Landscape photography is no doubt a tough challenge for any photographer. It requires the right gear, meticulous planning and preparation and a lot of patience to be able to shoot anything worth sharing.
Speaking of gear, the lens is the most crucial aspect of any landscape photographer’s bag. You cannot ignore a good quality lens and hope to shoot great landscape photos. It just won’t work that way.
Today, we shall be looking at a specific brand of lenses. Canon is the world’s largest camera brand and manufacturers and sells more cameras and lenses than its nearest competitor. Today, we shall be looking at the best Canon landscape lenses you can buy in 2021:
- Canon EF 16-35mm f/4 IS USM Lens
- Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM Lens
- Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM Lens
- Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM Lens
- Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM Lens
- Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM Lens
1. Canon EF 16-35mm f/4 IS USM Lens
I have a particular love affair with the 16-35mm lens. I think that the Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens is among the best Canon landscape lenses. The best thing about this lens is its wide-angle focal range coverage of 16mm all the way to 35mm. 35mm begins to transgress into the domain of standard focal length and that probably is the limit that I will go when shooting landscapes. Except when it comes to the 40mm pancake lens, which I also admire. But the range from 16mm to 35mm covers the essential focal length you would normally use to shoot landscape photos.
This lens is designed for the Canon full-frame camera system and is compatible with full-frame DSLRs, 35mm film SLRs as well as APS-C camera (albeit with a crop factor of 1.6x). The f/4 aperture is too big for great landscape shots. You would probably be shooting with it at around f/8 even f/11. Make sure to pair this with a high-resolution camera and you will have years of joy shooting with it.
Wide angle lenses, especially those who have a large wide aperture, suffer from what is known as chromatic aberrations. You would also face flares and ghosting which are two other major issues. These results in lack of contrast and, distortions among other problems. To suppress these, the Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L comes with two ultra-low dispersion elements and three aspherical elements. On top of that, the lens comes with super spectra coating which suppresses flares and ghosting and fluorine coatings that repel dirt, dust, and smudges.
In real life situations, however, the lens does fail to live up to the hype. There is an ample amount of distortion in the lens, and that means flares and ghosting are still present. When the sun is in the frame, contrast also goes down which suggests that it would be a problem to maintain image contrast and color saturation when the sun is lower in the horizon, and more importantly, it is in the frame.
Auto-focusing is powered by a ring-type ultrasonic motor. This is faster than the more modern STM auto-focusing technology and fairly accurate too. The STM lenses are better for shooting videos, as they demonstrate a slower more controlled auto-focusing performance compared to the USM motors. But the USM motors are best for fast focus lock when shooting stills.
Speaking of the auto-focusing technology of the lens, the whole focusing mechanism is internal. As such the barrel length remains the same. The lens has a manual focusing override. This allows you to grab hold of the focusing ring, and turn it even when auto-focusing is engaged and fine tune to adjust the focus.
Image sharpness at 16mm and f/4 is very good. The corners are also acceptably sharp given the fact that this is a wide angle lens. Interestingly, there is a faint amount of chromatic aberration at the corners. F/5.6 boosts sharpness significantly at the corners. F/8 improves on that. At 35mm the lens’ corner performance is slightly better than at 16mm. Which is really heartening. But what matters to me is the performance at the entire focal length. If I am buying a 16-35mm lens, I intend on using the lens’ entire focal length range.
Image stabilization on the 16-35mm is rated at four stops. That means you can use up to four stops of slower shutter speed when hand holding the camera, compared to what would be ideal for a particular lighting scenario.
Not to forget this is a premium Canon lens, and true to the ‘L’ moniker that the lens comes with it also has great weather sealing. But the thing that I don’t like about this lens is its weight. At 615 grams this is quite heavy. Add to that the weight of a full-frame camera like the 6D or the 5D Mark III and a sturdy tripod and suddenly, your landscape gear assumes ominous proportions.
The EF 16-35mm f/4 USM is a great lens to buy. If you have a tight budget or wouldn’t want to commit a lot of money to dabble at landscape photography, then this is one lens that you cannot simply ignore. There is an even more expensive lens the 16-35mm f/2.8L III. Plus, there is the previous version II. These are also great choices. But the f/4 comes at a much ‘cheaper’ price tag and thus offers better value for money.
2. Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM Lens
The EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM is one of Canon’s best ever lenses. I can even go as far as to say that this tops the chart of the best Canon landscape lenses.
