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Big Sur, California

Top Photographer’s Best Landscape Lenses

I recently analyzed the top landscape photographers to determine: What are the Best Landscape Lens?

 

Now, certainly, anyone can simply list all the primary camera brand lens and stick predominately with wide angles to generate a list of recommended landscape lens.

But, that's not the intent of this post.

I'm looking for landscape photographers that are willing to “narrow it down” and “explain why”.

It's easy to get caught up in owning all the latest camera gear, but you really don't need quantity and in fact, too much equipment will actually inhibit your ability to create the art that you really want. Additionally, those who view your art could care less what lens was used to take the image. You want to wisely choose those lenses that facilitate your ability to create art. To that end, let's continue.

Here are my criteria:

  • No one can really be an expert in multiple systems. They may have moved from one system to another, but practically speaking, any landscape photographer is only really qualified in “one primary system”.
  • As alluded to before, the ability to narrow down the selection is critical. Let's face it, landscape photography requires a certain amount of hiking and to haul around a 12 lens system really doesn't fit into light treking.
  • Where possible, I would like to segment the lenses into wide angle, normal and tele photo. This division corresponds roughtly into less than 35mm, 35 – 70mm and more than 70mm. One could differ with these categories, but for purposes of this post, I'll try to stick with these as general guidelines.
  • Again, where possible, I would like to address the two main professional brands – Nikon and Canon. Additionally, I would like to address full frame cameras.
    • I'll will address cropped frame cameras in another post.
    • Additionally, I will address Sony, which is becomming a very popular landscape brand, in another post.

So, let's begin.

 


Dave Morrow Photography

 

Dave Morrow is a full-time landscape and night sky photographer, author, educator and world traveler. In 2005, Dave quit his 6 figure “American Dream” job to travel, teach and take photos full time. He is completely independent and not sponsored. Dave backpacks approximately nine months of the year and has developed a unique and special kit for landscape photography.

So, what are Dave's best lens for landscape photography?

  1. Nikon 14 – 24 f/2.8
  2. Nikon 28 – 300 f/3.5 – 5.6H ED VR

Summary – Short of a single lens system, you can't get much smaller than Dave's two lens landscape kit. And, to look at his images, there certainly doesn't seem to be any holes in his portfolio.

Dave claims that the 14-24 is the “best landscape and astro-photography lens on the planet.” And that the 28-300 is a “decent lens, but overall the most versatile for landscape photography and backpacking.”

Leaving few focal lengths off the table, and shooting with a Nikon D810, Daves two lens landscape system is pretty impressive, thoughtful and practical.

Thanks Dave for your insights.

Spencer Cox Photography

 

Spencer Cox is a photographer who focuses (his words not mine) on landscapes, travel, and nature. His images have been exhibited worldwide, including the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. He writes for Photography Life, which has about 30 million views per year and also contributes to Digital Photographer and Progresso Fotografico magazines. Spencer has a unique take on landscape lens.

So, what does Spencer Cox believer are the Best Landscape Lens?

  • Prime System
    • Nikon 24 f/1.8
    • Nikon 105 f/2.8
  • Zoom System
    • Nikon 14 f/2.8
    • Nikon 16-35 f/4
    • Nikon 24-70 f/4
    • Nikon 70-200 f/4

Summary – Spencer suggests some other combinations such as the 16-35, 50 f/1.8 and 70-300. He also give some excellent advice on selecting lens by recommend that you look at your best past images and sort by wide angle, medium and telephoto. We tend to see images differently and may might find that one segment dominates your portfolio. To that extent, you might want to ensure that concentrate and pay particular attention to that area.

Thanks to Spencer for his unique take on landscape lenses.

Switch Back Travel

 

I was not able to really determine a photography website for David Wilkinson, who authored an article in Switch Back Travel, but the gist of the article was interesting and unusual enough that I thought I would include the pertinent parts here. Dave not only gives some good lens suggestions but comments on focal lengths that may be particularly informative.

So, what does Dave think are the Best Landscape lenses?

  • Nikon 14-24 f/2.8, or
  • Nikon 18-35 f/3.5 – 4.5
  • Canon 16 – 35 f/4
  • Zeiss 21 f/2.8
  • Canon and Nikon 24 – 70 f/2.8

Summary – Switch Back's inclusion is somewhat of an anolomy because he concentrates on wide angle lenses and doesn't really resolve a complete system. What, however, is interesting is his analysis of focal lengths to which he concludes that

  • 14mm is ultra wide but fun,
  • 18mm is the second favorite length,
  • 21mm is the Sweet Spot,
  • 24mm is still good but getting narrower,
  • 27mm is the in-bwtween focal length, and
  • 35 – 50mm are great for landscape detail shots.

