Workshop Preparation Post #1: Landscape Lens Selection

As the Texas Landscape Safari fast approaches, many folks are wondering which 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 with a camera that has an APS-C size sensor like the Canon Rebels, the EOS 50D, 60D or 7D, then the Canon EF-S 10mm f/3.5-4.5 USM or the Canon EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM lens is your best bet for tack-sharp images.

If you shoot with a full frame camera like the EOS 5D Mark II, the EOS 5D Mark III or the new EOS 6D, 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 or 5D3 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.


Comparing the Canon 5D Mark II, 5D Mark III and 6D

Unless you’ve been living off world for the past few years, you know that Canon has introduced several new full-frame DSLR cameras, the EOS 5D Mark II, the EOS 5D Mark III and now the brand new EOS 6D. In the coming weeks and months there will be reviews galore posted on the various industry watching blogs with in depth discussions of EOS 6D’s features and benefits. Folks that recently purchased the 5D Mark II, 7D or 5D Mark III may start to feel “buyers remorse” and “upgraders envy” over the perceived differences between their camera and the new EOS 6D. The amount of forum traffic on will jump as folks begin to post their rants and raves about this new camera.

To help cut through some of the rhetoric I thought I’d post a quick and dirty comparison of these three full-frame cameras based upon the information currently available. Basically, the same comparison I posted a few years ago on the new G12, G11 and G10 cameras. Let me state for the record that this comparison is from a still photographer’s perspective only. The video capabilities of these cameras are cool but not where my interests lay.

List Price:
5D2  –  $2199 (USD)
5D3  –  $3499 (USD)
6D    –  $2099 (USD)

5D2  –  FF (5616 x 3744) (20.6 MP)
5D3  –  FF (5760 x 3840) (22 MP)
6D    –  FF (5472 x 3648) (23.4 MP)

5D2  –  DIGIC 4
5D3  –  DIGIC 5+
6D    –  DIGIC 5+

5D2  –  Auto, 100 – 6400 in 1/3 stops, plus 50, 12800, 25600 as option
5D3  –  Auto, 100 – 25600 in 1/3 stops, plus 50, 51200, 102400 as option
6D    –  Auto, 100 – 25600 in 1/3 stops, plus 50, 51200, 102400 as option

5D2  –  35 Area Eval, Center Weighted, Partial, Spot
5D3  –  63 Area Eval, Center Weighted, Partial, Spot
6D    –  63 Area Eval, Center Weighted, Partial, Spot

Auto Focus:
5D2  –  9 Point
5D3  –  61 Point (new technology)
6D    –  11 Point

Exposure Compensation:
5D2  –  ±2 EV (at 1/3 EV, 1/2 EV steps)
5D3  –  ±5 EV (at 1/3 EV, 1/2 EV steps)
6D    –  ±5 EV (at 1/3 EV, 1/2 EV steps)

Continuous Shooting:
5D2  –  3.9 fps
5D3  –  6 fps
6D    –  4.5 fps

Raw Formats:
5D2  –  RAW, sRAW1, sRAW2
5D3  –  RAW, sRAW, mRAW
6D    –  RAW, sRAW1, sRAW2

5D2  –  Pentaprism, 98% Coverage, 0.71x Mag
5D3  –  Pentaprism, 100% Coverage, 0.71x Mag
6D    –  Pentaprism, 97% Coverage, 0.71x Mag

5D2  –  LP-E6 ($66 USD)
5D3  –  LP-E6 ($66 USD)
6D    –  LP-E6 ($66 USD)

5D2  –  850g
5D3  –  860g
6D    –  822g

Some Initial Conclusions:
The flame wars have already started on the new EOS 6D as they do anytime Canon releases a new DSLR camera.

The comparison between the 5D Mark II and the new 5D Mark III is very easy to judge in most respects with the 5D Mark III offering some very compelling new features such as the increased resolution, the DIGIC 5+ processors, the very high 6 fps continuous frame rate, the new metering system and the brand new auto focus system. If the high ISO performance of this new 21 MP sensor is at least as good as the 5D mark II’s, then the new 5D Mark III is a sure fire winner for anyone looking for a high-end full-frame body.

The comparison between the brand new 6D and the 5D mark III is much more difficult since Canon opted to add some nice new features (such as internal GPS & wireless) but not nearly as many as they did to the more expensive 5D Mark III. The single biggest difference between these two cameras is the much more advanced auto focus and metering systems in the 5D Mark III. Only time will tell if the new 11 point AF system in the 6D is significantly better than the system found in the older 5D Mark II. I suspect the difference in price between these two models will be the deciding factor for most hobbyists.

Final Thoughts:
In the words of David duChemin, “Gear is Good, Vision is Better”. It’s not the camera that makes the photograph, it’s the person behind the camera. Don’t get all caught up in the hype over a new camera. A new camera will NOT make you a better photographer. Only YOU can do that. And it’s not done by reading the rants and raves on every new piece of gear that comes out each week. So shut down that MacBook, grab your camera and get out there and make some magic happen!