The Best Landscape Lens

When you're trying to find the best landscape lens, you should only be considering one type: wide-angle.

Wide angle lenses capture a very wide field of view, and are ideally suited for capturing all of the magnificent scenery in front of you.

The best landscape lenses are also exceptionally sharp, so that every detail is clearly rendered.

The Impact of Wide Angle

Why are wide-angle lenses the preferred lens for landscape photography?

The answer is simple: because they draw the viewer in.

When you attach a wide angle lens to your digital SLR camera, you'll notice that it is showing you a view of EVERYTHING that your eyes can see.

If you tilt one of these lenses down too far, you can even capture the tips of your feet at the very bottom of the image.

The neat part about viewing a beautiful landscape captured with a wide angle lens is that it makes you feel like you are part of the photo. A wide-angle view gives the viewer the impression that they are standing right next to the photographer.

By way of comparison, standard and telephoto lenses are better at focusing on the details of the scene, and are not as good at capturing the "big picture".

The DSLR Cropping Effect

The focal length of what's considered a "wide angle" lens has changed since the introduction of the digital SLR.

This is because many digital SLR cameras have a crop factor, which eliminates parts of the image and creates an artificial zoom effect.

For example, a 28mm lens is a fairly wide angle lens when you attach it to a standard film SLR camera. However, this same lens on a digital SLR frames images more like a 42mm lens - no longer wide angle.

This means that a wide angle lens for a digital SLR must be VERY wide angle. In many cases, the best landscape lenses for a digital SLR camera are going to start around 11mm (16.5mm when cropped) and can go all the way up to 15mm (22.5mm when cropped).

Color and Clarity

This may come as a surprise, but the lens that you choose can affect both the COLOR and CLARITY of your images, regardless of the camera you attach them to.

For example, a cheap lens attached to the high-end Nikon D7000 may yield images that are hard to tell apart from a high-quality lens attached to the (significantly cheaper) Nikon D3200.

Since the lens is responsible for focusing the image onto the camera's sensor, the glass inside of the lens must be precise.

Here's the thing: light doesn't always bend in exactly the same way.

Cheap lenses just let the light pass through and do nothing to correct and re-focus errant beams of light. Expensive lenses are specifically designed to ensure that the image that winds up striking the camera's sensor is clean, clear and perfectly sharp.

If you really want your landscape photos to have impact, you're going to need to get the best glass that you're able to afford.

If you've got a Canon or Nikon digital SLR camera, these lenses are easy to identify: Canon's pro-quality lenses all bear the "L" designation while Nikon's include the letters "ED". Find a lens with either an L or an ED as part of the name, and you'll know that you're getting a great lens.

Zoom vs. Prime

When zoom lenses were first being developed, they didn't have the clarity and accuracy of lenses that didn't zoom (also called prime, or fixed focal length).

Since prime lenses didn't have to zoom in an out, none of the lens elements had to move, which made prime lenses more precise.

Today this is much less of an issue. The quality of zoom lenses has improved significantly, so that the images captured by them are hard to distinguish from those captured with a prime.

Since this is the case, you'll notice that many of the best landscape lenses that I have selected below all fall into a category of lenses called "wide-angle zooms".

I recommend the wide-angle zooms rather than the static primes simply because the zoom offers you a little more flexibility when you're trying to get just the right composition for your landscape.

Best Canon Landscape Lens

Canon EF 17-40mm f/4 L USM
Dimensions3.3 x 3.8in (83.5 x 96.8mm) canon 17-40mm f/4 L lens
Weight17.6oz (500g)
Zoom Power2.4x
They say that when buying a home the most important thing is location, location, location. When it comes to landscape photos, the Canon 17-40mm is sharp, sharp, sharp. The "L" in the name tells you that this is one of Canon's pro-quality lenses, and the USM ensures that the focus is not only fast, but exceptionally quiet.
Price: $730 USD

Best Nikon Landscape Lens

Tokina 12-24mm f/4 AT-X Pro DXII
Dimensions3.46 x 3.5in (84 x 89.5mm) Tokina 12-24mm f/4 AT-X Pro DXII lens for Nikon
Weight19oz (540g)
Zoom Power2.0x
Why spend a ton of money when you can get the same quality for less? This thinking applies to the Tokina 12-24mm since it is half the price of a similar Nikon 12-24mm lens but virtually as sharp throughout the entire zoom range. Unless you like to blow up photos to wall-size prints, you probably won't feel like you had to "settle" for reduced image quality with this lens.
Price: $500 USD

Best Olympus Landscape Lens

Olympus Zuiko 12-60mm f/2.8-4 SWD
Dimensions3.13 x 3.88in (79.5 x 98.5mm) Olympus Zuiko 12-60mm f/2.8-4 SWD lens
Weight20.8oz (590g)
Zoom Power5x
Yes, it's a bit on the expensive side, but can you really put a price on spectacular landscape shots? Since all Olympus digital SLRs have a 2x crop factor, at wide angle this lens frames more like a 24mm lens, but that's still plenty wide to capture the entire view from your toes in the foreground to the mountains in the distance. The SWD autofocus is designed to be exceptionally fast.
Price: $1,000 USD

Best Pentax Landscape Lens

Tamron 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5 SP Di II LD IF
Dimensions3.4 x 3.3in (86.5 x 83mm) Tamron 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5 SP Di II LD lens
Weight13.1oz (370g)
Zoom Power2.4x
There are a LOT of acronyms associated with this lens, but once you decode them you'll see that you get a lot of landscape lens for a reasonable price. This lens is carefully manufacturered to Superior Performance (SP) levels, it has Low Dispersion (LD) glass inside to maximize image quality and the Internal Focus (IF) system ensures that the front of the lens doesn't rotate when shifting focus.
Price: $500 USD

Best Sony Landscape Lens

Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 ATX Pro DX
Dimensions3.6 x 2.9in (92 x 73mm) Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 lens
Weight19.75oz (560g)
Zoom Power1.45x
While not the most powerful zoom you can find for a Sony DSLR, the Tokina 11-16 certainly covers the wide-angle range that you'll need for good landscape photography. In addition, this lens will work well for available light interior photography thanks to its wide constant maximum aperture of f/2.8.
Price: $600 USD

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