Wide Angle on Global Day Of Action For Darfur

I do like working with wide angle lenses, as anyone who has ever looked at My London Diary will have noticed.  Most times when I go out to take pictures I start off with a wide-range zoom on the camera, either a Sigma 18-25mm or the Nikon 18-200mm. The Nikon adds that extra length, has VR (I keep it switched on all the time, but don’t feel it does a great deal) but is quite a bit heavier and bulkier and mists up badly in dampish conditions. Image quality is very similar – both need software correction for chromatic aberration and distortion for critical use.  The Sigma feels better made, has a much better lens hood – the Nikon hood often falls off at inconvenient moments. Annoyingly the Sigma zooms in the wrong direction, but that’s the only real problem I have with it.

These lenses are both very flexible, allow you to work from a little distance or get in reasonably close. But when things are going well, there is usually a time when I feel I need to take off my jacket and get stuck in with a real wide angle, such as the Sigma 12-24.  And sometimes when I want to get really close and personal, the 10.5mm Nikon semi-fisheye. The curvy perspective can be a problem with the fisheye, but often when I use it I’m already thinking how I can sort things out a little in software afterwards.

The Darfur Day of Action marked five years of conflict there, and I needed the wide-angles for the two Darfur events I photographed in April and September 2007 as well.

Sudanese Embassy
This shot, with the 12-24mm, manages to show that the demonstration is taking place at the Sudanese Embassy. A little work with Photoshop would help to bring this out – but this is a simple development of the RAW file. Probably I could have improved it a little while I was taking the image, but I had to stand on top of a wall with a rather long drop down to cellar level in front of me, the kind of situation that always leads me into a bad case of the shakes. I’ve just no head at all for heights – I blame it on my father taking me up with him on roofs where he was working when he had to look after me when I was a very small child.

But the wide angle has let me put together the brass plate and the demonstrators, and the perspective on it brings in the eye to the demonstration. I’d have preferred it to be wider to show more of the demonstration which stretched roughly twice as far across the street.  Although this was only at 24mm, it is tolerably sharp from the Y of Embassy to infinity, depth of field being a great advantage (usually) in wide angle shots – this one at f13.

Shortly before I’d poked the 10.5mm into the Embassy letter box, with this effect:


Earlier I’d photographed people putting postcards through the door, and here they are in a pile on the floor inside., almost covering the area in front of the steps. Here I’ve used the Image Trends  Fisheye-Hemi 2 filter, followed by a slight crop. I couldn’t quite get the lens as far into the letterbox as I would have liked, but I think it still gives a decent effect.  The closest cards are really very close to the lens, and even the vast depth of field of the fisheye doesn’t quite cover.

The filter makes vertical lines straight, but leaves horizontals such as the steps with the curve that you see.  It is easy to remap to rectilinear perspective, but that seldom works unless quite severely cropped. The horizontal angle of view of roughly 140 degrees just results to too distorted a stretched effect towards the edges, and much of the image is lost when the remapped image is cropped to rectangular. You also get a drastic loss of quality at the edges and corners where there are simply not enough pixels to give a good result.

You can also try remapping fisheye images with the Panorama Tools plugin (particularly using the PSphere projection) or RectFish although this latter is perhaps better for circular fisheye images. Another alternative – and a great way to deal with distortion in all normal lenses, is PTLens.

The Darfur Protest pictures include a number taken with an ultra wide or semi-fisheye lens – as well as those taken with longer focal lengths. These things are useful tools, but can’t do everything you might need to do.

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