Landscape photography is one of the most popular genres but it can be a daunting prospect figuring out what are the best lenses for landscape photography. The vast array of lens options can be overwhelming. Which focal length is best? What aperture range should I be looking for? How much money do I need to spend?
Well, luckily for you I have the information you need to make an informed decision. Let’s start off by thinking about what you might need to take great landscape photos first. Then I’ll recommend my list of best lenses for landscape photography at the bottom of this article. If you would rather jump to my recommendations, click here
What Makes a Good Lens for Landscape Photography?
Here are the main things I consider when I’m setting out on a landscape shoot…
The weight of the Lens
It’s so tempting to take all your kit with you on a shoot, especially if you don’t know exactly what you’re going to find out in the field. Yes, taking multiple lenses will mean you’re covered for absolutely anything, but it has its disadvantages too.
If you’re going to be walking any distance, carrying heavy bags of kit can be exhausting. A better plan is to take just one or two lenses and minimize the weight. This is especially important if you’re taking a tripod with you too.
Remember, limiting yourself is often a good recipe for more creative photos. Rather than constantly switching between lenses, in search of the perfect composition, you have to work the scene to find the best way to frame it with the gear you have in your hand. Don’t forget, you can always zoom with your feet if your zoom doesn’t quite take you all the way there.
Sometimes less really is more!
How Fast Is Your Lens?
Photographers often get hung up on having the ‘fastest’ lens for ultimate image quality. A large aperture (small f-number) can be really useful if you’re shooting portraits, where smooth backgrounds are desirable. However, in landscape photography, this is rarely important.
Most landscape photographers are more concerned with maximizing their depth of field, ensuring as much of the scene as possible is sharply in focus. To do this, you’ll need an aperture of f8 or f11, something that any lens is capable of.
Remember, fast lenses are not only more expensive but heavier too. The less weight you have to carry, the longer you are likely to continue shooting, so super-fast lenses simply don’t need to be a priority. Slower lenses are generally also cheaper, so there’s a cost saving too!
Focal Length for Landscape Photography
Ask this question of any landscape photographer and they’ll almost certainly say you need a wide angle zoom lens.
At one level they are absolutely right, although there are other possibilities too. Let’s look at the options…
Wide Angle Lenses
A wide angle lens can cover anything from 7 to 35m, depending on the camera system you’re shooting with. These can be invaluable for cramming as much of the scene as possible into your photo. Sometimes a grand vista just demands a wide lens! Be careful how you use them though.
If you simply shoot a fabulous view with a wide lens you’ll probably end up with a somewhat underwhelming image. Because of the way optics work, a wide angle lens makes distant objects look even further away than they do to the naked eye.
What’s the solution to this? Put simply – get closer, much closer! Most wide angle lenses have a short minimum focus distance. This means you can choose an object to place in the foreground of your image and get really close to it. This gives your viewer something to latch onto and lead them into the picture. Doing this will often give you a much more dynamic and interesting photo.
These are the middle of the range zooms that tend to come bundled with camera bodies. For a full-frame camera, you’re looking at a focal length of around 24-70mm. That’s around 18-55mm for an APS-C crop sensor camera and 12-35mm for micro four thirds.
While these are good all-around lenses I would argue that they’re probably the least effective for landscapes. The range of focal lengths they cover equates quite well with our own eyesight and there’s a risk of creating average landscape images with them. A wider or longer lens can give you much more of the wow factor.
Longer lenses are often overlooked by landscape photographers, but they can produce some wonderful results.
While a wide-angle lens can capture a whole vista, a moderate telephoto lens (in the 70-200mm range) can let you zoom in on details within the landscape, bringing subjects close to you. As well as enlarging individual elements of the scene, telephoto lenses also introduce a sense of compression. Wide angle lenses make elements in the scene seem further apart, but a long zoom lens will bring them closer together. This can introduce a very effective sense of layering in your photos.
Understanding Focal Lengths
In the days of film photography, focal lengths were very simple to understand, as everything was based around the 35mm film format (unless you were shooting large or medium format, of course). With the advent of digital cameras, it was too expensive to produce digital sensors as big as 35mm initially. The result was the APS-C format camera, with a smaller sensor, which was the norm until Canon released their first so-called ‘full frame’ camera in 2005. Subsequently, full frame has become increasingly popular, although there are still a vast number of photographers out there (myself included) shooting with both APS-C and Micro Four Thirds sensor cameras.
