Before you start digging into the best landscape lenses, a few things need to be explained to make sense of it all. First things first, you need to understand the basics of landscape photography. Landscape photography invariably means big sweeping vistas, breathtaking sunrises in the mountains, golden sunsets by the sea and panoramic shots taken of natural icons such as the Grand Canyon, the Niagara Falls or the Uluru. In effect, landscape photography needs at least one good wide-angle lens. What are wide-angle lenses? Well, if you have a lens that has a focal length of less than 50mm, it is a wide-angle lens. More commonly, however, zoom lenses with focal length of 10-24mm, 35mm primes, 24m primes and so on are considered to be wide-angle lenses.
One characteristic of these lenses is that they offer a bigger Field of View (FOV). So, what’s the advantage in that? Duh! If you have a bigger field of view you can capture more of the scene! So, if you are standing within a couple of miles of the Uluru and want to snap a picture of the whole thing, you need a wide-angle lens. Wide-angle lenses are also good for architecture photography. So, if you do invest in one you are good to shoot both genres. Next time you are visiting the Taj Mahal, don’t forget to pack the wide-angle lens!
Added Benefits of Fast Wide and Ultra-wide Angle Primes
Milky Way photography has become a very exciting genre in recent times. There is nothing that can beat a stunning composition of the greatest spectacle that the naked eye that can see. Billions of stars lighting up the night sky in a dazzling exhibition of nature’s fireworks. A fast wide or ultra-wide prime is the weapon of choice to capture the Milky Way in a clear night. The greatest advantage of primes is that they have a very fast maximum aperture and that allows these lenses to capture a lot of light in a short period of time. Wait, but, aren’t you going to have a shallow Depth of Field when you use a big aperture? Yes, but for Milky Way photography it does not really affect the quality of the picture. A fast aperture discounts something that you can’t have and that is star-trail. The smaller the aperture the longer is the shutter speed you need to properly expose a photo and that is exactly what you need for photographing star trails. But in the case of milky way photos you need a wide open aperture so that for the given shutter speed you can capture that much more light and in the process eliminate any trails.
Here are a list of the best landscape lenses that money can buy.
Canon Lenses – The EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM
Very quickly Canon’s EF lenses are designed for their full-frame 35mm format equivalent digital SLRs. On the other hand the EF-S lenses are (here S stands for short back focus) designed for the smaller APS-C sensor based DSLRs. if you use a EF lens on a APS-C Canon DSLR the focal length will become extended due to the crop factor. The same thing is with Nikon’s FX and DX format lenses. Where FX stands for full-frame and DX stands for crop version DSLRs.
Okay, the above EF 16-35mm lens has a fixed maximum aperture of f/2.8 giving you a bright steady exposure across its focal length range. The angle of view offered by the lens is 108 ° and this is quite big when you compare something like the 50mm f/1.2L prime (46 °) or the 85mm f/1.2L prime (28 ° 30’). No wonder it is tagged as an ultra-wide angle lens by Canon. The lens has a huge front element and at 82mm it has one of the largest filter thread specifications among the lenses in the Canon lineup. If you have a full frame Canon DSLR this should be your go to wide-angle lens for most landscape shooting requirements. The lens also has full-time manual focusing which is a great feature to have when you want to precisely set focus. If the lens is focus hunting in poor lighting conditions just turn the lens (even in AF mode) and you can precisely focus where you want to. Ring-type USM (Ultra-sonic motor) means it is quiet during auto-focusing.
The EF 17-40mm f/4 L USM
A slightly cheaper option than the EF 16-35mm f/2.8 lens discussed above this EF 17-40mm f/4 L lens is a stop slower and gives a slightly small focal length range. But this is no doubt still a formidable piece of glass and suitable for landscape photography on any FX format Canon DSLR, thanks to its angle of view of 104 °. A fairly large lens weighing nearly 500 grams and filter thread specification of 77mm, when mounted on an APS-C Canon DSLR it offers the same focal length as a 27-64mm lens would offer on a full-frame DSLR. Canon assures that the build quality of the lens is still good (never mind the sub-800 dollar price tag at which it retails at most online stores) and tags it with the coveted L label. If you are looking for a cheaper ultra-wide angle lens (and yes this is also an ultra-wide angle lens) and don’t want to spend more than 1500 bucks then this is the lens that you should go for.
Nikon Lenses – the 14-24mm f/2.8G
Designed for the discerning landscape photographer and the ardent nikonian, the 14-24mm f/2.8G lens is a force to reckon with and offers an angle of view of 114 °. This beast of lens, weighing 1000 grams has a total of 9 diaphragm blades for a rounded well defined Bokeh when shot wide open. The lens incorporates a number of latest Nikon technologies including Silent Wave Motor for ultra-quiet auto-focusing, Nano crystal coating to eliminate internal reflections across a wide range of wavelengths, Aspherical elements which ensures that the lens can counter against a number of aberrations even when shooting wide open and internal focusing elements which ensures that the lens length remains the same when focusing allowing it to remain inconspicuous. At 114 ° sit is certainly wider than the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM discussed before. Arguably the best wide angle landscape lens, it is very sharp and works equally well on both FX and DX format cameras though on DX format cameras the angle of view is severely narrowed down due to the smaller size of the sensor.
The 24-70mm f/2.8G
For some this is the only lens they will ever use. It covers the essential focal length for most everyday photography needs at 24-70mm. The lens does everything that you throw at it and with f/2.8 maximum aperture there is little that bothers this lens. Designed for the FX format Nikon DSLRs this lens inculcates a number of Nikons lens technologies including silent wave motor, Nano crystal coating, aspherical elements, internal focusing and manual focusing override. At its widest the lens offers an angle of view of 84 °. This should be good enough for most landscape photographers. This is a versatile lens and the only lens discussed in this article that has a focal length of more than 50mm. at its tele end the lens also gives a bit of perspective compression that some landscape photographers look for when shooting with a tele lens. The effect is more when you mount the lens on a DX format DSLR when it becomes a 36-105mm lens.
12-24mm f/4 G IF-ED
Completing the best wide-angle Nikon landscape lens line-up is the AF-S DX 12-24mm f/4G IF-ED lens. Never mind the acronyms this is a lens that you should invest in if you have a DX format Nikon DSLR and you are serious about shooting sweeping vistas and mind-blowing sunsets by the sea. While here some photographers would differ and point at the 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5 G lens, the 12-24mm is a better choice as it is better build. At any rate just 2mm won’t make a big difference you just need to take a few paces behind and you would be fine. This lens is designed for the smaller image circle of Nikon’s DX format DSLRs and will work fine with the D5000 – 5300, the D3000 – 3300, the D90 and the D7000 – 7100. The angle of view on this lens is 99 ° and that makes it suitable for most landscape wide angle shots.
Other Choices – Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8
Another great choice as a pure wide angle landscape lens, the Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 lens offers a fast maximum aperture and a 9-blade diaphragm. The lens gives excellent performance at all focal lengths and the sharpness is admirable. Comparable to the performance of other ultra-wide angle lenses this designed-for-crop-sensor lens is good enough to compete with the best of the lot. Weighing at just above 500 grams this lens has a big front event with a lens filter thread specification of 77mm.
Landscape photography is a dramatically rewarding hobby and profession, and it is never too late to get started or to brush up on your skills for your next photo adventure.