Landscape Photography Gear

How to Choose the Best Lens for Landscape Photography

Landscape photography is an art form that requires both skill and the right equipment.

One of the most important pieces of equipment you need is the right lens. With so many lenses to choose from it can be difficult to know which one to buy.

Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced photographer, it’s important to understand the different types of lenses and the factors that make each one better suited for certain types of landscapes.

In this article, you will learn how to choose the best lens for your landscape photography and get the most out of your shots.

We will discuss the different types of lenses, what features you should look for, and how to determine which lens is the best choice for you.

By the end of this article, you should have a better understanding of what makes a good landscape lens and be able to confidently select the right one for your needs.

The most important things you need to know in order to choose the best lens for landscape photography

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What is the Best Lens for Landscape Photography?

Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this question. The best lens for landscape photography will vary from photographer to photographer, and it is largely based on your own personal preference and unique style. 

You will want to experiment with lenses with different focal lengths, speeds (i.e. maximum apertures), weights, sharpness, and other properties (see below) that will have an impact on your style of shooting.

Only practice and time will help you learn what types of lenses you prefer, and which features you are willing to compromise on. 

Since there are so many variables to consider when choosing lenses, choose the three or four most important features that you need in a lens so that you don't get lost in the weeds.

For example, if you spend a lot of time hiking or backpacking with your camera gear, you may find that weight, versatility, and durability are key. For this reason, you may want to opt for just a few weather-sealed zoom lenses that cover a wide range of focal lengths. 

If you spend most of your time shooting landscapes from your vehicle, you might prioritize sharpness and speed. In this case, you might want to invest in a variety of prime lenses.

You will also need to consider your budget, since you can easily spend a fortune when putting your lens collection together.

An important thing to remember is that super expensive, high-end lenses won’t necessarily make you a better photographer, so don’t feel like you are at a disadvantage if you can’t afford the “latest and greatest” equipment. 

I recommend you stick to a few go-to lenses and focus on improving your photography skills, rather than focusing too much time, money, and energy on finding the “best” lenses. 

I guarantee you will see much greater improvement in your photography that way.

What to Consider When Choosing a Lens for Landscape Photography

Focal Length

Focal length of a lens for landscape photography.

The focal length of a lens is one of the most important factors to consider when choosing a lens.

The size of a focal length determines the field of view, or how much or how little of a scene will be captured in the photograph. 

Lenses with short focal lengths (e.g. less than 35mm) are classified as wide-angle lenses because they have a wide field of view. 

Wide-angle lenses are great for capturing grand landscapes. Smaller focal lengths are ideal when you want everything in the scene (from the very close foreground to the distant background) included in the image.

In contrast, lenses with long focal lengths (e.g. greater than about 85mm) are considered telephoto lenses. These lenses have a much smaller field of view than wide-angle lenses and only capture a zoomed-in section of the larger scene in front of you. 

The most common advice for beginners is to start with a wide-angle lens, because they have a wide field of view and a large depth of field. 

These are often the most desirable attributes when you are just starting out in landscape photography, especially if you want to capture dramatic scenes filled with lots of land and sky.

After a while, however, you might want to experiment with more unique compositions that you can create with different focal lengths. 

Telephoto lenses, for example, allow you to create more intimate, minimalistic compositions of distant objects (like a portrait of a mountain peak), which I personally find more aesthetically pleasing than busy grand landscapes.

Having a range of options when it comes to the focal length is ideal because you will have more creative freedom in the field to shoot what you visualize in your mind.

For this reason, landscape photographers often carry a wide-angle lens, standard zoom, and telephoto lens that covers focal lengths from about 14mm-200m.

For a much more thorough overview of focal length, check out my in-depth guide to focal length here.

Maximum aperture and lens speed

Aperture of a photographic lens.

When searching for lenses, you will likely come across a term called “lens speed.”

Lens speed refers to the maximum aperture, or smallest f-number, that a lens can open to. 

In other words, it is a measure of the maximum amount of light that can pass through the lens while the shutter is open.

The wider the maximum aperture, the more light can pass through the lens when the shutter is open. This means you can get away with slower shutter speeds when the aperture is wide open.

Are faster lenses better for landscape photography?

You will likely hear advice that lenses with wider maximum apertures are more desirable, because they perform better in low light. 

Faster lenses also tend to be much more expensive, which could lead some to believe they are somehow “better.”

The truth is that landscape photographers typically don’t need to worry too much about lens speed due to the nature of the subjects they shoot.

Unlike sports or portrait photographers (who need very fast lenses that work great in low light and shallow depth of field), landscape photographers generally prioritize wider depth of field and sharpness.

Since landscapes are static (i.e. they don’t move much while you are shooting them), faster lenses just really aren’t worth spending the extra money on.

This is especially true if you are using a tripod (an essential piece of gear you should always have with you!) which will allow you to get away with slower shutter speeds.

Landscape photographers also typically prefer to shoot in the middle of a lens aperture range (i.e. f/5.6 to f/16) rather than at the wider apertures in order to get greater depth of field.

In addition, the sharpest f-stop of a lens (usually two or three stops from the maximum aperture) is often preferred when shooting landscapes so that you can get the sharpest image possible. 

