Going wide: Wide angle for the 5DMrkII

After reading Dan post (a while ago) about wide angle lenses  with wide aperture, it got me thinking. While I have been happy with my 17-40L4, as it is wide enough for pretty much everything I do, going wider would open the door for more creative shots. Ex: having an even better separation of foreground and background objects. Also, Dan reviewed lenses from a 1DMrkIV perspective so I wanted to see what was out there for full frame owners.

Before going into the list of available options, I think it is worth looking at the effect of wide aperture on wide lenses. After all, the goal of this exercise is to find a wide angle lens that will give us some control over DoF. As we all know, a wide aperture allows more light into the camera which allow us to shoot in lower light which is always good. The other result of aperture is too control the depth of field (DoF), which is another familiar concept. The thing you might not be aware of is how hard it is to get a shallow DoF when shooting ultra wide.

For most of us, this is a good thing because it allows us to shoot in low light without having to worry about keeping the subject in focus. But what happen when you need to shoot wide and want a shallow DoF? Lets look at some numbers.

Suppose a subject that is 1m away from the camera and see how much DoF (in cm) we can get with the following aperture 1.4, 1.8, 2, 2.8, 4 and focal length 10, 12, 14, 17, 20 and 24. One meter may seem close but when you are shooting below 24mm, it almost looks like a medium framing.

Focal f1.4 f1.8 f2 f2.8 f4
10mm 102 147 184 571 infinity
12mm 64 85 99 176 511
14mm 45 58 66 104 190
17mm 29 38 43 63 98
20mm 21 27 30 43 64
24mm 14 18 21 29 42

As you can see, the DoF gets bigger pretty quickly as you increase your field of view (use small mm lenses). If you increased the subject to camera distance, the DoF increases even more (not shown in the chart). The rules of optics haven’t changed for wide lenses, it is just that most people don’t realize how the formula reacts when applied to short focals.

So, how do you get a shallow DoF with a wide angle? Same rules as when shooting a portrait: get the subject close to the camera, the background as far as possible and use a large aperture!

Now that we have a better idea of lens requirements for such a job, lets see what is available.

Canon

16-35mm f/2.8L II USM
The the standard wide angle zoom of many pros. While the first version had some technical issues, this one is pretty close to perfection and insanely sharp.  My only complain would be its price. At over double the price of the 17-40L (see next), you have to wonder if the added stop of light is worth it. This is especially true for video where you dont need all the resolving power this lens has to offer compared to cheaper alternatives. It is also good to know that it uses a 82mm filter so you might have some issues with your ND or circular polarizer. This lens is quite useful once mounted on a Steadicam since its wide aperture allow it to have enough DoF to shoot in low light while maintaining a reasonable depth of field to keep the subject in focus.

EF 17-40mm f/4L

This is my favorite lens because it can zoom to a natural perspective (35-40mm) or truly exaggerated perspective at the wider end . All the things we said about the 16-35L holds true for this lens except its filter size of 77mm and lower cost.

14mm f/2.8L II

This is the widest Canon lens you can get. Ridiculously sharp, its usage is limited but always spectacular. The lens is not a fish eye, in fact straight lines remain quite straight which make it a favorite among landscape photographers.

24mm f/1.4 L USM II

While 24mm should not be considered super wide angle, this lens deserves mention as it is in a class of its own. It is the widest aperture wide angle you can get (from any brand), which make it the best choice for low light shooting, while performing incredibly well for both stills and video. Of all the lenses we are listing above, it is the only one truly able to shoot wide and have a shallow DoF.

Sigma

12-24mm f/4.5-5.6 EX DG IF HSM

This is the widest Canon mount zoom lens you can get. While the aperture is too small for shallow depth of field (you hit the hyperfocal very quickly at 12mm) or low light shooting, it is an excellent lens for everything else.

20mm f/1.8 EX DG

I already talked about this lens on the best third party lenses article. It is wide and ridiculously fast. Looking at the chart above, we can see that it the only lens with the Canon 24L to be able to really get a shallow depth of field and achieve subject isolation. And want to know the best part? It is almost four time cheaper than the Canon lens! I would never rule this lens over the 24L for stills but, for video, it is sharp enough to get the job done. Of course the lens has some technical issues, like not being super sharp when wide open, but that is not such a problem when doing video since you are working at a much lower resolution.

Nikon

14-24mm f/2.8G ED

If there ever was a reason to switch to Nikon, this lens would be it. It is nothing short of extraordinary. Of course, it is priced to match its performance. Still, in my opinion, it is worth it! I have never used this lens on my 5D (only on a D3) but since there are no aperture control directly on the lens, I suppose the aperture will stay at f2.8 if you plug it on a 5D with an adapter which is what we want anyways.

Conclusion

If you are looking for a low light/wide aperture wide angle, there isn’t much choice: go with the Sigma 20mm f/1.8 EX DG it will get the job done. If it is not wide enough for you, you will have to look at the zoom alternatives we have outlined above but understand that none of these will allow subject isolation like the Sigma does.

About Tommy

Photography allows me to be what I want to be, to be where I want to be, and to do what I want to do ... I'm not professional photographer and I don't need a title, I love to take photographs and that is what I do, I love to learn and I always try to do it better ...
  • vision

    You would consider upcoming manual focusing Samyang 14mm?

    • admin

      The Samyang is not available yet so I did not talk about it. Also, [email protected] will not give much control over DoF unfortunately, which was the goal of the article.

      I still think the Sigma is the way to go for someone looking for bokeh / DoF control.

  • http://blog.mxr.at Christoph

    What about the Tokina 11-16mm ƒ2.8?

    • admin

      The Tokina is a great lens, but for crop sensor bodies. It would not work with the 5D. As stated in Dan initial post, even on the 1.3x crop body, he is losing the widest part of the field of view, on a full frame body, it would be even worst (I even wonder if the mount wouldnt even hit the mirror!).

  • http://flavors.me/safesolvent Martin Reisch

    thanks for this article! the widest i’ve had on my 5D mark II or *any* of my canon’s have been 24mm. i’ve always wanted to go wide but i feared the low Apertures. very informative look.

  • http://www.fadzter.com/nucleus Fadzter

    Thanks for the fab comparison… very helpful.

    I understand the Tokina 11-16 f2.8 also mounts on a full-frame body, and is usable @ 16mm as a “prime”. Anything below 15.5mm on a 5D brings the barrel into the field of view as it’s built as an EF-S.

    Excellent sample video here:
    http://vimeo.com/2850369

    Also regarding the Sigma 20mm 1.8, there’s a detailed review highlighting issues of sharpness at the widest apertures (http://www.the-digital-picture.com/Reviews/Sigma-20mm-f-1.8-EX-DG-Lens-Review.aspx). Is this significant enough in video to be an issue?

    • admin

      @Fadzter: I dont see it as such a big issue for video because: (1) video shoots at a lower resolution and (2) moving subjects are much more forgiving regarding sharpness. So while it is a good lens for video, I wouldnt use it for stills unless I really have to! Also, dont forget the goal here is to have a somewhat shallow DoF so much of the unsharp areas could end up in the bokeh (depending of your composition)…

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