Best lenses for landscape photography

The Best Lenses for Landscape Photography

In the world of landscape photography, it is hard enough to decide which camera to get, let alone picking out the lenses.

The names alone are enough to confuse you, with their alphabet soup of letters and numbers that indicate this feature, that aperture, these focal lengths, etc.

There are so many aspects to take into consideration, how can you know which lens is truly the best one? Well, don’t panic!

Although there is no such thing as one perfect lens for all purposes, some lenses are better than others when it comes to landscape photography purposes specifically.

We have selected the best lenses based on the main criteria for landscape photography.

In this article we will guide you through what features are most important for a landscape lens and explain each one briefly, after which you should be able to choose your next landscape lens with confidence.

Important Features

The most important features to pay attention to when purchasing a lens for landscape photography are focal length(s), whether the lens is a prime or zoom lens, the maximum aperture, whether there is weather sealing on the barrel, the weight of the lens, the image quality it produces and finally the price tag.

We will shortly explain each aspect below.

Focal length

Although your first thought regarding landscape photography might be with a wide-angle lens, other focal lengths also come with great advantages.

Have a look at the list below to learn about each focal length and its respective (dis-)advantages:

Ultra-wide (4mm-20mm) and Wide-angle (21mm-35mm) lenses

A wide angle lens is by far the most popular lens amongst landscape photographers.

It offers a very broad field of view, meaning you can get a lot into a single frame.

This is convenient when you find yourself closely faced with a huge mountain you want to capture, but also want to get the vegetation in the foreground into your frame.

A wide-angle lens will give you this opportunity. Moreover, a wide-angle lens will allow for a very large depth of field.

This means that not only will you be able to get a lot of the fore- and background into frame, you’ll get it into perfectly sharp focus as well.

Ultra-wide lenses (4mm-20mm) have even larger fields of view, allowing for even more elements in a single frame.

They also come with some barrel distortion, which can create a dramatic effect and draw in the eye of the viewer. An extreme example of this is the fisheye effect.

Normal lenses (35mm-60mm)

If you want to capture a landscape almost exactly the way you see it, a standard focal length between 35mm and 60mm is most suitable.

The closest to the perception of the human eye is 50mm (be sure to take any crop factors into account, though).

Telephoto (75mm-150mm) and super telephoto (150mm +) lenses

A telephoto lens can be of great value for a landscape photographer.

With the ability to zoom in this far, you can isolate details from great distances and single out the elements of the landscape that are of interest to you.

With this ability to shoot from greater distances you’ll also be able to capture new perspectives. These perspectives usually increase the sense of distance between the viewer and the photograph.

Super Telephotos serve the same purposes, with the only difference being that you can isolate details from even greater distances.

With these types of lenses tripods are of great importance, as long focal lengths such as these are harder to keep steady.

Mount your lens and camera on a steady tripod (preferably on even ground) to prevent any blur from occurring in your images.

Tilt-Shift Lenses

Tilt-shift lenses are very popular amongst architectural photographers, but they’re also extremely useful tools for landscape photography.

The tilt features on these lenses not only allow you to change the plane of focus, they also provide the possibility to maximize (or minimize) the depth of field.

This means you’ll be able to get more of your image into focus, from the closest foreground objects to the furthest background elements.

Shifting will allow you to take full control of the perspective.

If you’re trying to capture straight vertical lines - trees, for example – you’ll normally get a great amount of distortion towards the edges of the frame.

With the shift feature on tilt-shift lenses, this distortion can be corrected (or exaggerated - whichever your creative heart desires).

Prime or zoom?

The difference between a prime and zoom lens can be found in the zoom capabilities; a zoom lens will cover multiple focal lengths thanks to a zoom feature, whereas a prime lens will cover only one focal length.

Zoom lenses can be very useful due to their versatility.

Because of the capability to zoom, you’ll be able to shoot from confined locations and still get only those element into frame that you want.

This will give you more freedom in your composition possibilities, and you’ll be able to cover more perspectives thanks to the multiple focal lengths.

The downside is that zoom lenses are often heavier and more expensive than prime lenses.

Thanks to their simpler design, prime lenses are known to be lighter, cheaper and slightly sharper than zoom lenses.

It’s often claimed they are also faster, but today many zoom lenses easily keep up in maximum aperture and image quality.

Prime lenses are easier to carry around, as they are generally lighter, but to be able to cover more than one focal length you’ll have to carry around multiple lenses.

Maximum aperture

The maximum aperture of a lens is not the most important feature for a landscape photographer, as you’ll most probably stick to apertures between f/5.6 and f/16 while shooting.

Lower apertures are not beneficial for creating large depths of field, and since you’ll be working with a tripod 99% of the time a smaller aperture can be compensated for with a slower shutter speed.

Buying a lens with a smaller maximum aperture is a great way to save money as a landscape photographer, as “slower” lenses are often a bit cheaper.

Weather sealing

An absolute must for a landscape photographer’s lens is some very resistant weather sealing.

Although lenses are of course never completely immune to heavy weather conditions, when shooting out in the elements you’ll be thankful if your lens has at least some resistance to dust and moisture - it might save you quite a lot of money in the end.

