Fast Wide Zooms

Wide-angle zoom lenses are often far more practical as a purchase for photographers than a telephoto or even a standard do-it-all zoom. The large foreground framing is ideal for working from tight spaces or indoors, and while they can be unflattering for commercial portraiture, they’re still very handy when working with people because they allow you to frame a subject while incorporating quite a bit of background—useful for telling a story through composition and environment.

Often sporting a fast aperture, useful for more than just shallow focus, these lenses will let you work in low-light situations, as well. The wide coverage is also an advantage for handholding without too much camera shake, unlike a telephoto, which is sensitive to even the subtlest movements. Both indoors and out, a fast wide-angle zoom will be able to handle anything from architecture to interiors, candids at the beach, expansive landscapes and so much more.

Canon EF 16-35mm ƒ/2.8 L II USM

CANON

Canon divides their current lens array into two lines: the EF line, which covers full-frame cameras, and the EF-S series, capable of covering only sub-full-frame image circles. Their widest wide-angle zoom is the EF 8-15mm ƒ/4L USM, but it’s a fish-eye, which is an impractical lens for most purposes. Instead, you might consider their EF 16-35mm ƒ/2.8L II USM, a member of their top-quality L-series lenses or, at a substantial savings thanks to a slower aperture and a slight loss to focal length, their EF 17-40mm ƒ/4L USM lens.

Canon has just released two new wide-angles, a slower and less expensive version of the 16-35mm, the EF 16-35mm ƒ/4L IS USM, the first wide-angle zoom from the company to include IS image stabilization. They also announced the very affordable EF-S 10-18mm ƒ/4.5-5.6 IS STM with 16-28.8mm equivalence and a stepping STM motor for quiet operation and continuous autofocus during video capture. For sub-full-frame cameras, the EF-S 10-22mm ƒ/3.5-4.5 USM is a good economical choice with a large range. List Price: $299 (EF-S10-18mm ƒ/4.5-5.6 IS STM); $599 (EF-S 10-22mm ƒ/3.5-4.5 USM); $839 (EF 17-40mm ƒ/4L USM); $1,199 (EF 16-35mm ƒ/4L IS USM); $1,499 (EF 8-15mm ƒ/4L USM Fish-eye); $1,699 (EF 16-35mm ƒ/2.8L II USM).

Nikon AF-S Nikkor 16-35mm ƒ/4G ED VR

NIKON

Nikon has several economically priced wide-angle zooms, including their widest, the AF-S DX Nikkor 10-24mm ƒ/3.5-4.5G ED, as well as the AF-S DX Nikkor 16-85mm ƒ/3.5-5.6G ED VR. A number of their wide zooms start at 18mm, like the AF-S DX Nikkor 18-300mm ƒ/3.5-5.6G ED VR and, for $100 less, the brand-new and almost identical AF-S DX Nikkor 18-300mm ƒ/3.5-6.3G ED VR lens. These lenses all have a variable aperture, which has a maximum aperture that varies by the focal length you’re zoomed to. So the 16-85mm ƒ/3.5-5.6G ED VR, for example, has a faster aperture of ƒ/3.5 at the wide end while it’s only capable of ƒ/5.6 when zoomed all the way out to 85mm. To make matters more complicated, the aperture will change while you’re zooming, so if you’re not paying attention, it can ruin an exposure.

More expensive professional lenses have been designed for a fast and constant aperture throughout the zooming range, like the AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm ƒ/2.8G ED, the AF-S Nikkor 16-35mm ƒ/4G ED VR and the AF-S Zoom-Nikkor 17-35mm ƒ/2.8D IF-ED. Nikon offers two lines, the full-frame FX line and the sub-full-frame DX line. DX cameras can be used with Nikon’s full-frame cameras because the sensor will automatically crop to an APS-C-sized image circle to achieve full coverage. List Price: $699 (AF-S DX Nikkor 16-85mm ƒ/3.5-5.6G ED VR); $899 (AF-S DX Nikkor 10-24mm ƒ/3.5-4.5G ED); $899 (AF-S DX Nikkor 18-300mm ƒ/3.5-6.3G ED VR); $999 (AF-S DX Nikkor 18-300mm ƒ/3.5-5.6G ED VR); $1,259 (AF-S Nikkor 16-35mm ƒ/4G ED VR); $1,954 (AF-S Zoom-Nikkor 17-35mm ƒ/2.8D IF-ED); $1,999 (AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm ƒ/2.8G ED).

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