I’m a gearhead, no doubt about it. Lenses are not only addicting to use and collect, but are also often a good investment. The sheer number of lenses in the photography world has grown immensely, with incredible variations in ability and quality. Tilt-sift, macro, telephoto, wide-angle and primes are used by many landscape photographers. I myself have owned lenses in each and every one of those categories. But here’s the thing: in order to create the kind of art I love… I only need two lens. That’s right, two lenses will cover it all!
I once watched a video of Art Wolfe doing a “What’s in the bag” feature and he highlighted a Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II and a Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS and that was it. For macro work, he uses extension tubes and for a trip with wildlife as a focus, he brings a specialized lens (600mm prime for example). At the time I thought it was pretty cool to see a professional photographer in the field that I respect and a photographer with an unlimited budget (and sponsorship from multiple camera companies ) only carry two lenses. It had nothing to do with money and a love of gear, but simply this – how can I create the art I’m interested in and not break my back? Camera gear is heavy and quality glass takes the cake. As a landscape photographer, I spend a great deal of time on the trail carrying my gear mile after mile. There have been plenty of trips where I wish a lens had stayed behind, especially if I didn’t end up using it.
Landscape photography is most interesting when a story is told that goes beyond our normal field of vision. That’s the beauty of the wide-angle and telephoto lens. They don’t see as our eye sees, and as a result, the images are often more compelling. That’s not to say that a great image can’t be taken from 35 – 70mm, but if you study your favorite landscape images, chances are most of them are on the wide or long end. I don’t own a 24-70mm or a 24-105mm. I just sold my 50mm f/1.4 today. I had kept it for a long time just in case I needed something in the 35-70mm range, but the reality is, I rarely ever do. It’s not worth carrying the extra lens when the chance of using it is so remote.
Prime lenses are impractical for landscape photography. It just doesn’t make sense to carry a lens with one focal length when you can carry a lens that covers a wider range. Although one could argue that prime lenses produce images of higher quality, zooms can be fantastic. Just ask anyone who uses a Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 or a Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS. Their quality is astounding, and their focal range is far more versatile than a prime.
Tilt-shift lenses are a lot like primes to me: not versatile for what they accomplish. You can create fantastic panoramas with tilt-shift lenses, but you can do that without them as well. You can create great depth of field with a wider aperture with tilt-shift lenses, but with the advances made in focal blending and high ISO performance, great depth of field can usually be captured with a standard lens as well.
Macro lenses are a little different for me. I enjoy shooting macro, and while it doesn’t happen often, when it does I love having a dedicated macro lens. If I know I’m going on a trip with potential macro subjects, I will carry the Tamron 90mm f/2.8 macro lens. It is phenomenal. I have had so much success with the Tamron, I hesitate to go to extension tubes. Having said that, if I can leave the macro lens home, I often will.
If you’re starting out, chances are you will also go through a similar lens progression. Just don’t be surprised if you end up with two lenses in the end.
Canon full frame:
Canon crop sensor:
Nikon full frame:
Nikon crop sensor:
Sony full frame:
Sony crop sensor: