Wide-angle refers to a lens with a focal length much smaller than a normal lens considering the size of the sensor.  On a regular 35mm camera, the film plane is 24 x 36mm.  This means that a wide-angle lens would have a focal length that is much smaller than 36mm.  On APS-C Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) the sensor size (larger side of the frame) vary from 22mm to 24mm depending on the brand. 

Wide-angle lens properties

Wide-angle lens have multiple inherent properties that you should take into account when using them.  Here are some of the most important one:

  • Distance between foreground and background is magnified;
  • Objects near the camera will appear bigger than in reality.  Object that are far away will appear very small;
  • These lenses are more subject to distortion since the film plane is perfectly parallel to the scene and the distance between the camera and objects in the corner of the frame is much greater than in the middle of the frame.  This varies based on the distance from the camera to the scene;
  • Using a Polarizer with these lenses can produce strange effect in the sky;
  • You can use a slower shutter speed with a wide-angle lens.

Because of these properties, some scenes are more suitable than others to the use of wide-angle lens.

Wide-angle lens are more suitable to:

  • Landscape photography;
  • Cityscape photography;
  • Street photography;
  • Real estate interior photography;
  • Group pictures.

Wide-angle lens are less suitable for:

  • Portrait photography;
  • Wildlife photography;
  • Macro photography;

If you want to increase the perspective, like in this picture, a Wide-angle lens is what you need.  Should you want to compress the perspective, a telephoto lens would be more appropriate.

My recommendation for a wide-angle lens goes to the Canon 17-40mm f/4L on a full frame sensor.  On an APS-C sensor, I would recommend the Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8.  This picture is from my trusty Canon 17-40mm f/4L.