It has been recommended in numerous PhotographyTalk articles that the most important piece of equipment to buy first is the right lens, and the body, second. This concept also applies to telephoto landscape photography.
The quality of the zoom or prime telephoto lens you buy depends on the end results you are trying to achieve. If you are a professional or a serious amateur, who expects your landscape images to be printed at very large sizes for galleries or other displays, then you need a lens with high performance optics. As a landscape photographer, you are likely to find yourself shooting in bad weather or a rugged environment, which means a telephoto lens with some level of weather sealing is also a better choice.
Pros want the highest quality optics because the glass elements are carefully engineered and manufactured with special coatings to control various distortions and lens flare. The best glass elements are also critical to the pro because of the weather and other climatological conditions they are apt to encounter when shooting landscapes, such as haze, fog, etc.
Image stabilization technology is also important for landscape photography with a telephoto lens. Although a tripod (and a good one) is required, the pros want the assistance of every possible method to help keep their cameras rock steady. Fortunately for amateurs, built-in image stabilization systems can be found on less expensive zoom and fixed focal length telephoto lenses.
The pros also want a fast telephoto lens (with apertures of f/2.8 or f/4) for this kind of landscape photography. Such a lens may be heavier to transport into the backcountry, but it will allow the photographer to capture more low-light images, which are often the best landscape compositions. With a fast lens, the pros don’t have push the camera’s ISO setting higher than they might prefer. Higher ISO numbers typically produce more digital noise and pros, especially, can’t have that for large prints.
Professionals can justify investing thousands of dollars in a manufacturer’s best telephoto lens, but not so the hobbyist and enthusiast. Their landscape images will probably be printed in small sizes, displayed on a Web site and/or shared via social media. Those resolutions don’t require spending $1,500 for a Canon EF 300mm f/4L or $1,600 for a Canon EF 70–300mm f/4.5–5.6L lens. Better choices for the hobbyist are the Canon EF 75300mm f/4.5–5.6 III, Tamron SP AF70–300mm f/4.5–5.6 or any of the Sigma 70–300mm f/4.5–5.6 lenses, all of which retail for less than $300.
An excellent option for the hobbyist or enthusiast who wants to capture the ultimate high quality landscape images of the pros is to rent the appropriate lens for a weekend.
When it comes to choosing a camera body for telephoto landscape photography, the pros prefer a full-frame camera and the excellent resolution of its sensor and advanced low-light technology. The pros also look for a camera with a viewfinder that shows a 100% view of the image. Most amateurs don’t have the deep pockets to buy a full-frame DSLR, so they are apt to purchase a cropped-sensor DSLR. Nikon’s DX-format cameras, for example, have a 1.5x effective picture angle. When shooting landscapes with a telephoto lens on a cropped-sensor camera, a bit of the wide angle view is lost, but the telephoto view becomes longer. If you’re using a 300mm lens, then it is providing the actual view of a 450mm lens (300mm x 1.5).
A common equipment tip for new or aspiring landscape photographers is to shoot with a wide-angle lens. Another school of thought, however, is that amazing landscape images are possible (and may be just what you need to make your portfolio more distinctive) when using a zoom or fixed focal length telephoto lens. This PhotographyTalk how-to article highlights a few of the equipment tips to keep in mind when you’re ready to try this different approach to landscape photography.
Photo copyright by PhotographyTalk member Robert Barton
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