Best Sony FE Landscape Lenses for the poor Student

User Characterization: You are a Sony a7 series user enthusiastic about landscape photography but you work on a very limited budget. You look for lenses with a great bang for the buck ratio and good characteristics for landscape photography.

In this post I give you my top picks and a few alternatives for affordable landscape lenses. These where my criteria for this list:

  • Very good across the frame sharpness at smaller apertures like f/8 or f/11.
  • High contrast and good flare resistance.
  • Lenses should be less than $200.
  • I see manual focus lenses as preferable for landscape photography.
  • I would like to have nice sunstars but at this budget this is quite difficult if not impossible.
  • Small size is a bonus.

This is the fourth part of a series on the best landscape lenses for the Sony a7/a9 series in which we explore sets of landscape lenses for different user types.

Part 1: “Only the best is good enough”
Part 2: The light traveler and hiker
Part 3: The casual landscape photographer 

All links marked with * are affiliate links. If you buy a lens through them we will earn a small commission on your purchase without any additional cost to you. Thanks for your support 🙂

Wide

Top pick: Pentax K 3.5/28 | 261 g + adapter | $80-120

The very affordable Pentax is as sharp as good modern lenses at f/8 or f/11 and it maintains high contrast with good flare resistance which is rare for a legacy wide angle lens. Stopped down to f/14 it even draws a pleasant sunstar. But of course there is a catch: the Pentax is pretty rare and not easy to find. The best alternative I see is the more expensive Zeiss Distagon 2.8/28 which isn’t better but more easily available.

Check availability on ebay.com* | ebay.de* | KEH* | adapter guide

Alternatives

28 mm is not very wide but I think a 28-50-90 lens kit gives you the most versatility. Also with any wider lens you have to live with more serious tradeoffs like lower contrast and flare resistance.

  • Samyang 2.8/14A very sharp modern lens which can even be used for astro photography. Flare resistance and sunstars are no strengths of it though. It is also surprisingly cheap but there is a reason for that: Copy-to-copy variation is huge with this lens and even if you find a good copy it will not last for very long. So not the most attractive investment in the long run.
  • Canon nFD 2.8/20 This is the sharpest legacy 20 mm I know of. Stopped down to f/11 it has sharper corners than a Zeiss 4/16-35 but contrast is a bit lower and flare resistance is significantly worse than that of the Pentax K 3.5/28.
  • Canon nFD 2.8/24Similar performance as the nFD 2.8/20 but significantly smaller and cheaper. Build quality is a bit lower. If you can live with the weaker flare resistance it is a very affordable wide angle.
  • Sony FE 2/28Now we are leaving the very affordable territory but still it isn’t that expensive and the very light Sony is a very decent landscape lens at f/8 with very good sharpness across the frame and good flare resistance. Only the sunstars are unremarkable and distortion is very strong. Manual focus is annoying and it does not feel nearly as solid as the Pentax 3.5/28.

Normal

Top Pick: Pentax M 1.7/50 | 185 g | $30-40

The Pentax is a high contrast lens and veiling flare is controlled remarkably well. Build quality is very good and the Pentax is one of the smaller normal lenses. The only annoying aspect to me is that the focus ring turns the “wrong” way since I am used to Minolta, Canon or Zeiss lenses. Sharpness at typical landscape settings is very good to excellent with acceptable corner softening.

Check availability on ebay.com* | ebay.de* | adapter guide

Alternatives

I think the Pentax hits a sweet spot for landscape photography so I find it hard to recommend an alternative but here are some options.

