How do you select the best lens for your Landscape Photography?
All types of photography require some lens system or kit.
Part of this, obviously, is the camera brand you use. Next, it's important to evaluate the types of shots you'll be normally taking – wide angle, to telephoto, to macro. Then, it's a review of the lenses themselves, their quality, dependability, flexibility, and any other factor such as weight and cost. Finally, there's an element of how you see the world and what lens matches that vision.
This process is true whether you're a landscape, wildlife, street or wedding photographer.
So how do you go about this process?
Before you get too deep into purchasing lenses, make sure you're comfortable with the brand of camera you own.
What I mean by this is don't just buy lenses because you already own a specific brand. Remember, lenses will outlast the continual upgrades of camera bodies. Choice glass should always be a priority and there's no sense in making this expenditure only to decide you're using a camera brand that you're not going to be happy with down the road.
Granted, a lot of this is preference. Additionally, however, there are the factors of which systems offer the type of lens choices that you'll eventually use. For example, if you look at most sporting events where sports photographers are covering the event, you'll notice predominately white long telephoto lenses or Canons. Most sports photographers use Canon because they feel that Canon offers the greatest selection of quality lenses that meet their needs. This may change and there's a certain amount of leapfrog being played in new product offerings. This may play a little into wildlife photography also since they also depend on long lenses.
Nikon really took the upper hand in landscape photography when it introduced megapixels in their D800's. For years, they were the only game in town, until Canon came out with their super megapixel cameras. At around the same time, Sony introduced their amazing cameras and a number of landscape photographers have jumped aboard with Sony.
So how do you choose?
For landscape photography, all three top brands – Nikon, Canon, and Sony, really do offer very good solutions. I would be hesitant about using another brand since the depth of lens offerings may not be quite as robust. Things, however, can change. Also, you should recognize that Sony has adapters which accept both Canon and Nikon brand lenses – so that may be a consideration.
I've used both Canon and Nikon for a number of years, and for me personally, I believe Nikon offers better options for landscape photography. I know Canon has recently introduced megapixel cameras but Nikon's system has more exposure dynamic range and currently meets my needs better. A number of other professionals, however, have gone the Sony route so there's no single answer.
Types of shots
I discuss in my mastering hyperfocus article my concept of the types of shots typically available in landscape imaging – everything from macro to flat images, to near hyperfocus to telephoto shots. You may not be interested in all of them and you can adjust your lens kit accordingly. Take time to preconceive the various shots and you'll know what lens to go after.
After knowing what types of shots you're interested in, its time to start reviewing lenses. I included a section in my gear resources page which goes over the typical lens setups which is reproduced below for your review.
With respect to Nikon, you can certainly use the kit lens, the 24-120, 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, 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 Zeiss 100 or Nikon 200 lenses, as your macro lens. 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). 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 diffult to handle.
The gear resources page also goes into reviewing lens from a scientific basis, through other review offerings. Again, the following reproduces my thought process here.
First, check out scientific reviews at DxO to survey what they believe are the best cameras suited for landscape photography. Use DxO to get a scientific reference on cameras and lens – sharpness, resolution, dynamic range etc. Then, uses other sources to get a hands-on analysis.
I recommend LensRentals.com for their (almost) completely unbiased and knowledgeable reviews (for example, look at their review of the Canon 5dsr). I say unbiased because a rental is a rental, and the profit is relatively the same, so besides what biases everyone has (they might just like or use one brand as opposed to another, for example), they are serving a vast audience which likes and uses all different brands.
Make sure, when you look at other reviewers also, to understand their biases – are they selling equipment, are they a Canon or Nikon only user, etc. Some good reviewers are The Digital Picture for Canon, and Thom Hogan for Nikon.
You can also see what consumers say in their reviews about camera gear at Fred Miranda. Be aware, however, consumers normally don't buy a $6,000 lens then post a review about how bad the lens is and what a terrible decision they made. You'll notice that the more expensive gear tends to have a higher rating. So take these reviews with a grain of salt.
I might add that if you look at various landscape photography sites, you can always check out their “what in my bag” article. Look at their portfolio and determine if it's something you would like to shoot recognizing that it was shot with a specific camera system. You'll find that you enjoy and appreciate some portfolios and there will be some you don't. Outside of the photographer's specific vision, some of the image's appeal can be attributed to their kit. Lenses actually write an image differently and some may appeal more than others. See if you can determine the commonalities at least with respect to the camera system and lenses.
I encourage you to start small. Let's say with only one lens to determine what you like and improve your skills and your vision. You can always change and add equipment later on. Speak to other photographers and see what they like or dislike about their equipment.
With time and after really thinking and processing the ideas above, you'll develop a lens kit that will not only meet your needs but you'll understand why you carry the equipment you carry and know what specifically is needed to develop your vision.