How to Choose a Lens for Landscape Photography

A Guide to Lenses for Landscape Photography

A set of lenses is to a photographer as an arsenal of paintbrushes is to a painter; lenses let photographers change the way a location is portrayed. They afford wide-angle views, tight close-ups, the ability to isolate subjects, and the option to keep everything in a scene in or out of focus. Especially in regard to landscape photography, lenses are one of the few means with which you can really impart personal vision into an image, compared to studio or portrait photography, which gives you the extra advantage of being able to adjust the subject, as well, to suit your intentions.

Aside from lens choice affecting how you portray a setting in nature, landscape photographers also should be concerned with the practicality of such lenses they choose to work with. Similar to the range of unique considerations to keep in mind when looking for a camera for landscape photography, distinct choices should be made when selecting a lens for landscape shooting.

Focal length

When looking for a lens for landscape photography, most common advice will suggest you begin with a wide-angle lens. Wide-angle lenses are particularly suitable for landscape photography, due to their broad field of view and long depth of field—both desirable attributes for general landscape purposes. Wides let you fit the entire mountain in the background into your frame, they can be used to show a great deal of land and sky, and they can be used to distort or skew perspective to produce more drama. The amount of depth of field they provide also helps to ensure consistent sharp focus from foreground to background, which is often useful when photographing great expanses of land.

Even though wide-angle lenses are the so-called standard for landscape applications, this shouldn’t dissuade you from looking at normal and telephoto focal lengths when photographing scenery. Sometimes that bit of extra reach or visual compression that a telephoto affords you can be useful in creating interest in your imagery. In regard to normal-length lenses, there is often no reason why you shouldn’t depict a location using the same field of view as your own perspective. After all, you likely stopped at a specific place because of how it looked with your eyes rather than surveying the field with a camera glued to your face. In regard to longer focal lengths, sometimes it’s a creative advantage to isolate portions of the scene and really focus the viewer’s attention on something unique.


Even though many lenses gain attention and are desirable due to their bright maximum aperture, this is an area, luckily, to which many landscape photographers need not pay as much attention. Unlike portrait photography or available-light event photography, landscape photographers generally prioritize greater depth of field in a scene rather than extreme selective focus or handheld shooting in low light (of course, this isn’t to say that shallow depth of field landscape imagery isn’t something to look into).

It is common for landscape photographers to work mainly within the middle of the aperture range—think f/5.6 to f/16—so the need for an f/1.4 lens isn’t as great. Additionally, working from a tripod further helps to reinforce the desire to work at smaller apertures, and subsequently longer shutter speeds. Besides the ability to look at slower f/1.8, f/2, and f/2.8 lenses as a cost-saving measure, these lenses will also be smaller and lighter weight than the f/1.4 versions of the same focal length, making them more suitable for packing in a bag for a trek through the wilderness.

Zoom or prime?

The debate between zooms and primes will never cease to exist, and the debate is especially rich in the realm of landscape photography. The merits of a zoom? You can obviously zoom into a landscape when you’re confined to a very specific location (think shooting from an observation deck at a national park). On the other hand, zooms can make you complacent with how to photograph an area, whereas working with a prime will force you to maybe hike a bit more and seek out a more rewarding viewpoint to photograph the landscape. You “zoom” with your feet.

At this point in time, the image-quality differences between zooms and primes is relatively moot—there are very high-quality zooms, and there are very high-quality primes. Some of the wider focal length lenses are often best available in zoom format, such as Canon’s awe-inspiring EF 11-24mm f/4L USM or Nikon’s impressive NIKKOR Z 14-30mm f/4 S, whereas some slightly narrower focal lengths really shine as primes, such as the no-holds-barred Zeiss Otus 28mm f/1.4 or the delightfully compact Sony Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA. Making a decision between zooms or primes really depends on your own needs, such as the amount of access you’ll have to walk around a subject, how much weight/how many lenses you can carry and, of course, your preference for focal length.

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED Lens
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED Lens

Auto or manual focus?