Weight

When hiking out in the mountains to find that perfect vantage point, having a heavy lens weighing you down is not very desirable.

Pay attention to the weight of a lens before buying it.

Great ways to keep the weight of your lens low are choosing slower glass, opting for primes over zooms, and leaving out the fancy features that are not that important for your specific photography purposes (such as image stabilization).

Image quality

Naturally, the image quality a lens is able of producing is of great importance.

Therefore, pay attention to how a lens performs regarding ghosting/flare, vignetting, corner sharpness, pincushion or barrel distortion and chromatic aberration.

Usually the manufacturer of the lens will have some kind of coating or special glass in place to optimize image quality.

However, not all of these work equally well (or as well as the manufacturer would like you to believe), so be sure to check out reviews and sample images before choosing your lens.

Cost

High-end lenses can go up quite high in price range.

Although I wouldn’t recommend a hobbyist or enthusiast photographer to invest thousands of dollars in a single lens, I do urge you to invest at least a big part of your budget in your lens rather than in a super expensive camera.

It makes no sense to buy a professional DSLR only to pair it with a cheap, low-quality lens because you ran out of money, as your images will come out only as sharp as your lens can.

Other important features

One last thing worth mentioning, is checking your lens’ compatibility with filters. As a landscape photographer you’ll most probably be very attached to your filters, and sadly not all lenses take standard screw-on filters.

Some of them will work with a filter if you purchase a special filter system, but those are often very pricey, so be sure to take them into your budget calculation.

Recommended lenses

Taking all these features into account, we have compiled the best lenses for landscape photography into a list, sorted by focal length.

We hope the list below will help you in making the right choice for you:

Wide and ultra-wide

Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens
Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM

This great versatile lens covers focal lengths from ultra-wide to wide-angle, and produces a much sharper image than most other ultra-wide lenses.

The f4 maximum aperture helps keeping the price of this lens relatively low (more or less $1200), and it stays consistent throughout all focal lengths.

The incredible corner sharpness (comparable to primes) makes this lens especially suitable for landscape photography, as does its compatibility with 77mm screw-on filters.

A smart budget choice!

Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM

Announced in 2012, this zoom lens has exactly the focal lengths recommended for general purpose use.

The images come out sharp from corner to corner (a great improvement over the 24-70mm f/2.8L USM), and contrast is simply stunning.

Some flare and vignette do occur, as does some distortion at the wider focal lengths. But despite these minor issues, image quality remains impressive.

82mm screw-on filters can also be used, adding to this lens’ suitability for landscape photography purposes. It is a high-end lens, and costs around $2000.

Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm F2.8G ED

If distortion at the wide end of the focal lengths is something that put you off, this lens will probably better suit your wide-angle needs, as there is barely any barrel distortion visible.

Image quality is of prime level, and corners are only slightly softened at f/2.8. As soon as you stop down to f/4 this problem is of the past.

The only down-sides are the bulky front element, which calls for an expensive filter system to allow filter use, and the rather heavy weight of the lens (around a kilogram).

But, this monster of a lens performs truly amazing in the image quality department, making it worthy of the $2000 price tag.

Read the full review here

Nikon 24mm f/1.4G
Nikon 24mm f/1.4G

This prime lens performs extremely well in low-light situations, thanks to the large maximum aperture.

It has proven to hold up well in extreme weather circumstances as well, partly thanks to the sturdy weather sealing on the barrel.

Although the lens is not as sharp as some of Nikon’s newer lenses, is still delivers a high-quality image with outstanding color rendition and superb contrast.

Use of filters is also made easy with the 77mm filter thread, allowing for use of common screw-on filters.

If zoom is not at the top of your priority list, you’ll probably be extremely pleased with this lens’ performance.

Samyang 14mm f/2.8 IF ED UMC Lens (Rokinon/Bower)
Samyang 14mm f/2.8 IF Ed UMC (Rokinon/Bower) Review

14mm is a widely used focal length for land- and cityscapes.

Making the closer objects seem larger, images shot with this 14mm lens will give the viewer the feeling they are right there in the field with you.

This is one of the very few wide-angle lenses offering such a low maximum aperture, but aperture does always have to be set manually, just like the focus.

Sadly, there is no weather sealing in place nor is there a filter thread.

The image quality is great though, and that’s reason enough to consider this lens for purchase.

Read the full review here

Sony Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS
Sony Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS

This lens from Sony is in a nice price range and can be yours for around $1000.

The barrel is as beautiful as it is sturdy, made up entirely out of metal. Image quality is not Sony’s best, with some softened corners occurring as well as vignetting.

Colors still render great though, and the speedy autofocus is a nice bonus.

Use of filters is also made easy thanks to the 55mm filter thread.

A good choice if you’re in search of a relatively cheap, light-weight lens.

Telephoto zoom lenses

Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II

This Nikon lens has been around ever since the ’80, and is redesigned every 4 to 5 years.

And for good reason: it simply works great.

This model has improved in many aspects over the previous one, for example in vignette and bokeh performance.

The tripod mount has remained unchanged, simply because it was already perfect.

