The expansive coverage of a 14mm lens may be more than you think you need.
But you'd be surprised to discover that it reveals a world of possibilities
that might otherwise escape you. While it certainly is ideal when shooting in
open country, a super-wide lens can do wonders in tight quarters. To check out
this lens, and along the way explore the potential of this focal length, I took
the Canon EF 14mm and my Canon EOS 5D to Prague recently, where I practically
forced myself to think only "ultra-wide."
First off, some lens specs. The EF 14mm II is a near-rectilinear-projection,
ultra-wide angle optic offering a 114° field of view. That means it's
really wide, but not quite a fisheye. And near-rectilinear means it doesn't
produce the obvious outward bowing typical of very wide lenses, most pronounced
in fisheyes. Translation: I didn't have to worry about my pictures suffering
from that bloated look often obtained from super wides. With curvilinear (read
that: barrel) distortion practically eliminated, this lens lets you visually
explore your world along the straight and narrow...I mean, wide.
However, there is a downside--subjects near the edge do get distorted.
It may not be immediately obvious until you look at recognizable shapes near
the edge of the frame. For instance, a person looks elastic. Also, converging
verticals seem to take on a life of their own if you tilt the lens up or down
too much. Some convergence, however, can lend a dramatic element to the shot,
and in modest amounts can easily be dealt with in Photoshop. In fact, even the
"elastic man effect" can be remedied, albeit with some judicious
Brooklyn church & garden. I had to come back to Brooklyn, New
York, to shoot this set of pictures comparing the image produced
when using the EF 14mm on D-SLRs with full-frame (left) and APS-C
(right) sensors. Judge for yourself.
All Photos © 2007, Jack Neubart, All Rights Reserved
You may notice optical vignetting, most observable at f/2.8 (maximum aperture),
although this disappears entirely when stopped down (f/8 is a safe bet). But
even at f/2.8, vignetting is not egregious and you may decide to use it to frame
the image. Optical vignetting is readily corrected during raw conversion or
This lens is, according to Canon, an improvement over the original EF 14mm.
It features better optical construction, with aspheric and ultra-low dispersion
lens elements, resulting in a claimed enhanced performance overall. But it's
not perfect. You can still see lateral chromatic aberration in peripheral areas
of the image where highlights reside adjacent to dark tones. It's evident
as green and purple fringes. But it's not very obvious--in fact I
only noticed it after painstakingly looking for it. And it is correctable. In
Photoshop, make the correction under Filter>Distort>Lens Correction (where
you can also correct for perspective and vignetting), then under Chromatic Aberration.
Better still, correct it during raw conversion. The result, at least with Photoshop's
raw converter, is arguably cleaner.
I stopped into a souvenir shop at Prague Castle. As the puzzle maker
stopped to show me how the puzzle works, I cranked up the ISO to
1600 for this f/2.8 handheld exposure. The ultra-wide did well in
capturing the setting.
Additional improvements to lens coatings and internal construction reduce
flare and ghosting (that rarely cropped up), making the lens more digital-savvy.
As with the previous lens (and others of its ilk), the lens shade is petal-shaped
and built-in. Filters are rear-mounted (use gelatin filters), although with
my D-SLR, I saw no need for them. The only filter I would have liked--a
circular polarizer--can't be accommodated. Still, the lens does render
good color unaided. Additionally, as with many of the newer lenses, this lens
features a circular aperture for improved appearance of out-of-focus highlights.
And, as with other current L-series lenses, it's designed to withstand
moisture and dust. The new, secure lens cap also helps.
In The (Ultra-Wide) Field
I came to Prague with two lenses: the EF 14mm that I was testing and what has
now become my standard lens, the EF 24-105mm IS (Image Stabilized). At f/2.8,
the EF 14mm is a relatively fast piece of glass, so I could easily hand hold
it even when shooting in a dimly lit interior. Using flash wasn't always
practical, because I'd have to bounce the light in order to disperse it
over a wide enough area to avoid falloff.
Even with a lens as wide as 14mm, I still found myself tilting the camera upward
to encompass an entire building. After a while I learned to move back, so I
could minimize convergence, if not overcome it entirely, while holding the camera
level. That often meant extensive foregrounds. I found ways of dealing with
that so the seemingly empty space became a contributing element, helping to
enhance the sense of the depth and scope of the scene, or I'd find something
(often people) with which to fill the space. When push came to shove, I was
willing to crop out the excess.