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.
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.
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:
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.
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).
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 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).
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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