F/2.8 lenses with a wide focal length range offer an incredible amount of versatility. No doubt, these lenses are in high demand by photojournalists, wedding photographers as well as street photographers. The 16-35mm f/2.8L III, as the name suggests, is the third iteration of a very popular lens.
This lens is designed for the full-frame Canon DSLRs. The lens is also compatible with all 35mm film cameras and will mount on a crop Canon camera as well with the associated crop factor coming into play.
When compared with the 16-35mm f/4L that we reviewed at the beginning, the 16-35mm f/2.8 III USM is almost double the price. So, Canon is giving something extra to justify the high price.
Let’s find out more about the construction first. The lens comes with three aspherical and two UD elements. Two of these are GMO dual surface aspherical elements and one of them is an aspherical ground element. These elements are to take care of chromatic aberrations as well as lens flare and ghosting. Something that a wide angle lens suffers from all the time.
Additionally, this lens also has subwavelength and air sphere coating. This coating ensures better suppression of lens flare and ghosting compared to the older Super Spectra Coating that Canon lenses came with.
In real life, however, there is some amount of image softness at the corners which is apparent at 16mm and f/2.8. Some amount of vignetting is also present. While vignetting can be corrected without issues, sharpening that what is soft is not advisable and thus remains a problem.
The lens has a pretty wide front element. The large 82mm filter thread specification should give you an idea of how large the front element of the lens is. That said, there should not be any issues buying filters for this lens. 82mm is increasingly becoming a common size.
Auto-focusing on the lens is powered by Canon’s trusty Ultra-sonic focusing motor. This mechanism is fast and accurate. Jittery, because it locks almost instantaneously. Perfect for still work, but not so perfect for video work.
The wide f/2.8 maximum aperture ensures that the lens is capable of capturing a lot of light in most lighting situations. A large aperture is also perfect for those selective focus techniques that pro photographers use.
The lens does not have image stabilization. That is a problem when you are shooting in low light. But if you think pragmatically, almost all landscape photography is done on a tripod. And thus, the lack of image stabilization will not matter in the final equation. If you plan to shoot anything else, try to compensate with a higher ISO (which will give you the leeway to shoot with faster shutter speed) and you would be fine.
This is an L lens, and even then this is one of the pricier lenses made by Canon. Thus, you can expect fantastic build quality to match the excellent optical quality. The lens comes with superior weather sealing which ensures that you can take it anywhere you want to and in any weather, barring underwater. Fluorine coating on the front element of the lens ensures that the lens can resist fingerprints, dirt, dust, and smudges.
3. Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM Lens
The Canon 24-105mm in many ways is an all-purpose lens. If you are an amateur photographer with only limited interest in photography, you can mount the 24-105m m f/4L IS to your camera and shoot with it the year round. You won’t have to take that off and opt for something else.
The EF 24-105mm is designed for the full-frame Canon DSLR. It also works with Canon’s film SLRs and APS-C DSLRs with the associated crop factor. The maximum aperture of f/4 isn’t something that you would be using too much. At least not for landscape photography. You would need to stop it down to around f/8 to start getting corner to corner sharpness, which is what the essence of landscape photography is.
The construction of the lens includes one Super UD element and three aspherical elements. These take care of a host of aberrations and distortions. Additionally, the lens also includes Super Spectra Coating to suppress issues of lack of contrast that happens due to flares and ghosting and to help produce accurate color reproduction on the sensor.
However, when shooting JPEGs, you are likely to notice barrel distortions at smaller focal lengths and pincushion distortion when shooting at longer focal lengths.
In real life usage situations, the lens is acceptably sharp in the middle at f/4 and 24mm and only moderately sharp at the corners. In fact, it wouldn’t be too wrong to say that the corners are soft at 24mm and f/4. Some amount of chromatic aberrations is also noticed as does vignetting. But these two issues can be easily corrected in post-processing.
Sharpness increases, both at the center and the corners when you stop down the lens to about f/5.6 and even further to f/8. If you zoom into about 40mm, the problem of color fringing goes away, and performance becomes very good indeed. The longer you zoom in, image quality and sharpness progressively become better. Chromatic aberrations are also suppressed very well.
Auto-focusing on the EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM is powered by the older ring-type ultrasonic motor. This is reliable but tends to be a little jerky as it locks very quickly. Not so great for video work, but perfect for still work.