Besides being cheaper than faster lenses, slower lenses (e.g. lenses with maximum f-stops in the range of f/1.8 to f/2.8) tend to be lighter than faster ones (e.g. maximum f-stop of f/1.4 or smaller). 

This is a significant advantage for photographers who do a lot of hiking or backpacking with their camera equipment.

Overall, slower lenses make more sense for most landscape photographers to shoot with, especially those looking to save money and gear weight.

Zoom vs. prime lenses

Prime camera lens.

The main difference between a prime lens and a zoom lens is whether the focal length can change.

Zoom lenses have a movable focal length, which allows you to zoom in or out while you are shooting (for example, zoom in from 70mm to 200mm). 

Prime lenses - also called “fixed lenses” - have a fixed focal length, which means you cannot zoom in or out while shooting with them. 

So, which lenses are better for landscape photography, zoom or prime? 

Again, there is no straightforward answer, since the decision you make will come down to personal needs and preferences.

There are benefits and downsides (see below) that you will have to weigh against each other. 

You could ask 100 different photographers which type of lens they prefer, and you will likely get 100 different opinions when it comes to zoom vs. prime lenses.

Personally, I think zoom lenses are the way to go in most cases due to their versatility, especially if you spend a lot of time hiking and backpacking.

If you are a beginner photographer, I would definitely recommend starting with a zoom lens. Over time, you can see which focal lengths you prefer to shoot at the most. Then, you can invest in some prime lenses at those focal lengths. 

When choosing between zoom or prime lenses, you will have to consider how much you can walk around your subject, how much weight you want to carry, how many lenses you want to carry, and the focal lengths you prefer.

At the end of the day, zooms and primes each have their pros and cons that need to be weighed against each other. If you are new to the world of lenses and need some guidance, the following will help you narrow down which type of lens might be the best choice for you.

Pros of Zoom Lenses for Landscape Photographers

  • Zoom lenses give you much more flexibility and versatility in terms of the compositions you can create. 
  • You can zoom in and out to change your composition.
  • You can shoot at a wide range of focal lengths from a single location.
  • You do not need to hike or drive around to change your composition. 
  • You don’t need to swap out to a different lens in order to get a different focal length.

Cons of Zoom Lenses for Landscape Photographers

  • Zoom lenses tend to be heavier and bulkier because they have more optical components.
  • Images may not be as sharp or crisp as those taken with prime lenses (although good zoom lenses are becoming virtually indistinguishable to primes in terms of sharpness).
  • Zoom lenses tend to be more expensive than prime ones, especially professional grade ones.
  • They are usually slower (i.e. smaller maximum apertures) compared to primes, although this is usually not a problem for landscape photographers (see section on lens speed above).

Pros of Prime Lenses for Landscape Photographers

  • Prime lenses tend to produce crisper, sharper images (although the image quality difference between zoom and prime lenses is becoming less noticeable as zoom lenses get better).
  • They tend to be faster (i.e. wider maximum aperture), so they perform better in low light conditions if you are not using a tripod.
  • They are usually more compact and lighter than zoom lenses.
  • They are typically less pricey than zoom lenses.

Cons of Prime Lenses for Landscape Photographers

  • You can’t zoom in or zoom out
  • You need to carry more lenses with you in order to get a variety of focal lengths. 
  • You have to physically move (i.e. walk, hike, or drive somewhere else) if you want to change the composition of your image.
  • You have to change to a different lens if you want to shoot at a different focal length.

Auto vs. manual focus lenses

Autofocus switch on a camera lens.

The difference between manual and autofocus lenses is that autofocus lenses let the camera do the focusing work for you, while manual lenses require you to dial in your focus by hand.

Again, this is another personal preference when it comes to lenses, as one is not necessarily better than the other.

Beginners will want to opt for autofocus lenses because they are easier to use. Eventually you may want to explore manual lenses as you get better at focusing.

The good news is that you do not necessarily have to choose between a manual or autofocus lens, as many modern lenses come with the built-in option to switch between the two modes.

Lenses that can switch between autofocus and manual will have a switch marked AF/MF or AF/M (depending on the make of the camera). Sometimes this switch will be on the camera body and not the lens. 

These lenses will give you the benefits of both manual and autofocus lenses.

Pros of Manual Lenses for Landscape Photography

While manual focus lenses may seem antiquated, some photographers actually prefer them to autofocus lenses. 

The main benefit of using manual focus lenses is that they give you complete control over the focus of your image. Rather than relying on your camera’s autofocus technology (which is not always perfect), you can be sure that you get the focus exactly right. 

Manual focus lenses force you to slow down and become more actively involved in the image creation process, which can make you a better photographer.

They are also beneficial in certain circumstances, such as astrophotography and macro photography, when you won’t be able to rely on your camera to autofocus.

Cons of Manual Lenses for Landscape Photography

The downside of manual lenses is that it will take you longer to focus on your subject. While autofocus will allow you to focus exactly on the focus point within seconds, manual focus takes more time to dial in. 

