Wide Angle Lenses


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Feb 13, 2012
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Corcoran, Ca
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I've never owned a wide angle lens before, (never needed one) and suddenly I'm doing a TON of group shots and was told by a friend it might be helpful to invest in one! But I've searched high and low on google, bing, etc etc on some feedback for schematics on them and can't find the information I need!! My studio is 16ft wide and I need to know how far back I need to be from the subject I should be to be able to fit them in from wall to wall and which lens would be appropriate for this without warping the photograph (the "fisheye" effect is what I'm trying to avoid) any tips?? Thanks!!
Not sure what camera you're using, but if it's full-frame Nikon then the Nikon 14-24 f/2.8 is your answer. On DX or crop sensors, I've heard nothing but good about the Tokina 11-16 f/2.8. With ultra wide angles like this, you have to get surprisingly close, which may not be ideal or taking group shots, unless you don't have much room in your studio.
UWA lenses are typically used for lanscape, architecture, and creative shots (due to the distortion). A UWA or even wide angle lens will likely not be good for group shots of people due to the distortion and the relatively deep DOF. Perhaps you could give a better idea of how you want to use it, how far away your subjects will be, is it for professional group photos with backdrop, what format you are shooting, etc... How far back you need to stand will depend on your idea of 'wide angle. There are some very wide angle lenses that don't present the fisheye effect and have relatively low barrel distortion but I still wouldn't use them for portraiture or group photos.
I have a sony alpha...what would you guys recommend for the group shots then? I'm kind of limited on space since I'm doing it in-studio. Like I said I've got about 16ft of space in width and round-about 20ft of space in length. I need to be able to fit from wall to wall in the frame and my portrait lens isn't really cutting it.
Ok, so for WALL TO WALL coverage... I assumed an 18ft deep room (still 16ft wide) since your camera sensor will probably be ~1ft from the back wall if your body is right against it and I took off another foot because the faces of the back row in your group will probably be around another foot off. So with that in mind, the FOV you need in the X direction would be arctan(18/8) = 66°. This, on a crop body, will require a minimum of 18mm focal length.... far from ideal.
Well for what you described the LONGEST focal length you'll be able to use for wall to wall coverage is 18mm. So 18mm and anything shorter (wider) than that would cover a 16ft wide wall from 18ft away. Any longer, and you're cutting off the edges of your group. I say far from ideal because short focal lengths are not usually wanted for photographing people.
Got it,.....so around an 11-18mm would be a good investment for this project.
The Tokina 11-16 is a good lens, I have one myself.

However, heed the advice of those who are saying that such a lens is not the best choice for people photography. This is because you need to get the lens quite close to the subject in order to fill the frame with them. This can introduce distortion, making their noses look really big and their foreheads will appear to slope away dramatically. They often give quite unflattering results.
I understand you have limited space. The problem is your talking about trying to use too large of a group in too small of a studio! If you need a full 16' wide to have all the people or items in the shot. Your studio is way too small! The quality of your shots will suffer no matter the quality of the camera or lens! Is there anyway you can set up this project outside? The results will be much better. Just because you have a studio space, doen't mean you have to use it.

Problems I can see is first of all, is a "super" wide angle lens for portraits is a big no no. You will not just get "fisheye" type distortions. As many of the really wide lenses produce a fairly flat field. But you will still get subject distortions (ie anything closer to the lens will look bigger than they actually are, for example noses). There is a reason fairly long to long telephoto lenses are used for portraits. They are used because of their pleasing effects on the subjects.

2nd problem I see is again the size of the studio. To control shadows and such. You need to have your subjects away from the backdrop. So instead of having say 18' as described above. You really only have about 15' to work with. Your subjects should be at least a couple feet from the backdrop.

3rd problem I see is lighting. If the group is nearly 16' wide. And your walls of the studio is 16' wide. You will not be able to have your lights outside your subjects. They will be more direct at least for the subjects closer to the walls. So your lighting will suffer from a group that large. Also to cover a group that wide. Your going to need powerful lights and large light modifiers (or more lights and modifiers).

In my opinion with your studio at 16' wide maximum. I would say the actual limit of shooting in there would be about 6' wide 8' max, for subjects to have room for lights and modifiers to the sides. If you really need to go wider than that. Move outside. Early morning and late evening are great times for shooting outside. Avoid midmorning to late afternoon due to the harsh light (unless its a cloudy day). There is nothing wrong with shooting outside! Can still set up a back drop. Can have your lights in any position, including height. And you can move back and use a longer lens so your pictures come out with that professional look!

So my suggestion is to not buy a wide angle lens. Unless you want it for landscapes. For portrait works its considered a no no for a reason. If anything take the money you would use on the lens and get items so you can shoot large groups outside. Maybe more lights, weight bags to put on stands so they don't blow over (takes little wind to blow over a big umbrela). Maybe some accessory arms to hold up light modifiers, etc... Your studio is not big enough for large groups. Your work will suffer trying to use it that way.
I have a sony alpha...what would you guys recommend for the group shots then? I'm kind of limited on space since I'm doing it in-studio. Like I said I've got about 16ft of space in width and round-about 20ft of space in length. I need to be able to fit from wall to wall in the frame and my portrait lens isn't really cutting it.

Sigma 10-20 f3.5. BUY IT!!!!! Amazing lens. Great resolution. Fixed aperture. About the same price as any other wide angle alternative.

Couple of samples:

club isis by DiskoJoe, on Flickr

andrew broadfoot by DiskoJoe, on Flickr

isis texas dub by DiskoJoe, on Flickr

All but the first were handheld in extremely low light.

A Sigma 17-50mm f2.8 is also an alternative you could look into. You may actually prefer this option since you would probably get more use out of it. It is fairly wide and the image resolution is probably one of the best in the Sigma line. Good zoom for a walking lens.
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