In my book, the best lens to get for ultra-wide zoom if you can afford it at $A1849 is the Panasonic 7-14mm f/4 lens for Micro Four Thirds cameras which of course will be image stabilised when used on Olympus cameras and gives field of view of 14-28mm (and a touch wider when used in 16:9 aspect ratio on a GH-1).
It is almost as good as the much larger, heavier, more expensive Olympus 7-14mm f/4 Four Thirds and the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G lens for full frame Nikon.
It is far smaller than anything else in that range, ideal for travel, and generally gives as good, if not better results – another great reason for buying the Micro Four Thirds system instead of a cropped sensor dSLR.
It’s built-in petal lens hood means you cannot attach polariser or ND gradient filters – even on lenses which can take filters, you are likely to get vignetting at focal lengths wider than 21mm in 35mm terms – this may be a big factor in your decision, particularly if you are buying it for landscape work rather than urban or creative work.
Another excellent option for Micro Four Thirds users, is the more affordable (?$A600-800), forth-coming Olympus M.ZD 9-18mm lens (the Four Thirds version is very popular and retails for a very reasonable $A795 and you can attach filters – the M43 version should be easier to design and much smaller).
If you have an Canon APS-C dSLR then you have a choice of generally cheap, consumer to mid grade lenses, albeit not as good optically as the lenses mentioned above, but that’s one of the prices you pay for getting a Canon APS-C dSLR – wide angle lenses has never been their forte, but at least they are relatively cheap.
Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5:
- eq. to 16-35mm range; has reasonable build quality and minimal aberrations with good resolution. Not dust proof. 77mm filter; $A1269
- said to be better than the Nikon 12-24mm, the Tamron 11-18mm, and the Sigma 10-20mm
- less distortion at 10mm than a Canon 16-35mm L on a full frame
- see Photozone review and Ken Rockwell’s review
- 16-32mm in 35mm equiv.; 0.24m macro; 77mm filter; non-rotating front element; 6 blades; $A769
- significant distortion limits architectural use;
- perhaps the worst optically of the bunch, and is no longer the widest of the zooms
- see dpreview lens review
Sigma 10-20mm f/3.5 DC HSM:
- 82mm filter; $A989
Sigma 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6 EX DG:
- 19-38mm equiv.; a great lens but you need to find a good one as they are quite variable in quality.
Tamron 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5 Di II LD IF:
- 16-38mm on APS-C cameras; 77mm filter; 370g; bulky lens hood. $A789
- sharper centrally and with less distortion than the Sigma 10-20mm, but still generally soft, especially wide open
- see dpreview lens review
Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8:
- 77mm filter; $A859
Tokina AT-X Pro SD 12-24mm f/4 IF DX:
- 19-38mm range; $A739 and $A799 for version II;
- easily beats the Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM and Tamron 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5 Di-II as it is much sharper, especially wide open with good distortion results and solidly built
- best used at 12-18mm
- not so good at 24mm end and complex CA difficult to remove; not good for close up work.
- almost as good as the consumer level Olympus ZD 9-18mm
- see dpreview’s lens review
Sigma 8-16mm f/4.5-5.6 DC:
- announced Feb 2010 and will be the widest zoom available offering 12-24mm range in 35mm terms
- 545g, HSM motor, close focus 24cm.
- but will it’s optics be good enough as promised with its 4 FLD glass elements
In addition to the above third party APS-C lenses, Nikon DX users have the choice of the following lenses – perhaps no better off than Canon APS-C users:
Nikkor AF-S 10-24mm f/3.5-5.3G ED:
Nikkor AF-S 12-24mm f/4G DX IF ED:
- said to be not as good as the Canon EF-S 10-22mm lens, particular in distortion reduction
Nikkor AF-S 14-24mm f/2.8G ED for full frame:
- $A2285; generally regarded as the best full frame ultra-wide zoom but on cropped sensor becomes 21-36mm range.
Finally, if you are like me and you have a Canon 1D Mark III (or Mark IV), then forget ultra-wide zoom capability – you have to use a full frame lens at 1.3x crop factor, thus:
- becomes 21-46mm on 1.3x crop – hardly ultra-wide zoom, but could still be useful, although no where as good as the Nikon 14-24mm which in addition to being sharper, would give 18-31mm range, but no AF, and you would need a special G adapter to allow aperture control.