Much in the way film cameras are still relevant in the landscape realm, despite there being significant advantages to shooting in digital format nowadays, manual focus lenses are also “technologically outdated” yet still incredibly practical and desirable to landscape shooters. The benefits of an autofocus lens are a given: they focus automatically, quickly and, generally, accurately, and they can also be focused manually. So why would someone want to get a purely manual focus lens? Feel and control.

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens

Most autofocus lenses employ electronics to permit manual fine-tuning of focus, with no real mechanical operation being performed during focusing (this is called focus by wire). The key drawback to this is, without mechanical linkage, there is no relationship between how quickly, smoothly, or relatively how far you can turn a focus ring and how the focus movement reacts. With a mechanical manual focus lens, you gain more tactile control when shifting from focusing points, and smoother, more tempered focusing action, too. Since landscapes are usually static subjects, the need to be quick with focusing usually takes second place to accuracy, and with good eyesight or a well-tuned diopter, manual focus will often lead to the best results. One other benefit to manual focus lenses is the hard infinity stops and depth-of-field scales typically found on the lens barrels. These aids will help in working with hyperfocal focusing techniques to gain the longest depth of field possible.

Other lens considerations for landscape photography

• Weather resistance If you’re going to be working outdoors, potentially in inclement conditions, a weather-sealed design should be one of your top priorities. While no lens is fully waterproof, weather-sealed lenses will protect against moderate rain, light sea spray, snow, and sand.

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200mm f/2G ED VR II Lens
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200mm f/2G ED VR II Lens

• Tilt-shift lenses For those looking to take a page from view-camera shooters without the size and weight of a full large format kit, tilt-shift lenses let you adjust perspective, minimize (or maximize) distortion, and affect the plane of focus in imagery. For landscape photographers, these lenses can be used to gain truly great range of depth of field, and can also be used to correct convergence if photographing tall, vertical objects, such as trees.

Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L Tilt-Shift Lens
Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L Tilt-Shift Lens

What do you look for in a lens for landscape photography? What are some of your favorite lenses for the genre? Let us know your thoughts down below.


How about a decent lens for landscaping that's around $500 or under. Most people can't afford thousand dollars $2,000 $3,000 for lenses. Thank you for your time and your input. Camera is a Nikon D5100

My sentiments exactly. I also have a Nikon D5100 and keep checking to see if there is anything affordable for those of us on a budget. So far doesn't look too promising.

Thanks for the comments, Jim and Gladys. Very fair about looking for some more affordable options. The lenses mentioned in this article are just suggestions or examples of types of lenses to illustrate a point about how zooms and primes, at the peak of performance, can be pretty similar in quality. Some suggestions for more budget-friendly lenses, specifically for the D5100, might be something like the AF-S NIKKOR DX 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5G ED (, the AF-S DX NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G (, or even the AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G (; just depends on what kind of focal length you're looking for. The 35mm and 85mm lenses are faster and single focal lengths while the zoom has a wider field of view but is a bit slower. All three would be great for landscape shooting, and would make a really versatile 3-lens kit.

"the need for an f/1.4 lens isn’t as great." Then a bit further "some slightly narrower focal lengths really shine as primes, such as the no-holds-barred Zeiss Otus 28mm f/1.4"... Really? Besides the focal length and aperture sections, which are good basics, the rest is just as baffling as the companion article on landscape cameras. Prime lenses and "manual focus only" lenses are really not mainstream for landscape (although manual focus itself is useful). Very disappointing content.



Hi Max,

The reason for bringing up the Otus 28mm f/1.4 isn't simply due to it's f/1.4 maximum aperture; that lens is much more than only a fast lens, it has an impressive lens construction to eliminate virtually all types of aberrations for high color fidelity, sharpness, and clarity. The fact that it is an f/1.4 is certainly a plus, but definitely not the main reason most would be looking at that lens.

I'd disagree that primes and manual focus designs are not very "mainstream" for landscape shooting, however the article does cite the pros for working with autofocus and zooms. There are pros and cons to almost any lens type you use--auto or manual focus, prime or zoom--regardless of the subject matter you're working with.

Truly, wide-angle lenses are particularly suitable for landscape photography. Thank you so much Bjorn for sharing this information about lenses that can help take better landspace photos.

Thanks again ^__^