Are you wondering whether an ultra-wide angle lens is useful for casual photography? In contrast to zoom lenses, a prime lens only provides you with a single focal length. A prime lens limits your ability to compose images to a single viewing angle. This means that with certain focal lengths at the shorter or longer end, you may have less and less opportunities to find the right shot. It certainly takes practice to use any prime well. On the other hand, of course, the benefit of a prime lens is superior image quality and often a smaller form factor.
In this article, I share my experience practicing with my ultra-wide Batis 18mm prime lens for Sony e-mount cameras.
Photography equipment in the article: Sony A7R3 with 18mm prime lens. The 18mm wide angle came in situationally, but when I needed that atmospheric shot, it performed admirably! I captured all photos in RAW file format, and processed them in Lightroom.
Check out what I discovered, the good, the bad, and my overall thoughts on where this lens fits in my camera bag. I hope this overview gives you some ideas and inspiration about how an ultra-wide (lenses with 12-24mm focal lengths) fit into your preferred photographic workflows.
A Casual Impression About the Sony Batis 18mm
This is a very expensive lens. In fact, it is one of the most costly lenses I’ve purchased for my photography “hobby”. I purchased the Batis 18mm lens thinking that I’d use it for a year and sell it. The resale value on high-end glass is very good for the Sony system. And, I don’t mind spending a bit on a hobby that I enjoy.
My first impression of the lens is that it is lightweight, more than its shape may reveal, and solid. It feels good to hold while on the Sony A7R3 camera body. I am not super keen on the flaring out of the lens hood as it does have an odd appearance. I think the lens draws a bit too much attention: “Oh, hey look, I’m expensive!”. But, perhaps that was the intention during the design phase of the lens. The aesthetic looks high-end and professional.
Lens Operation and Feel
Operation of the lens is simple. Everything is done through the camera body. The lens itself is minimal in terms of features and function. There is a rubberized focus ring and an LED display for showing hyperfocal distance and depth-of-field measures.
The focus ring is smooth with some dampening. Not as nice to use as my manual focus lenses, e.g., Voigtlander 40mm f1.2, but certainly good enough for the times when I wanted to fine-tune focus manually.
The LED display is cute, but I barely used it in the entire year I had this lens. I’ve heard elsewhere that the LED does not draw much current from the camera body, which is good. Although you can turn the LED display off on any of the Batis lenses, I tend to leave it on. I can glance at it quickly to know whether my camera is off or on.
For a more detailed review of this lens, there are a lot of other sites with more specifications and technical science. I prefer to talk about my “experience” with the lens. Here I want to share my perspective with this lens as a hobbyist photographer and how I tried to leverage the Sony Batis 18mm ultra-wide capabilities during casual shooting situations.
An Ultra-Wide Prime Lens for Street Photography? A Seaside Town
I always enjoy visiting Newport, Rhode Island (RI). During the early parts of the Spring season, before the heat, Newport is a calm and relaxing place. The atmosphere is perfect for unwinding during the tense build up of a harsh winter.
With the Sony Batis 18mm in hand, I no intention of doing a review of this setup. But, when I arrived, I realized that this location provided me with plenty of opportunities to run the lens through its paces. There are a lot of mixed situations that challenge any photographer in a place like Newport.
My favorite focal length is 40mm. It gives me a good balance of subject and environment, and my mind’s eye tends to anticipate compositions before I raise the camera’s viewfinder to my face. The 40mm focal length is a natural view for me.
Street Photography: Lens Impression
The Batis 18mm performed well and smoothly in my hands. Balance was excellent, and the lens actually felt ergonomically better to use than the Batis 40mm I had with me. I have medium sized hands (3-3.5″ around the palm) and I was able to operate my camera one-handed in some situations. I like using the flip screen for changing the lens perspective, above or below my normal eye level.
So, plopping the 18mm Batis on my camera for a major chunk of this trip was going to force me to “See Differently”, which is great and hard. There were shots I would have loved to capture if I had my 40mm on my camera. Alas, the 18mm ultra-wide made such compositions impossible or awkward.
