Choosing lenses for landscape photography is the same as having numerous paintbrushes for a painter. Lenses allow photographers to transform how a location or subject is portrayed. Depending on the lens you can have, wide-angle views, tight close-ups, the capacity to isolate subjects, and the option to keep everything in a scene in or out of focus. Particularly regarding landscape photography, lenses are one of the few means with which you can really impart personal vision into an image.
Apart from lens choice affecting how you portray a setting in nature, landscape photographers also should be concerned with the practicality of such lenses they choose to work with. Remember, less is more, carrying a large selection of lenses for landscape photography is counterproductive and apart from the weight factors having too many lenses can waste time and confuse people. I carry four:
Prime 25mm f1.7 lens
Zoom 12-60mm f3.5-5.6
Prime 45mm f2.8
Zoom 45-200 f4.0-5.6 (rarely used, mainly to focus on a topic when I cannot get close enough)
Zoom lenses are great for difficult topics, like a tree in a lake when you cannot get close enough, but prime lenses make you move about the landscape to compose a subject. Prime lenses make you think more, move in, move out, or perhaps change an angle.
When considering a lens for landscape photography, the most common advice often suggests buying a wide-angle lens. Wide-angle lenses are suitable for landscape photography because of their extensive field of view and far-seeing depth of field, both desirable attributes for landscape photography. Wide-angle lenses allow you to fit an entire mountain in the background, or lake in the foreground of the frame, they can also be used to show a great deal of land, sea, sky, or forest. The extra depth of field they provide helps to ensure consistent sharp focus from foreground to background, which can be beneficial when photographing large expanses.
Considering wide-angle lenses are the alleged standard for landscape applications, this must not deter a photographer from considering a normal (50mm, similar to human depth-of-field) or telephoto focal length for photographing landscapes. Occasionally, using a telephoto lens can provide a little extra reach for visual compression, thereby, creating interest in an image.
Zoom or prime?
The debate between zoom and prime lenses will continue, and the discussion is particularly ironic in the sphere of landscape photography. The merit of zoom is the ability to zoom into a landscape or topic when restricted to a specific location. Conversely, zooms can increase complacency or laziness when photographing an area, whereas prime lenses will force a motivated photographer to hike more, move about the area, searching for a more rewarding viewpoint to photograph the landscape.
The image-quality differences between zoom and prime lenses are debatable, there are many high-quality zooms (at a cost), and there are high-quality prime lenses. Many wider focal length lenses are available in zoom format, like my zoom 12-60mm f3.5-5.6. It gives a little leeway in the composition, but it does not mean I will not walk about first to find the optimal spot for composition. It just helps to emphasize the tree in the lake, or a boulder with the evening glow of a sunset, rather than having it off in the distance.
Of course, you will need a sturdy tripod, perhaps filters, or reflectors, so, their weight should be considered.
I use a Bergan that carries two camera bodies, four lenses, an external monitor, filters, spare batteries, a large steady tripod, and an extra-long quick-release rail plate with spirit levels.
Deciding between zoom or prime lenses depends on your own needs, such as the distance or access to walk around a subject, how much weight, how many lenses to be carried, and personal preference for focal length.