Fun at 14mm

by Philip Greenspun; created 1995

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Canon makes a nice little 14/2.8L lens. It isn't really very useful most of the time. Its exposed half-dome front element will keep you in constant fear of water, grime, fingers, and the rest of the world. It costs $2,319.00 (B&H Photo, October 1995). I bought one.

Feet Back

Why? My old girlfriends would tell you "Simple; sexual inadequacy." Fortunately, they aren't writing my Web pages, so I can add my own explanation: the world is getting to be a wider and wider place. Magazines and newspapers regularly run photos taken with 20mm lenses as standard photo illustration. If you want to really stun people with the drama of wide angle distortion then you need to go to 18 or 15 or 14.

"Wide angle distortion?"

Wide angle distortion isn't a lens imperfection. It is what happens when a person views a print at the "improper distance." People tend to look at pictures from about 12 inches away. If they brought the print right up to their eyes, a picture taken with a 14mm lens would look normal. Take a moment to blow up the image at the top of this page and stare at it from different distances. Note that from a standard typing distance, the woman looks like a space alien. Viewed from up close, her head doesn't look strange at all.

If you want to go really wide and cheap, you're looking at a fish eye lens. Fish eye lenses take straight lines in the world and turn them into curved lines ("fish eye distortion"). Canon makes a 15/2.8 fisheye for $700. Except for a few aerials, I think fisheye images look like refugees from the 1960s.

A great thing about really wide (20) and super wide (14-18) lenses is that you can take pictures of people without their knowledge. After all, you're pointing the camera into the middle of the street or at their dog. They don't realize that they're part of the scene.

Manhattan, 1995. Along the edge of Central Park, Manhattan, 1995. Along the edge of Central Park, Manhattan, 1995. Canal Street. Manhattan 1995 Chinatown. Manhattan 1995 Santa Karin. Visby, Gotland. Sweden

Direct comparison: 20mm vs. 14mm

Feet Feet

Comparison pictures at 20mm

Jo-Anne, Philip, and Elke. Victoria, British Columbia The Cedars Trail, Glacier National Park (Montana)

Comparison pictures at 24mm

Sunset. Chaco Canyon, New Mexico Very Large Array radio telescope, Socorro, New Mexico Drinking. Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. Stretched. Chaco Canyon, New Mexico.

Comparison pictures at 28mm

Technical Data
Construction: 13 elements/10 groups
Angle of view: 114 degrees
Focus motor: USM
Closest focusing: 0.25 m (0.8 ft)
Filter size: Rear drop-in gelatin filter holder
Length and diameter: 89 x 77 mm (3-1/2 x 3-5/16 in)
Weight: 560 g (19.6 oz)

Text and pictures (c) Copyright 1993-1995 Philip Greenspun