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Most prime lenses are small and compact, and have superior image quality over zoom lens. The results you can get from them are quite beautiful! They also usually have wider apertures to work with too, letting in more light when it gets darker outside, which is especially advantageous in forests under a tree canopy.
The only downside is that prime lenses have no zoom. You’ll have to swap lenses if you want a different focal length. Not ideal for all the kinds of situations you can find yourself in while out and about.
However, I do believe using a prime lens helps you to become a better photographer. You have to stop and consider the scene you’re trying to take a photo of more often. You really learn and come to understand how a certain focal length looks and feels. I recommend anyone who wants to get better at photography to try taking one out as your only lens to challenge yourself!
The prime lenses I’ve used and will be discussing in this article are from the Micro Four Thirds system, but the focal lengths and tips can apply to any format. I find micro four thirds cameras great for hiking and backpacking, and general landscape photography, which is why I chose to go with the system.
The lenses I used in this article, along with the full frame equivalent focal lengths(in parentheses) are the following:
- Panasonic Lumix Leica 15mm f1.7 (30mm)
- Panasonic Lumix 20mm f1.7 (40mm)
- Panasonic Lumix 25mm f1.7 (50mm)
- Panasonic Lumix 42.5 f1.7 (85mm)
- Olympus 60mm f2.8 macro (120mm)
- Olympus 75mm f1.8 (150mm)
Leica 15mm f1.7 Lens (30mm Focal Length)
I purchased this lens to have a wider option for landscapes and also for some beginner astrophotography. The day after I got it, I took it out for a hike that I was looking forward to going on, at Ricketts Glen State Park. I took a chance and brought it as my only lens.
Overall I was very happy with the results. This focal length feels wide enough to get everything you need in a shot unless you’re really up close with a cliff or tree. It’s great for hiking trails where subjects aren’t too far away. When I needed it to be a little wider, I just took a few steps back.
The challenging part of the 15mm (30mm) was that many times I did want to zoom in on one of the waterfalls, either as an up close detail shot, or from farther back on the trail to get the effect of a longer focal length. It felt “too wide” in those situations.
On the plus side, I was able to easily increase the f-stop and get some nice silky waterfall shots without a tripod or filter with this lens due to the impressive image stabilization in the Lumix G85 I was using. When I wanted a shallower depth of field, the f1.7(f3.4 full frame equivalent) worked well with blurring the background.
About the Lens: The Lumix 15mm f1.7 handles very nicely. It’s not the smallest lens(see the Lumix 20mm below), but it focuses super fast, is plenty sharp even at its widest aperture, comes with a nice little lens hood, as well as an aperture dial right on the lens barrel. I felt that wasn’t really needed with the camera I had(I just use the one thumb dial for aperture settings), but it was a nice touch which worked well when I tested it out.
More Photo Examples here: Lumix 15mm f1.7 Image Gallery
Lumix 20mm f1.7 (40mm Focal Length)
Both the 15mm and this 20mm lens sit right above and below the well known 35mm focal length. 35mm looks great in so many situations, one of the reasons it’s still so widely used today. It’s neither too wide nor too tight. You can capture a variety of scenes with it.
This 40mm equivalent lens takes some really nice shots and does well for landscapes. As you can see from these images, I was able to capture enough surroundings in the scene to create a nice full landscape. You can also get some good detailed closeups of flowers and plants.
About the Lens: The Lumix 20mm f1.7 is a “pancake lens”. It’s very small, light, and can even fit in a large pocket with a small camera like the Lumix GX850 or Olympus Pen! The 20mm(40mm) focal length of this lens is a really nice, pleasing mid range to work with. I almost always bring it along with me because of it’s larger aperture that’s good for lower light, and it’s portability-it’s so small why not take it along?
The only downside to this lens is that it’s slow to focus. Especially if it’s quite dark out it can really hunt around. Because of that I do prefer the 15mm lens mentioned above, but I really enjoy the slightly tighter zoom of this 20mm.
More Photo Examples here: Lumix 20mm f1.7 Image Gallery
Lumix 25mm f1.7 (50mm Focal Length)
The Lumix 25mm is the full frame equivalent of a 50mm lens. So how does this focal length work for landscapes? Well, this was the first lens that got more challenging to use. I wanted to zoom out many times!
It took more planning and thought into getting the scene I wanted. I often had to take several steps back, or if I couldn’t do that I took several images that I’d stitch together later as a panorama(not necessarily a bad thing-being “zoomed in” will give you a different look!).
