Does a kit zoom lens starting at 18mm or 16mm cramp your style by constricting angle of view on your APS-C sensor camera? If so, the following specialty zoom lenses shoot unusually wide angles of view, with great depth of focus (such as for tight interior spaces, architecture, real estate, slot canyons, or sweeping landscapes):
- Sony 10-18mm f/4 OSS Alpha E-mount wide-angle zoom lens (8 oz, 2.75×2.5 inches, SEL1018, 2012) thankfully has OSS image stabilization for more hand-held photography free of a tripod. Its angle of view is that of a 15-27mm in terms of full-frame equivalent. SEL1018 is good for shooting architecture indoors and out, plus landscapes and slot canyons. (It is significantly sharper than Sony’s 18-200mm, SEL18200 lens.) SEL1018 is sharpest at f/5.6 to f/8 as you zoom, with least distortion from 14-18mm.
- Although SEL1018 wasn’t designed for the full-frame Sony Alpha A7 Mirrorless Digital Camera (2013, 17 oz body) or Sony Alpha A7 II camera, you can easily crop away the corner vignetting for surprisingly satisfying results.
For Nikon DX and Canon EF-S DSLR cameras with APS-C sensor, the wide-angle choices unfortunately lack image stabilization:
- Tokina 12-28mm f/4.0 AT-X Pro DX lens (19 oz, 2013) is sharper than the following older lenses:
- Sigma 10-20mm F4-5.6 EX DC HSM
- Tamron 10-24mm F3.5-4.5 Di-II
- Tokina 12-24mm f/4.0
- Tokina AT-X Pro 11-16mm f/2.8 DX II wide angle lens (19 oz, 2012) has sharper, faster, professional-level, pricier optics, best leveraged on a 24 megapixel camera such as Nikon D3300 (2014, 16 oz body).
- Caveats: The above wide-angle Tokina lenses are not image-stabilized, thereby increasing tripod use − so instead, consider the stabilized Sony 10-18mm OSS lens unless you primarily prefer using a tripod. Image stabilization (such as Nikon Vibration Reduction/VR or Canon IS or Sony OSS or Tamron VC) is most important for telephoto lenses to counteract hand held shake at slow shutter speeds. When built into some wide angle lenses, this feature helps you shoot more sharply at slower shutter speeds (such as in dimmer light), helping to blur flowing water or moving subjects while keeping non-moving subjects sharp in the same image.
Note: These wide angle lenses don’t work well for close-focus (macro) photography − instead use specialty macro lens, or all-in-one Sony RX 10 III (read my review), or a pocketable camera such as Sony DSC-RX100 (IV, III, II, or I).
Or consider a fixed-lens camera that covers from wide to normal angles of view, 18-50mm equivalent:
- Nikon DL18-50 Premium Compact Camera (buy at Amazon) (2016, 13 oz) has 21mp 1″-type sensor and fast f/1.8-2.8 wide-angle 18-50mm equivalent zoom lens. A fluorine coating repels water and oil and a Nano Crystal Coat reduces flare and ghosting. The Hybrid AF system has 105 phase-detect and 171 contrast-detect points and can shoot at 20 fps with Continuous Autofocus (or even faster 60 fps with Single AF). Compose on a tilting 3″ OLED touchscreen display or via an optional electronic viewfinder (EVF). It can record 4K/UHD video at 30p and offers full manual exposure control and clean output over HDMI. Lacking a built-in flash, a hot shoe can mount an accessory flash.
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Stitch panoramas instead of buying a specialty wide-angle lens
Instead of buying a specialty wide-angle lens above, it’s cheaper to stitch a panorama from multiple shots:
- To easily capture landscape images wider than your 18mm kit lens, simply stitch a panorama from a series of adjacent images shot with your existing lens.
- Stitching multiplies megapixel count to compensate for compromised sharpness of megazoom and kit lenses. But if you want to enlarge prints bigger than 2 or 3 feet without the need for stitching, shoot with sharper lenses such as the above Tokinas on a tripod.
The above panorama was stitched from three overlapping images. Prayer flags express compassion at this monument to fallen climbers, at Annapurna South Base Camp (ABC) in the Annapurna Range of Nepal. Published in “Light Travel: Photography on the Go” book by Tom Dempsey 2009, 2010. Published in Wilderness Travel 2010 Catalog of Adventures.
How to shoot a panorama:
- Overlap each image by a third, in a row or array. A tripod is not needed if light is sufficiently bright for sharp hand-held photography. Look for a camera with a built-in level indicator such as in Sony RX10 III or Sony Alpha A6300.
- Shoot the panorama with consistent exposure settings (fixed Manual exposure). Focus can optionally vary. Shoot quickly (but steadily) if subjects are moving.
- Stitch in a jiffy using software on your computer, such as
Essential software speeds my modification (non-destructive), editing, sorting, and labeling of images. Version 6 thankfully includes Photo Merge to Panorama and HDR.
Zoom flexibility trumps interchanging specialty lenses for travel
For travel portability and convenience, I prefer an all-in-one camera such as Sony RX 10 III (read my review) which sharply captures 24-600mm equivalent, with up to 4.5 stops of stabilization benefit (slower shutter speed handheld). RX10 III is sharper across the frame at more zoom settings than the following 11x to 19x travel zooms shot on 24mp APS-C:
- Nikon VR, Canon IS, or Sony OSS 18-200mm 11x zoom travel lenses (at Amazon).
- 19x zoom Tamron 16-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD MACRO lens (Amazon).
- These lenses equal the kit lens sharpness, without the need for constant swapping of two or more lenses in the field. Their image stabilization feature (VR, IS, OSS, or VC) supports 2 to 4 stops slower hand held shutter speed, which is critical for on-the-go photographers who want to minimize tripod usage.
- When compared to faster Pro lenses, the handy Nikon VR or Canon IS 18-200mm travel lenses gain in image stabilization and compositional zoom versatility what they lose in absolute optical sharpness. Stitch sets of 18mm images into wide or tall panoramas. Better yet, zoom to 22mm and set aperture to f/8 to optimize sharpness on the Nikon 18-200mm VR lens. Check lens reviews or test it yourself to find the sharpest zoom and aperture settings for your specific lens. If in doubt, remember f/8 is great! (when using a camera with an APS-C or 35mm size sensor)
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