The 3 Lenses You Need for Landscape Photography

There seems to be an endless line of questions about what gear to get for landscape photography. For classic landscape photography, there are three lenses I could not do without.

Over the years I have owned several different lenses that came with different benefits, sharp lenses, small lenses, fast lenses, etc. I even got a nifty fifty as my second lens. Back then, I did a whole range of other types of photography, but mainly focused on candid photos of my friends at parties and portraits and the nifty fifty was a really great fit for that. For landscape photography, it just collects dust on the shelf.

In my brand new video, I share my thoughts on what lenses I deem necessary for landscape photography.

Wide-Angle Zoom

My most used lens for regular landscape photography (daylight, golden hour, and blue hour) is a wide-angle zoom such as a 16-35mm. I photograph a lot in Iceland and the Faroe Islands and the wide-angle view fits perfectly with many of the iconic locations in those countries. The big question is whether to get an ultra wide-angle lens. Many ultra-wides have a maximum focal length of 24mm and a minimum between 11mm and 14mm dependent on the brand. That is a relatively narrow focal range and photographing that wide are usually not necessary to capture “the entire scene.” Many ultra-wides also comes with a bulky front element, which means you cannot use regular screw-on filters. Whether you go for the ultra-wide or regular wide-angle lens, one thing is clear, you do not need an aperture lower than f/4. Generally, in landscape photography we want everything from front to back to be in focus, which is the reason we tend to photograph between f/8 and f/16. The f/2.8 is nice to have if you want to add astrophotography into the equation, but for regular landscape photography, it is redundant.

There are other arguments for and against wide-angles and ultra wide angles but in the end, it comes down to your own preferences.

Shot at 12mm - now, that is wide!

Standard Zoom

Standard zooms are probably my second most used lens type. I currently use the 24-105mm from Sony and it is a gem of a lens! The other day I was out photographing in Denmark for six hours and I only used that lens. The 24-105 is a fantastic all-round lens, but should you go for a 24-70mm instead? Budget, aperture, lens stabilization, sharpness, and focal range are all factors to consider when you choose your lens. In my specific case, it is a no brainer, the 24-105mm from Sony is not the cheapest lens in its class, but it exceeds expectations in all other categories. I do not need the f/2.8 aperture (for the same reasons as above), it is very sharp, arguably sharper than the 24-70 GM and it comes with image stabilization.

Shot at 46mm with a slight crop.

Telephoto Zoom

Last but not least, a telephoto zoom lens is also a must-have lens, there are a few different types on the market and again there are several factors to consider. Since I use the 24-105mm I can use the 100-400mm without compromising any focal length, however, the 100-400 comes with a bigger price tag, larger size and more weight than a typical 70-200mm. The 70-200mm f/4 has been my go-to lens for many years for both Sony and Canon and no matter your brand, there are some really good 70-200mm lenses on the market.

Shot at 200mm, but heavily cropped. I could really have used a 100-400mm lens here!

In my video, I go even deeper into budget, aperture, sharpness, filters, focal range comparison, and much more. Check it out above if you want to know what lenses to get for landscape photography. What lenses do you prefer or own? Let me know down below.

Log in or register to post comments

24 Comments

Kai Hornung's picture

Thats why my backpack is always too heavy: carry my arsenal with me to have options. ...and an aching back

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

And add a drone on top of that! :D Maybe you could even use the drone to lift the backpack!

giorgos karampotakis's picture

and add another 2 camera bodies with that lenses on them because is frustrating to change the lenses outside

Tor-Ivar Næss's picture

I still need to work around when and where to use my 200-500mm. Good thing I’m built like medium siszed tank 😅

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

That surely comes with benefits! How much does the 200-500 weigh?

Aritz Atela's picture

Dont forget it: load your bag with everything, you never know which lens you want to use.
Dont forget it too: work out to get your muscles ready ;)

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

HAHA! That workout tip is super important :D

Hans Gunnar Aslaksen's picture

A great in depth article Mads!

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

Thanks a lot, Hans! Appreciate it as always :)

I sometimes regret getting the 70-200mm f/2.8 because it is so heavy for hiking and wish I had just gotten an f/4. But, when I have taken pictures of my daughter's choir shows in a dimly lit auditorium, I have been glad I had the f/2.8. But, most of the landscape photos that I have take that I really love are with a 16-35mm f/4. I just keep a specialty prime for astroscape and cityscape and don't carry it around much otherwise.

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

Yeah, as long as you still need the low-light capabilities you'll have to deal with the extra weight. I would probably have done the same if it wasn't exclusively for landscapes :)

Jeff Walsh's picture

I've found that there's a tremendous loss of depth in the image when I use the 70-200. It could just be my own perception, but the way a 70-200 squishes everything in order to zoom, just leaves me with a lack of depth.

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

Do you mean parts of the image gets out of focus or?

