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What you need as glass (Part VII - Wide Zoom)

July 20th, 2011

This is part VII of a series of what glass you will need. Each part will discuss a certain lens type and its applications.

Wide zooms (below 35mm FX/24mm DX) obliterated the wide angle primes.  Besides the obvious goal of getting a large field of view, getting dramatic perspectives by getting really close is what makes these lenses so interesting.

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In FX land there are two choices. The 14-24/2.8 and the 16-35/4 VR. Despite the 14-24 being the perhaps sharpest lens (in the center!) ever made, its biggest problem is flare. The 16-35 is designed for handling this problem where the construction of the 14-24 simply sets some limits. The hint which lens to choose is the maximum aperture, so for shooting inside with controlled light the 14-24 keeps the ISO down, for more general photography the 16-35 even if it looks less sexy.

If speed is a lesser issue, Sigma’s 12-24 and Tamron’s 17-35 are interesting alternatives for a fraction of the cost. The new Tokina 16-28/2.8 is a mixed bag - somewhere between the Tamron and the 14-24 - perhaps exactly what you need.

DX

FX wide angles on a DX body are a waste of money. The 16-85 outperforms the 16-35 in its range and offers as well some extra range. It is the same problem  as with using a 24-70 on a DX. A sane choice are the Nikkor 10-24 and the Tokina 12-24. I exclude the Nikkor 12-24 because of its price, only in build quality is better than  the other two.

Extreme choice Sigma 8-16, which is surprisingly resistant to flares, I had to try really hard to produce some.

Bread and butter choice is the Sigma 10-20, if you want something fast it exists in a f/3.5 version, but in IQ the Tokina 11-16/2.8 is perhaps the best of all DX wide zooms.

Word of caution

Wide angles are cool, but it wears off. I find myself more often at 16mm than at 11mm (DX). That would argue for the 14-24, if I weren’t shooting sometimes very wide. Either you don’t need a wide angle at all or it should go down for 12/16mm (DX/FX). Everything wider isn’t likely to be wide enough anyway.  The only exception is when shooting inside where you don’t have space to step back and on top of that poor light, here the 14-24 and the 11-16 (Sigma 10-20/3.5 with reservations ) are simply without alternative.

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