Landscape photographers can be some of the most obsessed pixel-peepers around! And, when it comes to lenses, it seems that wide-angle optics are a favorite subject for heated debate. Which exotic new lens goes wider? Which is sharper? If you have ever wondered these things, well, you’re in the right place, but you also need a reality check…
Of course, landscape photography kits can include lenses of literally all focal lengths; mid-range and telephoto lenses are just as useful as wide-angle lenses. For the purpose of this article, though, we are going to focus on wide-angle lenses. Why? Because there are already so many of them that it would be impossible to include every great lens from every great focal range in one article!
Also, thankfully, the overall decision-making process that we are going to teach you, before we even get to the recommendations, can be applied to any lens category. Because, at the end of the day, it’s about your creative direction, your personal preferences, and of course, your budget…
Either way, if you’re into landscape photography or just outdoor travel in general, you need to read this article!
Landscape Photography | The Right Lens For You,
…Isn’t Always The Best Lens Ever Made
As the saying goes, “F/8 and be there.” In other words, in landscape photography, just make sure your pictures are generally sharp, and spend the rest of your time simply being in the right place at the right time. Because, without a truly beautiful moment to photograph, no lens can be superior/perfect enough that it turns a boring photo into a great one! Always remember this.
What Are Your Priorities In Landscape Photography?
Another thing that many famous landscape and “adventure” photographers have mentioned is, just how important it is to have a lens that is lightweight and portable, instead of, well, brick-like. Which, these days, many high-end lenses are.
Many landscape photographers such as the late Galen Rowell, a champion of the “adventure photography” world, often carried beginner camera bodies, with professional-grade but “modest” lenses such as f/4 zooms or small primes.
Then again, there are also innumerable landscape photo opportunities that don’t require arduous hiking. Or, even on a long hike, you can carry at least one heavy camera and one or two heavy lenses if you’re in good shape.
Of course, I am only referring to DSLR and mirrorless cameras and lenses, which are the most popular types of cameras these days. There are many landscape photographers who use large-format view cameras, or medium format digital / film cameras, too! However, these cameras fall into an entirely different category of equipment, and this guide is only meant to be a comprehensive guide to SLR & mirrorless lenses.
Either way, choosing a wide-angle lens for landscape, nature, or general outdoor photography is one of the most difficult purchases any photographer will make!
This guide is a continually updated collection of our best recommendations. We are not just going to talk about “lab measurements” and sharpness, but the real-world performance, as well as practical usefulness and overall lens value compared to alternatives. With that said, let’s dive in!
Landscape Photography Primes vs Zooms | Consideration #1
Okay, first and foremost: The notion that primes are ALWAYS sharper and better than zooms is now almost completely outdated. Over the last decade-plus, computer-aided lens design technology has revolutionized lens sharpness and general image quality.
Now, the bottom line is that zoom lenses are more popular, and a lot more R&D has been invested in delivering flawless sharpness with zooms! The last ~10 years have been especially impressive for pro-grade zoom lenses, ever since the legendary Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 AF-S G ED N came out and completely out-classed all of the existing 14mm primes. Then, the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L mk2 came out, and was one of the sharpest mid-range zooms ever, indeed it had sharper corners than virtually all 24mm primes even when stopped down to f/2.8. Last, but definitely not least, one of the most exotic (and most flawlessly sharp) lenses around, the Canon 11-24mm f/4 L came out in 2015, and it seemed that literally anything was possible. If you were willing to lug around a giant brick of glass, that is.
All of these lenses were significant milestones, and today we have even more ultra-sharp lenses, both primes and zooms of course. In fact, I don’t think I’ve reviewed a truly “terrible” wide-angle lens even once in the last 5 years.
Take-Away #1: Out of all the deciding factors in finding the “best lens for landscape photography”, sharpness alone is not the biggest deciding factor when deciding between primes vs zooms. They’re both incredibly sharp these days! In fact, if weight is no concern, the latest exotic zooms are better than most slightly older primes.
Take-Away #2: Primes can indeed be much lighter and smaller than zooms, however, if their apertures and overall sharpness are similar. This can still be a good reason to choose a prime, if portability is important to you. (Nothing kills your wanderlust like having a 50-lb/22kg backpack!)
