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Fun at 14mm

by Philip Greenspun, 1995


Canon makes a nice little 14/2.8L lens. It isn't really very useful most of the time. Its exposed half-dome front element will keep you in constant fear of water, grime, fingers, and the rest of the world. It costs $2,319.00 (B&H Photo, October 1995). I bought one.

Feet Back

Why? My old girlfriends would tell you "Simple; sexual inadequacy." Fortunately, they aren't writing my Web pages, so I can add my own explanation: the world is getting to be a wider and wider place. Magazines and newspapers regularly run photos taken with 20mm lenses as standard photo illustration. If you want to really stun people with the drama of wide angle distortion then you need to go to 18 or 15 or 14.

"Wide angle distortion?"

Wide angle distortion isn't a lens imperfection. It is what happens when a person views a print at the "improper distance." People tend to look at pictures from about 12 inches away. If they brought the print right up to their eyes, a picture taken with a 14mm lens would look normal. Take a moment to blow up the image at the top of this page and stare at it from different distances. Note that from a standard typing distance, the woman looks like a space alien. Viewed from up close, her head doesn't look strange at all.

If you want to go really wide and cheap, you're looking at a fish eye lens. Fish eye lenses take straight lines in the world and turn them into curved lines ("fish eye distortion"). Canon makes a 15/2.8 fisheye for $700. Except for a few aerials, I think fisheye images look like refugees from the 1960s.

A great thing about really wide (20) and super wide (14-18) lenses is that you can take pictures of people without their knowledge. After all, you're pointing the camera into the middle of the street or at their dog. They don't realize that they're part of the scene.

Manhattan, 1995. Along the edge of Central Park, Manhattan, 1995. Along the edge of Central Park, Manhattan, 1995. Canal Street. Manhattan 1995 Chinatown. Manhattan 1995 Santa Karin. Visby, Gotland. Sweden

Direct comparison: 20mm vs. 14mm

Feet Feet

Comparison pictures at 20mm

Jo-Anne, Philip, and Elke. Victoria, British Columbia The Cedars Trail, Glacier National Park (Montana)

Comparison pictures at 24mm

Sunset. Chaco Canyon, New Mexico Very Large Array radio telescope, Socorro, New Mexico Drinking. Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. Stretched. Chaco Canyon, New Mexico.

Comparison pictures at 28mm


Technical Data
Construction: 13 elements/10 groups
Angle of view: 114 degrees
Focus motor: USM
Closest focusing: 0.25 m (0.8 ft)
Filter size: Rear drop-in gelatin filter holder
Length and diameter: 89 x 77 mm (3-1/2 x 3-5/16 in)
Weight: 560 g (19.6 oz)

Where to buy the Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L USM Wide Angle Lens

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Text and pictures (c) Copyright 1993-1995 Philip Greenspun

Article created 1995

Readers' Comments


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Dieter Michel , April 13, 1997; 06:04 A.M.

Some years ago I tried to project wide-angle (14&17mm) slides using a (borrowed) wide-angle projection lens (Tamron 0.75" or 1") that is originally designed to give a reasonably sized picture within the short projection distance of a small back-projection box. At wall-to-wall distances in normal room (say 4m or so) you get very large pictures that really give you an impression of how wide-angle photos should be viewed. Admittedly, the images suffer a little from the lower brightness that results from spreading the light emission over such a large area. A good combination could be the above mentioned lens combined with a 400W projector.

Harald Gaunitz , February 05, 1998; 04:59 A.M.

I have compared the Canon 14/2.8 and Sigma 14/3.5 and I think the Sigma has better sharpness and contrast at all apertures. However the Sigma lens feel a little bit loosely when focusing manually. Notwithstanding that I prefer the Sigma lens and its higher optical performance. Regards Harald

T A , July 28, 2000; 03:48 A.M.

I am also a great fan of wide angles. With my EOS system and my budget, I've managed to go down to 20 mm (USM 20mm/2.8), which is a well made and optically good lens. Actually, it would even merit a review of its own, but that's beside the point...

However, with the Canon system I felt that with reasonable investment and requiring reasonable quality I had reached my limit. When the Voigtlander BESSA-L entered the markets in 1999 together with the 15 mm and 25 mm, receiving good reviews, I started seriously thinking about getting a separate body for ultra-wide shooting only. In summer 2000 I finally got myself a BESSA-L with the 15 mm ultra-wide.

The camera is made by Cosina, and it has unfortunately quite a bit of plastic in it (film back, part of film transport mechanism, etc). The finder is a separate add-on, which goes to the hot shoe. There is a flash sync (PC), but obviously no connections in the hot shoe. The body is a mechanical one, the metal shutter goes in full f-stops from 1/2000 to 1 sec. Two button-type batteries power the light meter, which has three leds on top of the camera body. They are sometimes difficult to see in bright daylight.

There is a definitive mismatch between the build quality of the body and the lens, which is marvelous. It's all metal, with a built-in hood and a push-in lens cap. F-stops can be set at half stop intervals and the closest indicated focusing distance is some 30 cm. The optical quality is great and even the light fall-off, a typical problem for this type of lens, does not bother too much when fully open and almost disappears when stopped down to and beyond f/8.