The focal lengths used to describe lenses relate to the distance between the sensor of your camera and the point where the light rays converge to create a sharp image. This system remains the same, regardless of the type of sensor in your camera. It’s important to remember though, that cropped sensors give you a different ‘effective focal length’. The smaller the sensor, the greater the effect this has.
When you’re considering the effective focal length of lenses on crop sensor cameras, you should multiply the focal length by 1.5x for Nikon and Fuji, 1.6x for Canon and 2x for Micro Four Thirds. This means that a 100mm lens on a Canon APS-C camera will give the appearance of 160mm on a full frame camera.
Photographic pedants will happily explain that there are lots of other considerations too, such as the effect of aperture on a crop sensor, but for our purposes, the multiplication factor is the one you need to remember when thinking about focal lengths on crop sensor cameras!
So Best Lenses for Landscape Photography?
Please bear in mind that my recommendations here are just a tiny selection of the lenses available today. If you are in the market to buy a new lens, I have chosen what I think are the ones you should consider first. For each camera format I’ve suggested (where possible) the best lenses, as well as models that would fit a more restricted budget.
Best Wide Angle Lenses for Landscape Photography
Best wide angle lenses for Canon full-frame cameras
Canon EF 16-35mm f4 L IS USM ($999)
This would be my first recommendation. Canon also sells an f2.8 version of this lens, but it’s much more expensive and heavier too. The newer f4 lens also has no less than four stops of image stabilization so you could leave your tripod at home unless you’re planning any long exposures!
Canon EF 11-24mm f4L USM ($2699)
If you want a real wow factor and have really deep pockets, this is a fabulous lens! Getting as wide as 11mm can give amazing results, although it needs to be used with care. The downside? This lens costs twice as much as the 16-35 and weighs a whole kilo more! This is probably a lens for most people to add to their wish list for when they win the lottery!
If all the lenses above are beyond your budget, why not consider a prime lens? They’re generally much smaller and lighter, which is perfect if you’re going to be walking some distance.
Canon EF 20mm f2.8 USM ($539)
The Canon 20mm prime is a much older design than the zoom lenses but is still an excellent choice. It has a metal mount, for durability, and weighs just 394g. You’ll get excellent results but remember, you’ll need to use sneaker zoom to get closer to your subject!
Best wide angle lenses for Canon crop sensor cameras
Sigma 10-20mm F3.5 EX DC HSM ($399)
I owned the original f4-5.6 version of this lens and it was a gem. Small and light, it slipped into my camera bag easily and gave me the ability to capture wider views. Sigma have updated the model since I owned mine, increasing the maximum aperture to a constant f3.5 – this is particularly handy in low light and you could even try the faster version of the lens for astrophotography.
This may be the least expensive ultrawide zoom for any DSLR but don’t let that fool you! Optically, it produces excellent results and the plastic build makes it super-light. The only minus is the electronic manual focus action (although this is standard on most lenses for mirrorless cameras) which can feel a little less immersive If 18mm isn’t quite long enough for you, don’t forget you can always zoom with your feet.
Best wide angle lenses for Nikon Full Frame
The dream wide angle lens for this format has to be the legendary Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 G AF-S ED ($1896). This lens is one of the Nikon ‘trilogy’ of lenses – 14-24, 24-70 and 70-200mm, all at f2.8. It’s crazily sharp, even at its maximum aperture, with no darkening at the corners of the picture (vignetting). However, it is big, heavy, expensive and the curved front element is a magnet for fingerprints. That said, if you want ultimate quality this is your lens.
Tamron 15-30mm f2.8 SP Di VC USD ($1299)
If the Nikon 14-24 is too rich for your blood, it’s worth looking at third-party manufacturers. Tamron’s 15-30 gives you almost everything the Nikon can (except one millimeter on the wide end) and for $600 less. It’s very sharp and its image stabilization (VC in Tamron’s terminology) is nothing short of miraculous, allowing you to shoot at much slower shutter speeds than usual.
Best wide angle lenses for Nikon Crop Sensor
This is a great lens. It’s very sharp and, unlike many super-wide lenses, it suffers very little from lens flare. You may find some lens distortion at the widest end of the lens, but this is easily corrected in Lightroom or Photoshop.
Best wide angle lenses for Micro Four Thirds cameras
All of the lenses I’m recommending for Micro Four Thirds (M4/3) can be used on any body with this format, be it Panasonic or Olympus. This gives M4/3 photographers access to a huge range of lenses.
