X: “I am looking for a Ultra wide angle lens for landscape photography. Suggest a nice lens?”
Me: “UWA range is too wide for Landscapes. Go for a mid range lens something like 24mm-70mm.”
X: “But that’s the whole point. Wide angle lens, for a wider coverage. I can include all landscape into one frame itself. Isn’t it correct?”
Me: “No, it isn’t “
I have been a part of above conversation with multiple fellows now. Maybe my domain name attracts them 😉
At one point of time, I also thought the UWA lens have wider “Field of View” so they are better at landscape photography. But this notion is completely wrong! UWA are not the best bet for general landscape photography. To be technically correct UWA lens should be used for very specific kind of Landscape shots. Lets see how a 10mm-20mm range on Full Frame camera or equivalent on a APS-C camera is not an all purpose Landscape photography lens.
UWA lens Exaggerates Perspective
Longer focal lengths compresses depth. Reverse happens in case of UWA lens. They tend to expand depth and exaggerate perspective. They tend to throw nearer objects farther. So in case of landscapes photography, for example if we are clicking mountains, subjects which are already far, are thrown farther due to UWA perspective. This tends to make image flat and unappealing.
Here comes the importance of a strong foreground subject, which can act as a anchor point in the shot. Foreground subject is a very essential part of UWA perspective. Foreground creates a sense of depth in a otherwise flat image. Get close to foreground subject to use UWA perspective strikingly. While an interesting foreground can make a classic composition, it is hard to find and time consuming process. So think, will you spend time to looks for interesting foreground subjects against vast mountains or cloudy skies or blue-green oceans? If yes, UWA is for you.
Lets look at this image clicked by Mr Somnath Goswami, an inspiring photographer based in Kolkata. (Picture used with permission)
An otherwise flat and bland composition turned into an pleasing and engaging image with the use of rocks as foreground subject. Foreground, not only, adds multiple dimensions to the image but also acts as anchor point to the viewers eyes. This is a perfect example where foreground adds scale to the image. By going closer to the rocks, photographer compelled viewer to imagine the vastness of the scenery. Greater “Depth of Field” of UWA lens made sure everything in scene has acceptable sharpness.
Wide Field of View (FOV)
The downside of wider filed of view is that it includes too many undesired objects in frame. It may be nearby tress, photographers shadow or habitation (and even electric poles and wires!!!) . Every frame should be carefully executed. Though one can always crop-up undesired objects from frame but then whats the point of having wider field of view when you have to crop image massively.
And if that is not all, using CPL with UWA is really painful. Due to wider FOV, color of sky might be unevenly polarized by CPL. Again, extra bit of caution is required. Since we are talking about filters, I would also mention many UWA lens (like Samyang 14mm, Nikon 14-24mm) have a front bulbous element. This means they can not take any screw on filters. Expensive filter systems are required to cover the entire front element. Fortunately, Tokina 11-16mm DXII lens takes a 77mm screw on filter.
Distortion & Sharpness
Be informed, all UWA lens suffer from severe distortion and loss in sharpness near the edges. I have used Tokina 11-16mm DXII lens and Samyang 14mm f/2.8 FX lens extensively over past few years.
Trust me, none of these lens present acceptable sharpness towards the edge even stopped down, forget about at wide open. A Facebook user pointed that above line is miss leading and contradicts with my view on Samyang 14mm so I thought, I will revisit it and elucidate on this further. Corner sharpness in Tokina is horrible to say the least when shot wide open. I had to discard a few images shot with Tokina due to unacceptable sharpness. It become better as stopped down, as is the case with all other lens. Corner sharpness in Samyang has been fairly acceptable stopped down to few stops. Its not too bad even at f/2.8. Since we are talking about sharpness we need to use these observations relatively. If we forget the price point and observe corner sharpness of Nikon14-24 f/2.8 and Tamron 15-30mm, Samyang lacks the punch when shot wide open. Even my Nikon 20mm 1.8G lens has a bit of unsharp edges when shot at f/1.8.
Distortion can be a bit corrected in Post processing but nothing can really be done about the loss in sharpness. And if you manage to tilt the horizon, you are screwed. Be ready to return home with horrendous looking unevenly distorted images. Use virtual horizon of latest cameras to while composing. Setting virtual horizon in my images has saved me tons of PP time.
Okay, you if you are willing to spend in excess of 2500$ for UWA lens, I will suggest to go for it. Get the amazing Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 legendary lens or perhaps get a Zeiss 15mm
All UWA lens are prone to flares. So we have to be careful to not shoot at angle where flares appear in frame. Always use a lens hood to avoids flares in your image. Flaring becomes more evident in morning or evening shots when Sun is at a low angle or at night due to street lights.
Alternatively, use flares in image creatively.
Nikon D750 || Samyang 14mm || f/8 || 1/400 sec || ISO100
Over time I have realized UWA perspective is best used to give artistic touch to landscape shots instead of a general landscape lens. Look for interesting frames and compose with strong foreground subjects. It is perfectly okay to include dramatic clouds, leading lines, water streams etc to create a lively scene. But as with all other kind of photography, it needs time and patience. Get closer to foreground an experiment with UWA perspective. If used creatively, UWA perspective can help in getting amazing Landscapes photos.
UWA lens is an indispensable part of my kit. Perhaps in another post I will write why UWA lens is a must have lens for every photographer. But for clicking Landscapes I find its use very limited.
I would use 24-35-50mm range for landscapes, if I am allowed to use only one lens for Landscapes. I would rather prefer stitching a panorama if needed.
Looking for Inspiration?
Why not use the Sea Shore objects like rocks, boats etc as foreground objects.
Another example of eye popping usage of UWA perspective from Mr Somnath Goswami. A close up of Marmot and hills in backdrop convey sheer expanse of Ladakhi Landscape.
*** Do let me know your thoughts on this. I will love to update this post if you have any more points to add.