An Ultra Wide Angle lens, also called UWA for short, is in my opinion a luxury lens for travel photography. By luxury, I mean seldom used but nice to have in some situations. For landscape photographers however, this is one of the most important lenses in their bag.
When talking about UWA lenses, for this article, I will refer to UWA for full frame sensor cameras and in general to lenses wider than 24 mm. I travel with a Sony 16-35 f 2.8 UWA. Canon and Nikon also offer a 16-35 mm. All three companies also make wider zooms in the 12-24, 11-24 or 14-24 range. I am not a big fan of these lenses for travel, as they do not have filter threads. In order to adapt filters to these lenses you must carry along expensive and bulky after-market devices to enable filter use. This is all in the spirit of saving weight and space while traveling, which is also why I am addressing this topic in the first place: should you consider carrying an UWA lens? Is it worth the extra weight and space it takes up?
On my travels, I do carry a UWA but use it rarely, perhaps for only 5% of my images. However, when I do find a situation to use it, I am very glad that I have it in my arsenal.
So why should you consider lugging around a lens that you would rarely use? I will address three situations where I find an UWA useful. This might help you decide if you even want to bother with an UWA.
1. Tight, physical locations
where you absolutely need the extra wideness to capture a desired composition. This is especially useful for architectural photography while capturing interiors and also along narrow lanes where you do not have space to back up. These are the situations when I use my UWA the most.
2. Using the ultra wide angle to create a desired effect
The classic example of this is in landscape photography where you include very close-up foregrounds in your composition. With this approach, one can capture stunning images with captivating foreground elements that lead the eye into the image and the background.
If you are interested in capturing stunning photographs of the Milky Way or northern lights an UWA angle lens is the tool you should bring. For this low-light photography, an f 2.8 or faster lens is recommended. If you don’t foresee doing this type of photography, you can save weight and travel with the f 4 versions. I purchased the f 2.8 version simply to have the option of using it for Milky Way photography even if so far I have not used it traveling in Europe.
A common mistake for beginners using an UWA lens is trying to include too much in the composition without foreground elements. You may be in awe of a spectacular sunset vista with amazing illuminated clouds and mountains in the distance but if this is all too far away without interesting foreground elements the impact is lost and you end up with a pretty boring photograph.
I hope that these examples will help you decide whether you should carry an UWA lens on your next journey.
Both Magrit and I will be lugging our UWA lens with us on 2020 photographic journey to Europe.