Jeff Walsh's picture

No I don't lose focus, but when I shoot a landscape with say a 50mm or 22mm, there's a tremendous amount of depth in the image. The view can perceive the distance much better, at least in my opinion. Whereas when I shoot a similar image using the 70-200 it feels like the foreground and background are compressed more closely together, the distance between them is lost somewhat. Again this could be my own perception being imparted to my images, but when I've tried to compose and image of say rolling hills covered in flowers, when shot with the 70-200 that distance, that depth in the image feels flat as compared when I shoot it with a 50mm, and crop into the same composition.

Dear Jeff Walsh , from what I'm reading in your comment, what seems to be the problem is not your telephoto lens but it is in relation to the use of this type of focal length in general as when you are using a telephoto and unlike using a wide-angle lens, your photographs will look flattened and this is due to the Depth of Field.

Depth of Field is affected by three elements:
Aperture, Distance and Lens focal Length.

So basically by using a telephoto, you directly flattened your photograph while like you said when you use a normal lens (50mm in the case of a small format camera) or a wide-angle you are increasing the Depth of Field, couple that with a small aperture (f/11 or f/16) and the fact that the scenery that you're shooting is far from you, you will get a narrower depth of field thus you will feel that your photograph when using those lenses has more depth to it than when you use a telephoto.

Now, on the other hand, this should not discourage you from using a telephoto lens for landscape photography as you can have very interesting results. Keep in mind that while you are shooting you need to Pre-visualize your final photograph knowing how you will be editing it in post-production. Because simply any photograph that you shoot, no matter how good it is straight out of your camera and since I will assume that you are shooting in RAW, you will need to edit it and thus re-adjusting for the loss of depth to a certain extent.

I hope my answer clarifies a bit about what is happening to you, and in the case, I got what the problem was wrong, I am sorry for this lengthy useless explanation.

Jeff Walsh's picture

Absolutely nailed it. Thank you for explaining it

You're the most welcome

I'd argue that a 24-70 or a 24-105 is overkill sitting between a 16-35 and a 70-200. Get a decent 50mm if you need to bridge the gap and call it a day. Not only will it save weight, but with an f/1.8 you can still shoot night sky photos in a pinch. You may just need to shoot multiple images and do a panorama stitch.

For someone who frequently shoots both day and night, I'd say ditch the 16-35 f/4, forget the 2.8 version (for both price and weight) and get a 24mm f/1.4. You basically trade the flexibility of the zoom range for the flexibility of lighting conditions.

But to each their own. Carrying 3 lenses is no big deal if you park your car and return the same day. It's a little different if you're trekking 20-30 miles a day and carrying 7-8 days worth of food at a time.

That is a very good advice. And in fact, the combination of (f/2.8 or f/4) a 17-35mm and a 70-200mm along with a 50mm f/1.8 fits for many occasions, not just landscape. And a good 50mm lens has (almost) no distortions, another advantage. If you are on an event (evening or in house press, sports, theatre, concert, ...), you probably have two bodies with you, one with a wide angle or mid range zoom (16-35 or 24-70), the other with a 70-200mm. A 50mm (a Nikon AF-D f/1.4 e.g.) fits always in one of your pockets. I find myself using it surprisingly often when the light goes down for some reason and your camera goes above ISO 6400-12800 and the shutter speed cannot be lowered. It's gaining 1 2/3 to 2 stops.

You make a good point, I think, on replacing the 24-120mm with a 50mm. But, not replacing a 16-35mm with a 24mm; as that is a very wide range, really. The 16-35mm f/4 is about the same weight as the 24mm f/1.4 anyhow. The big advantage I would see with the 24mm f/1.4 is night sky, but I am usually on a dedicated journey for that anyway and have a prime for that.

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

That's a very valid point in case you have the 16-35mm and the 70-200. As I've moved to the 12-24 and 100-400 I'm sure I'll miss the 24-XX. Also, I find that my 24-105 is such a versatile lens I sometimes only use that one all through the day :)

I have a 16-35 f4 lens but have moved to carrying the lighter Nikon 20mm f1.8 and 50mm f1.8 along with my 70-200 E2.8. I shoot landscapes and tourist sites when I travel and am in love with everything but the weight of the 70-200. The 200-500 f5.6 is spectacular for landscapes, but is still a big lens and takes some of the fun out of hiking due to its size and weight. As I get older, I have moved to a Pano G9 micro 4/3 for longer hikes with a small table top tripod.

Well, I've had great success with my budget, second hand Tamron 70 to 200mm lens, which I picked up for just £40, that's right £40! I continue to use my Canon Kit Zoom 18 to 55mm, underrated in my opinion.
I've also started using a recent purchase, the Sony DSC R1 for landscaping work, superb Zeis glass, yeh clunky and old it maybe, but wow, I'm blown away by it. You don't need to spend a fortune on gear to get great pictures, just practice, knowledge, a good eye, and perservearence.