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Wide-angle lenses for small sensor (APS-C) Digital SLR Cameras

by Bob Atkins, 2005

One of the disadvantages of small sensor APS-C Digital SLR cameras (basically everything but the Canon 1D and 1Ds series cameras) is that the 1.6x  "multiplier/crop" factor makes all your existing 35mm wide-angle lenses into "not so wide" angle lenses. Nikon cameras are slightly better, with a 1.5x "multiplier/crop", but still basically suffer from the same problem. On a Canon 20D or Canon Digital Rebel XT your 24mm lens has the same field of view as a 38mm lens would have on a full frame camera. Your wide 20mm becomes a moderate 32mm and even your superwide 16-35 zoom becomes a mid-range 26-56 lens. Even the widest rectilinear prime lens you can get for 35mm a 14mm - turns into only a 22.5mm lens.

So what can you do? Well , you have to turn to one of the new ultrawide zooms made specifically for small (APS-C) sensor digitalcameras. While Nikon and Canon have had their own wide-angle lenses for a while, there are now also four "3rd party" alternatives available.

For now here is a comparison of the Ultrawide zooms available for Canon and Nikon APS-C sensor digital cameras. I believe the 3rd party lenses are also available in a Konica-Minolta mount.


Coverage Mount Weight Length/Diam Street Price (est.)
Tamron 11-18/3.5-5.6 APS-C EF/Nik 375g 78mm/82mm $570
Tokina 12-24/4 APS-C EF/Nik 570g 89.5mm/84mm $500
Canon 10-22/3.5-4.5 APS-C EF-S 385g 90mm/83.5mm $800
Sigma 12-24/4.5-5.6 Full frame 35mm EF/Nik 615g 100mm/87mm $700
Sigma 10-20/4-5.6 APS-C EF/Nik 470g 81mm/83.5mm $500
Nikon 12-24/4 APS-C Nik 500g 89mm/81mm $950

The following table shows the 35mm full frame equivalent focal length (in terms of field of view) for lenses from 10mm to 24mm on an APS-C DSLR.

APS-C 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24
35mm 16 17.6 19.2 20.8 22.4 24 25.6 27.3 28.8 30.4 32 33.6 35.2 36.8 38.4

Though the wide end of these lenses only differ by 1 or 2 mm, at these focal lengths that does make quite a difference in terms of angle of view and field of view as the following table shows

Lens focal length 10mm 11mm 12mm
APS-C Horizontal angle of view 96.7 degrees 91.3 degrees 86.3 degrees
APS-C Horizontal field of view at 100ft 225ft 204ft 187ft

The Tamron 11-18mm f/4.5-5.6 is wider than the Tokina 12-24/4 or Sigma 12-24/4.5-5.6 at the wide end of the range and it is also faster. It's the smallest and lightest of the 4 lenses and second least expensive. In the review section of this website up can find a full, hands-on, test of the Tamron 11-18/3.5-5.6

The Tokina 12-24mm f/4 has a wider zoom range than the Tamron 11-18/3.5-5.6 and, at a constant f4, is the fastest of the 4 lenses. However it's "only" 12mm at the wide end (vs. 11mm for the Tamron 11-18/3.5-5.6 and 10mm for the Canon 10-22/3.5-4.5 and Sigma 10-20/4-5.6). It's the least expensive of the five, but it's almost as heavy as the Sigma 12-24/4.5-5.6. Read a review of the Tokina 12-24mm f/4 lens.

The Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 is the widest lens of all and has the widest zoom range (2.1x), but it's the most expensive by a significant amount and being EF-S it can't even be mounted on anything but a Digital Rebel (XT) or an EOS 20D. The Tamron 11-18/3.5-5.6, Sigma 10-20/4-5.6 and Tokina 12-24/4 can be used on all EOS bodies, but they will vignette at the wide end of the range. The Canon 10-22/3.5-4.5 has a USM motor with full time manual focus

The Sigma 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6 is the only lens with full frame 35mm coverage. However it's the heaviest of all four lenses and the second most expensive. The full frame coverage means the hood is designed for 35mm, and so won't be optimal when used with an APS-C sensor body. It also takes rear mounted gel filters (the other 4 lenses take 77mm screw in front filters). Incidentally 12mm is the widest rectilinear lens made by anyone for full frame 35mm use.

The Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 is the widest lens (along with the Canon) and the least expensive along with the Tamron 12-24/4. It doesn't zoom as far as the Sigma 12-24/4.5-5.6, the Canon 10-22 or the Tokina 12-24/4 and it's a little heavier than the Canon 10-22/3.5-4.5 and Tamron 11-18/3.5-5.6. At the time of writing (June 22 2005) this lens has not yet shipped to vendors but is expected to do so very soon.

The Nikon 12-24mm f/44G ED IF  DX is Nikon's own wide-angle zoom for its Digital SLR cameras (all of which are APS-C. It's the most expensive lens here by a significant amount. Almost twice the cost of the similar Tokina 12-24/4 which has the same aperture and zoom range. The Nikon lens does have a silent wave motor (which is similar to Canon's USM)

Which of these superwide zooms is best for you depends somewhat on what you shoot, whether weight is an important factor and how much you want to spend. If you shoot both APS-C digital and 1.3x and/or full frame film or digital, then the Sigma 12-24/4.5-5.6 lens has a lot of appeal since it's the only one with full frame coverage. The Canon is nice and wide - but expensive and EF-S mount only. The Tamron is small, light and wide, but the Tokina has a little more zoom range - though it's not as wide and is larger and heavier. The Sigma 10-204-5.6 is wide and the least expensive, but a little heavier than two of the others and isn't (as of 06/05) in the stores yet. Nikon owners have the choice of any of the 3rd part lenses as well as Nikon's own offering.

Where to buy

These lenses are available from the following vendors who support photo.net when purchases are made via these links:

©Copyright 2005 Bob Atkins - www.bobatkins.com

Article created 2005

Readers' Comments

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Brendan McMahan , September 12, 2005; 02:20 P.M.

I'm trying to decide between the Sigma 10-20, the Tokina 12-24, and the Tamron 11-18 for my Canon 10D. Weight, zoom-range, and quality are my main concerns. I'm going to be doing a lot of traveling and hiking/climbing with the lens, so weight matters, suggesting the Tamron. But, I will usually be pairing it with my 28-135 IS, which leaves a pretty big gap. If weight wasn't such a big concern, the Tokina would probably be my first choice, as the 12-24 would be a good fit with the 28-135, and the constant f/4 would be nice. But it's heavy. Given those tradeoffs, the Sigma seems like a reasonable compromise. However, I haven't seen a good review covering the quality of the Sigma lens. Does anyone have any advice or links that might help me out with this decision?


Mike Stone , September 15, 2005; 11:15 P.M.

I have been using the Tokina 12-24mm for about a week now and have been getting really great images with my 20D. Nice and sharp with outstanding color saturation and contrast. This is truly a very high-quality lens.

The lens is a pleasure to use -- very high build quality and solid mount. I like the clutch action on the M/AF adjustment and the movement of the zoom and focus rings are very smooth. Autofocus is quick and very quiet. May not quite be USM speed, but it's close enough for almost any subject I'd be using a SWA lens for anyway. It is built like a tank - seems to be all metal and glass.

I struggled quite a bit on deciding which lens to buy. Having recently bought an L lens, I felt that Canon had enough of my money already, and really didn't want to part with $750 for a lens that may be obsoleted when I eventually move on to a full-frame camera from the (fantastic..) 20D. However, I was open to considering the Canon if a less expensive option did not perform well, as I really enjoy using a SWA lens.

Long story short, the Tokina has definitely performed well enough for me to forego spending 50% more on the Canon. The only second thoughts I have now are about the similarly-priced (to Tokina) Sigma 10-22mm. I like the idea of having even wider range than Tokina's 12mm. Sigma's HSM might be marginally faster than Tokina's focus system, but the Tokina isn't slow - and again, I won't be using this lens to capture sports or animals very often! The Tokina nets-out the Sigma's focus advantage with its faster constant f/4 in my mind, which gives a fair amount of valuable flexibility in exposure choices.