Quick word on my bag: I did drop all my camera stuff into this abyss of a bag: the Peak Design Everyday Backpack (30L). It was way too big for what I needed, but when you’re traveling and unsure of what you’ll need to take with you (or bring back home, e.g., souvenirs), this is a well-established standard in camera bag tech.
Street Photography with the Batis 18mm Lens Requires Courage
Let me just get it out there that this lens fared so-so in situations where I wanted to capture street events and candid photos of people walking about. Perhaps I simply didn’t have the courage to get that close to my subjects.
The obvious limitation of any wide-angle prime lens is that it forces you to get close to your subjects to fill the frame. If you don’t, you’re stuck with your subject far in the distance, mixed up with the background.
Is the Ultra-Wide Batis 18mm Any Good for Street Photography?
I’m sure there are more experienced street photographers who have a love for the ultra-wide view angle. I’ve seen images of incredible wide angle images where subjects are right up against the screen or image frame, and put you right into the photo.
I don’t know where these photographers find the guts to get in people’s faces or have the patience to find those close-up decisive moments. Confrontation, ridicule, and talking to strangers does not come naturally to me. And, hey, I’m here to relax, too!
When it comes to street photography, I do enjoy using a narrower focal length and a manual lens. The process of capturing candid photos in uncontrolled public environments is more dynamic and fluid when I’m not worrying about the camera’s sensor doing the job of finding focal points, etc. Here are some examples of my attempts in the past with street photography using a manual focus-only lens.
In general, I found the Ultra-Wide 18mm Batis lens required a bit too much work for composing moving street subjects. For a lens like this to excel in these situations, you have to get closer to your subjects than you would have with a longer focal length. This makes this lens suited for those with more confidence with engaging the subject (which is most often going to be people you don’t know).
Ultra-Wide Character for Static Subjects: Interesting!
For this trip, I sought subjects that didn’t move. Inanimate objects and things along the walking path gave me opportunities to learn how to find interesting compositions with the ultra-wide lens. With an 18mm focal length, subjects near the edge of the image frame tend to stretch and curve.
Even with lens corrections in post-processing software, this “curvature” took some getting used to! But, I show some of the examples of what I captured using the Sony Batis 18mm prime lens. A review of these images reveal some interesting, albeit cliche type subjects, e.g., signs, logos, static objects.
In broad daylight, outdoors, I kept my aperture between f5.6 and f8. Given that wide angle lens have naturally deeper depth-of-focus, I was able to rely almost entirely on autofocus and snap sharp photos without much planning. Keeping my shutter speed under 1/200 also allowed me to use a lower ISO.
A mix of close-up shots with the environment revealed some interesting ways to capture scenes I may not have “seen” through my usual 35-50mm focal length lenses. I really enjoyed the challenge of composing objects in new juxtapositions. I mean you had to, there’s no way to “crop” out unnecessary things with an ultra-wide angle lens when your viewfinder shows you everything.
The Batis 18mm Ultra-Wide Excels in Small Indoor Spaces
It is no surprise that an ultra-wide angle lens does well in small, cramped spaces. For architecture, especially indoor spaces, an ultra-wide lens gives you the views you need to capture the scenes as a whole. Sweeping arches, windows, all of it!
Of course, here in Newport, I did not seek any indoor architecture. Rather, I went into all the small shops selling souvenirs. This was an important lesson and practice with this lens, of course.
You either get close to your subject, right up to them, a la macro style (which the Batis 18mm does quite well), or you work with your scene to help your subject(s) receive the attention they deserve.
Entering shops and stores with an ultra-wide angle became a delight as I began to see all the leading lines. Normal, everyday objects twisted and curved along the lens’ edges. I’m not sure these are “great” photos, but they taught me something, which is just as good when you’re a hobbyist.
It began to dawn on me that this is another place where an ultra-wide angle lens does well. Use your ultra-wide lens when you’re in a place with objects that don’t really have meaning other than information. In other words, use your ultra-wide angle lens to make art from everything things.
