For a long time, my go-to lens for landscape photography was the 24-70mm f/2.8. It’s an incredibly versatile lens. It’s fast and sharp. It’s by far one of the best lenses for landscape photography in my opinion. It’s also big, heavy, and expensive. It was my workhorse when I was still lugging around a big full-frame Nikon kit. As much as I loved it, I craved something wider, so I started looking into what I now consider to be the best lens for landscape photography.
The 16-35mm f/4 Wide-Angle Lens
I kept reading about this awesome lens and seeing the amazing wide-angle landscape photos it produced, and the Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS) kicked into high-gear. As I was still shooting with Nikon cameras, I bought the Nikon 16-35mm f/4 VR and fell in love instantly. I reluctantly let the 24-70mm go to another loving home, and the second-hand price it fetched easily covered the cost of its replacement. As much as I loved that beast, I haven’t regretted the trade for a second. Of course, when I switched from Nikon to the Sony A7II, the Sony Zeiss 16-35mm f/4 was the first lens I bought.
So, what makes the 16-35mm f/4 the best lens for landscape photography? There are a few reasons why you should consider this as your main landscape photography lens.
As I said, the biggest draw for me moving to the 16-35mm was wanting to have the option to shoot wider. There is a HUGE difference between 24mm and 16mm. 16mm is considered to be in the ultra wide-angle category. The reason I love it so much isn’t so much because you can fit more into the frame, but because it allows you to really amplify the perspective of foreground elements.
There’s a saying in landscape photography: put a great foreground in front of a great background. It’s a lot easier to do this and to really show off that great foreground with the 16-35mm lens. The distortion that it creates really makes elements around the outside of the frame look a lot bigger. Whatever you’re getting up close and personal with – rocks, flowers, jetties – they’ll be nicely amplified.
Size and Weight
The first thing that really struck me when I unboxed the 16-35mm was how much smaller and lighter it felt than the 24-70mm. There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, having only half of the focal length at the longest end means that it will obviously be physically shorter. Secondly, having a maximum aperture of f/4 instead of the wider, faster f/2.8 means there is a lot less glass inside the lens, making it significantly lighter. I’m not a physicist, so don’t ask me exactly how and why, all I know is that smaller and lighter = good.
Some photographers may be willing to carry more size and weight around for the sake of a faster aperture, but I almost never photograph landscapes with an aperture outside f/8-f/16. The reason for this is that it gives me a much larger depth-of-field, allowing more of the scene to be in focus, and this is usually the sweet spot in terms of lens sharpness. The only time I would want a larger aperture and would consider the f/2.8 lens over the f/4 is for astrophotography, but I prefer to use a separate lens altogether for that.
You can’t compare lenses without considering the damage they will do to your wallet. Each of the major brands produces their own version of the 16-35mm f/4 lens, and they are each priced differently, but generally speaking, they come in a lot cheaper than the 24-70mm or similar wide-angle zoom lenses that are popular for landscape photography. You can certainly find cheaper wide-angle lenses, but I personally think the combination of function, build, and quality make it worth every penny.
Again, you might want to consider the f/2.8 version of the lens, but on top of it being bigger and heavier, you will pay a significant premium for that one extra stop. The Sony Zeiss version is almost twice as expensive, which seems like an unnecessary waste of money on a landscape photography lens that will likely stay between f/8 and f/16.
It’s worth mentioning that this is the best lens for landscape photography if you could only pick one lens. I love to use a longer telephoto lens to photograph landscapes also, but if I had to choose or recommend only one lens, it would be the 16-35mm f/4.
You could also consider a wide prime lens, which are generally smaller and lighter, but you would need two or three of them to cover the same focal range of the 16-35mm, which definitely wouldn’t be smaller or lighter.
Obviously, this is just my opinion. Not every landscape photographer will agree, but I know for a fact that this is an incredibly popular lens, and highly rated amongst many gearheads that understand lens technology better than I do. All I know is that I love this lens, and it will continue to be my go-to landscape photography lens for a long time.
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