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20mm vs 24mm - Which to buy?

David Simonds , Apr 05, 2003; 02:50 p.m.

Friends, I have recently rediscovered my A1. I bought it, with the 35-105 around twenty years ago. For reasons still not entirely clear to me, I put it away a while back. I think I just lost interest. When the muses began to call again, I bought a Contax G2 kit because of the light weight and glass quality. While it does produce stunning images, I began to want more flexibility than the 28, 35 and 90 primes could offer. Unfortunately, Contax makes nothing larger than the 90, and the 20mm has a price as grand as the field of view. So I pulled out the old A1, and was thrilled to see how many glass alternatives there are. I eventually bought a 100-300 on Ebay for around $150. A very stout lens. I went shooting today, a wintery one here in Maine, and a perfect backdrop for the snowy egrets that are bobbing out in front of my house. After shooting my Contax for a couple years, I had forgotten how seductive a zoom lens can be. But now I need (want) something wider than my FD 35-105. Seems that the 20mm goes for $200-250 on Ebay, with the 24 at about half that. The 24-35 runs in the mid $300. Which would you choose? I generally shoot Provia F or Kodak VS, and plan to digitize images and print with an Epson 2200. I shoot a mixture of landscapes, buildings and people. Thanks for your advise. David


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Craig Bridge , Apr 05, 2003; 03:21 p.m.

I find a 20mm takes a significatly different composition approach than a 24mm, 28mm, or 35mm. If you aren't used to working wider than 35mm, then the safest purchase is a 24mm. There isn't a significant difference between a current and 20yr old prime design; however, the same can't be said for zooms where significant improvements have been made in the last 5 years for these focal lengths.

Darin Cozine , Apr 05, 2003; 05:10 p.m.

I currently have a 28mm lens on my canon ae1p. I 28mm is not quite wide enough for me, so I looked in to the wider lenses. According to what I read the canon fd 20mm had noticable barrel distortion while the 24mm did not. I hope this help in your desicion. Darin

David Goldfarb , Apr 05, 2003; 05:34 p.m.

I've owned both the FD 20/2.8 and a Sigma 24/2.8. The 24mm was a more useful focal length in general for landscapes, near/far effects, groups of people, and such, and if I were to have one wide lens for a 35mm system, it would be a 24mm.

The 20mm, though, was very useful for cramped spaces and architectural interiors. If you want to photograph a group of 6 or 8 people, for instance, sitting around a small table, a 20mm is a good choice. If you want to stand in a corner and photograph a whole room, 20mm or wider is very handy. If you're photographing buildings in a city with narrow streets, a 20mm can be handy, but plan on cropping foreground frequently in such situations or look for good foreground interest. A 20mm is also nice for street photography, since you can stand fairly close to someone and aim the camera right past them so they don't realize that they are the subject of the photo.

Eventually I sold off my 20, 24, and 28mm lenses for my FD system, because I found that I preferred to use medium or large format for wideangle photos. When you have a lens that can take in all that information, a larger piece of film gives you a better chance at rendering it in detail.

Alan Swartz , Apr 05, 2003; 05:41 p.m.


For my purposes I don't find distortion to be a significant problem with the 20/2.8 or the 24/2.0. I do not have the 24/2.8. I don't typically shoot buildings, though. In a quick viewfinder check, for what it's worth, I find that both my 20 and the 24 have slight pincushion distortion. Both have less distortion than my 35-105.

My first leap into superwides was 17mm. Coming from the 28mm it was breathtaking. The 17 and the 20 do have progressively more pronounced "rectilinear" distortion than the 24 or 28. There is noticeable stretching or smearing of objects in the corners. My sense is that the 20mm is the first lens that really seems a lot different to handle, the first one where tilting the camera away from level has a pronounced effect and where the corners need special attention. The 24 handles more like the 28.

I haven't used the 20 that much yet. It shows some light falloff in the corners. The 20-35L vignettes a good bit at 20mm; I don't know about the 24-35. Color and sharpness in the L lens are great in my book.

I suppose I'm echoing other responses by saying the 20 is more exciting in a way, but the 24 is probably safer and will seem quite fun coming from 35mm.

John Crowe , Apr 05, 2003; 05:43 p.m.

You have the 28mm focal length available in your Contax system. The 24mm is not that big a difference in angle, so why not go for the 20mm? Yes, it is very different in terms of composition, but that is the challenge of the superwide range. Superwide images are extremely rewarding when composed properly. I started out with a 24mm many years ago and knew that I wanted wider. My Canon FD 17mm f4 is my favorite lens for the emotional rewards it can provide when I create a well composed image with it. I would stay away from any zoom new or old, they do not have the capability of prime lenses with respect to resolution and contrast. I cannot speak for the 20mm f2.8 from experience but it has been my understanding that it is a very good lens. Also remember that there are two non -'L' 24mm lenses: a 24mm f2 and a 24mm f2.8. The f2.8 would be the one 1/2 the price of the 20mm while the f2 version would be similar in price to the 20mm. Good luck!