  • Zeiss Planar 1.7/50: The significantly more expensive Zeiss is sharper in the corners but the difference isn’t significant at f/8. At f/2.8 the difference is more noticeable and the bokeh is also nicer. I prefer the focus ring of the Zeiss but apart from that the smaller Pentax feels more solid and focuses closer (45 cm). Before I got the Pentax the Zeiss offered the best flare resistance of any legacy normal lens I have tested so I was surprised to find that the Pentax controls veiling flare even better in demanding scenarios.
    195 g | $120-180 | check at ebay.com*
  • Minolta MD 2/50The super cheap Minolta is a little sharper off center, it has no distortion and it is a few grams lighter. Flare resistance is weaker as is the build quality and contrast is a little lower.
    150 g | $25 | check at ebay.com*
  • Canon nFD 1.4/50 The Canon is a good allround normal lens with decent wide open performance and similar sharpness to the Pentax stopped down. It has 8 aperture blades and it is rather affordable. Flare resistance, contrast and average bokeh are the only real weaknesses I see.
    235 g | $40-80 | check at ebay.com*
  • Sony FE 1.8/50Sony’s cheapest lens is a lot  more expensive than the Pentax but it has higher contrast with similar flare resistance and sharpness stopped down. It is also very light. The biggest drawback is the crude AF-motor but for landscape photography that shouldn’t be much of an issue.
    186 g | $248 | check at amazon.com*
  • Minolta MD 3.5/35-70If you prefer zooms for landscape photography the Minolta might be an interesting option. It is only a little larger and heavier than a prime and above 40 mm the performance is prime like with very good across the frame sharpness. At 35 mm the far corners never get very sharp and contrast is lower.
    365 g | $40-70 | check at ebay.com*
  • Zeiss C/Y 3.4/35-70. The Zeiss has often been called a stack of primes and that is a fair assesment here, especially for landscape photography. Handling of the push-pull zoom seems to be the most significant drawback.
    475 g | $3-400 | check at ebay.com*

Tele

Part of surviving on a limited budget is limiting the lenses you use. In my experience a three lens setup with a 24/28 mm, 50 mm and a 90 mm can come a very long way to capture landscapes so that is my suggestion here.

Top Pick: Zeiss Sonnar 2.8/90 | 240 g + adapter | $150-200

The Zeiss 2.8/90 is pretty much the ideal landscape tele but it has one drawback. Most important features are high contrast and very good sharpness which can be enjoyed from f/2.8. Flare resistance is good and sunstars have 8 points but they are only weakly defined. In this price bracket you won’t find a better performance though.  The Zeiss is small and light with very good build quality. So, why is it still affordable? Because of the adapter situation. The Zeiss is an AF lens without a focus helicoid so you need to use an adapter which provides a focusing mechanism. I use a cheap noname adapter which is annoying to focus but precise so while I wouldn’t recommend the Zeiss for general purpose photography it is an acceptable trade-off for landscape photography.

Check availability on ebay.com* | ebay.de*

Alternatives

  • Minolta MD 2.5/100This is my favorite general purpose short tele. It is a little heavier, doesn’t have the high contrast of the Zeiss and is a little less sharp but usually good enough for landscapes. I like it because it is more pleasant to handle and offers smoother bokeh.
    310g | $100 | check at ebay.com*
  • Zeiss C/Y 3.5/100The Zeiss 3.5/100 offers better handling and it is slightly longer which will be an advantage for some. With adapter it is close to 100 g heavier. Drawbacks are the price of about $300 and the fact that it has only 6 aperture blades.
    285g | $300 | check at ebay.com*
  • Olympus OM 2.8/100 The tiny Olympus is a little less sharp than the Zeiss with lower contrast but it is more affordable with a proper focusing ring.
    230g | $60-80 | check at ebay.com*
  • Minolta MD 4/75-150The Minolta is a push-pull lens which makes it smaller at the cost of handling. I was really surprised how sharp this small lens performs. At the wide end it outperforms the Sony FE 4/70-200. At the long end you should stop down to f/8 but then sharpness is still quite good. Contrast is only average which is typical for a Minolta.
    445g | $50-100 | check at ebay.com*
  • Canon nFD 2.8/135: A good performer which is cheaper and a little longer than the Minolta. Advantages of the Zeiss are higher contrast, less CA and less weight.
    395g | $45-60 | check at ebay.com*

Other lenses

  • Canon nFD 4/200 IF: A sharp, light and very affordable 200mm lens. Axial CA is the only real drawback but for landscape photography that shouldn’t really matter.
    440 g | $10-30 | check at ebay.com*
  • Canon FD 4/300 L: Not very affordable but a very good performer in a still manageable size.
    1060 g | $250-450 | check at ebay.com*

Compared to the other Kits

There is no one best landscape lens. There are only lenses which are the best lens for you specific needs. That’s why we created this series which assumes different user profiles and finds the best lenses for them. I think this kit gets the essentials right: For very little money you can expect very good image quality in a wide range of landscape scenarios. You can do serious landscape photography with it and make big prints. But of course there are a few limitations. For under $400 you would expect a few limitations. Our other kits cost many times that.

