The 10 Best Wide Angle Lenses
This wiki has been updated 25 times since it was first published in April of 2015. Whether you want to capture more of your indoor family events or you're a professional photographer looking to minimize chromatic aberration in your architectural work, there's a wide-angle lens on our list with your name on it. We've included options great for everything from landscapes and astrophotography to discreet street work, ranked by clarity, versatility, and durability. When users buy our independently chosen editorial selections, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki. If you'd like to contribute your own research to the Wiki, please get started by reviewing this introductory video.
March 05, 2020:
Our previous version of this list was far too dominated by the likes of Canon and Nikon, and by third-party models creating aftermarket products for those two systems. We wanted to update the offerings from those companies to be as current as possible while also including models from other big names in the industry like Sony, Olympus, and Panasonic.
To meet that first goal, we had to make a tough choice and say goodbye to Nikon's 14-24mm f/2.8, which may very well remain one of the company's best wides, but that has unforgivably gone nearly 20 years without an upgrade. They've made upgrades to their 24-70mm and 70-200mm telephoto lenses (the other two members of their holy trinity), but in their commitment to finally develop a full-frame mirrorless system that could compete with Sony's a series, they seem to have forgotten this lens.
That does, however, bring us to the modernizing part of our list, where we had to include at least one lens each from Canon and Nikon's recently developed full-frame mirrorless options. These are very fine models, with top-tier glass and outstanding build quality, but they can't quite match the images produced by the pinnacle of either company's DSLR models.
A Glass Menagerie
Lots of them, more often than not, and a fair amount of those guts are made of glass.
Camera lenses have guts. Lots of them, more often than not, and a fair amount of those guts are made of glass. A lens can be used to direct, magnify, or to focus light, and it takes a combination of magnification, direction, and focus to allow a desired photographic object to appear on a camera sensor as sharply as it does to the naked eye, maybe even more sharply.
This is, of course, one of the reasons that higher end lenses are more expensive. They often start with a wider front element for maximum light collection, which improves the camera's ability to see in low light.
But a larger lens out front will cause more refraction, which must be compensated for by a precise combination of elements between the front glass and the back glass.
Optical glass can cost around $2,000/kilogram, and a good lens can weigh upwards of 5kg, most of which is plastic and lightweight metal, so you can see how these things get pricey fast.
Want To Go Wide? Know Your Crop Factor
While Crop Factor might sound like the name of a competitive farming reality show (and maybe it should be), it's actually a way of understanding how much of the focal length your lens claims will make it into your image.
If you mount any lens built for a 35mm film camera before the digital revolution changed just about everything on a modern full frame DSLR, you don't have to worry about crop factor.
So, a 50mm FX lens gives you a 75mm focal length on an APS-C sized sensor.
If you mount a modern digital lens on a modern full frame DSLR, well, you have to check to see if that lens was built for a full frame or an APS-C sized sensor.
What's the difference between full frame and APS-C? Well, an APS-C sensor is smaller in area than a full frame sensor, the latter of which was designed to replicate the area of a 35mm piece of film.
As a result, an APS-C sized sensor can only collect a fraction of the light projected onto it through a lens designed for a 35mm sensor. And, conversely, a lens designed specifically for an APS-C sized sensor will project a smaller image onto a full frame sensor.
So, when buying a wide angle lens, make sure you know what size sensor you're shooting with, and be prepared to do a little simple math to know what your actual focal length will be.
In Nikon, the crop factor from a full frame lens – or FX lens (APS-C lenses are signified as DX, not FX) – is 1.5x. So, a 50mm FX lens gives you a 75mm focal length on an APS-C sized sensor.
If you own a body with an APS-C sized sensor and you're looking to go as wide as you can, shoot for the highest rated lens with the lowest focal length around, or you might end up tighter than you wanted.
A Field Of Constant Innovation
That design was quickly found to be insufficient, as the manner in which a convex lens bends light makes it very difficult to focus an image across a flat plane. It's like trying to make applesauce with a cheese grater (who does that?); you have to keep turning the apple because the grater is a flat surface and the apple is curved.
This is a phenomenon called Petzval Field Curvature, and lens makers for the next 175 years would find new ways of grouping and spacing lens elements to minimize this effect and maximize image clarity while keeping both the cost and the weight of a lens in check.