Learning my new ultra-wide angle lens.

Interior shot of Waltham Abbey Church
Interior shot of Waltham Abbey Church

I recently decided that I’d like to move into some more commercial type photography. For a lot of businesses like hairdressers, restaurants, hotels etc, internal shots of their venue is important for advertising. In order to take in the most detail of a room  that may be small in size a lens that enables a very wide angle of view is important.  These sorts of lenses are also put to good use in landscape photography and for creating interesting perspective effects.

I ordered a Sigma 12-24  ultra-wide angle lens a couple of weeks ago for this purpose. I haven’t been so excited about a gear purchase in a long time as this represents a whole new world in photographic terms compared to my normal shooting. On a full frame camera at 12mm this lens creates an extremely wide angle of view,  but not quite fisheye as there’s not the very obvious distortion that you get with a fisheye lens.

Medieval Bridge
Medieval Bridge

If you’ve never used an ultra-wide angle lens before (like I hadn’t) it’s a completely new way of taking photographs. Objects that are only a metre away look like they’re a long way away (don’t walk around with the viewfinder to your eye as it could be dangerous!). Set at 12mm this lens can resolve everything within a 120 degree diagonal angle of view down into the space of the sensor which is the same size as a frame of 35mm film which is really quite impressive. It can be very useful for some for taking interior shots of buildings, but also things that I’d not have thought about before, like taking shots of objects that are behind fences without getting the fence in the frame.  The example shot on the left  of the ancient medieval bridge was taken through a fence from only about 1 metre distance from the near corner of the bridge. It looks like it was taken from further away, but if it was, a black iron fence like the one the far side of the bridge, would have been in front of the shot.

The massively wide view given by the lens represents a very big learning curve. I purposefully tried to shoot mostly at the very wide 12mm end of the lens in my testing and practising shoots to challenge both myself and the lens and quickly found that composition and exposure of the photograph takes some extra thinking about compared to normal view lenses.

I found that views with lots of details like trees and gardens did not work as well as I’d thought.

Ultra-wide detailed image
Ultra wide view, but it’s too busy and the tree is lost in the other details

This was because, although the lens is very good at resolving all the branches and leaves, once all those details from far apart objects were condensed in one image it suddenly looks very busy and it’s difficult to determine a proper focal point of interest. Compare this shot of a garden on the right with the one of the church interior above both taken at 12mm. Although there’s lots of detail in the church shot, there’s also a clear point of interest, the altar. I had intended the tree to be the point of interest in the garden shot but it’s got rather lost in all the other details of the gardens. The same shot taken at a less wide angle or perhaps much closer to the tree would have worked much better, but it’s all part of my learning curve on how to use this lens and the sort of situations it’s best for

Ultra wide view of church
Ultra wide angle, variable exposure.

The other difficulty is exposure, when you have such a wide view you can have everything from bright direct sun to deep shadow areas in the same frame.  Learning to control the exposure is also important to avoid burnt out highlights and too dark shadows. The shot to the left shows the same church as the interior shot above but taken on a different day. The difference in the light levels in the sky are clearly seen with the right being closer to where the sun was setting and much brighter than the left hand portion of sky, this has been edited in post processing software so the effect is less pronounced than on the original but still clearly visible.

Back inside the church I was extremely impressed with my copy of this lens, on my D700 it gave good sharpness and clarity and with very low lens distortion. The shot below is the entire ceiling of the Waltham Abbey church. I took this hand held at 12mm with the camera just pointing straight up above my head as I stood in the middle of the aisle. I added a little horizontal perspective correction as I was not dead straight on to the side wall when I took it but it was easy to make the lines look straight.

Waltham Abbey Church Ceiling
Waltham Abbey Church Ceiling


I would not have got the full ceiling in with a normal angle of view lens like my usual walk about lens the Nikon 24-70.

I am already loving this lens and the challenges and rewards it represents. It’s a fantastic addition to my arsenal! Here’s to more interior shots and, hey you never know I might shoot some landscapes, maybe even using a tripod (stranger things have happened)… …