Are Ultra-Wide Angle Zooms All That Useful?

Giant Redwood Trees - Northern California
Redwood Forest of Northern California

I continue to cruise through the used camera lens selections on eBay in search of the best deal on a ultra-wide zoom lens.

I’ve owned a number of wide angle zooms in the past. Most notably, for the Canon mount the EF 16-35mm L and the EF 17-40mm L. I also owned a Nikkor 14-24mm. I think perhaps the Nikon 14-24 f/2.8 was the best all around wide-angle lens I had used in the past. Back in the day, I paid around $1,800 for that lens new. The problem was I didn’t use it very much. I was using it on the Nikon D300, which was a crop sensor body, and it really didn’t give me a good focal range for doing the architectural photography I was doing back then. which was mostly photographing properties, condominiums, apartments and homes. I stopped doing the architectural work years ago, and with that reality, I dumped the rest of my Canon lenses, as I simply had no real need for them.

Another thing I realized during my travels. I would pack the 16-35mm and it would seldom if ever leave my pack. Oh, I’d take it out just to use it from time to time, but after a few shots, I’d move to a different lens that better suited what I was seeing and photographing. Ultimately, I found that for travel photography, the 24-xxx zoom range gave me all the wide angle I needed just about all the time. I stopped packing the wide-angle zoom altogether and it would sit in the cabinet while the other lenses got to play.

I did use the 16-35mm more often when I was a wedding photographer. Mostly at receptions where larger groups were together, informal candid scenes, or maybe of the entire gathering from a specific location in the room during the ceremony.

Rio Grande Scenic Railroad
Rio Grande Scenic Railroad – Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L – Canon EOS 1Ds MK II

Another area where the ultra-wide zoom is effective is with photographing large objects from a close distance, as in the train photo above. I photographed this standard gauge steam train from just off the tracks in Southern Colorado. I was able to capture the entire train passing along with some of the background scenery.

Even if you don’t use it that often, the ultra-wide zoom is worth having in your kit. It will get shots that aren’t possible with longer focal lengths. For most trips, I may never take it out of the bag. I’ll tolerate the extra weight and bring one along anyway. That is if I can find a good used copy on eBay. I’m thinking the Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 G will be the lens of choice for me. The last time I looked they are running around $850 used in good condition.