With this analysis you can see why he arrives at a zoom wide angle, normal, and the Zeiss 21. Combine these thoughts with the Spencer Cox recommendation of analyzing your own dominant focal length best images.

As always, thanks to Dave for his insights and thoughts.

Tom Archer

 

Tom is a London-based freelance photographer who travels the globe shooting epic landscape photographs for a number of top-tier clients. He states that his goal is to “capture the scale and beauty of the world.” His lens selection is a bit contrary, as I will discuss in the summary.

So, what is Tom Archer's recommendations as the Best Landscape Lenses?

  1. Nikon 24-70 f/2.8E ED (if he only had one lens, this would be it)
  2. Nikon 14-24 f/2.8G ED
  3. Nikon 70-200 f/2.8E FL ED VR

Summary – The combination of 14-24, 24-70 and 70-300 is a commonly recommend landscape lens kit, what is unusual is that most landscape photographers deploy the f/4 versions of the 24-70 and 70-200.

Tom, on the other hand, chooses to use the 2.8 versions. Here are the tradeoffs. The 2.8 is definately more expensive and heavier, however, at it's widest aperture (such as with live view) it's a stop brighter than f/4 which can make focusing even easier in low light conditions. So, weight and cost vs. viewability – only you can decide.

Interesting, and thanks to Tom for his insights.

First Man Photography

 

Adam Karnacz is a landscape photographer, professional wedding photographer, and filmmaker. As Adam explains, “the art matches his lifelong obsession with technology with the love and pleasure it can bring telling a story by capturing a moment in time.” No doubt, some very real changes need to be implemented to accommodate the three different types of photography. Let's cover, however, his landscape image making.

So, what does Adam believe are the best landscape lenses?

  1. Canon 17-40 f/4L
  2. Tamron 24-70 f/2.8
  3. Canon 70-200 f/4L
  4. Canon 400 f/5.6L
  5. Canon 100 f/2.8L Macro

Summary – Certainly, this is not the abridged system we've come to see in the above landscape photographers. It add both a macro and telephoto lens as well as deviate on the 24-70 to use the Tamron. Still the core basics are essentially the same, wide angle, medium and telephoto.

Not all landscape artists dance to the same drum beat and Adam's system is a little unusual but not completely unorthadox.

Thanks so much to Adam for sharing his vision.

Jennifer Wu Photography

 

There are also many prominent and talented female artists capturing the landscapes, and one of the best is Jennifer Wu. Jennifer is a nature and landscape photographer, specializing in creating stunning images of the night sky and stars. Since 2009 Canon USA has selected Jennifer to be on of the world's 36 best photographers for their Explorer of the Light program. Jennifer has spent over 30 years photographing has even taught photography and digital imaging at the California State University of Sacramento.

So what does Jennifer use and believe are the best landscape lens?

  • Canon 16-35 f/4
  • Canon 24-70 f/2.8, and
  • Canon 100-400 f/4-5.6 or,
  • Canon 70-300 f/4-5.6

Summary – Jennifer also may bring some ultra-wide and prime lens such as the 11-24 f/4, 17TS f/4 and 24 f/4 for star shots. Her choice certainly is consistent with many of the other landscape photographers and her talent, ability and experience certainly adds credeence to this selection of landscape lens.

Thanks to Jennifer for sharing her thoughts.

Daily Walks

 

Daily Walks is a creative photoblog and portfolio site of Diane Varner, who comments on Nature Art Photography with “what feeds my soul and my art are the untouched, open spaces of nature…” Diane seeks places like this each day as she hikes the coastline and mountain trails, taking photos of the beautiful Nothern California terrain and bring them back to her studio as inspiration for her art.

So, what does Diane claim are the best landscape lenses?

  • Canon 100 f/2.8L Macro (favorite)
  • Canon 70-200 f/4L (2nd favorite)
  • Canon 55-250 f/4-5.6 IS STM
  • Canon 17-40 f/4L
  • Canon EF 40 f/2.8 STM

Summary – Diane offers a bit of a twist on the most commonly stated landscape lenses with two STM lenses. Additionally, what is maybe more commonly used – the 24-70 is missing from Diane's listing and replaced with the 70-200 as her favorite.  This is further evidence of how she sees things differently than others and is a credit to her individual talent.

