In this series we will explore sets of landscape lenses for different user types and at different price points. We are starting with the best performing FE lenses money can buy. The other parts will be released soon.
- Only the best is good enough
- The light traveler and hiker
- The casual landscape photographer
- The poor student
What is a good landscape lens?
Our take on the topic:
Resolution and maybe even more importantly contrast have to be on a very high level. Wide open performance is not the highest priority, but it can offer some additional creative freedom which is a welcome addition.
Flare resistance is especially important, as it can make shooting against the sun or during blue hour with point light sources in the frame quite difficult.
Sunstar rendering can also be important. Of course which type of rendering you prefer is a matter of taste, have a look at this article for further reference. We really like the ones produced by 10 straight aperture blades.
Size and weight can also be an important factor, smaller and lighter are better.
Especially when using high resolution sensors it can be easier to achieve best focus with manual lenses. If you also want to use your lenses for other tasks you might prefer the ones with AF.
Part 1: Only the best is good enough
User Characterization: You are always looking for the best image quality for your landscape shots: Sharpness, contrast, color correction. You want it all and you know such performance comes at a price. Still, you choose that E-mount camera for a reason: You don’t want lenses as big and heavy as Zeiss Otus or Sigma Art and you don’t always need the fastest maximum aperture.
Ultra Wide Angle Lens
Top pick: Laowa 15mm 2.0 Zero-D FE
This lens is unique to the FE system, offering a very fast f/2.0 maximum aperture at 15mm. Yet it’s weight is very manageable. It is a full stop faster than the fastest zoom available. The fast maximum aperture is also not a marketing gag: I wouldn’t hesitate to use this lens wide open and it makes single shot landscape astro photography quite an easy task.
On top of that you get a very short minimum focus distance and surprisingly smooth bokeh which allows for dramatic framing. These features make this one of the most versatile ultra wide angle lenses available and a very portable one as well.
Despite being a native lens this one does not feature electronic contacts unfortunately.
Wide Angle Lens
Top pick: Zeiss Loxia 21mm 2.8
Of all the lenses I have tested so far this is my favourite. It is quite a task finding anything wrong with this lens. Resolution, contrast, flare resistance, build quality, size and weight, pretty much the best you can find in any category. If you want to find fault with his lens maybe the above average vignetting is to name, but this is a small trade off considering all the benefits.
Top pick 1: Zeiss ZM 35mm 1.4 + 5m PCX Filter
The 35mm focal length makes for a tough pick. You really need a 5m PCX filter for the Zeiss ZM 1.4/35, which will unfortunately make the midzone dip more obvious. Still, resolution is very good at f/2.8, best in class from f/4.0 onwards. Very high contrast and edge acuity across the whole frame when stopped down a bit.
Personally I settled for the VM 35mm 1.7 + 5m PCX filter and traded in some corner resolution and contrast for better wide open performance with less midzone dip at large apertures.
Top pick 2: Voigtlander 65mm 2.0 Macro Apo-Lanthar
This lens came as quite the surprise: True apochromatic design with flawlessly corrected longitudinal CA, fast maximum aperture of f/2.0, extraordinarily high resolution at all distances. No matter whether you are using this lens for macro, portraiture or landscape, it most certainly won’t disappoint you. A bit bulky due to the long helicoid but still one of the finest lenses – if not the finest – available for the system.
Alternatives: Zeiss Loxia 85mm 2.4 | Zeiss ZM 85mm 4.0
Top pick: Zeiss Batis 135mm 2.8
There are many great lenses with a focal length of 135mm, but the Zeiss Batis 135mm 2.8 is not only your native option, but might also be the best corrected around. Personally I am not the greatest fan of focus by wire lenses for landscape shooting, so if you can tolerate some more weight and bulk it might be worthwhile taking a closer look at the bigger brother Zeiss 135mm 2.0 APO-Sonnar Milvus/Classic or even the Samyang 135mm 2.0.
Alternatives: Zeiss 135mm 2.0 APO-Sonnar / Milvus | Samyang 135mm 2.0
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