What is the ultimate Canon APS-C landscape lens?
What is the ultimate Canon full-frame landscape lens?
You may have determined this already from the above list, but a great Canon landscape photography lens kit consists of one (or more) lens from each of the following categories:
In addition, you will probably want one of these: The Best Canon Macro Lenses.
With a selection (or multiple selections) from each of the above categories, you will have lenses with a vast range of focal lengths for your landscape photography needs. Landscape photography can make use of all focal lengths Canon currently offers, from the widest angle through the longest telephoto, but I'll approximate the most useful range at 16-300mm. The ultra-wide-angle lenses will allow you to emphasize a foreground subject against an all-in-focus large scene, the telephoto lenses will keep distant subjects large in the frame, and the general-purpose lens will frequently find landscape application.
The focal length is of primary importance for landscape photography, but the max aperture is (usually) not. While a wide aperture can be used to isolate a detail in the landscape or to capture the night sky, much landscape photography uses small apertures for significant DOF (Depth of Field). Therefore and fortunately, landscape photography does not require the fastest lenses, those with the widest aperture and accompanying heaviest weight, largest size, and highest cost.
What is needed is high contrast and resolution from corner to corner of the frame. Landscape subjects typically have extremely fine details, and the sharp reproduction of these subjects is a requirement. Lenses need to be sharp enough to show the tiniest details.
Landscape photography often requires travel to get to the ultimate landscape photography destination. When traveling by airline, you will want to keep your pack light. The same need applies when hiking to a select location. Packing light helps keep the photographer's energy up, and increased energy will allow him or her to better focus on capturing the desired image. Light weight is a generally important feature for a lens in the landscape kit.
Since landscape subjects are often motionless, image stabilization can be a huge benefit for a landscape lens for those times when a tripod is not desired or practical. Even under full sunlight, I very frequently need image stabilization to make handheld shooting successful, especially when using a light-reducing circular polarizing filter (a mandatory part of the landscape kit). The wind typically found at some of the ultimate landscape locations further increases the need for image stabilization with handheld daylight photography.
Since landscape subjects are often motionless, fast autofocus is not usually an essential feature for landscape photography. I use regularly use autofocus when shooting landscapes, but waiting even an extra second for the lens to focus would seldom make a difference in my images (unless the wife and kids are waiting for me). Even manual focus often works well for landscape photography, especially when photographing at narrow apertures.
Landscape photographers encounter bad weather (or search for it to capture the moodiest images), and this inclement weather may or may not be expected. Those working around water may also have to deal with saltwater or freshwater spray. Having weather sealed gear is a definite advantage under these circumstances. In addition to using mostly weather-sealed equipment, I generally have rain covers with me to quickly cover everything if necessary.
Should I get a prime or a zoom lens for landscape photography? The prime vs. zoom lens decision is a big one for the landscape photographer. Generalizing, the most significant advantage of using a prime lens is the ultimate image quality. These lenses typically produce the sharpest corners, low (or no) distortion, the least vignetting, and the best sunstars.
Blurry corners are usually not appreciated in landscape images. Distortion is typically the most noticeable when a flat line appears near the frame border, and curved oceans just don't look right. Vignetting shows most readily with a solid color covering a sizable portion of the frame edge and corner, and though a gradient blue sky color may be pretty, this effect being caused by the lens is usually not desirable in a landscape image. A great sunstar can become the most-stunning element in a landscape image, and a wide aperture, typical of a prime lens, stopped down significantly, usually creates the largest, best-defined sunstars.
A prime lens downside is that you need to buy and carry many lenses to adequately cover the focal length range of a single zoom lens. Frequent lens changes required by a set of primes will inevitably lead to increased sensor dust that will be impossible to overlook in areas of blue sky at f/11. The best zoom lenses available today have excellent image quality, and they are my choice for a significant percentage of my landscape photographs. However, I often have both lens types with me, and sometimes I carry cameras with both types mounted at the same time.
1. Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM Lens
Covering the Ultra Wide Angle Focal Lengths
The Canon EF-S 10-22 is a good APS-C choice for emphasizing foregrounds against and in-focus distant background. The look that 10mm allows is great. This lens is a relatively small, light, and easy to take with you.
2. Canon EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Lens
Excellent Image Quality, Wide Focal Length Range, Image Stabilization, Light Weight, Great Value
When carrying a single lens for landscape photography with an APS-C format DSLR, this lens is a great choice. The 15-85 covers a wide range of most-important landscape focal lengths in a lightweight package.
The Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens is another good choice, but the 17-55 is heavier with a shorter focal length range. You want the 17-55 if night skies are in your photos.
3. Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art Lens
Great Build Quality, Excellent Image Quality
While this lens does not have optical stabilization or a wide range of focal lengths (falling short of my recommended range), it makes up for its shortcomings with excellent, across-the-frame image quality. The wide f/1.8 aperture will let you create great landscape blurs behind a sharp foreground subject. Sigma delivers very impressive physical features to accompany the excellent image quality you can expect from this lens.
4. Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Lens
Great Focal Length Range, Good Value
A vast range of focal lengths are useful for landscape photography, and this lens alone features a very significant range of the most useful ones. With very decent image quality and a reasonable price tag, this lens is a great value.
5. Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM Lens
The Entry Level Canon Telephoto Zoom Lens You Want
Telephoto focal lengths are critical to have in a landscape photography kit, and APS-C format camera users have a bargain available here. This lens does not have the ultimate build quality or the ultimate image quality, but it is a very good lens for the ultra-low price. This lens is compact and light.
1. Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM Lens
Canon's Best Ultra-Wide Zoom Lens, Wide f/2.8 Aperture
There are many reasons to select this lens for your primary landscape needs, but the 16-35mm focal length range, containing some of the most desired landscape focal lengths, is one of the best reasons. Ultra-wide-angle through wide-angle focal lengths allow substantial amounts of beauty to be taken in, and especially advantageous is that these focal lengths permit both the foreground and the background to be kept in sharp focus.
Another important reason to select this lens for landscape photography is that it delivers impressive image quality completely into the full-frame lens corners.
The weather does not always cooperate with photographers shooting outdoors, and this lens' weather-sealed build quality shines under inclement weather conditions. The wide f/2.8 aperture, still providing reasonable landscape depth of field at these focal lengths, also shines under dark conditions, and photographing the night landscape is another of this lens's superpowers.
2. Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens
Canon's Other Best Ultra-Wide Zoom Lens, Lighter, Image Stabilized
Take the characteristics of the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM Lens, reduce the aperture by 1/2 (from f/2.8 to f/4), and add image stabilization to get this lens. The reduced max-aperture provides reduced size, lighter weight, and a very attractive price. The addition of image stabilization significantly adds to the versatility of this lens, and this feature makes it even more desirable than the referenced f/2.8 version for many purposes, including hiking without a tripod. This lens is a solid choice for both amateur and professional landscape photographers.
3. Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens
Ultimate Image Quality, Excellent Build Quality, Wide f/2.8 Aperture, Weather Sealing
The 24-70mm focal length range is essential to cover in a landscape photography kit, and this lens is the best-available option to cover it, especially from an image quality perspective. While this lens's extremely fast AF may not matter for your landscape photography purposes, its great AF accuracy surely will. Solid build quality, including weather sealing, is an important quality for an outdoor-uses lens, and the 24-70 L II checks that box.
The f/2.8 aperture will allow you to get more creative with subject isolation/background blur, but that extra glass does add to the carry weight of this lens. Some landscape photographers will find image stabilization to be a desired feature that is missing. Shoot from a tripod or monopod.
4. Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM Lens
Excellent Image Quality, Macro Capabilities, Excellent Build Quality, Image Stabilization, Weather Sealing, Macro Capabilities
With great image quality, a key focal length range, light weight, and image stabilization, the 24-70 f/4 IS L makes a great general-purpose landscape lens. The biggest advantage this lens holds over the 24-105 L IS II and the rest of its competition is the impressive 0.7x macro focusing capabilities.
5. Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM Lens
Excellent Image Quality, Great Value, Excellent Build Quality, Great Focal Length Range, Great Autofocus Speed & Accuracy, Image Stabilization, Weather Sealing
The 24-105 L II provides a nice extension to the core 24-70mm focal length range, and this lens includes the often-important image stabilization feature. This lens' predecessor, the 24-105 f/4L IS Lens version I, was one of my most-used-ever lenses, and this lens improves on the predecessor lens. While the optical improvements are not substantial, the II has less distortion at 24mm, has a better IS system, and features a better build quality. This lens is simply a great all-purpose choice.
6. Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM Lens
Amazingly Wide Angle of View, Exceptional Image Quality, Pro-Grade Weather-Sealed Build Quality
The 11-24 L goes wider than any rectilinear lens before it, and this ultra-wide angle of view can set landscape photos apart from the crowd. This lens delivers very impressive image quality performance over its entire focal length range, and its pro-grade build quality is ready to go wherever you take it. Downsides: price, weight, and inability to mount a circular polarizer filter.
7. Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens
Impressive Image Quality, Great Build Quality, Image Stabilization, Great Focal Length Range
Landscape photography, for me, often involves the use of telephoto focal lengths, and creating great telephoto landscape images is sometimes so easy that it feels like cheating. When those situations arise, the Canon 100-400 L II is my top choice. This lens is easily portable and handholdable but features a very long focal length range that works exceptionally well for wildlife encountered while photographing landscapes. The image quality from this lens is impressive, and the build quality matches.
8. Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM C Lens
Long Focal Lengths, Great Image Quality, Great-Value Price
Landscape photographers always want great image quality, and long focal lengths are often needed for this pursuit. This lens avails those long focal lengths that render distant subjects, such as mountains, substantial in the frame. In this case, great image quality comes in a light, relatively compact, inexpensive package, all features that will be appreciated. Those working on a tripod will miss having a tripod foot for this lens, but the high-value price will be found compensatory.
9. Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens
Impressive Image Quality, Great Build Quality, Excellent Image Stabilization, Weather Sealing, Compact & Light
The 70-200mm focal length range is an excellent choice for telephoto landscape photography. This lens has impressive image quality and is built for professional use.
Visit the Canon Lens Recommendations page for more recommendations.
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