Wide-Angle vs. Telephoto Lens for Landscape Photography

17 September 2021

As you gaze over the sweeping vistas of the landscape that lays below, you reach for your camera, only to discover you’ve brought the wrong lens to capture its true beauty. The question is, which lens did you bring - a wide-angle lens or a telephoto lens? It’s a tale as old as photography itself, the decision to shoot wide or from a distance. 

Although most photographers agree that capturing a wide dynamic range is best for landscape photography, they’re not so harmonious when choosing between wide-angle and telephoto for their landscape lens of choice. Here, we weigh the pros and cons of each to help you decide on the best lens for landscape photography.


Capturing landscapes with wide-angle lenses

Returning to our sweeping vista, the obvious choice would be a wide-angle lens to capture the landscape in its entirety. Able to capture a much wider field/angle of view (64° to 180°), a wide-angle lens can capture images that go far beyond what the human eyes can see, making landscape scenes appear more dramatic and enticing. Wide-angle lenses also have a wider focal length, typically below 34mm, allowing photographers to fit more into a single frame. When shooting with wide-angle lenses, you’ll notice that the centre of the image looks much further away, resulting in an exaggerated perspective.

Wide-Angle vs. Telephoto Lens for Landscape PhotographyWide-Angle vs. Telephoto Lens for Landscape Photography

As with most lenses, wide-angle lenses fall into two main camps - zoom lenses and prime lenses. A prime lens will offer the best optical quality and low-light ability, while zoom lenses offer more versatility and simplicity, thanks to the focal length range. Wide-angle lenses also have a third camp known as an ultra-wide-angle. Shooting with a focal length wider than 14mm will introduce distortion at the outside of the frame, resulting in curved lines and warped perspective. Also known as fish-eye lenses, these lenses can create dramatic and unique photos, although they may not be to every photographer’s taste.


Browse some of our favourite wide-angle landscape lenses


Landscape photography with a telephoto lens

Wide-Angle vs. Telephoto Lens for Landscape PhotographyWide-Angle vs. Telephoto Lens for Landscape Photography

On the opposite end of the photography spectrum are those who find themselves capturing minute and specific details in a landscape. Telephoto lenses crop into your subject, eliminating perimeter items and focussing your viewers’ attention on the subject. By focusing on a portion of a landscape, photographers can be more selective with the subject matter of their images. This technique allows photographers to create more abstract pictures, forcing their viewers to decipher what they see, producing a more interactive and engaging photo.

One drawback of longer focal lengths is exposure. The longer the focal length, the less light that can reach your camera’s sensor due to the size of the aperture. Fortunately, higher-end telephoto lenses are beginning to integrate wider aperture sizes for even more versatility and dynamic range. At these focal lengths, the depth of field is much shallower than their broader counterparts, giving photographers the ability to add significantly more background blur to their images.

Wide-Angle vs. Telephoto Lens for Landscape PhotographyWide-Angle vs. Telephoto Lens for Landscape Photography

Different types of telephoto lenses

Wide-Angle vs. Telephoto Lens for Landscape PhotographyWide-Angle vs. Telephoto Lens for Landscape Photography

Similar to the category of ultra-wide-angle lenses, there are three telephoto lens categories to choose from:

  • Short Telephoto (85mm to 135mm) 
  • Medium Telephoto (135mm to 300mm)
  • Super Telephoto (300mm+)

In addition to these categories, it’s important to consider how the lenses are constructed. Telephoto lenses display a focal length larger than their actual physical length using two methods: light refraction or mirrors.

  • Refractive lenses contain multiple internal lens groups or lens elements that manipulate light to achieve a magnified image. This manipulation bends the light entering the lens before straightening out when it hits the camera sensor.
  • Mirror lenses use multiple curved mirrors inside the lens body to bounce light to create magnification. Mirror lenses are typically much smaller than their refractive counterparts.

Which is best for landscape photography: wide-angle lens or telephoto lens?

Both wide-angle and telephoto lenses are valuable options for landscape photography. If expansive and dynamic views are your wheelhouse, then a wide-angle lens should be mounted on the front of your camera. However, if you want to get closer to distant subjects and create more abstract images, a telephoto is the obvious choice. That being said, it is worth considering adding both of these lens types to your kit or, at the very least, experimenting with an all-in-one zoom lens. While these jack of all trade lenses won’t beat out a prime lens, you will end up with a more refined understanding of which focal length you prefer.

Wide-Angle vs. Telephoto Lens for Landscape PhotographyWide-Angle vs. Telephoto Lens for Landscape Photography

Here are some telephoto lenses for your landscapes


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