Arguably you can use any lens for landscape photography, but if you want to capture stunning landscapes that are going to amaze and impress your friends, family and peers you need to use a lens with specific features. This is all well and good, but what features does (and also doesn’t) the perfect landscape photography lens have? Check out the following and all will be revealed…….
Landscape lenses need to be wide
Even though it is best to get as much in the frame as possible, i.e. use the widest lens possible, this can create some serious issues. Shooting too wide and using lenses with a very wide field of view can lead to distortion and converging lines, both of which will ruin what would otherwise be a great landscape shot.
I find that when I am shooting landscapes I have no problems shooting at 16mm (effective focal length – so 10mm on a crop sensor camera) however once I started using lenses with focal lengths shorter than this the field of view is too wide and distortion and/or converging lines began to be a bit of a pain. It is possible to rectify these problems using editing software, to a certain extent, I want to spend my time taking photos and not editing them. Consequently, I don’t use focal lengths any wider than 16mm (effective focal length) and I really don’t think there is any need to.
Landscape lenses need to be tough
Since landscape photography is an outdoor pursuit it is important landscape photography lenses are tough, durable, strong and can handle the elements, and everything Mother Nature can throw at it. Landscape lenses need to be weather sealed to not only keep the water/moisture out but also the dirt and debris blown around by the wind. A poorly made lens won’t last five minutes out in the field taking landscape shots, so you need to make sure any lens you are intending to use for landscape photography is sturdy and well built.
Landscape lenses don’t need to be fast
Landscape lenses don’t need to be fast, i.e. have a wide maximum aperture, so don’t be put off by lenses f4 + lenses. When taking landscapes you want to maximize the depth of field and get front to back sharpness, and this requires narrow apertures. I have never shot a landscape at anything less than f8, and since I typically use apertures of f16 I can’t even remember the last time I went as wide as f8 out on a landscape shoot.
Landscape lenses don’t need image stabilization or vibration reduction
Image stabilization (IS)/vibration reduction (VR) is very useful for taking photos of many different subjects, however you don’t need it for landscape photography. Landscapes are often shot using low ISOs (for the best quality) and narrow apertures (to maximize the depth of field) which leads to slow shutter speeds, which in turn means a tripod is an essential bit of kit for landscape photography, and using a tripod negates the need for a tripod. In fact having IS/VR turned on when using a tripod can actually lead to soft photos as the lens is constantly trying to compensate. If you do buy a lens with IS/VR and use it for taking landscape shots make sure you keep the IS/VR switch in the off position.
A different type of landscape lens
I use a wide angle lens most of the time when shooting landscapes however I use a different lens the remaining five percent of the time, and this is a standard zoom (i.e. 70mm – 200mm zoom) lens. A standard tele lens is useful for focusing on specific parts on a landscape and drawing attention to them in the final photo.
It is worth pointing out that any standard tele lens you intend to buy for landscape photography should be tough, durable, well made and sturdy enough to deal with what Mother Nature decides to throw at it. It is also worth pointing out that any standard tele lens you intend to use for landscapes doesn’t need to be fast or have IS/VR technology either.
THE LENSES I USE FOR LANDSCAPES
The first lens I use for landscape photography is a wide angle lens and is the Canon 16mm – 35mm f4L IS lens. I was considering the flagship f2.8L version but given the f4L is smaller and lighter, has better image quality and is also cheaper it made more sense to buy the f4L IS version instead. The image stabilization didn’t have any impact on my decision, since I always use a tripod for taking photos of landscapes, but the image stabilization has made this lens useful for photographing other subjects.
Like all L series lenses the build quality of this lens is superb. It is made out of top quality materials and is bombproof, which is essential for an outdoor lens. This lens is weather sealed, and it is more than man enough to deal with whatever Mother Nature has to throw at it.
The 16mm – 35mm focal range is perfect for the type of landscape shots I like to take. 16mm is the widest you can go before distortions and converging lines start becoming an issue, so I know I can use this lens at the short end without having to do too much corrective editing. The focal lengths to 35mm makes this a versatile lens.
The image quality of this lens is what makes this lens the best lens for landscape photography. This lens is super sharp form the centre to the sides, even when used wide open (although I never take any landscape photos using f4 apertures. I find the sweet spot to be f11 – f16, which is just where you need it.
Okay, this lens may not be cheap but it is quality, and it’s always worth paying more for quality. Besides, you got a lot of features with this lens and it is great bang for the buck.
The awesome Canon 16mm - 35mm f4L IS lens
Buy the Canon 16 - 35 f4L IS lens from Amazon.com (US citizens) or buy from Amazon.co.uk (UK citizens)
When I was looking for a tele lens for landscape photography I did consider the Canon 70 – 200 f2.8L IS lens but after reading some reviews, going to the local camera shop and seeing the lens and taking some sample images I quickly realized it wasn’t the best choice. The Canon 70 – 200 f2.8L IS lens is an awesome lens, I can’t deny that but it is also a big heavy beast of a lens, and when I am hiking in the countryside looking for landscapes to shoot I want as little bulk and weight as possible. I concluded the image stabilization was not necessary for landscapes as I would be using a tripod, and I concluded the f2.8 aperture was unnecessary too since I like to get front to back sharpness in my landscape shots, which requires shooting at narrow apertures. Since I only wanted a 70 – 200 lens for landscapes I couldn’t justify the high cost of the f2.8L IS.
The 70 – 200 lens I decided to buy was the Canon f4L IS lens, and I have to say I definitely made the right decision. The build quality of this lens is superb (it is not only weather sealed but “bomb proof”, the image quality of this lens is superb, and the image stabilization (whilst not really needed for landscapes) is useful for taking handheld shots of other subjects when I am out and about looking for landscapes to photograph.
The 70 – 200 f4L IS lens is the best compromise between image quality, features, size and price and it is, therefore the best value Canon 70 – 200 lens available.
The excellent Canon 70mm - 200mm f4L IS lens
Buy the Canon 70mm - 200mm f4L IS lens from Amazon.com (US citizens) or buy from Amazon.co.uk (UK citizens)
Rather than Amazon you may want to head on over to eBay and try and grab a bargain Canon 16mm - 35mm or Canon 70mm - 200mm lens. Use the search box below to find the current selection of lenses available.
What are you waiting for? Go grab yourself a bargain
Keen photographer addicted to cameras, lenses and everything photography related. Feel free to follow me in my photography ramblings, and if you have any thoughts, comments, queries or anything else to add I would love to hear from you.