Landscapes are one of the most popular subjects to shoot. Look out any window, and there’s something to photograph. It might not be the most majestic landscape, but there’s probably a photo to be made.
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The good news is that landscapes are one of the most accessible subjects. Unlike portraits or sports, which generally need more specialized (and expensive) gear, you can take landscapes with any camera and lens combination.
What You Want in a Landscape Lens
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Although you can use any setup and get great landscapes, there are certain attributes that will tend to make a lens better for capturing them. You can use a 200mm telephoto lens, but it’s not the most flexible option. And that there is the key: flexibility.
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Landscapes are a lot more varied than people. We fit a fairly standard profile. Most of us are somewhere between four and seven feet tall. Most of us are between 50 and 400 pounds. A view of Mount Everest and the daisies in a local field, however, are both landscapes and they’re both very very different challenges photographically.
Ideally, you want a lens that will work in as many situations as possible. This means you’ll want a zoom lens that covers a range of useful focal lengths.
Focal Length and Landscapes
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For most landscapes, you’re generally going to want to use a wide angle lens. They let you get everything in the shot. How wide you want depends on the subject, but it is rare you’ll use something much longer than a normal lens.
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Small differences in focal length matter a lot more at shorter focal lengths than they do at longer focal lengths. The difference in field of view between 20mm and 22mm is a lot more than the difference between 100mm and 102mm. This means that a lens that’s got a slightly shorter focal length can make a huge difference.
Below is a photo taken at 28mm. This is equivalent to 18mm on a crop sensor camera, which is the shortest focal length of most kit lenses. It’s a pretty wide field of view.
Next up, we’ve got a photo taken at 17mm. This is equivalent to about 10.5mm on a crop sensor camera.
You can see there’s a huge difference in the field of view. Going just 10mm wider means we can capture a huge amount more of the landscape. It’s not that one photo is necessarily better, but the second one makes the sense of scale seem more dramatic.
While you won’t always want to go super wide, it’s great to have the option. This means that for the most flexibility, you want a zoom lens that covers some really wide-angle focal lengths—about 10mm on a crop sensor camera and 17mm on a full-frame camera.
Aperture and Landscapes
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Aperture doesn’t matter that much for landscape photography unless you are also planning on shooting some photos of the stars. Most of the time, you’ll be using an aperture between f/8 and f/16 to maximize your depth of field. This means that even a lens that’s widest aperture is f/5.6 will work. My main landscape lens has a widest aperture of f/4, which works perfectly.
While a lens with a wider aperture will let you shoot in less light without a tripod, they tend to cost a good bit more. If you have the budget for a lens with f/2.8, buy it, but don’t consider it an essential feature of a landscape lens. You’ll often want to use a tripod anyway.
Some Good Landscape Lenses
So we’ve established that the best flexible landscape lens is a wide-angle zoom lens. Your kit lens will work, but won’t have the extra wide field of view that’s often desirable. Let’s look at some of good options.
For Canon, if you’re using a crop sensor camera, I’d recommend the $279 Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS . Its focal length is the equivalent of about 16-30 on a full-frame camera. Combined with your kit lens, you’ll be able to capture a great photo of almost any landscape.
If you’re using a full-frame camera, I can praise the Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L highly enough. It’s my most used lens and, at $749, tremendous value.
For Nikon, your options are similar. The $300 Nikon AF-P DX NIKKOR 10-20mm f/4.5-5.6G VR is a solid buy and, along with your kit lens, will cover most of your landscape needs.
The closest lens to by beloved 17-40mm for full-frame Nikon cameras is the Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5G. It, similarly, covers a pretty perfect range for landscape photography.
You can take great landscapes with any lens: there are just so many different kinds of landscapes! However, if you want a lens that will enable you to take good landscapes in almost any situation, you won’t go wrong with a wide-angle zoom lens.