And for those rare tripod-less occasions, the vibration reduction system will help keeping your hand-held shots pretty steady.

The lens also works well with teleconverters, in case you need to add some extra reach.

The price is high, around $2400, but the lens is absolutely worth every penny.

Canon 70-200mm f2.8 IS II
The Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L USM

This lens is practically the same as the Nikon 70-200mm mentioned above, with a great image sharpness, contrast and color rendition.

The metal lens barrel is weather sealed and does not change in size while focusing thanks to the internal focus system.

This handy feature helps battle focus breathing and also prevents any (77mm) filters from rotating.

The lens hood is worth mentioning as well, as it is one of the best ones we know of.

The textured finish on the inside stops nearly any reflections, meaning the hood keeps light from directly hitting the lens’ front element better than ever.

This effectively battles flare, which in turn will help up your image quality.

Read the full review here

Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS
Sony FE 70-200 f4

If you’re looking for a telezoom lens that is first and foremost a lightweight, this f4 70-200mm from Sony might be the one for you.

Color rendering is great, especially when enabling the Vivid Color profile in your Sony camera.

The build quality is outstanding as well, with an all-metal weather sealed barrel.

The lens is specially designed for Sony’s (full-frame) a7 series cameras, and on an APS-C the focal lengths will be equivalent to 105-300mm.

What makes this lens most suitable for landscape photography is the great sharpness, especially thanks to the lack of chromatic aberration and very minimal vignetting.

Another nice added feature is the presence of focus hold buttons, that most modern lenses got rid of.

Read the full review here

Tilt-shift lenses

Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II Tilt-Shift Lens
https://www.amazon.com/Canon-Ultra-Tilt-Shift-Digital-Cameras/dp/B001TDL2O0/ref=sr_1_1?s=electronics&ie=UTF8&qid=1494695315&sr=1-1&keywords=Canon+TS-E+24mm+f%2F3.5L+II+Tilt-Shift+Lens

This 24mm prime from Canon not only delivers outstanding image quality, it also comes with tilt- and shift features.

As I mentioned earlier, tilt and shift features are very helpful for the landscape photographer.

Tilting the lens will allow you to change the plane of focus and maximize depth of field, and shifting will give you the ability to control the perspective in the image.

On this particular lens, tilt- and shift features can also be rotated independently from each-other, giving you even more freedom in the images you create.

On top of that it also takes regular 82mm filters and has very minimal distortion. A lens well worth your $2400.

Nikon 24mm f/3.5D PC-E
Nikon 24mm f/3.5D PC-E

The Nikon counterpart to above mentioned lens is the 24mm f/3.5D PC-E.

This lens has an aperture ring to set the aperture manually, as well as a very smooth focus ring that makes the manual focus-only an easy task.

On older Nikon DSLR’s, this lens gives some minor problems due to the built-in flash getting in the way of your shifting abilities.

Setting the aperture from your camera is also not possible with the older Nikon cameras.

But the image quality is simply amazing, with sharpness going all the way into the extreme corners (when not tilted or shifted) and practically no chromatic aberration visible.

So, you might still want to consider this lens for purchase even if your camera is not a d3, d3x or d3s.

Read our detailed review here

Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L Tilt-Shift Lens
Canon TS-E 17mm f:4L Tilt-Shift Lens

If you’re looking for an even wider angle in a tilt-shift lens, this TS-E 17mm f/4L from Canon is a lens you need to consider.

It is the widest tilt-shift lens currently on the market, and delivers a performance almost identical to the TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II – which is great.

Image sharpness is good, colors look amazing, tilt- and shift features rotate independently and distortion is very minimal considering the ultra-wide focal length of this lens.

Sadly, is does not take regular filters, but filter systems such as those from Lee will offer a lot of filter options (though for a higher price).

If a high-quality, ultra-wide tilt-shift lens is high on your wish list, definitely purchase this one and get a filter system along with it.

Conclusion

As you can see, there are still many lenses for you to choose from.

Which one will ultimately make the cut entirely depends on your personal preferences, your camera of choice and of course your budget.

If you are seriously into photography or a professional, the best lens for your landscape photography will probably be one of the more expensive ones, such as the Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II.

Or, maybe you’ll choose to invest in multiple primes instead of one zoom, to keep the image quality at the absolute top.


If you’re an amateur or enthusiast, you’ll probably be more drawn to the slightly less expensive zoom lenses, such as the Sony Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS.

Performance might not be as incredible as some of the other lenses, but it will still do the job.

On top of that, a zoom lens such as this one is very versatile, allowing you to capture multiple perspectives, even when shooting from a single confined space.


Every photographer is different and will consequently have different lens- and camera needs. Consider which lens aspects are most important to you, and then see which lens with the desired features best fits into your budget.

Best lenses for landscape photography

Check out more Lenses Reviews here 

About the Author Luca

Hi, I am Luca, founder and editor in chief at photographyambition.com. I am crazy about photography and I always have a camera with me. When I am not busy with my day job, enjoying my family or taking photos, I am on Photography Ambition to share what I have learnt so far.

Leave a Comment: