What is the ultimate Sony FE (full-frame, E-mount) landscape photography lens?
You may have determined this already from the above list, but a great Sony 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 Sony 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 Sony 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 is done using small apertures for significant DOF (Depth of Field). Therefore and fortunately, landscape photography does not require the fastest lenses, those with the widest aperture with 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 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 should I need to.
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 biggest advantage for using a prime lens is 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.
The Best Sony Full-Frame Landscape Photography Lenses
1. Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM Lens
Sony's Best Ultra-Wide Zoom Lens
If I could choose only one Sony lens for landscape photography, this would be the one. The FE 16-35 is the Sony ultra-wide-angle zoom lens you want, an excellent choice for a wide variety of uses. The image quality it creates is impressive. The lens is well built and includes weather sealing. Those photographing the night sky will also find the f/2.8 aperture advantageous.
For a very low price, the Tamron 17-28 Di III lens provides professional-grade image quality in a compact, lightweight package. There is little this lens lacks aside from switches. The focal length range does not reach the widest or the longest in the class, but it matches perfectly with another exceptional bargain lens, the Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 Di III RXD Lens.
The focal lengths available in this lens are incredibly wide, and photographing with these angles of view is very fun. Especially the 12mm end provides the opportunity to set one's work apart from the crowd. The FE 12-24 is a quality lens, but note that it does not accept front filters.
4. Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM Lens
Great Combination of Image Quality, Build Quality, Wide f/2.8 Aperture, Fast Autofocus Speed, Weather Sealing
Because of its all-around capabilities and features, the Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM Lens is the go-to lens for many, including the most advanced professionals. The most-needed focal length range is solidly covered with good image quality. The wide f/2.8 max aperture advantages this lens for stopping action in low light, making it an ideal choice for photographing action sports and low light events. The f/2.8 aperture is also useful for creating a strong background blur, allowing the subject to be isolated from a distracting background. This lens's autofocus system performs very well, and the wide aperture enables solid low light AF performance. The Sony "GM" build quality ensures enduring performance.
5. Sony FE 24-105mm f/4 G OSS Lens
Excellent Image Quality, Close-Focusing Capabilities, Excellent Build Quality, Great Focal Length Range, Fast Autofocus, Optical SteadyShot, Weather Sealing, Close Focusing
Though it lacks the wide f/2.8 aperture, the Sony FE 24-105mm f/4 G OSS Lens adds significantly to the long end of the general-purpose focal length, and it also adds Optical SteadyShot. Lighter weight, smaller size, and lower price are additional advantages this lens has over the Sony FE f/2.8 counterpart, and somewhat surprisingly, the f/4 lens is slightly sharper in most comparisons. The optical performance, combined with the rest of this lens's features, including good weather-sealed build quality and a great close-focusing capability, make it a very popular landscape photography zoom lens choice.
6. Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 Di III RXD Lens
Excellent Image Quality, Incredible Value, Nice Build Quality, Compact, Lightweight
It is not often that I recommend choosing a camera to gain access to a lens, but the Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 Di III RXD Lens is such an incredible value that this is one of those scenarios. For a very low price, this lens provides a wide f/2.8 aperture over the entire focal length range. This lens is capable of very impressive image quality, rivaling even the Sony FE 24-70 f/2.8 and FE 24-105 f/4 OSS lenses. Landscape photographers especially will appreciate the small size and light weight of this lens, and Tamron's (USA) 6-year warranty is unsurpassed. While I prefer the 24mm focal length to be available on my standard zoom lens, this lens's overall package makes me willing to overlook that aspect. The Tamron 28-75 is simply a great all-purpose lens and a great deal.
7. Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS Lens
Relatively Light, Well-Built, Ideal Telephoto Landscape Focal Length Range
I often find my favorite landscape images being captured at telephoto focal lengths, and this lens has the most-needed range for this use. With a fixed f/4 max aperture, this lens gives up a substantial amount of size, weight, and cost over the wider f/2.8 version. The FE 70-200mm f/4 includes pro-grade features, including solid, weather-sealed build quality, Optical SteadyShot, and teleconverter compatibility.
8. Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Lens
Long Focal Length Range with Long Focal Lengths, Excellent Image Quality, Well-Constructed, Optical SteadyShot, Weather-Sealed
While landscape photographers may sometimes find this lens's 100mm wide end a bit too narrow, but sometimes the 400mm end is very welcomed, including for making distant mountain scenes large in the frame. I often photograph wildlife and landscapes simultaneously, and this lens's range is ideal for that dual purpose. When 400mm is not long enough, this lens's teleconverter compatibility will be found advantageous. The FE 100-400 has Sony GM pro-grade build quality.
Visit the Sony Lens Recommendations page for more recommendations.