Compared to our “Only the best is good enough”-Kit you will miss a super-wide-angle lens so you can’t create compositions with a strong emphasis of the foreground or astro-landscapes. While you will be fine on a 24 MP Sony a7II the much more expensive lenses get a bit more out of the 42 Mp sensor. Other advantages of the fancy lenses is that some of them have very nice sunstars, even higher contrast and you don’t need an adapter for them. Disadvantages of the set is that it is heavier and costs over $5000.

Compared to our The light traveler and hiker-Kit this kit is actually a little lighter but it doesn’t go to 21 mm and is less pleasant to handle. Again I see less difference in image quality on 24 MP but on 42 it will be more visible.

Compared to our kit for the casual landscape photographer this kit’s main tradeoff is flexibility because that kit includes the very flexible 4/16-35 as well as a few AF lenses with good wide open performance which in this kit only the 2.8/90 offers. I see no real advantage in image quality for that kit and I would prefer the handling of the poor Student’s kit.

Some more images

 

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I like to be outside with my camera and I am also a gear head with a love for manual lenses.

45 thoughts on “Best Sony FE Landscape Lenses for the poor Student”

  1. For someone wanting a wider than 28mm, and on a budget, the OM Zuiko 21/3.5 (multi-coated), is my preferred choice, (only let down being sharp vignette), closely followed by the larger Canon FDn 20/2.8. Both above your set budget, but not by a huge amount. I think you’ve reviewed them both individually?
    I would also add the OM Zuiko 28/3.5 as an alternative in the 28mm range. It may even be sharper than the Pentax, but slightly let down by being only single coated, and hence has worse flare performance.

    1. I have no experience with the Zuiko 3.5/21 but it is a favorite of many.

      Regarding the OM 3.5/28: The bad flare resistance is too much of an issue in my experience to recommend it for landscape photography even though it is as sharp if not sharper than the Pentax.

    2. SMC Pentax k 28mm f3.5 is much more better than olympus om 28mm f3.5.Olympus is Good för beeing a legacy lens, but the pentax acts like modern expensive lens, at least stoped down for landscape.

      The Canon fdn 20mm is better than Olympus om 21mm f3.5, but not by much. The Olympus weight is less and its tiny, maybe some Think its too tiny. One big problem with Olympus 21mm is that it easily vignette if You use a filter which is too thick.

  2. Hey, I built such a simple kit… I have a Tokina 28/2.8, which is not great, but I really like to use it at night, it yields interesting results. A simple Chinon 50/1.7 which is surprisingly good, and which I recommend, and a Tamron Adaptall 90/2.5 which works like a charm. Have you tried this last one?

    Best regards.

    1. I also have a Tokina 28/2.8 (49mm filter version) that is good stopped down and was only £10. I also picked up a mint Tamron Adaptall SP 90/2.5 for £35 which is an exceptional lens with flexibility as it is also 1:2 macro. I would be very interested to see a review of this lens.

  3. Great article, Phillip. Regarding the Contax 2.8/90, isn’t the 2.8/85 of a similar design? Price should be about the same as the 3.5/100.

    And I know you haven’t had much experience with Nikon lenses (and don’t enjoy the reverse focus), but the Series E 2.8/100 might be a decent option for the tele’s. It’s 215g and can be had around $60-100, depending on condition. Flare resistance isn’t good and has PF at wider apertures but it’s a sharp lens and would be fine for landscapes at F8. Though it’s not usable with the sun in the frame at all so it would probably be better to save for a Contax lens if that’s what you often shoot.

    1. Yes, the 2.8/85 is very similar in design and performance. I haven’t used one though so I can’t say how it compares to the G90 in terms of flare resistance and contrast.

      The Nikon would have the advantage of the same focus direction and it could certainly be a solid option.

      1. Yeah, I think a decent “reverse” kit could be the Nikon 2/28 or Pentax 3.5/28, Pentax 1.7/50, Series E 2.8/100. Focus ring would all turn the same way and you’d have very good flare resistance with the 28’s (I’m not sure if the Nikon is as good as the Pentax but according to Bjorn Rorslett, it has very good flare resistance) and the 50.

        Here’s Bjorn’s take on the 2/28:

        “The high-speed 28 Nikkor is unusual in having its close-range correction (CRC) executed with the front elements, not with the rear as the case is with other wide-angles. It offers outstandingly sharp images and these are produced at all aperture settings from f/2 to f/8 with just a trace of corner softness at the wider settings. Field curvature is modest in terms of wide-angle lenses. Peak performance occurs between f/4 and f/5.6. When stopped down beyond f/11, sharpness suffers however. This lens is unusually resistant to flare and ghosting and eminently suitable for shooting directly into the sun.”