My favorite super-wide angle lens for M4/3 format cameras is the Olympus 7-14mm f2.8 PRO M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED ($1199). It’s a superb lens, and one I shoot with regularly. The image sharpness is second to none and it has a clever clutch mechanism to quickly engage manual focus. The front element bulges outwards, in common with many super-wide lenses, but the built-in lens hood gives a little protection.
While the last lens is rather pricey, there is a cheaper alternative you might wish to consider. The Olympus 9-18mm f4.0-5.6 M.ZUIKO Digital ED ($699) is a little gem of a lens. Yes, the maximum aperture is slower and you lose a little on the wide end of the lens, but there are benefits. The lens zooms further than the previous lens and it’s positively tiny! At just 155g you’ll barely notice its presence in your camera bag when out hiking.
Best wide angle lenses for Fuji X Mount
Third party manufacturers have been slower to develop lenses to fit Fuji X Mount cameras so the choice of options is smaller than for other camera types. However, Fuji makes some astonishingly good lenses so there’s no shortage of quality.
Super-wide-angle lenses are in rather short supply for Fuji at the moment, but the Fujifilm 10-24mm f4 R OIS XF Fujinon ($849) is an excellent choice. Made with an all-metal body it’s built for heavy-duty use and creates images with no distortion, flare or colored fringing. Even better, it has built-in image stabilization, allowing you to use slower shutter speeds without a tripod.
For those with deeper pockets, Fuji has recently announced a faster super-wide angle lens, the Fujifilm 8-16mm f2.8 XF R LM WR Fujinon ($1999). It’s only available for pre-order at the moment, but no doubt it would be an amazing addition to arsenal of lenses of any keen Fuji landscape photographer.
Best wide angle lenses for Sony E Mount
Sony’s E mount Alpha cameras have taken the mirrorless world by storm in recent years, with their combination of full frame quality in a smaller form factor body. The most widely praised lenses in their range are the G Master lenses, which give ultimate quality. They’re pricey though so I have a cheaper alternative for you too.
Sony FE 16-35mm f2.8 G Master ($2198)
This could be considered to be the ultimate full-frame super-wide lens, and it’s hard to find a better model for any format of the camera. The downside? The price! If you’re not prepared to compromise on quality or weight, this could be the lens for you.
Of course, for many people, Sony G Master lenses are just unattainable. If you feel that way, why not take a look at this cheaper alternative?
The Laowa 15mm f2 FE Zero-D ($848) is smaller and much cheaper than the Sony lens. It’s a super-sharp prime lens so you’ll need to zoom with your feet instead of the lens. It’s also a manual focus lens. In the past, this would have put a lot of photographers off, but thanks to focus peaking, manual focusing is a breeze on mirrorless cameras!
Let’s move on now, and take a look at some telephoto lenses, to help you pick out those all important details in your landscape photos.
Best Telephoto Lenses for Landscape Photography
Best wide angle lenses for Canon Full Frame
Canon EF 70-200mm f4 L IS II USM ($1099 with image stabilization, $599 without)
One of Canon’s sharpest ever lenses and, in its non-IS version, an absolute bargain! Its image quality is superb, one of the sharpest lenses Canon has ever made, and the lens focuses in a flash. I had the IS model for a decade, bought second hand, and it never failed me. If you’re not bothered about stabilization, go for the cheaper model, but you could also look for a second hand IS model for around the same price. If you buy secondhand from a reputable dealer you really can’t lose. These f4 lenses have all the quality of the Canon f2.8 versions, but they’re half the price, and much smaller and lighter too. The bokeh from the f4 lens isn’t quite as creamy as the f2.8 version, but in the real world, it’s hardly noticeable.
For those on a budget, it’s worth considering the Canon EF 70-300mm f4-5.6 IS II USM ($499). The extra focal length gives you more reach at the long end and it’s only marginally heavier than the 70-200mm f4 IS. This lens’s autofocus is astonishingly quick, outgunning many of Canon’s professional L lenses. It also has a clever LCD display, showing focus distance, focal length or image stabilizer information. While this lens is intended for use on full frame cameras it’ll work equally well on crop sensor models too. If you regularly shoot wildlife it’s worth considering, as the long end gives you an effective focal length of 480mm on a crop camera.
Best wide angle lenses for Canon Crop Sensor
Canon has produced several lenses at this focal length over the years. This most recent incarnation is light, competitively priced and very sharp too – what’s not to love? It isn’t weather sealed and won’t work on full frame cameras, but at this price, you really can’t complain.
Do remember that all full frame lenses can also be used on crop sensor cameras. This doesn’t give you an advantage at short focal lengths but gives you the extra reach when you’re shouting at the long end. Any of the full frame 70-200 lenses will work seamlessly and I used my 70-200 on a crop camera for many years.
