What Is a Wide Angle Lens?

What is a wide angle lens?

While the accepted focal length (or focal length range) of a wide angle lens can be a source of contention among photographers, generally speaking, lenses containing a focal length or focal length range wider than 35mm on a full frame camera can be considered wide angle lenses, while lenses featuring focal lengths wider than 24mm can further be categorized into a subset known as "ultra-wide angle" lenses. If a lens is mounted to an APS-C sensor camera, lenses wider than 22mm qualify for the "wide angle" designation while lenses 15mm and wider gain the "ultra" prefix.

With the clinical definition covered, it's important to understand just how useful a 35mm (or wider) focal length can be. The shorter the focal length being used, the wider the angle of view the lens provides. Common uses for wide angle lenses include landscapes, cityscapes, starry skies, architecture, panoramas, wedding receptions and events. Ultra-wide angle lenses are often employed in photographing interiors (real estate, especially), as the wide field of view makes interior spaces look impressively spacious.

So what does an ultra-wide and wide angle of view look like on a full frame camera? Roll your mouse over the focal lengths below to see the difference.

16-35mm Focal Length Comparison

16mm | 20mm | 24mm | 28mm | 35mm

Composing a compelling image with a wide angle lens can oftentimes be a challenging task. To increase your chances for an impactful image while using wide angle lenses, find a subject to place relatively close to the camera – like a flower, tree or rock formation – set against a captivating background. Subjects close to the camera will look very large compared to farther away objects.

Notice how large the crane hook below appears compared to the crane it is attached to? That's the result of a full frame 16mm wide angle perspective.

The Power of 16mm Perspective

Want to know which wide angle lens is best for you? Check out our Wide Angle Lens Recommendations to find top picks for full frame and APS-C sensor cameras!

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