        The Pentax is smaller and lighter and probably has more contrast and sharper corners wide open (though I’m not sure there’d be a ton of difference at F4 and above), but you could have the option of using the 2/28 for some astro shooting. It has coma but there are videos that show you how to remove it in your images. It’s time consuming but it works.

        1. Astro with a legacy WA? I am not sure about that. My experience with Nikon lenses is limited but my imoression was that they have less contrast than Zeiss or Pentax lenses. That was the reason why I didn’t investigate the Pentax 2.8/100 any more: Too many reports about low contrast and the Zeiss simply delvers in that category.

  4. Oh and if you’re someone that likes to shoot longer than 85-135mm, the Contax 4/80-200 is a good landscape lens. I know you found some hotspots in your copy but I’ve had good results with mine. It’s not super light but it covers enough of a range to lug it around IMO. Flare resistance isn’t as good as the Contax primes but it’s reasonable for a zoom. I got lucky and found one for a very good deal at $100 in excellent condition (probably don’t hold your breath to get the same price) but I’ve seen them around $150-160 from time to time.

  5. Excellent article again and the most interesting one of the series for me personally! Though I’m not a student or poor, I am quite budget conscious so this article very much applies to me. On a small budget the problem is really only getting very wide at acceptable quality. At normal focal lengths and short tele there are many very good options you can pick from. I like to stick with an all Minolta MD outfit so for a super affordable kit that is at the same time extremely small and light I’d choose the 28/2.8, 50/2 and 135/3.5 which is really a poor student friendly as it gets (70-80€ all together). Or for only a little more money (200-250) but a lot more versatile and a bit larger and heavier kit a 24/2.8, 35-70/3.5 and 75-150/4. Both these kits should give great results for landscape type photography for very little money. 🙂

    1. I agree, these Minolta md and md Rokkor lenses are really nice. I use Minolta md w Rokkor 28mm f2.8 Minolta md 35mm f2.8, md 50mm f2, md zoom 35-70mm f3.5 with macro and md zoom 75-150mm f4. I also have Contax Zeiss 35-70mm f3.4 and compared to the Minolta, it has sharper borders and corners, and it seems good at every focal length.

  6. Hello

    i always enjoy your reviews

    Have you consideret putting the Sony 10-18 f4 on the list, i dont know whats you opinion is about that lens on for instance sony a7r2.

    Some will might use it on a full frame as a “ghetto solution” . Because it is more affordable than the 12-24 f4 g master, But i want to know your opinion on that.

    some say for instance the sony FE 24-240 isen´t worthy full frame, but i dont know about the 10-18 f4 if its worthy :).

    just triggered my curiosity here when we are trying to find affordable solutions, even second hand markets.

  7. Excellent article, thanks!

    Pentax-k 28mm f3.5 is quite rare though, poor (not in the financial term) students will spend a lot time searching for one.

    Perhaps its sibling Pentax-k 30mm f2.8 is equally competent? You lose 2mm but gain a bit speed, the coating should be equally perfect for landscape. It is not as rare, but not cheap either

    1. I Think You are right. I have this lens and with original hood, but I was lucky to have won a bidding of this lens, and I searched for several months to find the hood.

      The earlier Takumars in m42 mount are really nice in handling, not as good as pentax k 28mm f3.5, but Super-multi-coated Takumar 35mm f3.5 is pretty good. Here is a picture I took with Sony A7rii, which is more demanding compared to the A7, https://flic.kr/p/Y3ZpbL

    2. I got hold of the Pentax K 30mm 2.8.
      While generally a nice lens with good contrast and very sharp over most of the field, my sample had fairly soft extreme corners – not so good for landscapes.
      Sooner or later I’ll try it with more “creative focusing” (focusing halfway or so out to the edge) to see if corners improve, but I find that not so nice to implement in the field.

      1. Presumably you know this, but it was the 28K that Phillip was recommending, not the 30. And plain Pentax K, not Pentax-M or Pentax-A.

        1. I know the article mentioned the K 28 3.5 (I have one and love it!). Several people mentioned the K 30 2.8, which has an almost legendary reputation, but in my opinion (and evidently of some of the others here) it isn’t as good as the K 28 3.5

  8. Very interesting reading
    Thank you for spending time and energy and making it easy for us others

    Best Regards Ronny

  9. Could you give some advice between Minolta Plain MD 24mm 2.8 and the Canon 24mm 2.8? Or is there other better choice for 24mm lens?

