A Guide (+ 6 Reasons to Love Them)

What is an ultra wide angle lens? What kind of effects do ultra-wides produce? And should you use them in your photography?

I have worked with ultra wide angle lenses for over 30 years and in my opinion they are unbelievable. They offer many practical benefits, they’re a great way to improve your photography, and they’re great fun to use, too.

In this article, I explain everything you need to know about ultrawides, including what they are and why I highly recommend them. I’m also including plenty of examples, so you know exactly what ultra-wide lenses can do.

Let’s dive in!

What are ultra wide angle lenses?

Ultra-wide-angle lenses are extreme versions of wide-angle lenses. Instead of producing a field of view subtly wider than the human eye, they provide a field of view far wider. They create a beautifully expansive effect:


Notice how in the photo above I managed to capture more than half from the room. That’s the power of an ultra-wide lens!

So what focal lengths do ultra-wide correspond to?

Well, as you may already know, a 50mm lens (on a full frame camera) closely approximates the field of view of the human eye. And wide-angle lenses feature smaller focal lengths, typically around 24mm to 49mm.

Therefore, ultra wide angle lenses have focal lengths greater than 24mm. A 10-20mm lens, for example, is an ultra-wide zoom, while a 14mm lens is an ultra-wide lens.

(Note that these focal lengths are approximate; there is no set of agreed focal lengths for wide and ultra-wide lenses.)

Take a look at this image, taken with a wide angle lens (28mm):

02 DSC1518 28mm

Then see how an ultra-wide focal length (11mm) expands the scene even further:

03 DSC1518 11mm

So while wide-angle lenses and ultra-wide-angle lenses have a wide field of view, the ultra-wide effect is much more extreme.

When to use an ultra wide angle lens?

Ultra-wide lenses are extremely useful, but you don’t want to use them all the time. For example, trying to photograph a distant bird with an ultra-wide lens will give you nothing but a landscape and a distant patch of feathers.

On the other hand, you can use ultra-wide lenses to capture entire scenes in a single shot. For example, you can photograph the skyline of an entire city from one end to the other. Or you can shoot a nice mountain scene and include a foreground, mid-shot, and lots of mountain background.

Here are a few genres where ultrawides come in handy:

  • landscape photography
  • Architectural Photography
  • Real estate photography
  • Urban landscape photography

And here are a few genres where you should generally avoid ultrawides:

  • bird photography
  • Wildlife photography
  • portrait photography
  • Product Photography
  • street photography

Of course, you don’t need to follow this breakdown to the letter; it’s just a guideline. But it can be useful, especially when you are just starting out!

6 reasons to use ultra wide angle lenses

In this next section, I share my top six reasons for working with ultrawides. When you’re done reading, I guarantee you’ll want to work with an ultra-wide angle lens or two in your own photography!

1. Ultrawides immerse the viewer in the scene

Ultra-wide-angle lenses immerse the viewer in the situation.

They surround the viewer with the scene, and because of this, the resulting shots are incredibly real and full of detail.

04 asleep at prayer

And ultrawides don’t just immerse the viewer in the scene; they dive youthe photographer, which can be a crazy experience.

As you film, you’ll feel like the whole scene is spinning around your head. You will be pulled into the action which is a great place!


2. Ultra-wides help you avoid perspective distortion

The perspective distortion makes vertical lines converge and even makes buildings look like they are falling backwards. While it’s possible to correct distortion in post-processing, it’s much more effective to avoid it in the first place – and ultrawides can help.

You see, perspective distortion occurs when you tilt your camera up or down to photograph a scene. For example, you can point your camera upwards to photograph a cathedral like this:

06 DSC0587A

And it is this movement – this upward tilt – that causes the distortion.

But ultra-wide lenses are then wide that you often don’t need to tilt the camera when capturing a building. Instead, you can point the camera straight ahead and just…pull. You’ll avoid distortion and get a beautiful architectural image.

3. Ultra-wide reverse scale

Ultra-wide lenses tend to make objects close to the lens appear huge, while they make objects farther away appear tiny. The wider the lens, the greater the effect!

(This is another consequence of perspective distortion, which I discussed in the previous section.)

While such distortion isn’t always desirable, it can look stunning when carefully incorporated into your photos. You can use it to magnify interesting foreground subjects:

07MG 8638A

Or you can use it to improve the visual flow:

07B DSC8791 1A

4. Ultrawides can create pseudo-panoramas

A panorama encompasses a large part of the scene and is usually much longer than it is tall, like this:

08 valley of the gods ANG2981A

Unfortunately, panoramas are difficult to do well. You usually have to work on a tripod and take multiple images while carefully moving your camera around. In addition, panoramas require significant post-processing.

But with an ultra-wide lens, you can create handheld panoramas with very little effort. Here is what you do:

First, capture an image using an ultra-wide lens:

09 DSC0940A

Then open it in your favorite post-processing program and cut the top and bottom of the frame:

09B DSC0940A cropped

That’s all we can say about it! You’ll end up with a stunning panorama, and you won’t need to learn any additional techniques to get it right.

5. Ultra-wides are great for reflection shots

Do you like working with reflections? Do you want to take photos that feature extended highlights, like the one shown below?

10 Trip 154A
Then use an ultra wide angle lens! They’re so wide that you can easily include puddles, lakes, and reflective metal in every scene. Just make sure to get as close to the reflection as possible – don’t be afraid to put your camera on the ground – then shoot.

6. Ultrawides include so much detail

Each ultra-wide lens includes an enormous field of view…

…and thanks to the huge field of vision, you can include almost everything in one shot.

If you want to shoot a beach landscape, you won’t just get water and sky. You will have the sand, the rocks, the people on the beach and maybe even your own feet.

And if you want to photograph a cathedral, you won’t just get the artwork on the ceiling or the stained glass windows in the distance. Instead, you’ll get everything from ceilings and benches to windows and walls. The ultra-wide ones are wide!

Capturing entire scenes isn’t always desirable, but when you encounter a panoramic scene that takes your breath away, you’ll be glad you have your ultra wide angle lens!

Ultra wide angle lenses: final words

Now that you’ve finished this article, you know everything about ultrawides. You know what they are, when you should use them and what makes them so special.

Take an ultra wide angle lens. Go out, train and have fun!

Now your turn :

Thinking of buying an ultra wide angle lens? What are you going to use it for? Share your opinion in the comments below!

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