The lens features internal focusing, and thus the front element of the lens never moves. The lens comes with a full-time manual focusing option as well. This feature has been explained elsewhere in this review.
The EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM comes with image stabilization. The image stabilization is rated at up to four stops. That means you can easily shoot with up to four stops slower shutter speed than you would normally do. This increases the hand-held shooting possibilities of the camera. But at the end of the day, you would be shooting most of your landscape photos using a tripod. So this will not matter much. For wedding photographers, the four stops of image stabilization, however, will be extremely useful.
The lens is well-made. It feels very solid in the hands. At 670 grams it is quite bulky too. The front element is also large with a filter thread specification of 77mm. The exterior weather sealing is great. As a part of the L series of Canon lenses, the EF 24-105mm f/4 comes with good sealing against dust, dirt, and moisture.
4. Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM Lens
If given a choice between a prime and a zoom, I would choose a prime any day. Not only are these lenses less complicated, but lens manufacturers pack them with optical goodies as they don’t have to worry about zooming. Thus, these lenses are cheaper, sharper, and better built. Providing extremely good value for money.
The lens is designed for Canon’s full-frame DSLRs. But it will work with 35mm film cameras as well as APS-C cameras with a cropped sensor. APS-C cameras will experience some focal length extension because of the crop factor. The 24mm is a very good lens on a full-frame camera for shooting landscapes.
The construction of this lens includes two aspherical elements and two UD elements. These elements take care of chromatic aberrations and distortions. Additionally, the lens also includes a subwavelength coating which takes care of ghosting and flares.
In real life, usage distortion is almost absent. Even when you are shooting wide open at f/1.4. However, there is ample vignetting. Both vignetting and distortion can be corrected in post, and this is no big deal. The only problem arises when to correct peripheral darkness the sensor adds a bit of noise. Any vignetting and distortion go away completely when you stop down to about f/2.8.
In as much as the performance of the subwavelength coating is concerned, it does work great. The lens performs very well even with the sun lower down the horizon and in the frame. One of the prime issues plaguing wide angle lenses is lack of contrast when you are shooting with the sun in the frame. The Canon EF 24mm f/1.4 L USM II lens seems to not show any issues in that regard.
The maximum aperture of the lens is f/1.4. It is fast enough to make great images with street lights. But as this discussion is centered on landscape photography, we would not delve into the f/1.4 aperture.
Auto-focusing on the EF 24mm f/1.4L II is powered by a ring-type ultrasonic motor. Focusing is internal, that means barrel length remains the same across the focusing range. Manual focusing override has also been provided.
Image quality regarding sharpness is very good at the center of the frame at f/1.4. The corners, however, are not very sharp. Acceptably sharp is what I can say. Stopping down the lens to about f/2 increases sharpness at the corner slightly. Another jump to f/2.8 and sharpness increases dramatically, and so does corner illumination. But the best results come in at f/4. This is the sort of lens that you would actually push and try shooting at the smallest aperture you can. Provided, however, you have a camera that has high sharpness. With this high-resolution lens, you will have no issues capturing a lot of detail.
Please note the EF 24mm f/1.4 does not have image stabilization. That means you have to use a tripod for shooting slow shutter speed shots. In good light, you can shot hand-held without issues because of the wide open aperture. But landscape shots are usually not shot with wide open apertures.
Construction of the lens is great. The lens feels very solid in the hands. The lens is quite heavy for a prime. It weighs 650 grams. Slightly heavier than some of the zoom lenses that we have discussed here. Being a L lens, it comes with solid weather sealing.
5. Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM Lens
The Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM gives a slightly different focal length range compared to the 16-35mm lenses that we discussed above. This lens is designed for the Canon’s EF mount camera systems (full-frame DSLRs). Having said that the lens would also work with all 35mm film cameras as well as APS-C cameras with the associated crop factor.
The construction of the lens includes one super UD element, plus three aspherical elements. These elements are meant to ensure that chromatic and other aberrations are suppressed, and the color reproduction of the lens is very high, including better contrast. In real life situations, however, there is a lot of barrel distortion when shooting at 17mm and some amount of pincushion distortion when shooting at the longer end.
The slightly dated Super Spectra coating ensures that the lens can handle flares and ghosting better. This technology has been replaced by the latest subwavelength coating which handles flares and ghosting much better producing better contrast.
There is some vignetting as well in the lens’ performance. This is quite apparent when shooting at 17mm but goes away as you extend the focal length. Peripheral illumination is necessary when shooting because you need to correct the corner vignetting.