Some of the Sigma 10-22 images I have seen (albeit very few) didn't look as good as what I've gotten with the Tokina - and in shooting with it for a couple of solid hours, I can't see the 10-12mm difference being a huge practical limitation. The 12mm is clearly "wide enough" for me - and many of the 10 -11mm shots I have seen on the web are somewhat distorted - which looks artsy-cool if you're into that kinda thing, but I'll eventually get a fisheye to shoot my 60's album cover shots. So I'm sticking with the bird in the hand.

According to the reviews below, the Tokina can be used on a full-frame camera with good results from 16mm up. I haven't tried this myself, but if believe everything you read on the web...

Hope this is helpful! I do not put myself out as an expert by any means, but I thought my thought process (non-linear as it is) might be helpful to someone just starting to look into the Canon SWA options.

Some other resources:

A similar discussion string: http://www.fredmiranda.com/forum/topic/277052/3

A couple of reviews of the Tokina: http://www.photo.net/equipment/tokina/12-24-f4/ http://www.popphoto.com/assets/download/PP0405_TokinaLensTest.pdf

Here's a comparison of shots from the Sigma 10-20, Tamron 11-18, and Sigma 12-24mm: http://www.pbase.com/cameraguy21773/sigma_1020_samples

And a review of the new Sigma 10-22mm: http://www.ephotozine.com/equipment/tests/testdetail.cfm?test_id=362

Sigma 10-20 photos http://www.photosharp.com.tw/FORUM/ArticleList.aspx?TopicId=107106&ForumId=15&ParentLink=http%3a%2f%2fwww.photosharp.com.tw%2fFORUM%2fTopicList.aspx%3fForumId%3d15 http://www.arthuryam.com/sigma_10-20/ http://www.photo.net/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg?msg_id=00DUd8

Here are a couple of decent reviews of the canon 10-22mm: http://www.completedigitalphotography.com/index.php?p=325#more-325 http://www.the-digital-picture.com/Reviews/Canon-EF-S-10-22mm-f-3.5-4.5-USM-Lens-Review.aspx

Of course, now I've seen more of the sigma 10mm photos and wonder if I want that extra 2mm wide... The shots look great! Not a ding on the Tokina though - I still think it's a great option.

But it IS a bit heavy -- but it doesn't appear that the Sigma is a lot lighter, perhaps a bit. I backpack a bit too -- so I know how those extra ounces can multiply on long hills! Enjoy!

Image Attachment: IMG_8414.JPG

Dmitry Gringauz , October 14, 2005; 01:44 P.M.

Hi, Bob,

Thank you for a good and informative article on wideangle lenses for the DSLRs. It did help me recently in making a choice of which lens to buy for my 10D.

I'd like to point out a small type in the article. The Tamron lens aperture is 4.5-5.6, not 3.5-5.6, as you have listed.


Hari K , November 12, 2005; 01:10 P.M.

It sucks for me that I end up spending a lot more time dealing with issues with wide angle lenses having chromatic aberrations, vignetting and just slow and expensive, all of which has nothing to do with the actual photography. I thought technology should help us realising our vision better but there seems to be reverse trend going on with digital, where we are forced to waste our energies on silly things like this. Somebody on Photo.net had the cheek to claim that all this C*** is "new Aesthetics" and we better live it and then went on to sing songs about wide angles and small sensors. Cant get more disingeniuos than that. Unless he is a total delusional fool. I do hope folks come up with a affordable full frame sensors to put an end to this misery so that we can get back to our photography and stop fretting about the toys.

End of the Rant.

DAN CASPERSZ , July 31, 2006; 10:57 P.M.

I've been using the Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 regularly for a few months now and can recommend it to cropped sensor Canon-users without reservation. It's unerringly sharp, light, compact and very nicely made. The 10-22 is a pleasure to use and has added a new dimension to my photography.

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