Obviously this combo is not as easy to use, especially at close distances, as the Canon 14 mm, but indeed a choice I dare to recommend to all experienced shooters looking for a reasonably priced ultra-wide solution.

Norbert Jennes , September 19, 2000; 02:45 P.M.


Folks, we may talk about the whole optical universe, but the only truth story about the 14 mm lenses is: The winner is - the Sigma one; means the f 2,8/14 mm HSM. This tool is by far the hottest stuff on the market. This item is rugged, very good looking, solid & intelligent build, very truth priced and last but not least it makes very good and incredible pic's, believe me, friends of 35 mm-photography! The Sigma 14 mm shows you our beautiful world from an up to now newer seen perspective. I'm an owner of a long row good rated lenses, e.g.: EF f 2,8/20-35 mm L USM, ARSAT f 2,8/35 mm T/S, EF f 1,4/50 mm USM; EF f 2,8/100 mm USM Macro, the new one, the EF f 2,8/70-200 mm L USM, EF f 4-5,6/75-300 IS USM & EF f 5,6/400 L USM. The 14 mm Sigma is the greates among the above named lenses, it beats all of them! The worst case for the buck's in my shown collection is Philip Greenspun's "all time favorit" EF f 2,8/70-200 mm L USM. So what! Out and over, that's my message to you - all for free! Conclusion: In case of interest in an 14 mm lens avoid the Canon one, the optical performance is poor, but the price is king size & crazy, means Canon like, no matter any kind of MTF-benchmarks and so on ...

Curt Dawson , April 07, 2001; 03:36 P.M.

A couple years back I bought a Vivitar 19mm lens for my Canon AE-1 and it is one of my favorite lenses.It was very reasonably priced and is very sharp.I just wish they made the same lens for my EOS.

Eric Dean , August 29, 2001; 11:08 A.M.

I own the EF 14mm Canon 2.8L. One of my clients wanted a different and new prespective for an upcomming travel magazine assignment. I was photographing a resort location Orlando Florida. I purchased the Canon 14mm lens. I used the lens in low angles around the resort water areas, and pools. Using models around the pool area (Not too Close!) was very amazing! In the resort interior I used this lens adding a very fresh wide dramatic effect. The client loved all the images of this shoot, and really was impressed by the 14mm shots. The slides from the 14mm lens just snapped with vivid color and contrast. The 14mm shots were published and held up very nice! This assignment was over a year ago and I have been using the Canon 14mm lens any chance I get. I also wanted to add that I have used the Sigma 14mm lens and its just not in the same class as the canon version. The construction of the Sigma lens is very poor in comparison. The sigma version is loose, not sturdy like the Canon. And the image quaility is much better with Canon. Color saturation, contrast, and far less cormatic fringing than the Sigma. The Canon lens also weighs more, an indication of better glass.(Aspherical) I think putting a Sigma lens on my Eos 1v body would be like putting a Ford on a Ferrari. If you can swing the cost of this lens $1,900 it is a great investment in you photographic future.

Andrew Grant , February 20, 2002; 06:49 P.M.

I just purchased a SIgma 14/2.8 for use on a D30. I am still testing it but mechanical construction is excellent and it is heavier than the Canon 14 is that is important. The jury is still out on image quality but there is some distortion.

Steve Daniels , August 05, 2004; 11:52 A.M.

Why do people get hung up on brand names? Canon on Canon, Nikon on Nikon, etc. The point is, LENS ON CAMERA. That's the way it works. Why can't Sigma or Tamron make a lens as good as Canon or Nikon? THEY DO!

I have a Sigma 14mm 2.8 and it is a GREAT lens. Nikon, Canon and Tokina also make lenses of this focal length and speed, and they are also great lenses. Each manufacturer has its own dogs among lenses, but the Sigma 14 isn't one of them.

The difference is, while Nikon and Canon make lenses for their own cameras, Tamron, Tokina and Sigma make lenses in many lens mounts, meaning they make more lenses. With volume, they can sell them less expensively.

Name and price do NOT make a good lens. It's the photographer and what he or she does with it. A poor photographer can make any lens look bad, but the best lens cannot improve a poor photographer.

Jack Crossfire , July 26, 2007; 10:11 P.M.

Fisheye shots look like refugees from the 1960's eh? Have a 15mm fisheye and everyone complains that the lines aren't straight. But the fisheye captures more information about a location than the aspherical and you can convert a fisheye shot into an aspherical shot in software.

The new aspherical look in modern shots looks like a fad. Everything is aspherical nowadays. Look at any movie and you say, "ah hah. It's made in 2007" It feels like Taco Bell, Subway, PDA's. Everyone needs to have it, but is the craving some innate human feature or the newness of the technology?

Maybe someday they'll say the aspherical shots look like refugees from the 2000's and fisheye will be everywhere again.

Jeff Livacich , April 16, 2008; 04:19 A.M.

Regarding fisheye vs.aspherical. Aspherical refers to lens elements which are not spherical, but made with a compound curve, giving better correction for aberrations. Lenses which render straight lines as straight are called rectilinear. I consider a fisheye to be sort of a "one trick pony"; i.e., the effect tends to overwhelm the picture, so the content is often diminished somewhat. A little goes a long way. I have seen some skillfully done fisheye shots which I thought were great, though, so in judicious hands they seem to be an effective tool.


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