For those interested in landscape photography, you may be selling yourself short by exclusively using wider angle lenses. Telephoto lenses deserve just as much use, if not more.
Wide Lens Versus Telephoto Lens: The Drawbacks
I think we can all agree that wide angle lenses are more commonly used for landscape photography compared with telephoto lenses. The question, though, is whether they should be. To start, why are they more common? I would argue that one of the primary reasons is that they have been standard in most cell phones. While more modern phones are equipped with lenses intended for portraits, these developments are still relatively recent, and decent telephoto lenses are still lacking. As such, with the ubiquity of cell phone photos, wider viewing angles have become what we are used to, what we expect, and as a result, they have become what we want.
Speaking strictly of a wide angle lens compared with a telephoto lens on the same camera, there are admittedly many reasons to choose a wide angle lens over a telephoto lens. For one (and it’s a “big” one), the size difference generally favors the wide-angle lenses: they are typically lighter, smaller, and can save your back if you’re taking a significant hike. While wide angles can also be expensive, telephoto lenses tend to get more expensive faster. Thirdly and perhaps most importantly, if you want a lot in your frame, telephoto lenses will not get you there.
The Benefit of Telephoto Lenses
Is there even a debate going on for which lenses are best suited for landscape photography? No. There are just voices like mine and a few others on Fstoppers that argue for the use of telephoto lenses in landscape photography. In a previous Fstoppers article, Nigel provides an excellent example of this exact case. He provides multiple images from the same scene with multiple focal lengths to provide a great illustration of the cost-benefit of using a telephoto over a wide angle in the same scene. In another article by Tim, he took a similar approach with a wide angle versus telephoto comparison.
The common thread between those articles and perhaps my favorite thing about using telephoto lenses in landscape photography is the challenge to change the way you view compositions. Instead of just pointing the camera in the direction of a beautiful scene, more work is required to find more intimate scenes that would otherwise have only been part of the original composition. Being able to do this can sometimes feel like you’re freeing your subject from its surroundings and giving it attention that it deserves.
While there is no universal truth in photography as far as the “best camera” or “best lens,” I believe everyone should have new pursuits to better understand who they are as photographers. And to be a more experienced photographer requires new experiences and challenges. If you like to shoot landscapes and have not attempted to incorporate a telephoto lens into your work, perhaps now is the time to give it a go.