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I'm pretty new to photography .. would appreciate if anyone could advise me a little on comparing wide angle lenses. For example, I'm looking at the Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM and Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM. (I have a full-frame camera.) What are the meaningful differences between the two? What practical difference does a 1.4 have to a 2.8? And how are they better than a much cheaper option like the Canon EF 24mm f/2.8 IS USM? There are so many options; in general, for what situations would I choose one over the other?

marked as duplicate by mattdm, NickM, MikeW, TFuto, Saaru Lindestøkke Mar 6 '15 at 15:44

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  • Note that specific shopping recommendations are generally off-topic, and this is attracting close votes. I've edited the question a bit to get more at the basics behind it, but I still think that it's going to be hard to answer; the lenses you are looking at are actually very, very different in field of view, and it'd help to know why you want a wide angle lens... what you intend to use it for, and what you're missing with your current gear. – mattdm Feb 25 '15 at 18:58
  • ok thank-you. tbh I suppose I didnt really consider that the 10mm difference was as huge as it probably is. At the moment I just have the 5d mk3 and a 24-100 zoom lens, so having read through all this I think the 14mm would be a good one to go for. Main uses would be landscape I suppose. – Jedidiah Feb 26 '15 at 7:07
  • At the wide end, 10mm makes quite a difference, as it's almost double the focal length; going from 14 to 24 has the same effect on field of view as zooming from 140 to 240. (Related: How much does 1 mm get you in a wide-angle lens?) – mattdm Feb 26 '15 at 12:55
  • yeah I hadn't appreciated that fact .. now i see how they are totally different lenses! – Jedidiah Feb 26 '15 at 22:36
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When looking for a wide angle lens you should consider a few very important things:

  • Focal length
  • Image Quality
  • Maximum Aperture
  • Focus modes (AF/MF)
  • Filter compatibility
  • Feature set (FTM, IS, USM, etc.)
  • Mount
  • Weight, size, cost, etc.
  • Intended usage
  • Distortion & Projection
  • Flare resistance

Most of the above is not uniquely important to wide angle lenses, but the items in bold I would suggest are of particular interest to wide angle lenses.

Focal Length

Focal length is of utmost importance when considering a wide angle lens. If you want to shoot indoors and you can't simply back up your body, you may require a 17mm lens for a shot. Yes you can stitch images together if desired or necessary but you may want to buy the focal length that best fits your desired output to begin with(See: Do you still need an ultra wide angle if you can now stitch images?). There are many online visualization tools to determine what an image looks like at various focal lengths, I would encourage you to check them out first - but ultimately the best way to determine the right focal length is with some first hand experience using them. Finally, as you go wider distortion will certainly bear its ugly head. More expensive designs will help the situation but it is safe to say that wider lenses will typically experience more distortion. See this question for more information: How much does 1 mm get you in a wide-angle lens?

Aperture

The practical difference between f/2.8 and f/1.4 is for most situations identical with a wide angle lens as with any other focal length. The advantage of f/1.4 vs f/2.8 is that you will be able to shoot in significantly darker situations, or in the same situation with either a faster shutter speed or lower ISO value. It also gives you greater control over depth of field and the ability to create shallow depth of field images even at wide focal lengths. These are very wide apertures for any wide angle lens. Most wide angle lenses are actually quite a bit more narrow in the aperture area. See this question for more information on why: Why do wide angle prime lenses have relatively small apertures?

Filters

Filters are somewhat unique to wide angle lenses as some very wide lenses(especially fisheye) do not have the ability to use screen on filters. If you want to use filters(ND, Polarizer, etc.) you have to take this into consideration. You may have to either buy a new filter system or not use one at all depending on what you desire. Further you have to consider the impact of using a polarizer with a wide angle, as it can produce poor results.

Overall

Overall, the two lenses that you described are most importantly different because of their focal lengths. I personally would not be using them for the same types of shots as the field of view is so different. If you demand very wide apertures(astrophography, portraits indoor, etc.) you may also benefit from the wider aperture but that is a personal decision.

Additional Resources:

  • Nice. And I should have found "What to look for in a wide angle lens?" myself. :) – mattdm Feb 25 '15 at 19:45
  • What about flare resistance? – Szabolcs Feb 25 '15 at 21:13
  • I think yes: many more wide angle photos will have the sun in them than photos taken with narrower lenses. – Szabolcs Feb 26 '15 at 1:43
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    Thanks v much @dpollitt for your answer and the associated links ... there are so many things to consider, and I guess a real understanding of them only comes with experience of different lenses etc. In particular though for a beginner it is obviously very hard to understand how much better image quality potential there is in a more expensive lens compared to a cheaper one! – Jedidiah Feb 26 '15 at 7:03
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I am new to this site, but am well-versed in photog so this is a great match. First, you have a wonderful camera and lens to begin with. I'm Nikon all the way now, but used the 5d Mark2 and the 17-40L for my wide-angle shots when I was a Canon owner. Now, they've come out with many better lenses.

Personally, for true landscape shots I'd never suggest someone get a fixed focal length (prime) lens. This limits you considerably. Secondly, most wide-angle, or zoom lenses for that matter, have distortion and less than ideal image quality at the widest and farthest focal lengths. For instance, the 24-105 lens you have is not a lens you'd be well-suited to use for the 24mm FL. It's too distorted and other physical limitations as a result of the design. Finally, most wide-angle shots will be at a higher F-stop/lower aperture. This is to cut down on flare, create depth of field (so most of image is in focus), and the best image quality is typically a few clicks down from a lens' base aperture.

I'd go with the 16-40L, or even the Tokina 16-28/2.8 -- which is very very well-priced but lacks filter threads. So you must handle with care. Good luck, and don't lose your interest in photog. It's an awesome outlet and hobby

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