Take-Away #3: Primes are still capable of faster, brighter apertures, of course, which provides not just the advantage of better low-light capability, for things like astro-landscape photography, but also the potential for slightly better sharpness (if only in the extreme corners, these days) when stopping the aperture down to typical landscape settings such as f/8.
Thus, your choice between primes and zooms has much more to do with personal preference, and your specific shooting needs, such as what focal lengths and apertures you usually shoot at, and what types of subjects you’re going to be photographing.
Budget, focal length/range, and size & weight are all big considerations, and for each person, there could be very different priorities. Bottom line- don’t just buy a specific lens because it is called a champion on paper, or even because it’s on sale. Buy the right lens for your particular style of photography!
Full-Frame vs Crop-Sensor Lenses | Landscape Photo Consideration #2
A lot of serious photographers will tell you to never spend your money on crop-sensor lenses if you might buy a full-frame camera someday, but this advice is almost as out-dated as the prime-versus-zoom debate!
In recent years, more and more ultra-wide lenses have become available for all sensor sizes, on both DSLR and mirrorless systems, both name-brand and third-party!
Virtually all of the lenses offer significant advantages in size, weight, and affordability, but without compromising at all on sharpness. So, once again, even if the price tag isn’t a concern, if you’re into hiking, backpacking, or general travel photography, then you should consider your decision as a personal preference, not a compromise or a “stepping-stone” along a full-frame upgrade path.
We mention this because a lot of photographers refuse to buy the perfect lens for their type of photography, especially if they have an APS-C camera which also has full-frame sensor options on that same mount. (If you’ve chosen a Fuji or Micro Four Thirds system, dedicated lenses are definitely your best choice!) Canon, Nikon, Sony, and Pentax users will all face this decision: “Should I only buy full-frame lenses, in case I upgrade my APS-C camera someday?”
The answer may be YES for mid-range and telephoto lenses, however, for wide-angles, it’s almost always a NO. Just get the wide-angle lens that is perfect for the camera body you currently have, even if it’s a Tokina DX lens, or a Sigma DC lens, etc.
Take-Away #4: Your photography will be much better if you have the right focal range for the job, especially when it comes to wide-angles! Even if you think full-frame might be in your future someday, you’ll still get plenty of mileage out of a good quality crop-sensor wide-angle lens in the meantime. Also ,if it’s a reputable lens brand like Tokina, Sigma, or Tamron, then resale value will actually be almost as good as name-brand options!
Of course, the biggest reason why many photographers choose full-frame over an APS-C or smaller sensor is not just the available lenses and their sharpness, but the sheer image quality of the camera sensors themselves.
As we discussed in our article about camera bodies for landscape photography, however, the advantages of full-frame are at their least-noticeable for landscapes, due to the fact that you’re spending so much time at your lowest ISO and a stopped-down aperture.
Take-Away #5: Thus, we can conclude that out of every possible option and choice, there are highly capable, professional-quality options for literally every price range, including every brand and every sensor format!
With that said, here are our top recommendations for landscape photography wide-angle lenses…
Best Canon Lens For Landscape Photography
If you’re shopping for a Canon Landscape Lens, you have two decisions besides the ones we just covered about primes VS zooms and full-frame VS crop…
First: are you on the mirrorless Canon RF mount or a Canon EF DSLR? Second, are you looking for a CANON wide-angle lens, …or are you just looking for the best wide-angle lens for Canon? (Meaning, are you willing to consider third-party lenses?)
Canon Mirrorless Wide-Angle Lenses
Since Canon’s RF mirrorless mount is still very new, one of the only native options is also one of the best full-frame wide-angle lenses around, thankfully: the Canon RF 15-35mm f/2.8 L IS.
Yes, it’s kinda large, and moderately expensive, but it’s absolutely worth it@ First, it’s extremely sharp, and has overall incredible image quality. Second, (and even more important to many!) …no other full-frame f/2.8 zoom goes to 15mm and still accepts standard 82mm threaded filters! Simply put, if you can save up $2300, you absolutely should buy the new 15-35mm.
If you’re on a smaller budget, and/or if you’re willing to shop third-party, then there are a few Canon RF Mirrorless landscape lens options already, and likely many more on the way.
