Why Landscape and Cityscape Photographers Should Also Carry a Telephoto Lens

When you think of landscape and cityscape photography, you likely think of wide angle lenses designed to maximize the amount of the scene you can fit in the frame. And while these are the first choice of many photographers, this video makes a great case for why you should also carry along a telephoto lens.

Coming to you from Michael Breitung, this great video shows how a telephoto lens can really expand your repertoire of landscape and cityscape shots while also solving some of the problems of wide angle lenses. I'll be the first to admit that I'm guilty of heading out without a lens above 70mm, and it definitely skews my creative vision in the long run if I forget to bring a telephoto. The nice thing is that for this sort of work, you really don't need the mammoth 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses with image stabilization and large price tags. In fact, Canon makes a wonderful 70-200mm f/4L lens for only $599 (it might just be the cheapest L lens I can think of). It's sharp, light, and exactly what a landscape, cityscape, or travel photographer needs. Most other manufacturers have their own versions as well. 

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31 Comments

I feel like this where Canon has traditionally shined in the past. They always seem to offer a lens just a *smidge* less impressive than the most expensive lens in each focal length. That's starting to diminish a bit since the 3rd party lenses are becoming more available for various platforms and a lot of them have really good optics. Very helpful video. Thanks!

Alex Cooke's picture

Glad you liked it! And I definitely agree. You can get some quality glass from them, and since landscape shooters generally use narrow apertures, the image quality difference really closes.

William Howell's picture

Yeah, i only have three good lenses and I take the 70-200mm right along with the 14-24mm when I shoot landscapes.

Here is a landscape-ish photograph I took the other day in Rochester MN. Couldn’t have taken this shot with the 14-24mm. And it is a panorama.

For some reason I can't see your photo, but I wish I could! I also like to bring my 70-200 along when I go out, I end up using it a lot depending the environment. Once in a while, I'll even bring the big gun, my 150-600, and it's pretty cool when you're on something high like a rooftop or a hill/mountain.

The Canon 70-200 L was my first 70-200 lens, and I liked it a lot. I got it used for cheap, and sold it without lost after I got my Tamron 70-200 G2 for events stuff. Super useful lenses.

Once in a while, I bring my 150-600 with me, when I know I'll have access to an eagle nest. A lot of the photos end up being taken either at around 300mm or 600mm (then usually cropped), which prompts me to think a 70-300mm lens might be even more useful than a 70-200 for travel and landscape, since it has more range, is usually pretty compact, and we don't need as fast a lens.

I used an inexpensive 70-210 Canon lens here in this film photo from the mid 90s. The farthest right side of the castle was shrouded in constructing scaffolding so I walked up a hilll away from the castle and the other tourists and took this zoomed in shot. I can't remember what the focal length was but of course such a shot wouldn't be possible with a wide angle lens or short zoom.

For the curious film fans, that's Fuji Reala.

William Howell's picture

Gosh, it’s so vibrant and contrasty at the same time. Was this one of your favorite films?

Yeah it was probably my most used film, although I also used Ektar 100 a lot, and even 25.

William Howell's picture

Hey, let me ask you a question, since you an expert film shooter.
Who had the better film, to you, Kodak or Fuji? And do you think digital will ever yield results like the picture you have shown?

Now I have never shot film, wish I had, I was bitten by the shutter bug about ten years ago, so for me it has always been digital.

They both had great films so long as you avoided the cheap mainstream consumer stuff.

Digital most certainly can yield results essentially indistinguishable to film without having to use film emulating filters. The best way to emulate the general look of film with digital is to simply shoot RAW at higher ISOs, don't use any noise reduction (default color only in LR/ACR is OK and recommended) and don't sharpen.

After that just adjust the colors, brightness and contrast to your liking, keeping in mind that there is no specific look inherent to all color film. As with personal preferences, different films simply empathized different colors while some were quite neutral. The same goes for contrast.

If you are trying to recreate the look of color prints from the past then do not recover shadows and highlights. Back in the film days stuff like that, color dodging and burning, essentially didn't exist in color prints. Burnt out highlights or crushed shadows were the norm in more extreme lighting conditions.

Alex Cooke's picture

The FD 70-210 f/4? I still own that lens!

No, it was the inexpensive EF 70-210 3.5-4.5 model below. A disturbingly light but surprisingly decent lens.

Alex Cooke's picture

I used to own the 28-135 that complemented that lens. I wish I still had it.

Hey great choice! That is the same lens I also used alongside it! It was Canon's second IS lens on the market. A great always on the camera range. I wish a compact version in that range existed for the Sony a6X00 cameras. I remember when I got that lens and experienced for the first time image stabilization kicking in as I cycled IS on and off, I actually experienced motion sickness.