However, for landscape photographers who aren’t shooting moving subjects, focus speed is usually not a big concern. If you arrive at your location with enough time before the best light hits your subject, you will usually have plenty of time to adjust your focus manually.

Pros of Autofocus Lenses for Landscape Photography

Autofocus usually makes focusing faster and easier, which is why most photographers prefer it.

If the light on your scene is changing rapidly, your ability to focus quickly can really make or break a photo. 

Cons of Autofocus Lenses for Landscape Photography

The main downside to autofocus is that it’s not always perfect. 

In certain situations, like when there is low light or when your subject doesn’t have a contrasting background, autofocus might struggle to nail the focus.

This is why I recommend you choose lenses that can switch between autofocus and manual. If autofocus fails, you can always switch to manual and dial in the focus with your eyes.

Weather Resistance

Camera frozen in ice.

If you spend a lot of time shooting photos outdoors, you should definitely consider choosing durable, weather-sealed lenses.

While it is always a smart idea to store your camera gear in some kind of waterproof case or bag, weather-resistant lenses will offer an extra layer of protection in terms of insurance from weather damage. 

Weather-sealed lenses aren’t completely waterproof, but they are much more resistant to damage for elements like rain, snow, and dirt.

If you spend a lot of time hiking or backpacking, weather-sealed lenses will likely have a longer lifespan, as they are less likely to get damaged in the field due to normal wear and tear.

Vibration Reduction (VR) / Image Stabilization (IS)

Landscape photographer taking photos of a sunser.

Many newer lenses come with vibration reduction (as Nikon calls it) or image stabilization (as Cannon calls it) technology, which minimizes blur due to camera shake. 

It usually comes as a feature that you can turn on and off.

This technology is most useful if you are hand holding your camera in low light situations where the shutter speed isn’t fast enough to prevent motion blur.

In other words, VR will allow you to get sharper images during hand held shooting in low light.

It is important to know, however, that VR and image stabilization will create blurrier, less sharp images if you have it activated (i.e. switched on) while shooting with a tripod.

For this reason, it’s not really an important feature that landscape photographers need, since the use of a tripod is ideal in nearly all low light shooting scenarios. 

If you do have a lens with VR, make sure it is switched “off” if you are using a tripod!

Tilt-shift lenses

While I have never used tilt-shift lenses and do not recommend them to beginners, they are worth mentioning here. You might want to consider this type of lens down the line at some point.

Tilt-and shift lenses are more technically advanced than traditional zoom or prime lenses, and require additional skills to use them. 

While mounted to the camera, a tilt-shift lens can be shifted up and down or side to side to correct perspective in an image. 

In addition, the front of the lens can be tilted up and down or side to side. This can change the plane of focus and help you get an entire scene in sharp focus from the foreground to the background. 

While these lenses have their advantages, the truth is that most photographers don’t use them.

They are expensive, take longer to use, and much of what they can accomplish can also be accomplished with regular zoom and prime lenses combined with certain post-processing techniques like this.

Camera Compatability

Image sensor of a DSLR camera.

After taking all the above into account, you will want to make sure the lens you choose is compatible with your camera. 

First, you will want to make sure the mount on the lens fits with the mount receiver on your camera. 

For example, my Nikon D850 takes lenses with an F-mount. There are many types of mounts, so you will need to find out the specific mount your camera receives before purchasing lenses.

If you want to use a lens that doesn’t have the mount your camera receives, there is still a chance that you can find an adapter that will allow you to still mount the lens on your camera. 

The problem with adapters, however, is that the signals between your camera and the lens might not work as well, and features like autofocus might struggle to operate properly. 

Ideally, you will want to purchase lenses made by the same manufacturer as your camera body. This will ensure your lens works optimally with your camera. For example, if you have a Nikon camera, it’s wise to choose Nikon lenses if possible. 

Some third-party lens manufacturers, like Sigma and Tamron, produce more affordable lenses that are compatible with different camera brands as well, but you will have to do your research.

Finally, you will want to consider the sensor size of your camera when choosing lenses.

Many lenses are designed to be used for full frame or crop sensor cameras. 

You should be aware that full frame lenses can usually be used with crop sensor lenses, but not vice versa. 

If you use full frame lenses on a crop sensor camera, you will need to take into account the crop factor of the sensor and how it will affect your final images.

Final Thoughts on How to Choose the Best Lens for Landscape Photography

The best lens for landscape photography is unique to every photographer, as no two photographers will have the exact same preferences. 

If you aren’t sure what your needs are yet, you may want to consider renting lenses before committing to a big purchase. Renting will let you test different lenses and see what you like before spending a ton of money.

Personally, I only carry two lenses 95% of the time for all my outdoor adventures: a 14mm-24mm f/2.8 zoom wide-angle and a 70mm-300mm f/4 telephoto.

This kit helps me minimize the amount of equipment I have to carry, but still lets me cover the focal lengths I prefer to shoot at.

When you are looking to purchase a lens, first decide what features are most important to you (e.g. weight, durability, speed, etc.). Then ask yourself to explain the specific problems each lens you are considering will solve for you, and why.

What are your favorite lenses for landscape photography? Which features are the most important to you and why? Send me an e-mail and let me know!