In early 2020 we don’t yet have native Canon RF options from Sigma, Tamron, or Tokina, however, you can always use an adapter with an EF DSLR lens if you have one already.
Thankfully, a few companies such as Laowa and Rokinon/Samyang already have RF native lenses, such as the Laowa 15mm f/2 which is very compact and quite sharp, (when stopped down) …plus the legendary Rokinon 14mm f/2.8, both the new AF and older UMC (manual focus) options.
Canon DSLR Wide-Angle Lenses
If you’re on a Canon DSLR, the best name-brand wide-angle lens is the Canon 11-24mm f/4 L for those who would rather have the widest lens possible than a faster aperture. Or, the newest Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 L III, (yes, mk3) is much sharper than its predecessors, if you need f/2.8 and/or front filters.
If you’re on a Canon DSLR but are considering third-party options, then both the Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 HSM Art and Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 VC (both versions) are incredible f/2.8 wide-angle zooms, and the Sigma 12-24mm f/4 is an impressive, competitive f/4 wide-angle zoom that gives the Canon 11-24mm quite a run for its money. Or, if you really want 11mm, there’s the Irix 11mm f/4 Firefly/Blackstone, too!
Canon EF-S DSLR & Canon EF-M Mirrorless Wide-Angle Lenses
Last but not least, if you’re on a Canon APS-C camera, whether mirrorless EF-M mount of the DSLR EF-S mount, there are many great options, though unfortunately only a few name-brand Canon ones, and Canon does not make “L” grade lenses dedicated specifically to crop sensors. So, you’ll probably look to Sigma, Rokinon, Tamron, and Tokina for great dedicated wide-angle lenses for your APS-C Canon cameras.
Best Nikon Lens For Landscape Photography
If you’re shopping for a good Nikon landscape lens, a lot of the same considerations apply: Nikon has both FX full-frame and DX crop-sensor cameras, and now both mirrorless and DSLR options, too!
If you want a Nikon full-frame wide-angle lens for Z-mount mirrorless bodies, then you’re in luck, you have exclusive access to one of the most exciting (and yet the most modest, least exotic?) lenses on the market today: The Nikkor Z 14-30mm f/4 S. It is downright tiny, and yet incredibly sharp. It goes to 14mm, and yet still accepts 82mm threaded filters. Basically, it’s the best landscape lens around for any lightweight, full-frame Nikon shooter who wants something portable that compromises as little as possible on image quality.
If you’re looking for a Nikon DSLR lens, whether on an F-mount camera like the D850, or on the FTZ adapter for mirrorless, then you have a lot of great options there, too, especially if you count both name-brand and third-party options. Of course, the legendary Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 is getting quite affordable since it’s well over a decade old now, however, there is stiff competition from the Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 Art and Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 VC.
If you’re looking for something that is both portable and affordable, the new Tamron 17-35mm f/2.8-4 is a perfect balance of performance and functionality, and the Tokina 17-35mm f/4 is a durable but compact classic.
Nikon has some of the best DX crop-sensor (APS-C, 1.5x) cameras around, to, so for any lightweight landscape & adventure photographers out there, don’t count out either their DX DSLRs or their DX Z50 mirrorless as a great option! Nikon has some of the tiniest ultra-wide options available for the APS-C format, such as the Nikon 10-20mm f/4.5-5.6 AF-P DX, and of course almost all of the same third-party lenses from the likes of Tokina.
Of course, for now, you’ll have to use Nikon F-mount DSLR lenses on the FTZ adapter if you’d like to shoot wide-angle landscapes on the mirrorless Nikon Z50.
Best Sony Lens For Landscape Photography
Once considered “new to the game” with their E-mount, Sony full-frame wide-angle lens selection has grown to an impressive collection in recent years. Whether you want something lightweight and portable, or truly exotic and nearly perfect. Sony E (APS-C) and FE (full-frame) have options for you.
That is, if you’re willing to consider both name-brand and third-party options. Right now, Tamron and Sigma are battling it out on the E-mount, with one of the best 14-24mm f/2.8’s ever made, Sigma’s newer 14-24mm f/2.8 DN Art, and Tamron’s ultra-lightweight miracle, the Tamron 17-28mm f/2.8 Di III RXD, ($900), which is almost as sharp as the Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 GM, yet a whopping $1300 cheaper nearly 60% off.
