The Ultra-Wide-Angle Lens (UWA) is the most misunderstood lens. Like an exotic sports car, it is not only expensive but harder to steer under inexperienced hands. Most beginners and even seasoned users think the UWA is for getting everything in. In practice, the opposite is better. The less you take in, the less cluttered is the picture.
If you normally have problems leveling the horizon, you will find the ultrawide tougher to level with its distortion of parallel and perpendicular lines. Outdoors, the metering may also underexpose since the lens gets so much sky in.
Now imagine you are at Tahrir Square at the height of the Egyptian protests. A man next to you suddenly fires an automatic weapon into the air. The bullet casings are emptied in your direction, as you crouch quickly. If you are not busy emptying your bladder, your ultrawide lens should help you capture a very dramatic view since you are closest. That’s right, and it may sound rather ironic. To use an ultrawide effectively, you must be willing (or able) to move close to the subject.
The UWA lens exaggerates perspective, the sense of scale and perceived distance of the
various elements in your picture. As such, even more thought should be given to the composition, putting those special characteristics of the lens to your advantage.
The following pictures are photographed with the new Olympus Pen E-PL2 camera paired with the superb Panasonic Lumix 7-14mm UWA lens (14mm to 28mm in the old economy). It is currently the widest native zoom lens in the Micro Four Thirds family.
Angel & Angler. I was about to climb down to the shore of the lake in Batu Dam to photograph an angler. Then, an angelic Iranian bride waltz in with billowing veil, Bollywood style. I didn’t know Ulu Yam, like Putrajaya, is now attracting wedding-photography tourism . You can see the rain creeping in behind and I used the built-in flash of the camera for fill on the face. The ultra wide works even better when there is movement in the scene.
Horsing Around. I stumbled upon this group of DBKL mounted-troopers giving their horses a morning treat at Titiwangsa Lake. The ultrawide may be useful if you need to get a large group in, in a hurry. For landscapes, it may not be as good as everything in the horizon becomes too distant and small.
Getting Serious. Get your feet wet, move close and put the ultra-wide to where it belongs. Unlike a girlfriend, a horse does not complain when his head appears bigger than it actually is, up-close. The adult film industry exploits this characteristic of the wide angle lens quite cleverly .
Backlane Barber. I wouldn’t normally recommend an ultra-wide lens for street photography, but here it helps show the barber’s locale in a busy side-lane. According to his friend, this barber is ‘world famous’ and normally charges USD 5 before he allows anyone to photograph him in action. Must be my lucky day as he was in a good mood and didn’t charge. The customer is a German backpacker.
National Monument. The Olympus in-camera Dramatic Tone Art Filter works very well with an ultrawide. Maybe is just me but I keep seeing a shaggy white dog in the sky .
Wild Flowers on the Balcony. The Panasonic Lumix 7-14mm UWA lens is extremely sharp. This is a 100% crop! Contrary to what you may have read, the depth-of-field is not limitless with a UWA, especially up-close. Focusing is even more critical at this range.
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