Outdoor, Static Subjects Take on New Life
Learning that an ultra-wide angle lens requires a new way to compose subjects–requiring a closer view of certain objects to grab the viewer’s attention, made me look purposefully for these opportunities in my scenes.
Flat subjects were no longer flat. Food photography became an effort in finding the angle that made desserts appears than they actually were. The Sony 18mm Batis gave me a tool for creating an abstraction out of everything.
With any prime lens, you can isolate subjects in your frame by getting your lens as close as possible. Using the Batis 18mm, I realized that it’s close focusing capabilities were really good! With the Batis 18mm lens I could get about 10″ or 26 cm close to my subject and amplify the wide angle distortion in creative ways.
It was fun! Although the magnification of the Batis 18mm is only about 0.10x, the amount of subject you can fill in frame, especially larger objects, created some weird and sometimes confusing images (which I enjoyed!).
I think I was getting the hang of it. Outdoors, the ability to stop down to f8-f11 and the wide angle focal length gave me a huge depth of field (DoF). Everything was sharp beyond a certain distance from me right into infinity. Shooting became easier when I accepted that subject isolation would not be through shallow DoF, but rather through composition and how I fit my subjects inside the image frame.
Check out some of these images and how I slowly learned the way the lens behaves when positioned and angled a certain way in relation to my environment.
Tips for Using Leading Lines and Structure with an Ultra-Wide Lens
The Batis 18mm gave me a different way of seeing the world around me. It forced me to look for structure and forms beyond my narrower comfort zone. I had to open my mind to other possibilities. No longer could I rely on the lens to optically crop out things I didn’t see.
Where I was blind, I now had to incorporate more information into my captured scenes. Either I got close, or I had to work with whatever juxtapositions emerged before my lens and viewfinder.
One trick I knew I could try was getting low. I mean literally drop into a crouch and look for lines, shadows, and forms that the light of the day created. With an ultra-wide, all of these elements distort outwards the closer you move to them. Leading lines flair outwards with a pronounced angle, for example, and make scenes broader, more expansive.
It doesn’t always work. But, here are a few images that I captured that stood out. They are the readouts of a day’s lesson with a unique lens. Do I recommend this lens for day-to-day use? Yes, as long as you understand that it won’t make images as easily as a “normal” focal length or even a normal “wide” like a 28mm focal length.
READ MORE: SIMPLE TIPS FOR COMPOSING FOR BETTER IMAGES
Capture Amazing Landscape with an Ultra-Wide Lens (Batis 18mm): Easily?
All ultra-wide angles suffer from the stigma that they are best suited for landscapes. Well, is it a stigma or a stereotype? It doesn’t matter.
Out on the ocean, sailing, the Batis 18mm made it’s true nature known. Even the live view images on my camera’s screen (before post-processing) blew me away with the gorgeous expanse of color and depth in the images I was able to compose without much effort.
Remember to keep some fore- or mid-ground and point and shoot. That was it! The ultra-wide Batis 18mm true form in my humble opinion was in glorious nature.
Okay, it wasn’t that easy. I had the advantage of a sunset that had amazing light diffusion through a recent rainstorm. The light rays blasted across the sky and the Batis 18mm captured all of it from edge to edge in sharp goodness.
Sure, I cropped and adjust things in Lightroom afterwards, but wow…. I’m so glad I decided not to resort to my tried and true 40mm for this part of the journey. What do you think?
I decided after this trip to keep the Sony Batis 18mm ultra-wide. It is a lens that requires work, a new way of seeing, but in many regards is a refreshing change of pace from the normal primes I usually shoot with. Sure, I’m a hobbyist with a limited budget. I will have to pinch pennies and sell other things to afford this tool. But, I suppose that’s the price for any activity outside of a day job.
Did you know that most smartphones have ultra-wide capabilities? The standard focal length in a modern smartphone is about 28mm. So, in fact, you may already be suited to using a wide-angle lens. The ultra-wide is merely a short step further into seeing your world differently and capturing it. Give it a shot!
Did you enjoy this article? Any questions or feedback? Let me know with a comment below!