Nature photography is an umbrella term that encapsulates several different genres of photography into one. Wildlife photography, landscape photography, and outdoor close-up photography are just a few of the sub-genres that fall within the realm of nature photography.
Because nature photography is such a vast genre and encapsulates so much within itself, the choice of lenses is also vast. You need fast telephoto lenses with optical image stabilization and fast autofocus to shoot wildlife. Then again, for landscape photography, wide-angle lenses are better suited. Similarly, you need a macro lens to shoot close-up macro shots in nature (flowers, bugs, and dew drops).
So, no one lens can do it all, and you need the best lens to go with the best camera. Your lens choice will depend on the specific genre that you’re shooting. As a professional photography equipment reviewer for over 13 years, I have worked with many lenses on several nature photography sojourns. In this discussion about the best lenses for nature photography, I’ll review a few lenses covering the landscape aspect of nature photography. In a future discussion, perhaps, I will discuss lenses for wildlife photography. Ok, let’s get started.
Best Lens For Nature Photography Table – The Ultimate Guide for 2023
Best Lens For Nature Photography – The Ultimate Guide for 2023
If you want to skip to the best bit, here’s the list.
- Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM
- Nikon AF-S 16-35mm f/4G ED VR
- Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM
- Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II
- Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM
- Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED
- Sony FE 12-24mm f/2.8 GM
- Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM
- Canon EF 24mm f/1.4 L II USM
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Focal length – 16-35mm
The 16-35mm is a very popular lens among landscape photographers. It offers a sweet zoom range that covers many scenes in front of the camera. A typical 16-35mm lens, such as the Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM, offers an angle of view of 108° 10′ to 63° when mounted on a full-frame camera. The focal length goes from an ultra-wide angle to a standard wide focal length. If you’re a landscape photographer, this is one of the best options to capture a larger slice of the scene. Let’s look at a few options.
Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM
This is the cheaper alternative to the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM . That’s if you want to save money on your 16-35mm lens. If you shoot landscape images, you can choose this one over the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM and save a bit of money in the process. In any case, as you will be shooting at f/8 or f/11 for landscape shots this makes ample sense too.
The 16-35mm f/4L IS USM has a decent weight for a wide-angle lens. Weighing 615 grams, this is certainly a little on the heavier side. For landscape photographers planning on hiking to a mountain top, consider the weight of the other equipment – a full-frame camera, filters, and tripod. They all add up to a significant number.
Even though it has a lot of plastic in the construction, the good news is that the lens is well crafted. So, it should be able to withstand a bit of abuse. At the back of the camera, if you notice carefully, there is a weather-sealing gasket that promises that the lens will be able to repel a bit of moisture and dust.
Now about the critical performance aspect on which everything hinges. Wide open at f/4, this wide-angle zoom lens is crisp and sharp at the center, both at 16mm and 35mm. However, the corners show some sharpness loss and a wee bit of purple fringing at 16mm.
That, however, isn’t too much to forbid you from investing in this lens. Stopping down the lens improves sharpness, fringing, and corner brightness significantly. At 35mm, corners are a bit softer, but not as much as at 16mm.
Nikon AF-S 16-35mm f/4G ED VR
As far as 16-35mm f/4 zoom lenses go, this is the Nikon equivalent of the 16-35mm f/4 lens I discussed above. If you’re a dedicated Nikon user, this is the lens you should look at for shooting landscapes. This lens offers the same focal length as the Canon lens I discussed. However, the angle of view with this lens is slightly different at 107° to 63°.
The construction feels solid in the hands. This is a heavier lens than the Canon one above, and at 680 grams, I have the same observations about this lens in terms of suitability on long hikes, etc.
Many Nikon users prefer the 14-24mm f/2.8. It’s a fantastic lens. However, considering that it weighs 1 kilo and is a lot more expensive than this one, I feel that the Nikon AF-S 16-35mm f/4G ED VR is a more practical choice for users who are just starting and have a tighter budget or looking for options that won’t burn a hole in their pants. If you have the budget for the 14-24mm f/2.8, go for it.