If you want to go even wider, and are OK with f/4, Sony’s 12-24mm f/4 G is one of the lightest and smallest ways to get to 12mm on full-frame; in fact, it’s about a pound lighter than the Sigma 12-24mm f/4 that is made for DSLRs!
Best Fuji Lens For Landscape Photography
Fuji landscape photographers have a bit more limited options, because sometimes the usual third parties that make lenses for Canon or Nikon APS-C mounts do not also make one for the Fuji X-mount. However, progress is being made in this regard lately, and more importantly, Fuji works hard to make up for this with an incredible lineup of native, name-brand lenses that are very well-suited to landscape photography.
First and foremost, you should know that Fuji is one of the few brands (along with Olympus and Pentax) that makes metal, fully-sealed lenses for compact mirrorless camera systems. Look for the letters “WR” in the name of a Fuji X_mount lens if you’d like one of these robust, durable lenses for your more ambitious landscape adventures.
The oldest wide-angle Fuji X-mount lens, the XF 10-24mm f/4 R OIS, runs only $1000 and is made of metal barrel parts for durability, though it is not weather sealed.
The newest Fuji wide-angle lens is the XF 8-16mm f/2.8 LM WR, and will set you back $2000, but is metal, weather-sealed, extremely sharp, and has an equivalent angle-of-view to full-frame’s exotic 12-24mm lenses!
Best Micro Four Thirds Lens For Landscape Photography
For Olympus and Panasonic shooters using the Micro Four Thirds mount, lens selection can be even more limited in the wide-angle focal range, due to the 2x crop as opposed to a 1.5x or 1.6x crop. But, once again, Olympus and Panasonic work together on the same mount to make up for it with some truly impressive wide-angle options. Also, a few third-parties have begun designing wide-angle optics specifically for the 2x crop, offering some truly ultra-wide angles that rival that of full-frame ultra-wides.
The Olympus flagship equivalent to full-frame 14-24mm’s is the M.Zuiko ED 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO ($1300). Like the full-frame options, it has a large front element that disallows threaded filters, however, it is much smaller and lighter than the full-frame options.
If you’re looking for truly “tiny” wide-angle lenses to mount on a Micro Four Thirds camera, you can try some of the (mostly) third-party options, such as the Venus Laowa 7.5mm f/2 ($500) and 9mm f/2.8 ZeroD, or the Samyang/Rokinon 12mm f/2, ($400), or the Panasonic 15mm f/1.4 ($600)
Panasonic has two incredible wide-angle lenses with metal barrel structures and full weather sealing, the Leica DG 8-18mm f/2.8-4 ASPH ($1100) and the Leica DG 10-25mm f/1.7 ASPH ($1800). (Yes, an f/1.7 zoom!) These lenses are equivalent in angle of view to full-frame 16-35mm and 20-50mm.
Best Pentax Lens For Landscape Photography
No landscape photography gear guide would be complete without considering Pentax, one of the best values for both full-frame and APS-C cameras. DSLRs, that is; Pentax’ two flagships that offer an abundance of features for landscape photographers are the Pentax K-1 series and K-3 series, both of which are DSLRs that use the classic K-mount.
On full-frame, Pentax has at least one modern legend at its disposal, the Pentax D-FA 15-30mm f/2.8 ED SDM WR. (That’s a lot of letters, but yes, the “WR” also means “weather resistant”!)
As a legacy mount, however, Pentax users have access to some much older legends, including manual focus full-frame lenses such as the Pentax 15mm f/3.5 ($700, used, RARE!) and 20mm f/4, ($300, used) both of which have the benefit of incredible sharpness despite their age, and gorgeous pin-sharp 10-point sunstars thanks to their 5-blade, un-rounded aperture design that can’t simply be found anywhere else. (For that matter, all you cityscape photographers who shoot a Sony/Nikon/Canon full-frame mirrorless camera should consider these lenses if you’re obsessed with epic sunstars!)
