Not Your Everyday Banana

by Bart Arondson

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I have a crop frame canon DSLR and currently have the 18-55 kit lens and the 50mm f1.8 II.

I love to travel and mostly take only landscape photos. Up until I became a stackexchange reader, I believed that a wide-angle zoom was a must for landscapes. I've since started thinking otherwise but I am not completely convinced.

I know I could use the widest length of my kit lens for landscapes, but I am not completely satisfied with the results. The images are not sharp despite using a tripod and f8.0. And the colors are no-where as good as the result from the 50mm.

I've been looking at picking up the Canon 10-22 for a while now. But it would mean parting with a significant portion of my bank-balance. I need some more convincing in whether I should or should not pick up this lens.

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possible duplicate of Does an ultra-wide lens perform well in landscape photography? –  Itai Aug 9 '11 at 13:28
    
See my answer to the duplicate question, I think it answers your question. –  Itai Aug 9 '11 at 13:29
    
Is it worth borrowing one? If you're in the US you could try borrowlenses.com or in the UK lensesforhire.co.uk Not sure about other locations. –  Mike Woodhouse Aug 9 '11 at 15:24
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3 Answers 3

A Wide angle lens is certainly extremely useful in travel photography, especially when taking shots not of sweeping vistas, but instead shots in close quarters, such as tight streets, small alleys and places where you can not stand back because of crowding.

A wide angle allows you to get very close to a subject and still have plenty of field of view.

On the downside, a good wide angle lens is expensive, as it is a big piece of surprisingly complicated glass. The Canon 10-22 is a very good lens worth pursuing. The Tokina 11-16 as well as the Sigma 10-20 are both very good alternatives. You may wish to consider used versions of these lenses to save a bit of money.

One suggestion: look at your current images. Go into your local town and take images in similar (ok maybe less interesting) places you might consider if you were traveling. Then review the images and see what focal length you used the most. If you find most of your images were at 18mm, and you came away dissatisfied with the results, then its a good bet you would enjoy a wider angle. However, if you find most of your shots are 50-55, then perhaps a wide angle isn't what you need after all.

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I'd strongly recommend getting a Tokina 11-16mm F/2.8 ATX Pro DX instead, it's quite a lot cheaper but faster and a great performer (though with a shorter zoom length).

Either way, you'll notice a significant difference between the kit lens at 18 and one of these at their widest, both in angle of view and IQ. Something to keep in mind for landscape photography is that these lenses both take 77mm filters, interchangeable with most of Canons professional lenses but not with your existing ones (not to mention the difference in cost!)

Read the (mostly) unbiased reviews from photozone about the Tokina 116 and the Canon 10-22, before making up your mind.

If you're absolutely sure about using the lens for nothing but landscape photography, a dark horse candidate is the Samyang/Rokinon/Falcon 14 F/2.8. It's a manual-focus only lens (which makes no difference for landscapes) with great IQ for the price, but the distortion characteristics are... difficult to work with, architectural photography is completely out of the question (unfortunate since a lot of landscape photographers tend to drift into architecture.)

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You are right to be not completely convinced that a wide-angle zoom is a must for landscapes. "Landscape" can mean many things, from sweeping vistas to a tight composition of a distant building.

Before you throw down the substantial money for a 10-22mm or a similar ultra-wide zoom, consider this: Engaging ultra-wide-angle photography is pretty difficult:

  • It's tricky to find appropriate subjects
  • You need to think very carefully about foreground, middle ground, and background (specifically, you need all three of those)
  • You can't as easily throw a distracting background out of focus
  • Spatial arrangements and depth can get very distorted (which might be what you want)
  • Small camera movements result in major shifts in convergence and perspective
  • You have to pay more attention to the extremes of your frame so that unwanted elements don't sneak into the image (get ready to take a lot of accidental pictures of your feet)

The images can be very rewarding, but it takes practice. For an overview on how to use ultra-wides, this article is a pretty good start.

I suggest sticking with your 18-55 for now. Maybe practice using it only at 18mm or 20(ish)mm as an exercise. If you do that for a while and you find yourself wanting to get even closer to your subjects and wanting to exaggerate depth (foreground-background) more than you can at 18mm, then consider going wider. But only then.

Also, I know the 18-55 isn't a great lens, but it's not a bad one either. If it's not reasonably sharp at f/8 on a tripod, something else is probably wrong. Off the top of my head: Is your tripod sturdy? Can you weigh it down more? Is everything locked-down tight? Are you using a cable release instead of tripping the shutter yourself? If not that, can you set the self-timer for a few seconds? Are you sure you're nailing focus? Your depth of field is substantial, but certainly not infinite.

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