Beginner to Professional: Lenses for Landscape Photography
One of the most common questions that people ask me is what lens to buy for landscape photography. The answer is never as straightforward as it may seem.
The best lens for landscape photography differs from person to person. It depends on the style in which you shoot, your budget and where you are in your photographic journey.
When I first started out in landscape photography, long before I did it professionally, I used the lenses which I had already purchased over time for other genres. With trial and error, I discovered what was more useful for how I liked to shoot and what I could afford to leave behind.
The information below is the culmination of having spent many years shooting outdoors in nature. What works for me may not work for you but I hope that this guide will offer you some insight if you’re trying to figure out which lenses to invest in for your own foray into landscape photography.
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What Type of Lens is Best for Landscape Photography?
The best type of lens for landscape photography is one that can cover several different scenarios, based on what you like to shoot. This is why when people ask me what my dream lens is, I always say that it’s a super lightweight all-in-one fast macro, wide-angle and telephoto zoom lens with excellent performance under low-light!
Unfortunately, a lens like that still doesn’t exist.
As such, I recommend a handful of lenses that landscape photographers should buy, which are versatile in most situations. This is based on assuming that you’ve just purchased a new entry-level crop-sensor camera with an 18-55mm kit lens – the one that most photographers will often end up with!
For Crop Sensor Cameras
If you’re just stepping into the world of digital photography, then I highly recommend doing so with an entry-level camera. Most of these are crop sensor cameras, meaning that they have a smaller sensor and so the resulting image is magnified.
For crop sensor cameras, I recommend the following lenses. Each brand will have its own equivalent that comes somewhat close to these specifications.
Ultra wide angle zoom lens 14-24mm f/2.8
Telephoto zoom lens 55-250mm f/4-5.6
Once you have mastered all of the controls on your entry-level crop sensor camera, consider upgrading to an amateur or professional level full frame camera. Professional lenses are usually able to fit crop sensor cameras, though the same cannot be said for vice versa.
For Full Frame Cameras
The following are lenses that I recommend for a full frame digital SLR. Again, each brand will have its own equivalent that comes close to these specifications.
Ultra wide angle prime lens 12mm or 14mm f/1.4 (if you’ll be shooting astrophotography and have the budget)
Wide angle zoom lens 16-35mm f/2.8
Standard zoom lens 24-70mm f/2.8
Telephoto zoom lens 70-200mm f/2.8
After upgrading from a crop sensor camera to a full frame, consider selling or trading in your 18-55mm kit lens for the 16-35mm and 24-70mm professional lenses instead.
If you’re just starting out and you have a limited budget, then my advice is that you invest in the most important pieces of gear. This means trying to cover the largest focal range possible, using the sharpest lenses that you can comfortably purchase.
There are two essential lenses that I recommend for landscape photography: a wide angle zoom lens (16-35mm f/2.8) and a telephoto zoom lens (70-200mm f/2.8). These two focal lengths will cover everything from vast, expansive vistas to more abstract and intimate landscape scenarios.
Don’t worry too much about the standard focal range at this point in time, unless you have extra budget to spend.
Is a 24-70mm Lens Useful for Landscape Photography?
A standard zoom lens within the 24-70mm focal range is great to have for landscape photography, particularly if you are in an area that you can easily cover by foot, meaning that you can put some distance between yourself and your subject without being too close or too far away.
However, this type of lens does have its limitations. You may find that it doesn’t give enough reach for shooting mountains and other interesting subjects in the distance, whilst also not being wide enough to exaggerate details in the foreground.
I find that a 24-70mm standard zoom lens is most useful in settings such as forests, where fog or sun rays coming through the trees may provide a point of interest.
Is a 35mm or 50mm Lens Good for Landscape Photography?
Depending on your style of shooting, a 35mm or 50mm prime lens may either be great to use or absolutely redundant. Personally, I don’t use either of these focal lengths enough to justify having two separate prime lenses in my bag for landscape photography. This is why I choose to have a standard 24-70mm zoom lens to cover that range instead.
Space is limited when going out on a long hike, so it’s best to condense whatever you can into smaller packages.
If you have a crop sensor camera, then these two lenses can still be useful. The 35mm lens on a crop sensor will be roughly equivalent to a 50mm lens on a full frame camera, while the 50mm lens on a crop sensor will be equivalent to 75mm on a full frame camera.
Keep in mind that prime lenses are often heavier than zoom lenses. So, if you have the strength to lug around two prime lenses with you, then a 35mm or 50mm lens may be worthwhile to use for sharp, high quality images. Otherwise, leave them at home for another day when you’re shooting portraits or street scenes instead.
Do I Need a Fast Lens for Landscape Photography?
You don’t really need a fast lens for landscape photography. However, it’s preferable to have a fast lens for shooting landscapes at night or if you’ll be shooting handheld without a tripod.
For overall versatility, I suggest a lens with an aperture range of around f/2.8 to f/4.0.
If you’ll be shooting handheld, doing astrophotography, shooting the Northern Lights or photographing the Milky Way, it’s best to have a fast lens with an aperture range of around f/1.2 to f/2.8. This way, you’ll have the benefit of allowing more light onto your camera’s sensor, which will help you to expose correctly whilst reducing camera shake.
Still not quite sure which lenses that you should really invest in? Here’s the truth about what you need to start landscape photography.
How to Purchase a New Lens Ethically
The manufacture of lenses and cameras involves the sourcing of conflict minerals as well as the use of a number of chemicals that are toxic to humans and animals.
To reduce your environmental impact, try to purchase refurbished or pre-loved lenses whenever possible. In most cases, there is very little difference in quality between a lens that has been used and re-sold, versus a lens that is brand new on the market. Barely used lenses are often traded or sold as photographers upgrade their gear and figure out what does or doesn’t work for their own set-up.
Purchasing a second-hand lens will also be much more friendly on your wallet, giving you room to extend your budget to squeeze in another cheeky lens or two! Similarly, when you’ve decided that a lens is no longer useful in your kit, consider selling it onwards rather than allowing it to gather dust on your shelf.
Have you got a question about lenses for landscape photography or your particular camera? Ask me in the comments below!