Auto-focusing on the lens is powered by a ring-type ultrasonic motor. The lens also comes with full-time manual focusing override as well. Ring-type USM is quick and very reliable as has been stressed from elsewhere in this review. Additionally, the barrel length of the lens remains the same across the focus range. The lens comes with full-time manual focusing override.
Overall weight is on the lower side with most of the other lenses on this review being heavier than this. In absolute terms, the Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM weighs 500 grams. Not to forget that this is an L series lens and that means it comes with adequate weather sealing built into it.
Real life performance, at 17mm the lens is more than decent sharp in the middle at f/4. The corners are not that sharp. In fact, they are borderline blurry. Stopping down the lens does improve corner sharpness. You probably would have the best results at f/8. Center sharpness also improves, but the quantum of improvement is not that much compared to the improvement that you get at the corners. Comparatively, corner sharpness improves slightly as you move towards the longer end of the lens. But it is still not up to the mark as the performance of some other lenses that we have discussed here. Plus, the lens is a poor performer on an APS-C camera which makes it unsuitable for anyone who has a modern APS-C DSLR.
The thing that I don’t like about this lens is the relatively small maximum aperture of f/4. At f/4 you don’t get the same amount of light that even a kit lens does. But given the fact that the maximum aperture remains the same across the focal length it is handy as you get the consistent amount of light across the focal length.
6. Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM Lens
Finally, we take a look at the Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM Lens.
This lens gives you an ultra-wide angle perspective and something that you would be quite happy to use; of course, if you can afford this piece of optical marvel. At 11-24mm this dwarfs anything that you have used before.
Of course, we are not going to consider lenses which offer fish-eye (or near) perspective. Those lenses are unsuitable for landscape photography.
The EF 11-24mm f/4L USM is also designed for the full-frame Canon DSLR. Having said that the lens is also compatible with Canon’s 35mm film cameras as well as crop (APS-C) cameras with the associated crop factor.
The lens comes with a host of elements for suppressions of distortions and aberrations. These include a super UD element, a UD element, and four aspherical elements. The lens also features subwavelength and Air Sphere coating to ensure that flares and ghosting are suppressed. The front element has fluorine coating too which ensures smudges, dirt and dust are repelled.
Auto-focusing is powered by a ring-type USM motor. The lens has manual focusing ring and full-time manual focusing override which comes in use when focusing on aspects which the AF system fails to lock on. Focusing is internal which suggests that the barrel length will never change when focusing.
There is no image stabilization on this lens. That would never be missed either. At 11mm to 24mm as long as you shoot faster than one over the 24 (shutter speed) you never feel the absence of image stabilization. Plus, you are likely going to shoot a majority of your shots using a tripod. So this issue will not arise.
In real life shooting situations, the 11-24mm is very sharp. Even when shooting wide open and at 11mm, the center of the images are crisp sharp. No chromatic aberrations at all. The corners are slightly distorted, but image quality is still very sharp. There is also some chromatic aberrations. You also get a little bit of vignetting. Both these issues are, however, easily corrected using Canon’s peripheral illumination and post-processing using the software.
Stopping down the lens doesn’t seem to do anything better, which suggests that Canon has got it right. Image quality when shooting at 16mm is also very sharp at the center. At the corners quality drop slightly. But it improves when you stop down the lens to about f/8. The story is similar at 24mm.
Barrel distortion is also a problem. This is despite the Super UD, UD and four aspherical elements that have been provided in the lens construction. But distortion goes out when the lens is zoomed into 16mm and beyond. The lens also has a subwavelength coating, Air Sphere coating, and fluorine coating. But despite that, there is an ample amount of flare when the lens catches the sun.
A major drawback of this lens is its weight. At 1.18 kilos this is the heaviest Canon wide angle lens that we have seen so far. This lens would be difficult to carry around, especially when you also have a heavy DSLR and a travel tripod to lug.
Another drawback of this lens is that your normal filters won’t work with this lens. The front element is so huge that you will not get any normal lens screw in filters to work. You will need drop-in type gel filters which will fit at the back of the lens.
The most significant drawback of the EF 11-24mm f/4L USM, however, is its pricing. It is out of the reach of most amateur photographers not to mention professionals. Plus, the 11mm focal length is way too wide. Capturing meaningful images without the necessary post-processing adjustments would be difficult.
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