In terms of performance, this lens is very sharp and wide open. The center of the frame is sharper than the corners wide open. However, stopping down the lens, the corners of the frame experience increased sharpness, as does the middle of the frame. There is a significant boost in sharpness when you stop down from f/4 to f/5.6. Sharpness increase is marginal beyond f/8.
Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM
This is the third 16-35mm lens in this discussion. I think it’s quite clear now that I love this focal length for shooting landscape photos. This lens is designed for Sony’s E-mount full-frame cameras.
There is no image stabilization on the lens. But that shouldn’t be a huge deciding factor considering that most Sony E mount cameras come with body-based image stabilization.
The lens has an 82mm filter thread specification. This means you’re open to using different kinds of regular circular filters.
Coming now to the image quality of this lens. The sharpness of the lens is phenomenal. Even when shooting wide open at f/2.8 at the widest focal length, the lens is very sharp in the middle. Corners are a bit softer. However, if you stop down the lens to f/4, corners appear to become noticeably brighter and sharper at the same time. Sharpness doesn’t get significantly better beyond f/4.
Zooming in, however, the lens does suffer from sharpness issues, especially at the corners. When shooting at f/2.8, corners are very soft, from what I get when shooting at 16mm. Stopping down the lens again improves overall sharpness.
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II
This is a relatively “inexpensive” option for full-frame Canon users looking for an all-purpose f/4 lens to shoot landscapes, architecture, interiors, and portraits. Though it’s designed for full-frame Canon EOS EF mount cameras, the lens also works with EF-S or crop sensor Canon cameras.
The lens’s focal length makes this a versatile tool for various genres, including nature photography.
If you travel quite a lot and want to pack just one lens that does everything from nature photography to street photography and portrait photography, this is a good lens.
On the broader side of the focal length, which is 24mm, this is a practical choice for shooting landscapes. The lens offers an angle of view of 84 degrees at 24mm, which is pretty good for landscape photography. Of course, there is no comparison with the Sony FE 12-24mm f/2.8 GM or the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED. But this is still a fantastic lens.
Optically, this lens offers good performance across the focal range. Corner softening is a problem at the longer focal length, which is strangely not a problem when shooting at the shorter focal length.
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM
The 24-70mm f/2.8 is a wide-angle to a portrait zoom lens and is widely considered a photojournalist‘s workhorse. In many ways, this is one of the most popular focal lengths among photographers because of the versatility of this lens. This lens is a solid landscape photography tool at the widest focal length.
The optical performance of the lens is fantastic. Even when you’re shooting with the widest aperture and the widest focal length, the sharpness results of the lens are magnificent. Even when zoomed in at 70mm with the widest open aperture, you won’t find any significant reasons to be unhappy. But I still believe that the best performance by the lens is at 24mm. Stopping down the lens beyond f/2.8 only improves image performance by a little bit. As a landscape photographer, you will use this lens mostly at f/8 or even f/11.
One thing that I don’t like about this lens is that it does not have image stabilization. For an all-purpose lens, this is something that you would have expected the lens would have it. As a nature and landscape photographer, you would be shooting with a tripod for the most part. So, not having image stabilization will not matter for most landscape shooters. But Canon has compensated us for not giving image stabilization by providing a lens that’s sharp across the frame.
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED
We can’t write a review of the best lenses for nature photography without mentioning the venerable Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED. Launched in 2007 along with the Nikon D3, this is an absolute delight to shoot with and one of the best landscape photography lenses out there.
This lens has been designed for Nikon’s full-frame F mount camera systems but will also work with smaller APS-C (DX)n format cameras with the crop factor applied.
It’s ultra-sharp, produces fantastic images, and handles well. The only concern is the lack of filter options, image stabilization, and price. You can use one of the NiSi 150mm filter holders to use 150mm 2 mm-thick filters. Up to three rectangular filters can be used with this system. There is also the Lee Filters SW150 Mark II system that’s very highly rated.
This excellently constructed lens should not give you any reasons to worry about it except for the bulging front glass element. The built-in petal-shaped hood is sometimes inadequate to prevent something from hitting and scratching the front glass elements.
I mentioned above that if you’re a Nikon user and can buy this lens, go for it. Comparing this lens with the 16-35mm f/4 discussed above, it wins hands-down in optical performance. This lens is way sharper between f/4 and f/8. And, of course, the 16-35mm f/4 does not open up beyond f/4, while the 14-24mm is stunning at f/2.8.
