For landscape photographers, the right lens can make the difference between an average snapshot and an image that evokes awe and wonder. With a vast array of options available today, choosing the best landscape lens for your needs isn’t always straightforward. This article will explore the top 5 lenses favored by landscape specialists and discuss key factors to weigh when picking your ideal landscape optic.
The Wide Angle Zoom Reigns Supreme
The wide angle zoom lens is a landscape photographer’s best friend. By providing a versatile focal length range on the wide end—usually starting around 16mm or 17mm—these lenses allow you to capture the expansive scenery in all its glory. Wide angle zooms like the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II or Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G also boast fast, constant apertures, which help in lower light situations.
The extra wide perspectives and exaggerated depth offered by these lenses is perfect for emphasizing the vastness of grand landscapes. This makes wide zooms ideal for epic panorama shots of mountain ranges, sprawling prairie scenes, and big sky sunrises and sunsets. For landscape shooters, the wide angle zoom is a must-have lens.
Reach Out with a Telephoto Zoom
The telephoto zoom is landscape photography’s secret weapon for isolating subjects and compressing distance. Modern telephoto zooms like the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II allow you to zero in on details from afar—capturing a lone tree on a hillside or mountain summit in tack sharp clarity. Their narrower field of view and compressed perspective also minimize the appearance of distance between foreground and background.
This effect lets you stitch near and far elements together into a single frame. Telephoto zooms around 100-200mm are ideal for landscape photographers seeking more intimate compositions.
Ultra Wides Invite You to Get Lost
For those addicted to wide vistas, ultra wide angle lenses spanning 14mm, 15mm, or 16mm on the short end will give even more expansive views. Canon’s legendary EF 11-24mm f/4L USM zoom and Nikon’s venerable 14-24mm f/2.8G capture incredible 125° and 114° angle of views—allowing you to get lost in the depths of the photo.
Exaggerating perspective, these extra wide lenses make nearby objects loom large, conveying an immersive sense of being there. For shooting grand interior scenes like caverns or churches, as well as exaggerating foreground elements in exterior landscapes, ultra wide angles can’t be beat.
Macro Lenses Reveal Nature’s Wonders
While not strictly a landscape lens, a macro lens is an indispensable tool for nature photographers seeking to capture intricate details of flowers, plants, and other flora. Prime macro lenses like Canon’s EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM or Tamron’s 90mm f/2.8 Di VC USD allow life-size 1:1 magnification for close ups with incredible sharpness and creamy bokeh.
A macro lens opens up possibilities for more intimate landscapes, showing drops of morning dew on a spiderweb, the textures of eroded rock, or condensation on a vibrant green leaf. If your landscape adventures include exploring and documenting nature up close, a macro lens is a worthy addition to your camera bag.
The Standard Zoom Shines for Cityscapes
Landscape photography isn’t limited to natural vistas—urban cityscapes can also make captivating images. From the bustling streets of Times Square to the glittering lights of the Vegas Strip, a versatile standard zoom like the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II captures city scenes in vivid detail.
The f/2.8 constant aperture provides low light capabilities, while the wide to short telephoto zoom range lets you shoot expansive architectural views one minute and zero in on smaller details the next. This flexibility makes the standard zoom a superb choice for urban landscapes and cityscapes.
Matching Lenses to Your Style and Subjects
Beyond thinking about focal lengths, there are a few other factors worth weighing when selecting landscape lenses. Consider which attributes are most important for how you like to photograph.
Think Hard About Focal Length Requirements
First, carefully analyze the type of landscapes you want to photograph. Do you prefer intimate nature scenes or expansive wide angles of epic mountain ranges? This will help refine the focal lengths you need most. Landscape lenses with more zoom range offer greater compositional flexibility. But a compact prime (fixed focal length) lens may make more sense if you only shoot wide.
Maximum Aperture Means Flexibility
While you’ll likely use narrower apertures of f/8 or f/11 for depth of field in landscapes, consider maximum aperture too. Lenses with wider maximum apertures (f/2.8, f/4) are invaluable if you shoot dusk or nightscapes when you need to use the lens wide open. This allows proper exposures at lower ISOs to minimize noise.
Leading Glass Requires a Bigger Investment
High end, professional-grade landscape lenses deliver outstanding sharpness, contrast, color rendition, and use advanced glass and coatings. But this quality commands a bigger price tag. Lenses like Canon L-series and Nikon’s pro E-series are gold standards, but you pay for it. Consider cheaper third party lenses from Sigma, Tamron, and others to save money.
Lugging Loads? Keep Weight in Mind
Photographing landscapes means potentially carrying lenses over long distances. So weight matters if mobility is important to you. Consider more compact prime lenses or lighter zoom lenses like Canon’s new RF-series or Nikon’s mirrorless Z-series to save weight. But never sacrifice stability—use a sturdy tripod for crisp shots in the field.
Special Features Enhance Capabilities
Modern lens designs incorporate special features like vibration reduction, fluorine coatings, and weather sealing. Vibration reduction lets you shoot at slower shutter speeds handheld without blur from camera shake—always a plus. Weather sealing protects lenses from dust and moisture when shooting in rugged conditions like coastal bluffs or desert canyons.
Skill is the Key Ingredient
While great lenses provide a foundation, remember that outstanding landscape images rely even more on the photographer’s vision, creativity, and technical skill. Some of the most renowned landscape photos came from modest equipment in skilled hands. So focus on practicing essential techniques like optimal exposure, manual settings, bracketing, panoramas, and post processing mastery. Hone your compositional eye by studying the masters. That’s the real path to creating inspiring landscape images that viewers will love.
The takeaway? While building your landscape photography lens collection, choose optics that support your individual style and subjects. But also cultivate core skills and your creative eye—no lens can do this for you. Lastly, don’t be afraid to rent first or buy used/refurbished to test different lenses before you invest in that coveted pro-level glass. Mastering both your gear and your craft will bring your landscape images to breathtaking new heights.
Now it’s your turn—share images captured with your favorite landscape lenses in the comments below!