Nikon’s AF Nikkor 20mm ƒ/2.8D is a versatile and fast prime lens in a light, compact body. Not as extreme as some ultrawides, this lens makes it easy to avoid distracting distortions when shooting everything from landscapes to architecture. Close focusing to 10 inches simplifies getting close to put a key compositional element front and center, and close-range correction (CRC) minimizes distortions. The lens accepts 62mm filters on the front element. Estimated Street Price: $500.
Nikon DX shooters will love the ultrawide AF-S DX Nikkor 10-24mm ƒ/3.5-4.5G ED zoom lens. Designed for the smaller DX format, the lens is compact, too. Producing an angle of view that zooms from 61 degrees to 109, it creates compositions equivalent to 15-36mm in full-frame terms. Nikon’s Silent Wave Motor produces fast and quiet autofocusing, while two extra-low dispersion (ED) elements, three aspherical elements and SIC coatings provide superior sharpness and color with minimal aberrations. Estimated Street Price: $800.
For photographers working with the Olympus E series of Four Thirds cameras, the Zuiko Digital ED 7-14mm ƒ/4 lens from Olympus sets the ultrawide standard. With a 114-degree angle of view, the lens is equivalent to a 14-28mm zoom on a 35mm camera. For close focusing, the four-inch minimum focusing distance is extremely impressive. Achieved by large-diameter, ED and Super ED aspherical elements, it also produces minimal distortion and aberration. Estimated Street Price: $1,800.
Panasonic shooters also have a 7-14mm ƒ/4 zoom to use with its Lumix G1 and GH1 cameras—the H-F007014. With an aperture range of ƒ/4 to ƒ/22 and 16 elements in 12 groups (which includes two aspherical and four ED optics), the lens creates an angle of view of 75 to 114 degrees, equivalent to a 14-28mm full-frame zoom, and focuses as close as just under 10 inches. Estimated Street Price: $1,100.
The Pentax SMC DA 12-24mm ƒ/4 ED AL (IF) zoom is an internal-focusing ultrawide—the widest nonfisheye for the Pentax K series of DSLRs. Two aspherical elements and an extra-low-dispersion (ED) element help produce true-to-life images. Perfectly matched with the CCD in Pentax DSLRs, the lens is incredibly small, light and inexpensive. An equivalent focal-length range of 18.5-37mm on *ist Pentax DSLRs makes it a versatile wide-angle. Estimated Street Price: $900.
Sigma offers an affordable, fast alternative to ultrawides for users of Sigma, Canon, Nikon, Pentax and Sony DSLRs. The 20mm ƒ/1.8 EX DG Aspherical RF is an astoundingly fast prime lens with Super Multi Coating and aspherical lens elements to compensate for distortion, spherical aberration and astigmatism. That translates to sharp and accurate color images as close as eight inches. The nine-bladed aperture produces smooth bokeh for more attractive out-of-focus effects. Estimated Street Price: $670.
The 12-24mm ƒ/4.5-5.6 EX DG Aspherical HSM zoom from Sigma is another versatile lens designed for use with full-frame DSLRs—including those from Sigma, Canon and Nikon. A pioneer of the ultrawide zoom, Sigma’s 12-24mm features four super-low-dispersion (SLD) elements to correct for color aberrations that can hinder ultrawide shooting, even at its maximum 122-degree angle of view. Three aspherical elements also compensate for linear distortion and aberration, making for improved optical quality across the zoom range. Estimated Street Price: $1,050.