I did have another lens in my bag, but I stuck with this one on the whole trail, making myself learn and see other compositions I could create with this focal length. Of course, close up shots of flowers and mushrooms are always easy. But the landscapes…well I discovered they could still come out quite nice as long as there was more distance available. In fact, they became some of my favorite shots!
About the Lens: The Lumix 25mm f1.7 lens is also quite light, and it’s one of the cheapest micro four thirds lenses out there. The body is made out of plastic so I’m not sure how it would hold up if it were to fall or bang against something. However the image quality coming out of it is still really good! You can also put some extension tubes on it and get some cool macro shots without buying a macro lens.
More Photos here: Lumix 25mm f1.7 Image Gallery
Panasonic Lumix 42.5 f1.7 (85mm Focal Length)
Now we’re starting to zoom in a lot closer. Each lens from here on was a bit more challenging to use, it was harder to get everything I wanted to in the frame. You really have to rethink how you take photographs of the landscape around you.
I found myself taking more detail oriented shots, and using a wide aperture with shallow depth of field, which is a strength of prime lenses. This gives the ability to blur out parts of the foreground and background, making a more focused image, with less distractions from other subjects. Which is truly a beautiful effect!
About the Lens: The Lumix 42.5mm is most often used as a portrait lens, which it excels at. It’s very small in size, and also has a plastic, not very durable, body. But the focus is fast and quality is sharp. The depth of field at the widest aperture is enough to start blurring backgrounds, but not overdoing it. If you have a micro four thirds camera I highly recommend this lens or the equivalent Olympus 45mm f1.8 model.
More Photos here: Lumix 42.5 f1.7 Image Gallery
Olympus 60mm f2.8 macro(120mm Focal Length)
I took this lens out on a hike, not expecting much in the way of landscapes, mostly just expecting to have fun with macro closeups of bugs and insects, etc. that I came across. When I got home and looked through my pictures however, I was quite happy with the results on all of them!
I was learning how to anticipate the longer focal length by now, and started spotting scenes that would work well taken from a distance, with the sunlight coming through the trees, the image appearing more “zoomed in” or “cropped”.
And of course the flexibility of having a macro lens with you, made this lens one of the most fun to use! I could get that landscape shot, and in the next photo, take a close up picture of that cool looking bumblebee and flower I spotted!
About the Lens: The Olympus 60mm f2.8 is one out of only a few macro lenses available for Micro Four Thirds cameras. I chose it because it allows a greater distance between you and the subject matter, important when you don’t want to scare a bug away 😉 But of course this article is about landscapes, and another feature this lens has that is useful is an ability to limit the focus distance at several different settings, so you don’t accidentally focus close up in while taking a distance landscape.
More Photos here: Olympus 60mm f2.8 Image Gallery
Olympus 75mm f1.8 (150mm Focal Length)
And finally, the longest focal length prime lens I’ve used, and probably the longest that I’d recommend carrying around to photograph landscapes with. The Olympus 75mm.
A neat thing happens as you zoom in with longer focal lengths, and that is that the background subjects will appear to be closer, and larger, to the foreground subjects. This effect makes it preferable to use a longer focal length for landscape photography at times. And again, using a prime lens, and one with a longer focal length, will give you even more shallow depth of field(background blur, aka bokeh effect).
This focal length on a prime lens is mostly used for longer distance portrait photography. It is also the most challenging to use for landscapes. But when you get the opportunity and see a scene that it can work well in, the results are beautiful!
About the Lens: The Olympus 75mm f1.8 takes amazing pictures. It’s larger and heavier than any of the above lenses, and it’s body is made out of metal. I’d say it produces the best quality out of all of these too-but it’s very specialized. I don’t often use it, but I’m very reluctant to part with it, because it truly shines when I get a chance to use it.
More Photo Examples here: Olympus 75mm f1.8 Lanscape photo gallery
In conclusion, it’s hard to pick out one single prime lens for landscape photography. With every focal length there were always certain shots I missed. I ended up with a lot less photos than I normally would have with a zoom lens.
But maybe that’s a good thing. Quality over quantity. And I do feel that the quality of photos taken with a prime lens exceeds that of a zoom lens overall. Not just in sharpness and details, but artist’s creativity.
Do you have a favorite prime lens that you prefer for landscape photography? Post your thoughts below!