While we’ve previously discussed digital camera lenses in some detail (see Digital Cameras: Digital Zoom vs. Optical Zoom for more info), we’d be remiss if we didn’t talk about the opposite end of the spectrum, e.g. the fully-zoomed telephoto. We of course refer once again to the wide angle lens, and we want to impress upon you that strong wide angle capabilities are just as important as monster magnification when it comes to taking digital photographs.
With a truly “wide” wide angle lens, your photos will look more natural. You can take a scenery shot and maintain focus from the foreground to the background. You can take a shot of a mountain range and effectively capture its panorama. You can take real estate and architectural photos without making your subject look cramped and small. Moreover, because wide angle lenses tend to accentuate objects nearer to the camera, you can do some very cool things with geometry and distortion.
The moral of the story: Look just as hard at a lens’ maximum wide angle setting as you do at the maximum telephoto setting. SLR’s have no problem in this regard, because the kit lenses packaged with most models offer an ample wide angle, and if you find you want even more in the future, you merely buy an additional wide angle lens. Compact cameras are a different story, however. Because of the design of the camera, they simply can’t offer the same level of wide angle. Whereas an SLR kit lens typically starts at the 18mm range, compact lenses begin nearer 28mm. That’s a big difference in the world of cameras. And remember, you can’t change the lens on a compact, so you’re stuck with what you bought.
Having said that, compact cameras lenses have “widened up” quite a bit in the past few years, and there are several models that can capably handle most casual wide angle needs.