Alternately, a few modern third-party options are available, such as the staple Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 UMC and Rokinon 24mm f/1.4 UMC, or the Irix 15mm f/2.4 Firefly/Blackstone and Irix 11mm f/4 Firefly/Blackstone. All in all, if you’re interested in a traditional, indestructible camera for some serious landscape photography, (and dont’ mind carrying around one of the heavier full-frame DSLR kits) …then a Pentax K-1 with any of these lenses will give you more bang for your buck compared to almost any other setup!
As we mentioned initially, it all comes down to what you shoot. Prime or zoom, name-brand or third-party, FX or DX? It all depends on your budget and your intended use. If you’re a backpacker/hiker who feels the weight of every last ounce, or if you’re a world traveler, or if you’re just going on vacation with your family, keeping it simple is key- a small f/4 or variable-aperture zoom is a great choice for maximum versatility, or an old f/3.5 or f/4 prime is a great choice for maximum portability, or if you simply enjoy the pleasure of owning and using “classic” lenses…
Telephoto Lenses For Landscape Photography?
As you should have guessed, a lot of the advice given here can apply to all lenses for landscape photography, not just wide-angle or ultra-wide lenses.
Do you need to get a prime instead of a zoom for optimal sharpness? Definitely not. Do you need a very fast aperture? Probably not, if you don’t shoot other things like wildlife or low-light work.
Almost every lens mount has plenty of telephoto options available that are very sharp. On full-frame mounts, a 70-300mm or 100-400mm lens offers more versatility to landscape shooters, because they’re mostly very sharp, and yet have much more reach than a 70-200mm. (Or the equivalents of these focal lengths, if you’re on APS-C or Micro Four Thirds.)
Mid-range lenses are even more abundant, although some of the most portable, lightweight, and/or beginner-oriented mid-range lenses can be a little underwhelming for serious landscape work. Most 24-105mm f/4 or similar lenses offer a great balance of good sharpness, affordability, and portability.
And really, that’s all you need to know!
The most best thing you can do is, develop your own set of real-world standards by which you measure the performance and usability of all your lenses. Remind yourself, of course, not to become too obsessed with pixel-peeping in the corners of every single image you take.
There are many other small details that we simply aren’t able to mention here, such as autofocus performance, manual focus switches, filter threads, etc. In general, however, rest assured that the lenses we’re recommending are highly usable for landscape photography. If your needs are more diverse, take that into consideration.
The “Bad Copy” Lens Dilemma
If you’ve ever gotten advice about some of these lenses from other experienced landscape photographers, you may have heard the phrase, “if you get a good copy”… This refers to the fact that certain lenses may be prone to poor quality control, or a specific defect that can affect image quality. However, there is still a good chance that, “if you get a good copy”, you will receive incredible performance. This is one reason why a lot of photographers still prefer name-brand lenses, however, in our experience, (we review dozens of lenses every year!) …very few lenses these days are truly terrible, and sample variation is only something you should worry about if you’re a truly obsessed pixel-peeper.
Of course, if pixel-peeping is your idea of fun, then go for it! Part of the craft of photography is the geeky side of it, so there’s no shame in being picky about how sharp your lens is, even in the corners where you might never place an important subject.
Then again, if you don’t obsess over technical details, just be sure to do a little bit of testing for any new lens you buy, especially if you’re shopping used, and make sure that it isn’t a total lemon. Then, don’t worry about anything else besides getting out and shooting some beautiful landscapes!
Matthew Saville’s Ultimate Lens Collection
Personally? M y hobbies vary quite dramatically, from traditional landscapes to night-time star trails and timelapses. What would I consider to be my ideal kit? For one, I do a lot of hiking and love wilderness adventures, so I avoid the heaviest and biggest lenses, even if they’re slightly sharper.
I also don’t have an unlimited budget, so I’m happy to consider options from any brands, as long as I believe the lens will last at least 5-7 years. Also, of course, I’m happy to consider both primes and zooms, but I also like fast apertures because I do so much nightscape photography.
If I could only pick one or two lenses per brand/system, here would be my personal picks for the five most popular full-frame systems:
Canon RF Mirrorless: Canon RF 15-35mm f/2.8 L IS ($2300)
What’s your favorite kit for landscape photography, now? Let us know in a comment below!