Lance Dennis , Apr 05, 2003; 08:17 p.m.


I am a lens snob. I acquire and use lenses that have qualities beyond my abilities to use.

I faced a similar dilemma. What wide angle lenses to buy? I had a 35mm and a 28mm.

I purchased (new) a Vivitar Series 1 19-35mm zoom with the intention of using it to help me find which focal lengths appealed to me. It cost about $140 new. Now they are still that price. I have not seen any used recenty on E**y. It is a mid-late '90's design. I thought I would sell it used after I found my favorite length W A.

I never sold the Vivitar. I have (all canon): 35mm 2.0, 28mm 2.0, 28mm 2.8, and 24mm 2.8. I ususally take my Viv S1 WA zoom on walks and traveling. As a zoom it is more convenient for travel or street photography. I am also more likely to take it to places where I would worry about my more expensive canon prime lenses. It is lighter than my W A primes (all BL). It also sold with a hood included. (canon falls on its behind there!) I never sold the Vivitar W A zoom. I use it more than my Canon W A primes combined. I am very happy with it. I only make cropped enlargements to 8x10 and I see no light fall off or degradation of sharpness toward the corners.

Conclusion - Get a Vivitar Series 1 19-35 zoom. Use it to find what type of more expensive W A prime you would like, Then sell it! or keep it!


p.s. I eventually got a FD 24mm BL SSC. I like the FD lens better than the vivitar. The 24mm is more forgiving than a 20mm with unintended WA effects.

Gregory Nicholson , Apr 05, 2003; 10:48 p.m.


You've really narrowed it down to the best possible choices. Now your looking for the best possible Canon FD choice? The 24mm would be the 24 f/2(only one version offered), I like this lens over any of the f/2.8 versions, and I've owned or shot with them all. There was only one 20mm lens in either breech lock or bayonet mounts, so not much choice. As for the optical edge, I would give that to the 24 f/2. Very sharp and wonderful color. The 20 is a great lens but I prefer the 24 f/2 for its high image quality.

Now for the physical differences between the 24 and the 20. Looking through photo essay books I find a big majority of landscape shots are taken with a 20mm or its medium format equivalent. If your leaning toward landscapes a vote for the 20. One nice feature of the 20mm over the 24 f/2, it takes the large 72mm filters. A very nice selection of lenses could include a 20 f/2.8, 35-105 f/3.5, and a 200 f/2.8 Internal Focus, all taking the same filters. another vote for the 20.

For people/interior work they are both good choices, the 24 has a useful advantage in speed and will give better results up to f/4. Possibly up to f/5.6 or f/8 where it has its sweet spot. The 20 has an obvious advantage in smaller rooms. The 20 f/2.8 SSC lens I have is at its very best at f/8 or f/11. The 20mm is not wide enough to cover both walls from an inside corner at a 90 degree angle. It will include the entire room but not both walls like a 17mm can. tie?

For my two cents. I find the 50mm and 35mm best for buildings and people if you can get far enough away. If not, and only then, do I reach for a wider lens. I find that less is often more when your in an urban environment and trying to stick to one idea. Although, you can never duplicate the perspective of the 20 or 24 no matter how far away you get. So if that's what you want nothing else will do. To me the 24 is perfect for landscapes and the 17 is for very large subjects you find at a shipyard, airport, or a small room of course. My most used FD wides are the 17 f/4, 24 f/2 and the 35 f/2 chrome nose. I know that's not in your question I just thought I'd throw that in.

I have to add one more thing, I have never used the 20-35 f/3.5L, so I can't comment directly. Maybe you could post an additional question in this thread to those that have. I've read that it is a very fine lens. good luck

Bill Angel , Apr 05, 2003; 11:10 p.m.

I've been using a Vivitar 24mm f2.8 on my Canon F1N. It is smaller in size and lighter in weight than a wide angle zoom, and costs no more than half the price of a wide angle zoom. It also offers a "macro" feature, allowing for focussing down to a 1:5 image ratio. It came in handy this week when I wanted to photograph a set of large murals on the side of an office building, but could not back away from the building far enough to get the shot with a longer lens, as doing so would have involved stepping out into traffic. The resultant images were sharp corner to corner, with only a slightly noticeable barrel distortion.

David Simonds , Apr 06, 2003; 10:43 a.m.

I want to thank all of you for your kind replies and in advance to those who may. John Crow votes for the 20mm since, as he correctly points out, I have the Contax 28mm. And the difference between the two he observes is not dramatic. Is that the general concensus as well? If so, I would tend to favor the 20mm. And then Lance describes his positive experiences with the Vivitar, which can be had new for $147, considerably less than the FD 20mm used. What do you think, guys? The prime 20 or the upstart 19-35. Again, I shoot slides and plan to scan and print on an Epson 2200 no larger than 11x14, or so. Or should I just get one of each? So many choises, so little restraint. David

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