Wide-angle prime lenses for Canon cameras have literally loads of scope for potential, with the ability to capture the widest of viewpoints. This is why this type of lens has been a favorite of landscape shooters since day one. A wide-angle lens can produce very creative images where the perspective can be exaggerated for both the subject and background.
One common question is why buy into a wide-angle prime lens rather than a regular zoom? Basically, wide-angle prime lenses are optimized for the task, providing the lowest amounts of lens anomalies and the sharpest of resolution across the frame.
Another less discussed aspect that is common to all prime lenses is a consistent look. A photoshoot where a zoom lens is used can cover many different focal lengths, while a wide-angle prime provides a more harmonious set of images.
If you’re already sold on the idea of buying into one of these lush pieces of optics, then read on for our rundown of the most popular and useful wide-angle prime lenses for Canon cameras.
1. ZEISS Milvus 35mm f/2 (Overall Winner)
The ZEISS Milvus 35mm f/2 may not be a super wide-angle lens, but what it does provide is stellar optics and an alternative viewpoint to the regular 50mm standard. The lens is relatively affordable considering it’s a ZEISS lens, which means you won’t have to sell off most of your belongings to own one.
The ZEISS Milvus has a wide and bright f/2 aperture, along with a Distagon optical design, which consists of one anomalous partial dispersion element and the renowned ZEISS T* anti-reflective coating. The sleek body design is completely weather resistant featuring a very tactile, rubberized focusing ring for gripping in all weather.
As you would expect from a high-quality ZEISS lens, images are tack sharp from f/2, all the way up to f/16, from which diffraction starts to take it all. The only real downside to this lens is that its manual focusing only. However, if you can live without autofocus, this lens will provide you with relatively wide-angle shots, but also with the versatility of being a good all-rounder lens.
An affordable price point and great optics are the calling cards of the Canon EF 24mm f/2.8 IS USM. The lens provides the evermore common inclusion of image stabilization and although it may not have L-series weatherproofing, it has a solid metal construction.
The stabilization system offers four stops of compensation for those extra low shutter speeds and it’s relatively lightweight coming in at 280g. The lens does suffer from corner softness at f/2.8, needing to be stopped down to f/4. The same is needed to alleviate the likes of barrel distortion and color fringing.
What the lens can provide is the widest stabilized prime lens in the current Canon lineup, with respectable image quality and low-light workings.
When it comes to high-quality third-party lenses, it’s no surprise Sigma has one of their Art lenses crowbarred into the list somewhere. In this case, it’s the Sigma 20mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art. This may be a heavyweight beast at 950g, but the reason why the Sigma Art range has become popular is that Sigma has put optical quality above everything else.
On a crop sensor camera body, the focal length comes in at 32mm, making for a good general-purpose lens. But, the main standout feature here is the impressive f/1.4 aperture. To achieve such a wide aperture on this type of lens, two Low Dispersion, five Special Low Dispersion, and two aspherical elements have been included, along with a Super Multi-Layer Coating to reduce lens anomalies. The lens comes with a built-in lens hood to protect the bulbous front element.
The Sigma does display some aspects of chromatic aberration and barrel distortion at the widest aperture. But when stopped down to f/2, resolution is wonderful with enough for width to expand your creativity.
The Sigma 16mm f/1.4 DC DN Contemporary shows that you don’t have to necessarily spend lots of money to gain good quality optics. Sigma’s Contemporary lenses are more affordable versions than the Art series counterparts, while still providing very good optics.
Equally capable on both full-frame and crop sensor bodies, providing an equivalent focal length of 25.6mm on the latter, this lens also has an impressive f/1.4 aperture and very capable stepping AF motor. The optical arrangement includes two Special Low Dispersion, three F Low Dispersion elements and two aspherical elements, plus a Super Multi-Layer Coating for good measure.
Although the Sigma 16mm may not have the ultimately defined characteristics of much more costly lenses, it still provides extremely sharp and contrasty images throughout the aperture range. Essentially, if you can’t stretch to the cost of one of the Art series lenses, then the Contemporary line is a good second choice.
5. Canon EF-S 24mm f/2.8 STM (Budget Winner)
The dinky looking Canon EF-S 24mm f/2.8 STM may not seem to offer much on the surface, but it’s equally capable on both full-frame and APS-C sensors. On crop sensor camera bodies, the focal length comes out at an equivalent 38.4mm and only weighs 125g.
The STM autofocus motor is the ‘gear type’ variety, which means it’s not as quiet as in more expensive lenses, but for stills work, it’s extremely quick and efficient. Manual focus override is available via the very narrow focusing ring, which is useful, but not the easiest way to focus this lens.
What the lens does provide is excellent image quality, well above what you would expect from such a tiny lens at this price point. Images are respectively sharp across the frame from f/2.8 and aspects such as chromatic aberration and barrel distortion are minimal. It’s also got a minimum focusing distance of 16cm, which works very well for small subject matter.
Making the Most of Wide-Angle Prime Lenses for Canon Cameras
Wide-angle lenses need a lot of technical wizardry in the optics department to make sure images are as distortion-free as possible. This generally means higher prices than traditional lenses, but as a list above shows, you can still gain wide-angle quality without breaking the bank.
Both Canon and third-party makers provide a healthy choice of focal lengths and apertures, going from extreme wide-angle to almost standard viewpoints. If you want to go much wider, you’re venturing into fisheye lens territory, which is a realm unto itself. But, for traditional wide-angle lenses at an affordable price, you can’t go wrong with the list above.