Sony FE 12-24mm f/2.8 GM
This big and expensive Sony G Master lens is in a long line of impressive Sony wide aperture zooms that the manufacturer has released in the last few years. When it was launched, this was the widest zoom lens with an f/2.8 aperture making it the envy of non-Sony landscape and interior photographers. The lens has been designed for the Sony E mount mirrorless cameras.
That said, 12mm isn’t always the most sought-after focal length for shooting landscapes and nature photography. It is too wide even for photographers looking for a wide perspective. But for me, that’s not always bad (call me greedy). I would love to exploit the extremities of a lens and push it to see what it can do. And if that means capturing an epic field of view, so be it!
But I am sure many interior and architecture photographers will not complain. Considering they routinely find their backs to the wall (literally) when shooting interior photos, there is a good chance they will love this lens mounted on their camera body.
Now about the optical quality of the lens. Pundits will be skeptical about the corner sharpness, as they always do with extremely wide-angle lenses. Sony has used three Extreme Aspherical (XA) elements that are aimed for the sole purpose of keeping this a rectilinear lens even at extremely wide angles and ensuring the sharp rendering of features.
Sony has used a Nano AR Coating II to reduce ghosting and flares, improving sharpness and contrast when working in difficult lighting conditions.
Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM
If you’re a smaller Canon camera, such as one of the crop sensor-powered bodies like the Rebel T7 or the Rebel SL3, buying a lens optimized for the smaller image circle makes more sense. Indeed, when you consider that lenses built for the larger image circle of full-frame cameras are more expensive, and at the end of the day, you won’t use the e9]88ntire image circle of such a lens.
The Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM is a budget lens and is a good option for shooting landscape photography with your crop Canon camera. The lens’s effective focal length range is 16 – 35.2mm when mounted on a crop camera. This means the lens is still good for shooting landscapes and nature photography. The 16mm focal length (effective) is too wide, sometimes even catching elements that I am not expecting.
Regarding the all-important question of sharpness, the 16-22mm is a sharp lens. I am happy with the quality of the images that I have got. Sharpness is sometimes a very overrated aspect, and many photographers blame the lens alone for issues with sharpness. The thing is, sharpness depends on several factors other than the lens alone. When shooting wide open, this lens is decent. Stopped down sharpness improves.
That said, some chromatic aberration is noticeable when shooting at the widest focal length. This starts to go away as you zoom in. The lens also suffers from vignetting at the shortest focal length, which goes away when you zoom in and stop down the lens.
Canon EF 24mm f/1.4 L II USM
In terms of prime lenses, the 24mm and the 20mm are two of my favorite choices for landscape photography. The 24mm is a standard focal length for shooting landscape and nature photography. It’s neither too extreme nor too tight. Regarding the angle of view, the 24mm gives you a focal length of 84 degrees. The lens has been designed for Canon’s full-frame EF series cameras. But it will also work with smaller APS-C cameras.
This is a fast lens with a much wider maximum aperture than the other lenses on this list. Fast lenses are known for shallow depth of field. Not exactly the best of features for shooting landscape photography. But you can shoot from a closer distance and blur the background if you want.
The lens weighs 650 grams and feels quite solid in the hands. This is quite hefty for a prime lens. Construction is outstanding and lines up with the L moniker that the lens wears. The good thing is that the lens is weather sealed, which will be extremely useful outdoors. However, for complete weather sealing, you will still need a filter to protect the lens’s front element.
In terms of performance, the widest aperture performance of the lens isn’t its strongest USP. Wide open, the lens is a bit soft at f/1.4. Also, there is significant vignetting at f/1.4, But you will hardly use this lens at the widest aperture for shooting landscape photography. You will be using this lens at f/8 for the most part, where it delivers sharp images. Also, vignetting goes away when you stop the lens down to f/4 and beyond. Alternatively, you can correct the problem in post-processing.
So, which of the above is your favorite nature photography lens? Do share your choice with the rest of us. Also, please let us know if you think we missed out on a lens you feel ought to be on this list.
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