What is the best lens for landscape photography? The answer is that any camera lens can and will be the perfect lens for capturing a landscape, depending on your viewpoint and the subject. But if a landscape photographer is heading out into the world with a single lens, betting money says they will go with a wide-angle zoom or prime lens affixed to their camera.
Let’s look at the most popular focal lengths for landscape photography lenses and discuss their benefits.
- Best Landscape Lens Zoom for Full-Frame Cameras: ca. 16-35mm
- Best Landscape Lens Zoom for APS-C Cameras: ca. 10-24mm
- Best Landscape Lens Zoom for Micro Four Thirds Cameras: ca. 8-18mm
- Best Landscape Prime for Full-Frame Cameras: ca. 20mm & 24mm
- Best Landscape Prime for APS-C Cameras: ca. 14mm & 16mm
- Best Landscape Prime for Micro Four Thirds Cameras: ca. 10mm & 12mm
- Best Landscape Telephoto Zoom for Full-Frame Cameras: 70-200mm
- Best Landscape Telephoto Zoom for APS-C Cameras: 50-150mm
- Best Landscape Telephoto Zoom for Micro Four Thirds Cameras: 35-100mm
Best Landscape Lens Zoom for Full-Frame Cameras: ca. 16-35mm
The wide-angle 16-35mm focal length is probably the most popular choice for landscape photographers using full-frame lenses. The convenient zoom focal length range nicely brackets the 20mm and 24mm focal length—traditional favorites of landscape photographers (more on that later).
Why 16-35mm? This wide-angle focal length allows photographers to capture expansive scenes in a single image for capturing the classic landscape view that includes interesting foregrounds as well as expansive skies.
Best Landscape Lens Zoom for APS-C Cameras: ca. 10-24mm
The equivalent to the 16-35mm lens for APS-C (1.5x or 1.6x) cameras is the 10-24mm lens.
Best Landscape Lens Zoom for Micro Four Thirds Cameras: ca. 8-18mm
The equivalent to the 16-35mm lens for Micro Four Thirds (2x) cameras is the 8-18mm lens or, alternatively, a 7-14mm lens.
Best Landscape Prime for Full-Frame Cameras: ca. 20mm & 24mm
The traditional preferred prime (not zoom) full-frame focal lengths for landscape lenses are 24mm and/or 20mm lenses. We will discuss the advantages of prime and zoom lenses below, but as basic math will tell you, these focal lengths live at the heart of the popular 16-35mm zoom range—great for capturing wide-angle views of beautiful vistas.
Best Landscape Prime for APS-C Cameras: ca. 14mm & 16mm
For APS-C (1.5x or 1.6x) cameras, the equivalent of the traditional 20mm or 24mm focal length is 14mm and 16mm, respectively.
Best Landscape Prime for Micro Four Thirds Cameras: ca. 10mm & 12mm
And, for Micro Four Thirds, the 20mm or 24mm focal length’s equivalent field of view can be seen through 10mm and 12mm lenses.
Best Landscape Telephoto Zoom for Full-Frame Cameras: 70-200mm
While the wide-angle lens has traditionally been the preferred lens for shooting landscapes, all serious landscape photographers know that a telephoto lens can help you isolate great areas of detail in those expansive panoramas. A popular telephoto zoom lens among landscape photographers is the 70-200mm optic.
Best Landscape Telephoto Zoom for APS-C Cameras: 50-140mm
The APS-C equivalent of the 70-200mm lens is the 50-140mm lens that most APS-C camera manufacturers seem to have overlooked, except for one.
Best Landscape Telephoto Zoom for Micro Four Thirds Cameras: 35-100mm
The Micro Four Thirds equivalent lens is the 35-100mm zoom.
Expanded Thoughts on The Best Focal Length for a Landscape Lens
We started this buying guide by saying that almost any lens could be used as a landscape lens. Let’s refine that premise to help you make the best buying decision.
Primes vs. Zooms: The debate between prime lenses with fixed focal lengths and zoom lenses is especially relevant to any discussion of landscape lenses. While prime lenses usually offer advantages in portability (size and weight) and in ultimate image quality, the convenience of the zoom’s ability to change framing and composition without moving your feet is often a benefit to landscape photographers. If you are out exploring nature or urban landscapes, oftentimes you are unable to reposition yourself to get the framing you want, and the zoom lens can do it for you.
