Are f/2.8 Lenses Needed for Landscape Photography?

Photographers are always looking for the best gear to practice their craft. Many seek out the faster f/2.8 lenses, but are they the right choice for landscape photographers? This video talks about why one landscape photographer stopped using their f/2.8 lenses.

We join Nigel Danson in a woodland setting as he chases the fog and talks about his move from using f/2.8 lenses. For several years, he used lenses like the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 or the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8, but recently, he’s moved towards f/4 lenses.

Danson talks about his favorite lens for woodland photography, the Nikon 24-120mm f/4. He believes the flexibility of the focal length brings many advantages to this type of landscape photography, despite it not being an f/2.8 lens. He demonstrates how the extra reach of the lens helps him compose several scenes quickly and without lens changes. 

Danson also discusses how he rarely needs the wider aperture for landscape photography, where increased depth of field is an important factor. And though the Nikon 24-120mm f/4 might lack some sharpness compared to a Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8, he explains why he finds that acceptable.

I also rarely use my Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 for landscape photography, preferring my Nikon 24-120mm f/4 versions of the lenses. It was interesting to see another landscape photographer’s take on lens selection. What do you think?

Jeffrey Tadlock's picture

Jeffrey Tadlock is an Ohio-based landscape photographer with frequent travels regionally and within the US to explore various landscapes. Jeffrey enjoys the process and experience of capturing images as much as the final image itself.

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Landscape in this case is presumed to be a subject where hyper focal distance is preferred. I consider a shot of a flower say, with a background out of focus a landscape subject as well. f4 doesn’t cut it in that case. I get your point though, f11,f16, f22 are mostly used for a scene from near to far and the 24-120 is great range for that. Just wanted to clarify. Have a 50 f1.8 in your bag too!

Good point! Being able to blur the background for flower photography to help isolate the subject is a nice ability to have.

I use to have a D7500 and the 24-120 was on it probably 85% of the time. I got a little money, sold the 7500 with the lens. Got a d810 and got a few heavy 2.8's. I got so tired lugging them around and flying with them. I came across a really good deal on a slightly used 24-120. I won't make the mistake of letting this lens go again. Love the versatility of it. I hardly shoot anything below f8 on wide landscapes. If I want some bokeh on smaller subjects, will use my macro or 1.4.

I've only had my 24-120 for about 3 or 4 months, but I really like it. Super versatile and an option for if I want to only head out with one lens and still have a pretty decent focal range to work with.

The 2.8's do get so heavy! I have a 24-70 f/2.8 and a 70-200 f/2.8 - but they never really go with me for landscape photography outings, I have them more for portraits, headshots, events, etc. Would much rather hike with the ff/4's.

Given that you want set to the aperture to a fairly high setting for fairly obvious reasons, I often wondered why any landscape photographer would avoid an f/4 lens.

Ok if you’re taking close ups of flowers then blurring the background is great. But if you’re taking landscape vistas you’re not going using anything less than f/11.

Agreed - I think f/4 lenses are a great option for landscape photographers.

Someone else noted that even for flower photography or those close-ups where you want to isolate the subject via bokeh, a 50mm f/1.8 prime isn't that expensive or heavy for that use.

Very little is truly needed!

“I just got this new camera. It’s very advanced. You don’t even need it.” - Steven Wright

The manufacturers assume that f4 zooms are bought by photographers unable or unwilling to pay for f2.8 ‘professional’ zooms. Until the latest generation of lenses, the f4 options had slower AF, worse weatherproofing and soft edges by design. For landscape prints especially, the lower quality was too obvious for me.

Buyers are less willing to put up with these compromises now that most cameras have fast AF and higher resolutions - and phones are weather resistant. I recently bought Sony’s 20-70mm and it’s now my go-to for most trips. Is it as good as the f2.8 GMii 24-70mm? No. Is the GM 24-70 as good as a GM prime at any given focal length? No. But even on a 60mp camera the 20-70mm is so good that I can crop or print large - and that’s good enough for most of my images. I’m not quite ready to part with my f2.8 zooms, but realistically the latest f4 zooms plus a prime or two makes for an amazingly capable combination. I have not used the latest Canon and Nikon f4 zooms, but they seem to have made the same step up in image quality. For travel and hiking these are such a great choice.

Good primes offer the best resolution, colour and contrast. Especially with high resolution cameras, you don’t actually see what your camera can deliver with a zoom. Primes also offer choices that might include wider apertures for better image quality in low light, more selective focus and softer out of focus areas. Then there are the specialist primes like macro lenses and tilt-shift. For most of us, most of the time, the convenience of a zoom outweighs the edge that primes offer. I quite often carry a macro for woodland and heathland, or for the coast and mountains a 20mm or 24mm prime.

Good point - I think part of this conversation is more relevant today because manufacturers have put a little more quality into the f/4 series of lenses, while in the past, that might have meant making other compromises as well.

I use the Nikon Z f2.8 lenses most of the time, when using a Nikon. I have both the f2.8 and f4 lenses, but I prefer to go with what I know are sharper lenses when I'm travelling by car. On trips by air, if I need to go light, I'll go with the 14-30 f/4 and 24-120 f/4.

The type of trip can definitely be an influence - or how much hiking, too, in some cases.

I tend towards the lazy side and like having my camera bag all packed and ready to go and never needing to put too much thought other than grab the camera bag and go. Of course, the 2.8's I have are adapted lenses, so the adapter makes them a little bulkier as well.

Of course you now have the option of reach and f2.8 with the 24-105mm f2.8 L.
So that problem has been solved and if more f2.8 reach is desired you have the option of the 100-300mm f2.8 L.
So f2.8 is now available with reach.

This is why smaller formats like APS-C and Micro Four Thirds are often a better choice. The "equivalency" math means you benefit from the increased depth of field using the smaller sensors while using faster lenses and shutter speeds.