Best wide angle lenses for Nikon Full Frame
Nikon 70-200mm f4 G ED VR ($1396)
For many years Nikon only produced an f2.8 version of their 70-200mm lens, but that changed in 2012. The f4 version has all the optical quality of its faster brother, but with half the weight and price. For landscape work, the smaller maximum aperture is not critical, as you’ll probably want to shoot with more depth of field. The superb image stabilization (VR) will also allow you to shoot at slower shutter speeds.
As with the Canon equivalent I mentioned earlier, this is lighter and cheaper than the 70-200, while giving you more reach. The trade-off is the slower maximum aperture and unfortunately, its electronic diaphragm (which makes focusing quieter) makes it incompatible with cameras made before about 2007. In my opinion, it’s probably worth looking for a second hand 70-200 unless you feel the extra reach would be helpful to you in other settings.
Nikon Crop Sensor
This lens has superb sharpness and image quality, along with stabilization which means you can shoot at much slower speeds than normal. The downsides? There really aren’t many. It has a plastic lens mount (although with modern quality control that’s not a deal breaker) and no full-time manual focus. This means you to flick a switch to engage manual focus – hardly a huge imposition at such a low price!
Best wide angle lenses for Micro Four Thirds
A superb lens which is super sharp and tiny compared to equivalent lenses for full frame cameras. I’ve used the mark 1 version of this lens for a couple of years now, and it’s a wonderful tool. There’s no optical difference between the mark 1 and 2 models, so if you don’t need the mark 2 dual image stabilization or stopless apertures (features mostly aimed at videographers) it would be worth looking for a second-hand mark 1. These can be bought for around half the price of a new mark 2 lens.
This is a tiny little lens. While not as fast as its more expensive cousin, it will fit into the smallest corner of your camera bag and, at just 135g, you’ll barely notice it’s there. You’ve got all the zoom range of the more expensive model and it’s very sharp too. If you own one of the smaller micro four-thirds camera bodies, this is a really good choice and it won’t weigh you down in the field.
Best wide angle lenses for Fuji X Mount
Fujifilm 50-140mm f2.8 WR OIS XF ($1399)
If you’re after the perfect telephoto lens for your Fuji camera, look no further, although you’ll need fairly deep pockets! With weather sealing and image stabilization, it’s perfect for out in the field. Weighing just over a kilo, it’s pretty hefty for a mirrorless lens, but you may feel this is a worthwhile trade-off.
If you’d rather not spend as much, or carry as much weight around, you might be better looking at this lens. Aside from the faster aperture, it compares well to its larger brother, although you have to flick a switch to move into manual focus mode.
Best wide angle lenses for Sony E Mount
Sony took a little while to release telephoto lenses for their full frame mirrorless cameras, and as a result, the choices are limited at the moment. If you want the biggest and the best, the Sony FE 70-200mm f2.8 G Master is superb, albeit with a hefty price tag, at $2598.
The smaller and lighter Sony FE 70-200mm f4 G OSS is cheaper, at $1498. Alternatively, you could go for a longer but slower lens, the Sony FE 70-300mm f4.5-5.6 G OSS for a little less ($1198). For landscape work, I would personally plump for the 70-200mm f4, for a balance of reach, weight, cost, and speed of aperture.
Whichever lens you choose, you’ll be shooting with Sony’s most recent technology and can be assured of superb image quality.
What would I shoot Landscape Photography with?
If I’m heading out into the field for a day of landscape photography I will usually travel as light as possible, taking just a couple of lenses. For my camera (a Panasonic G9) that would probably be the Olympus 7-14mm f2.8 and the Panasonic 35-100mm f2.8. Those two lenses, plus a camera body, fit into a tiny bag, meaning I’m much more likely to take my tripod along too. Yes, there’s a gap in the focal lengths of the two lenses, but for anything between 14mm and 35mm, I have my feet. I call it sneaker zoom!
Ultimately, it’s not the gear but how you use it which will have the biggest impact on your landscape photography. I know people who create astonishing work on an iPhone, but having the right lenses will undoubtedly give you a head start. If you’d like to learn more about landscape photography, I’ve recently published an in-depth landscape photography guide. It explains how you can take stunning landscape photographs.
I’d love to see some of your landscape photos, so why not share in the comments below or over start a free photoblog on our Photoblog platform? While you’re doing so, please tell us which lens you used and why you chose it. Happy shooting!
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