The wide view: My favorite lens

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Night traffic moving in Times Square, New York City. 

A question I often get, usually from people just starting out in photography, is “what’s your favorite lens?”

The majority of my photos are of wildlife captured using my very large, very heavy and very expensive Canon EF 600mm f/4L, so most will assume that’s my favorite lens.

They’d be wrong.

My favorite is the least expensive and lightest lens I own: the Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM, an ultra-wide angle zoom lens used to capture all the photos in this featured gallery for May.

I know that seems odd, citing as my favorite a lens that cost a fraction of what I’ve spent on any of the other lenses I own. But the reason is simple: The 10-22 allows me to capture scenes that no other lens I own can do. 

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A number of my lenses, like the 600mm I use for wildlife, are designed to bring distance objects up close. I can use it to bring a distant bird close enough to see feather detail. The 10-22 does just the opposite: It makes close objects appear more distant. The extra-wide view makes it perfect for capturing city scenes or landscapes in areas where the surroundings make it necessary to stand close to the subject (for instance, in areas where backing up a few steps would put me in the middle of traffic or off the edge of a cliff). I can shoot the inside of a large room, floor to ceiling, wall to wall. That makes it great for capturing the inside of a church (like the photo of Trinity Church in New York at right) or the main concourse of a train station.

The diagonal angle of view at the 10mm (or widest) setting of the lens is more than 107 degrees. That’s just a little less than the field of view of human eyes. For instance, if you stand and look straight ahead at a scene, just about everything you see — from the edge of your peripheral vision all around — can be captured in one image by a camera using the 10-22 zoom at the 10mm setting.

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Traffic waits on The Mall before passing through Admiralty Arch toward Trafalgar Square, London. 

But there are other capabilities of an ultra-wide angle zoom that make it fun to use.

First, the depth of field (or depth of focus) of an ultra-wide angle lens is greater than that of other, longer lenses. Translated from photo language to normal language, that means a much deeper area of the photo will be in focus. In landscape photos and interior architecture photos, this can mean that just about everything in the scene, from foreground to background, will be in focus. That can make for a nice photo.

An ultra-wide lens also tends to magnify the distance between objects. That makes it easy to use an object in the foreground as the focal point of a photo while still capturing the surrounding “atmosphere” — for instance, my photo of the rose placed in an engraved name on the World Trade Center memorial.

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A rose honors the memory of a victim of the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center in New York City. The rose was inserted in a letter of a victim’s name engraved in the bronze panels surrounding two reflecting ponds at the memorial site. 

A downside, though, is that a small tilt of the camera creates significant perspective distortion. Parallel lines will appear to converge and objects will look like the are falling backgrounds. That’s not a good thing if the goal is an accurate, realistic photograph of a scene. But that same perspective can be used artistically, to provide a sense of height or scale.

I have a broad collection of Canon L series lenses, including the 600mm I use for wildlife photography. The L series lenses are Canon’s top-of-the-line, expensive professional lenses that use the highest quality glass and robust design to produce superior image quality. And I use these lenses whenever I can. 

The Canon EF-S lenses like the 10-22 are much lighter, less expensive, less durable. The lenses are designed to work only on Canon digital SLRs with a “cropped sensor” (APS-C sensors, which are a bit smaller than the full 35mm-size sensor). My cameras all have APS-C sensors, which allows me the flexibility to use either the L series or S series lenses.

But as I’ve explained, it isn’t the price, weight or quality (or lack thereof) that makes the 10-22 my favorite to use. Instead, it’s the type of scenes I can capture with the lens. 

Although I do admit that the light weight is appreciated during long hikes through the woods or walks in a city.

I add a new featured gallery the first of each month. The numbers in the gallery title represent the month and year it was featured. Last month’s featured gallery, with photos of wrens, has been moved to my featured gallery archives.

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The setting sun silhouettes sailboats moored in the Hudson River between 27th and 28th streets in New York City.