Wide-Angle and Ultra-Wide-Angle Lenses: There is no debate that the traditional landscape lens is the wide-angle lens. However, when employing either wide-angle lenses or, especially, ultra-wide-angle lenses, objects in the frame can and will look very distant. Large, awe-inspiring mountain ranges that fill your vision can be reduced in size to the size of an LCD screen, computer monitor, or print. Also, these lenses capture a lot of foreground and sky above the subject—so make sure that the foreground and sky are worthy of the image! For more tips, check out this article on ultra-wide-angle lenses, this one, too, and this video.
Isolating Parts of the Scene with a Telephoto Lens: When we think of traditional landscape images, we often visualize sweeping vistas with dramatic skies. However, there is a viable and important segment of landscape photography in which the photographer has isolated a portion of that expansive scene. And the best way to isolate parts of the frame is by using a telephoto lens. Because of this, a great landscape photography kit will include a wide-angle zoom and a telephoto zoom lens.
Maximum Apertures: The thing that often sets “pro” lenses apart from their prosumer or consumer stablemates is the size of the maximum aperture to which the lens can open. Large aperture lenses (especially zoom lenses) are often large and expensive. The good news for landscape photographers is that you do not need a pricey f/2.8 zoom lens for great landscape images. A great deal of serious landscape photography is captured from the top of a tripod, and landscape scenes often demand generous depth of field—both facts negate the light-gathering/shallow-depth-of-field advantages of large aperture lenses. Since you’ll likely be creating landscape images from a tripod at a mid-range aperture, an f/4 (or smaller) lens for landscapes is often sufficient and an f/4 lens is smaller, lighter, less expensive, and often just as good optically as an f/2.8 equivalent. (The exception is if you are doing nighttime landscape work.)
Portability: If you are hiking in the wilderness or exploring remote regions of the world, the best landscape lens you can have might be the smallest and lightest lens you can get your hands on. Keep the size and weight of your gear, as well as your planned adventures and willingness to schlep items around, in mind as you shop for lenses to capture landscapes.
Autofocus vs. Manual Focus: Landscape photography is, at times, one area of photography where you really do not need an autofocus lens. This is because when capturing scenic vistas, you will nearly always have your lens set to focus at infinity or use hyperfocal focusing. In the above shopping hyperlinks, you likely came across a manual focus lens or two. Don’t fear this—especially if your intention is to use the lens primarily for landscapes.
Weatherproofing: Landscape photography is often performed in less than ideal weather conditions. Having a lens (and camera) that can handle some inclement weather, moisture, dirt, and dust, is important. So, keep an eye out for lenses that can handle nature’s adversity while capturing nature’s beauty. The same applies for urban landscapes that can look their best in poor weather.
Stabilization: Many modern lenses and cameras offer image stabilization—a technical marvel that helps you steady your image, even with slow shutter speeds. However, the best way to stabilize your camera and lens is the old-fashioned way—with a tripod. With a tripod and a static landscape scene, you don’t need a stabilized lens or in-camera stabilization.
Normal Focal Length Lenses: If you’ve read my article The One Lens Every Photographer Should Have and Use: The 50mm, you knew this was coming. A 50mm (or 50mm equivalent lens) can be an inexpensive, small, unobtrusive, low-light performing lens in your bag that is great for capturing landscapes. While it might not be wide enough to capture expansive vistas and not long enough to isolate portions of the scene, for scenes that might be too wide, this 50mm focal length can be ideal for capturing panoramic images since, depending on the scene, it can capture the heart of a landscape and cut out a good amount of boring foreground or blank skies.
Galen Rowell: One of my favorite landscape photographers is the late, great Galen Rowell, who was a pioneer of modern adventure and landscape photography. As a climber, Rowell often captured his images while hanging by ropes from the side of rock cliffs high above the ground, as opposed to shooting large format cameras on a tripod. His preferred lenses for his magical images: a Nikon 20mm f/4 and Nikon 24mm f/2.8.
Check out this video if you are looking for tips on landscape lenses. Do you have any questions about the best lens focal length for landscape photographs? What landscape focal lengths have you enjoyed? Let us know in the Comments section, below.