  10. Ohh…Yes, how I love this kind of guides. So many beautiful lenses.
    Good choice with the Pentax lenses. Can we look forward to more Pentax testing? It seems you already have the Pentax 50mm 1.7. The 28mm (and the legend 35mm 3.5) have a beautiful rendering of colours and contrast. Far better then any modern zoom lenses. The M 50mm 1.7 is very nice, but I still prefer the Pentax K lenses the K55mm 1.8 and the K50mm 1.4 which are stunning. You guys might be interested, someone did here excellent comparison shootout.
    http://www.lenshunters.com/tests/a7-normal-lenses-test/#lense0=15&lense1=19&aperture0=2&aperture1=1&xpos=52.31&ypos=43.19
    So leaves as with the short tele lens.
    I believe the Zeiss 90mm 2.8 and the CY 85mm 2.8 have the same optical formular, so If no AF is needed, I would go for the 85mm as a manual lens.
    But as it is for a poor student my recommendations would be for the same mount saving on adapters. The Pentax K135mm 2.5 goes for around 80€ and just delivers HQ. And for the real poor students go for the Pentax K135mm 3.5.
    I also would recommend the Pentax zoom A 35-105 3.5 for ca. 60€ as a walkarround lens plus one of the mentioned 50mm.
    But then there are all the beautifully built SMC M42 Takumar lenses by far the best craftet lens ever. Or you might want to go for the cheap Leic R lens line. the 28mm, 50mm 90mm and 135mm are between 150-300€. decisions… or just to be save buy them all 😉
    Thanks for the great website guys.

    1. Hi Philip
      Would you be interested in doing some reviews of the beautiful crafted Pentax Super-Multi-Coated Takumars? I am sure you will love them…
      As I suffer from a mild form of lens-buying addiction I have them more or less all. I would be happy to lend them to you.

  11. Hi
    For those wanting to go wider on a budget there is also the tokina 17 3.5 rmc. I found the sharpness quite good once stopped down, the drawback being a pretty bad flare resistance. It can be found easily around 120 euro.
    Cheers

  12. This might be a stupid question but I’ve been thinking about it for a while, can a high quality multi coated UV filter make up for the poor coatings some vintage lenses have?

  13. Great review as usual!
    One further refinement may be to recommend a set of lenses per type of mount as traveling light also means limiting number of adapters. And then make general comments about the range for instance Canon: 20 or 24mm 2.8, 50mm 1.4 135 mm 2.8 good legacy wide angles, sharp lenses but mechanical/robustness weakness, Minolta: … 24mm 2.8. 50mm 1.4 or 2, 100 mm 2.5 or zooms… Color consistency, great zooms if wanted, availability of (more pricy) special lenses (58mm 1.2, 250mm for millionaires?…), robustness …

  14. Hmm, actually minolta AF lenses could be quite cheap choice. You need LAEA4 first but then there are M24/2.8, M50/1.7 [S50/1.8],M135/2.8, sony 85/2.8… all should fit (or be near) $200 budget, they are newer constructions, have newer coatings than all mentioned manual lenses… I think that they could be worth to consider:)

  15. It’s worth noting that the Pentax 50/1.7 does very well on extension tubes. Within the Pentax community it’s been long considered the poor man’s macro because of it’s tube performance.

    It’s also available in A and F versions, in addition to the M. Skip the F, terrible handling, but no reason not to get the more common A version.

    As to the 28/3.5, if you can’t find the K, the late M42 S-M-C Takumar is a close second, the later M & A are junk but the FA 28/2.8 AL version is surprisingly good, with an Aspherical element included.

    For the short telephoto, Pentax made a tiddly little 135/3.5 that’s a gem. Nikon’s 100/2.8 E is as well (with the caveat about flare noted), and you can often find deals on Nikon’s legendary 105/2.5, which is probably the best non-exotic lens in this range (it compares well with the ZF.2 100/2 at equivalent apertures and focus distances). Another good option is always Tamron’s 90/2.5 Macro with the Adaptall-2 mount of your choice. The non-AF versions can still be found for reasonable money and make a good general purpose telephoto. Main downside is mediocre colour, they do well in sharpness and flare.

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