Which are the best lenses for landscape photography? What are the essential features to look for when choosing a Canon landscape lens? And which lenses are going to be robust enough to cope with the adverse conditions you can experience out in the field when taking landscape pictures?
Here, Canon Ambassador and veteran landscape photographer David Noton shares his favourite Canon lenses for landscapes, while Mike Burnhill, Canon's Professional Imaging Product Specialist and an expert on lens technology, explains why these lenses are particularly suited to the landscape genre.
"Most of the time with my landscape work I'm shooting with the 50-megapixel Canon EOS 5DS R," David says, "and when you're shooting high-resolution images you need the best quality glass." All of David's choices are from Canon's L-series lens range. They're fast and made of the high-end quality materials required for this genre, including coatings that reduce flare and ghosting, and features such as weather sealing and state-of-the-art Image Stabilizer.
"Build quality is an important factor in my choice," David confirms. "People are tempted to buy independent lenses because they're cheaper, but if you're shooting in somewhere like Iceland, for example, you need to know that your lenses are rugged enough to withstand whatever the elements can throw at them."
There are no prime lenses among David's selections. "I regularly use prime lenses for my travel portraiture, but for my landscape work I prefer the flexibility of zooms," he says. "The quality of zoom lenses has improved enormously, and the latest generation of L-series lenses are as good as primes. If I'm going to the far side of the world, I want as much flexibility as possible. I find the ability to really fine-tune your cropping using a zoom is so useful. Plus, if you only shot with primes, you'd spend too much of your time hunched over your camera bag changing lenses and filter rings when you should be concentrating on the light, which can be so fleeting."
Here are the best Canon lenses for landscape photography, covering all the options from wide-angle lenses for capturing a broad field of view to telephoto lenses for isolating small details from a distance.
"I would hardly ever venture out on a shoot without taking this lens with me," says David Noton. "It's probably my most-used lens for landscape photography because it's so versatile. The range of focal lengths makes it suitable for everything from wider scenes to homing in on a single subject. The Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM is a relatively compact and portable lens for carrying around, and it has excellent optical quality right through the zoom range. If I was going out and could only take one lens, this would be it."
Mike Burnhill adds: "This is a fantastic all-round lens with a very high reputation for its performance – it's regarded as one of the best of its kind from any manufacturer. The fast f/2.8 aperture makes it good for shooting in low light, and using the wide aperture also allows you to separate a subject from the background using differential focus. As it's an L-series lens, the weather-proofing is excellent – you can be confident that if you're working outdoors and the weather changes for the worse, it will work equally well."
"I'm increasingly working with longer lens perspectives for my landscape photography," says David. "I love the impression of scale that shooting with long lenses allows. If you want to make mountains look big, you use a long lens perspective – trees dwarfed by a mountain, for instance. I love those tight graphic compositions you can get with a longer lens. The 70-200mm lens is also good for picking out details in the landscape at a distance. My Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM has an f/2.8 maximum aperture, and there have been plenty of times when I've used that minimal depth of field. I also use it to create composite images made from several shots stitched together."
Mike agrees that Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM is an excellent landscape lens, but notes that the newer version, the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM "is almost identical in every respect, but adds improved mechanics and lens coatings." He adds: "Most landscape photographers will shoot using a tripod, but if you need to hand-hold in the field, this lens has a 3.5-stop Image Stabilizer that helps keep pictures sharp. As in other L-series lenses, the autofocus is powered by a ring-type USM motor that sits around the lens and drives the focusing very fast. If you want to, you can manually override the autofocus instantly by touching the focusing ring. The lens has a fluorite coating that keeps the lens clean; if it rains, the water just runs off it without allowing it to dry and form hard droplets that affect the image quality."
"I use the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens a lot for my landscapes and utilise the full range of focal lengths it offers. I've found that the extra reach, going up to 400mm, is so useful," David says. "My lens has really paid for itself many times over. It's a great lens, brilliantly sharp, and for its maximum focal length it's wonderfully portable. As with the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM, the Image Stabilizer (up to four stops) is so good as well. It's even useful when the camera is on a tripod in exposed situations on hilltops, where strong winds are a problem. It's really good for tight, close-up details as well."
"Many people would think of this as a lens for sports action and wildlife, but it's also great for landscapes," agrees Mike. "It's about looking at landscapes in a different way, isolating areas or details such as groups of trees. One nice feature is the Zoom Touch Adjustment ring, which enables you to adjust tensioning for the zoom, according to the subject you're shooting. It also stops the focal length changing by accident if you tip the lens up or down."
"The focal length of the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM is very useful for landscape work, particularly when you really want to maximise foreground interest," David says. "I've also used this lens for night sky photography, and the f/2.8 aperture is useful for keeping exposures shorter without needing a high ISO. It's great for a wide night-sky shoot when you really want to incorporate the Milky Way arcing above you. In those situations, you need to have confidence in your lens, to be able to shoot at the maximum aperture and still have corner-to-corner sharpness."
Mike notes that: "The Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM lens is even better than its predecessor on corner-to-corner sharpness. It's very sharp at all focal lengths, and is especially impressive at the 16mm setting when shooting with the lens wide open. Also, the ability to shoot at 16mm gives you the kind of width you don't normally get in a photograph. It's good for scenes with a lot of detail, such as cityscapes, and the broad field of view is similar to what we see with our eyes."
"Tilt-shift lenses are specialist optics often associated with architectural work, but I find them so useful for landscape photography," says David. "The 'shift' function is particularly useful for correcting converging vertical lines. For instance, if I'm using a wide-angle lens to shoot a landscape that has a strong vertical in the frame, such as a tree at the edge, the tree will look horrible leaning into the frame. The shift function enables you to keep everything square.
Meanwhile, the 'tilt' function allows you to alter the plane of focus. You can either use it for keeping everything from foreground elements to the far distance completely sharp, or for creating a minimal depth of field where only one element is sharp and the rest is blurred.
"I also use my Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II lens to create panoramic images where you can rack the lens left, centre and right to make a wide panorama in post-production in which the images align very well."
Mike says: "Both the Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L and Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II tilt-shift lenses are designed to provide really amazing image quality and have low distortion and excellent edge-to-edge sharpness. They have UD (ultra-low dispersion) elements made of a special high-performance glass, through which light passes more easily and bends less. They also have Sub-Wavelength structure Coating (SWC), which is designed like a moth's eye and effectively covers the lens with microscopic cones. This cushions the light and minimises lens flare and ghosting."