Here's another shot taken with that zoom from the village of Hohenschwangau below the castle.

Alex Cooke's picture

That's a lovely shot!! The bird soaring in the corner really adds to the scope. Yeah, I actually really miss that lens; I always liked it much more than my 24-105. Was it the mixed signals from the stable image and the physical shaking that gave you motion sickness?

That's actually a hang glider. I don't know if you know the location but he definitely had a hell of a view. You can get a taste of it in the movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, especially on Blu-Ray.

I'm glad you like the shot. The smaller version that initially shows up looks dark but that image was adjusted for a large print and it was also later in the day, so clicking to view the larger image looks much better. The original scan file was made on a Canon FS4000 dedicated film scanner. It is 130MB TIF and I think it was an Agfa film.

Correct on the IS lens effect. Motion sickness is just the body's disconnect between what is seen and felt. The cycling of the IS on and off, like an excited child would with a new toy, was surprisingly enough to make me feel the onset of motion sickness.

Alex Cooke's picture

Oh duh. I was wondering what kind of bird had such a wingspan. I don't know it, but it looks incredible! I'll have to pull out Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and give it a watch.

I was wondering what film it was; the blue is so vivid, but the greens made it clear it wasn't Fuji. It works really well for the colors in that shot.

That's really interesting about the IS; I've never had issues with it, but I did a shoot on a merry-go-round yesterday, and keeping my eye to the viewfinder for a few minutes while we were whirling around was enough to make me feel a little queasy afterward.

Yeah the castle they used in the movie is the Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria. Coincidentally one of the recent articles shows a photo of it. I've attached a Google search image of it that is actually from the front, which strangely faces away from the village. The photo I took is from the comparitively plain and simple looking side. There is a nearby lake with crystal clear waters that you can rent small paddle boats for the day. It's an incredible location and a very popular tourist destination. We visited a few times when we lived in Germany for a few years. The village below it is Hohenschwangau. I mistakenly said Fussen, which is nearby.

As for the vividness of the sky, I don't believe I enhanced that any further than how it scanned. I don't normally like doing that kind of thing with film, in order to preserve the original look of the film, so what you see is likely the way the film rendered it. I only shot a handful of Agfa film and I never did again but if I recall correctly the blue of the particular Agfa film I used stood out.

Motion sickness is sometimes an unpredictable thing. I've done things where one would expect motion sickness and I felt nothing, and then other times I've gotten sick when I was sure I wouldn't.

Kaare Lytsen's picture

I never liked those wide angle landscapes. They are too chaotic for my taste.

It depends on the composition.

I did my entire trip in Poland with a 70-200 f/4 and the 40mm 2.8, got great results and didn't kill my back. the 70-200 is now with me at all times, love that lens.

Article makes a great point.

For those of you who are younger, make a point of looking for images by Jay Maisel or Ernst Hass. Both can be considered as some of the greatest colour photographers who ever lived (I think Maisel is still alive).

During the seventies into the eighties Jay Maisel was producing some spectacular cityscapes, mostly shot with 200mm, 300mm or longer lenses. As for Ernst Haas, if you can find it in a library, check out his masterpiece "The Creation". Very little of it was shot with wide or normal lenses.

Enjoy.

With fuji for landscape you only need two lenses
10-24 and 55-200

Kyle Medina's picture

I would recommend an sigma 18-35(DX) or 24-70 f/4 (FF) paired with the 70-200 f/4. For any person starting out in landscape. (Canon)

Jacques Cornell's picture

This is why a 14-140mm forms the core of my Micro Four Thirds travel kit. Also, less lens swapping.

That's a nice range.

Jacques Cornell's picture

Indeed. It's the equivalent of 28-280 on a 35mm-format camera. This lens is one of the better 10x zooms you can buy, surprisingly sharp and even across the frame wide open at all focal lengths. I already had 12-35 & 35-100 f2.8 zooms, but got sick of lens swapping on photo walks. Best $600 I've spent in a long time.

Stefan Gonzalevski's picture

I agree with this article, and the video. When I do cityscapes, I use a 70-200/2,8, with or yithout the ultiplier x1,7. And I can't imagine doing otherwise. With some luck or research, I find a high point of view. I think the telelens allows to grab what you really see from the scenery and offers the oppotunity to develop a more personal style than a wide-angle.

Steve Bryant's picture

Some very good points made in this video. However, I really don't understand why he's showing all his photos with slow panning around parts of each image... Isn't the point of this really about the unique compositions that you can achieve, so why not just show a static of the whole composition??

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