Workshop Preparation: Landscape Lens Selection

As the Texas Landscape Safari fast approaches, many folks are wondering which lens or lenses to bring to the workshop. Given how many fine lenses are available on the market today, answering this question is not quite as simple as it seems. While I can’t give each of you specific recommendations (since I have no idea your camera type or your budget), here’s a list of the lenses I’ve used for landscape photography over the past few years along with a few reasons why each makes a good nature or landscape lens.

One important thing to keep in mind, since most landscape shots are taken with the camera mounted on a tripod, image stabilized lenses become much less important. You can save yourself hundreds of dollars on landscape lenses by looking at non “IS” or “VR” lenses only.

Landscape Lens Selection

Ultra-Wide Angle Zooms
Many of the scenes you’ll encounter during a landscape photography workshop will require a wide angle lens and in Texas, the wider the better. If you shoot a camera with an APS-C size sensor like the Canon Rebel series or the new 7D, then the Canon EF-S 10mm f/3.5-4.5 USM is your best bet for a tack-sharp wide-angle zoom.

If you shoot with a full frame camera like the Canon 5D Mark II, then you have a few more choices such as the Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM or the more expensive Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L II USM lens.

Wide-Angle Primes
Many landscape photographers prefer to “zoom with their feet” and carry wide-angle prime (single focal length) lenses instead of zooms. Before the days of computer controlled lens grinding, prime lenses were substantially sharper than zoom lenses but today most high-end zooms compete very well with prime lenses in terms of sharpness. I understand from my friends (on the dark side) that Nikon has released a very sharp wide-angle prime for their APS-C cameras but unfortunately for Canon shooters, there are no EF-S series prime lenses so finding a wide-angle lens for a Canon Rebel is tough.

Wide-to-Medium Telephoto Zooms
This type of lens is probably the most widely used for amateur landscape photographers due to the broad focal range coverage and competitive pricing among manufacturers.

For APS-C cameras, Canon offers many lenses that fit into this category such as the brand new Canon EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM, the older Canon EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM as well as the Canon EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens. All three are great choices for owners of a Digital Rebel or EOS 7D.

For those of us that shoot with full-frame cameras like the Canon 5D2 there are also many great choices like the tack-sharp Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L USM or my favorite, the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM which is one of Canon’s best selling lenses of all time.

Medium Telephoto Zooms
Although not strictly landscape lenses, a good medium telephoto zoom can be a real asset when shooting Texas landscapes from a distance. I highly recommend any of these Canon lenses and their Nikon equivalents. The Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM lens is without a doubt, the best “value” offered today by any lens manufacturer. Thirty years ago a lens like this would have cost thousands and today this little baby can be yours for less than $700. Yes, you can spend more on the image stabilized version or on the much larger and faster f/2.8 version but for landscape photography this is one sweet deal.

Macro Lenses
Many landscape photographers prefer “going wide” but never forget the beauty of getting real close. Both Canon & Nikon make excellent macro lenses such as the Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM or the new Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 L IS USM (the first macro with image stabilization). Don’t forget that today, many medium telephoto lenses allow close-focus macro photography and with Canon’s 500D Close-Up “filter” almost any lens can become a macro lens.

Conclusions & A Fresh Thought
Your lens choices for landscape photography are almost limitless and every lens manufacturer has dozens of models to choose from in every price range imaginable. But before you rush out and spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on new lenses keep one thought in mind (stolen shamelessly from David duChemin), “Gear is Good, but Vision is Better”.

A new lens will not make you a better photographer and some of the most spectacular landscape images I’ve ever seen were taken with a 50mm plastic lens costing less than $100. So to answer your original question on “which lens to bring?”, bring them all but more importantly, bring your imagination and creativity.

Turkey Peak

Turkey Peak – Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, Texas
Copyright © 2009 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 47mm, f/11 for 1/30th of a second at ISO 100 using a Singh-Ray warming polarizer and two-stop, soft graduated neutral density filter. Post capture processing was done entirely in Adobe’s Lightroom 3.

Click on the image above for a larger version.

8 thoughts on “Workshop Preparation: Landscape Lens Selection

  1. Just one Canon lens to add to the Wide-to-Medium Telephoto Zooms and that is the Canon 17-55 f2.8. It’s the pick of the bunch IMHO. Expensive sure but so close to “L” quality it’ll take your breath away.

  2. I would like to interpret for those of us who don’t understand Canonese, this is what’s coming with me:

    Nikon AF-S DX 18-200 ED VR II – nice broad-range walking around lens for APS-C.
    Nikon 70-200mm f 2.8 AF-S VR ED IF – I beg to differ with my friend Jeff, this is the best lens ever for both APS-C and full frame cameras
    Nikon 24-70mm f2.8 AF-S G ED IF – unless of course its this lens
    Nikon 10-24mm f3.5-4.5G ED IF – sharp ultra wide for APS-C cameras like 300s
    Nikon AF-S DX Micro 85mm f/3.5 ED VR – Macro, but the 105 is also great

    The trash talking is officially underway 🙂

    I do agree with Jeff about the Gitzo Traveller and Really Right Stuff ball-head. I converted after lugging a heavier (but also excellent other than the weight) aluminum Manfrotto last year). These things don’t make you a better photographer, and they are hard on the checkbook, but they certainly are easier on the back.

  3. Jeff:
    Thanks for the info. Any need/reason to bring a flash? Just looking to see what to cull from my kit. Currently planning on bringing my 12-24, my 17-70, and am on the fence about whether or not to bring my 60-250?

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