The Holy Trinity of Landscape Astro Lenses

Are you using the right lenses for landscape astrophotography? The traditional goto lens for landscape used to be a 16-35mm or thereabouts, as long as it had a maximum aperture of f/2.8, it could double for night duty. But with the advent of mirrorless cameras and smaller, lighter, more inexpensive lenses, what options are out there, and what would a professional landscape astrophotographer use?

In this video by Alyn Wallace, he shows us the three lenses he uses to capture those stunning astro landscapes. He doesn't waste any time getting to the point of the video either, in the opening seconds we already know his astro “holy trinity” consists of a 14mm f/1.8, a 24mm f/1.4, and 50mm f/1.4. What follows after the reveal is a detailed explanation of why each lens made it into his kit, and what specific use each one has. For example, the 14mm and 24mm work well together because what the 14mm captures in one frame, he can opt to take a three-shot panorama with the 24mm and increase the resolution and detail. 

As someone who has not made the switch to mirrorless yet, weight is a precious commodity in my camera bag, and I have always been more attracted to higher quality zoom lenses like the 16-35mm f/2.8, 24-70mm f/2.8, and 70-200mm f/2.8. That trinity of lenses has always served me well in my landscape shooting. But having said that, I was seriously impressed with the sharpness and fidelity of the Sigma 14mm f/1.8 when I used it in Death Valley years ago. I also wasn’t that big into panoramas, so the idea of using a 24mm prime to do a rather minimal three-shot panorama never occurred to me. Regardless, this video has me questioning my kit and opening my eyes to different possibilities as I get more involved with astrophotography. 

Scott Donschikowski's picture

Scott Donschikowski is a professional photographer and educator with over 11 years of experience leading a variety of photo workshops around the world. He specializes mainly in landscape, wildlife, and astrophotography. He is also active on YouTube where he makes tutorials sharing his photographic knowledge.

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Alyn does a good job of explaining why he chooses which lenses to use and one of the comments he makes at the very beginning is the run-n-gun approach so he can get in as many shots as possible. This makes sense if time is precious and you are traveling I suppose and just want to capture as many angles as possible. I actually find that for individuals who still shoot with a DSLR will benefit more from faster primes as opposed to zoom lenses for astro because of the faster apertures. DSLR's, as least in my opinion, have more obvious noise issues at higher ISO than mirrorless cameras do, so being able to stop down to f/2 or 2.4 for sharper stars without having to raise ISO up to compensate for a "slower" zoom lens will cut down on the noise the DSLR will take in.

That said, with Mirrorless I would probably carry zoom lenses for the focal length flexibility. Especially if you have the chance to take your time on a single image.

I shot this image at 70mm and did a huge panorama stitch. This was about 2 years in to shooting photography and I have learned a lot since, but still it was the very beginning of me pushing myself out of my comfort zone (single exposure or single frame stack) and walking away with something, at least unique to me, that I hadn't seen at this specific location.

The most important thing though is to have fun with what you're doing.

I've been amazed by a Voigtlander Nokton 17.5mm f0.95 Micro 4/3 Lens
for stars.

14 is too wide with a lot of distortion
24 1.4 and 35 1.4 are my go to for nightscapes. If I need larger FOV I’ll just do a pano. You can also stack multiple shots for each frame of a pano…