Thank you Diane for your contribution.

Place markers

 

Westerneye

 

Linde Waidhofer has been one of my favorite landscape photographers for years and has one of the most impressive landscape portfolios anywhere. Unfortunately, I was unable to determine what she uses and considers are the best landscape lens, but want to keep here as a place marker for the time I make that determination.

You owe it to yourself to check out her incredible images.

 

Rachale Talibart

 

Rachael Talibart is another super talented landscape (seascape) photographer who has some of the most amazing images both black and white and color of wave formations that I have ever seen. Like Linde Waidhofer, I am currently unable to determine her preferred lens selection but want to leave this as a marker when I discover that in the future.

Please review her site, as her images are truly stunning.

 

Conclusions

 

I want to acknowledge and thank the incredible artistry that is exhibited in each of the photographers detailed above.

Although this is certainly a representative sample, it's not significant enough to form a statistical answer. But, that's not the point. There are no winners or losers.

What we are addressing is art and what tools are available and maybe even optimal to create the vision one preconceives.

 

A few summary points:

 

  • While many photographers endeavor to consolidate their lens selection, for ultra-light purposes, and maybe to un-inhibit their vision, others seem content with a larger kit.
    • I would still contend that less is better at least as an effort to establish your artistic focus in line with your tools.
  • Many are seemingly content and indeed prefer zoom over prime lenses.
    • That may be due to not only the flexibility afforded by zoom lenses but also the technological progression of modern zoom lenses.
  • High pixel cameras really require modern lenses. Older lenses simply are incapable of utilizing the increased resolving power of modern sensors.
  • It is incredible the number of truly talented photographic artists, and the above barely scratched the surface.
  • There is also a move by landscape photographers towards the Sony mirrorless camera system and lenses. Although certainly not comprehensive, some previous diehard Nikon and Canon photographers are now using Sony. A transition is not an inexpensive proposition so it behooves those considering their tool selection to go slowly on this important decision.
  • A number of photographers literally go out of their way to “not” state what gear they use. Although I agree that landscape photography should primarily be about the art and vision, I don't agree that we are somehow compromised, as artists, when we discuss what tools we use.
  • Many seem to recognize the transience of their lens selection. You can discern that when they use the phrase “what I use now…” To that end, the selections above may have or possibly will change in the near future. There certainly are classic lenses but change is always a possibility.

So, what are the best landscape lenses?

 

With respect to Nikon and Canon systems, I've actually made recommendations fully in line with many, many of the above.

Here is a recap of the pertinent portion of what is stated on my Photo Resources page.

 

Nikon

Canon

Let me clarify the above lens selection.

You can certainly use the kit lens, the 24- 105 and 120, as your only landscape lens.

Or, you can use the 28-300 as your only lens.

Alternatively, you can use one of the wide angle lenses, let's say the 14-24 or 16-35 (or even the 18-35), plus the 28-300 as a two lens system.

Also, you can use either one of the wide angle lenses along with the 24-70 and 70-200 as a three lens system.

Finally, you can add either one of the Nikon 105 or 200 lenses (or Canon's 100 or 180), as your macro lens. The sample photographers above went with the 105/100 lens but you do get more working distance with the larger macros. Again, you need to experiment.

Adding an extension lens to one of the longer lenses is another way to go macro. This method does produce great images, as there is no extra glass involved, and is really inexpensive, but it somewhat restrictive in focusing, and a little difficult to handle.

The same type of alternative combinations would apply to the Canon systems within the limitation of their offerings (Canon does have a 28-300 lens but it is too heavy and expensive to be recommended as a landscape lens).

My final recommendations

 

Take your time.

Focus on your vision.

Start with your kit lens, if that's what you have, the 24 to 105 or 120 is a great focal range.

Even with that one lens, take a look at your best images and see which focal lengths you tend to concentrate. That knowledge is helpful.

Study the suggested lenses above, in line with the images they have produced, to be guided both by the facts (what they use) and the feel of their work. What appeals to you?

Look at the incredible images of the above artists and other landscape photographers for inspiration. Also, visit art museums which will really open up your vision.

Finally, there is no one best lens – but there are a number of great lenses which are really fabulous artistic tools.

Get outside and have fun.

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