take in a 180-degree hemisphere and projects it as a circle within the frame, surrounded by black. A Full-Frame fisheye (16mm on a 35mm sensor camera and 10mm on an APS sensor camera) take in a 180-degree angle of view when measured corner to corner, and the horizontal field of view is around 147 degrees. The image fills the entire frame, but has the same characteristic barrel distortion as a circular fisheye.
Uses: Fisheyes are generally novelty lenses and are used for special effects, although some architecture photographers use them to capture wide spaces, then correct the rectilinear perspective in post-production.
Selected Fisheye lenses for MILCs
Selected Fisheye lenses for APS sensor cameras
Fisheye lenses for 35mm cameras