Using The Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 Lens For Landscape Photography

In this article I’m going to show you the advantages and talk about the disadvantage of shooting landscape photography with a 70-200mm lens.  Sometimes, using a lens for something it wasn’t necessarily designed for shows us a new way of seeing the world, of composing photographs, and producing something more unique.

Let’s get to it!  I recently traveled back to Zion National Park and decided I’d do something a little unorthodox.  Well, unorthodox for most, but probably not too different for me if you’ve been following PhotolisticLife for a while (search the site for the X100s challenge).  Last time I visited I shot predominantly with the Nikon 16-35mm*, still a favorite landscape lens of mine, so this time I decided to shoot predominantly with the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 lens.  Yep, landscape photography with a 70-200mm lens.

*When you revisit places to photograph and maybe wonder what else there is to photograph, try switching something like your lens or camera and giving yourself a challenge.  You’d be surprised at how creative you can get when you step outside of your comfort zone.

I wanted to share some of my results for those of you searching for the “perfect” lens because I know you are stumbling onto websites that say you must have such and such focal length for this type of photography or only this focal length will do for that type of photography.  At the end of the day, understanding how each focal length impacts your subject matter should dictate the lens you purchase rather than myself or anyone else trying to fit you into a box.

Two Main Effects Of A Long Focal Length

Compression and depth of field are the two main effects a long focal length will have on your images.  Longer focal lengths compress images bringing your foreground and background images seemingly closer together.  Considering this, I thought the 70-200mm might be perfect for bringing viewers closer to the subject matter when shooting in Zion.

For instance, the shot directly below this paragraph was taken at a 135mm focal length.  Notice how compressed it is, the mountains on the foreground look almost like they are against the mountains in the background.  This is a good approach if you want viewers to get a sense of the scenery without them having to use a microscope to see the background elements.

DSC_0961-Pano-Edit

The depth of field is reduced with a longer lens which can render the background of your subject a blurry bokeh, something often sought after by portrait photographers.  You’d think this would be a big disadvantage with the 70-200mm and landscape photography but the further you focus the larger your depth of field gets.  For instance, the photograph below was taken at f/6.3 and 135mm but almost all of it is in focus.

DSC_0948

Advantages

There are many advantages to shooting with the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 but I’m going to focus on just three so I don’t ramble on.

Image quality

The image quality of the 70-200mm f/2.8 by Nikon is better than some of my professional prime lenses.  I hadn’t used zoom lenses much over the past few years (After cutting down on the gear I own and didn’t use heavily I ended up with just one zoom lens, the 16-35mm) and I was really quite surprised by the impressive image quality.

Versatility

When shooting landscapes, especially in National Parks and wilderness areas where you may run into the occasional wild animal or mythical beast, it’s nice to be able to reach out and capture some wildlife.  The 70-200mm was nailing it in regards to landscape photography and also allowed me to capture some long horn sheep in a brief second without having to change lenses or jump off a cliff to get close (I did have to climb down a valley a bit to get the angle I wanted).

DSC_1068

At the start of my personal challenge, shooting primarily with the 70-200mm lens, I thought I might regret the limitation.  In reality though, it turns out that shooting with the 70-200mm was anything but a limitation.

Reduced Distortion

Lots of lenses can cause distortion, wide-angle lenses can be the biggest offender of all if you aren’t careful to keep a level horizon.  For my purposes here though, I’m going to talk about distortion in regards to creating panoramic images.

Longer focal lengths reduces the distortion issue greatly and all of the panoramic images I created at Zion were actually handheld (without the assistance of an expensive pano-head).  This is huge when shooting with the 70-200mm because it increases the versatility allowing you to capture any point of view you’d like without having to switch out lenses (more on this in a future article).  When stitching together panoramic images consisting of 30 – 50 frames across and 3 or 4 rows high, all shot handheld, I was amazed at how easily my panoramic software combined everything with little to no distortion at all…  Saving me hours of setting up specialized pano gear and fine tuning various layers in Photoshop.

For comparison sake, I wanted to show you two different scenes photographed with two fairly different focal lengths.  Both images were taken with the wide-angle Nikon 16-35mm lens but one was at 16mm (first one) and another at 35mm.

DSC_0728

Now, notice how everything looks like it is leaning away from the viewer.  This happens when the horizon isn’t perfectly horizontal.  Sometimes it’s impossible to level your horizon and still capture the image you want.  In the case above, had I leveled the horizon you would have seen the end of a parking lot.

Now, look at the image of the same scene below but taken as a panoramic image with multiple frames stitched together using the 35mm focal length.

DSC_0731-Pano

The distortion is greatly reduced (thought not eliminated) with the 35mm panoramic image.

There you have it, three big advantages to using the 70-200mm lens for landscape photography.  Now for the disadvantages.

Disadvantages

As with any lens, there are a few disadvantages that you should be aware of when shooting with a 70-200mm lens.  Obviously, it’s important to weight the pros and cons of any lens for any type of photography.

Size

Depending on your camera system, longer focal lengths can equal heavier and bulkier lenses.  Although, this isn’t really much of a disadvantage if you shoot with one of the mirror-less options from Sony, Fuji, or Olympus…  Their lenses are a fraction of the size of a normal DSLR lens at the same focal length.

Cost

Focal length and price seem to have a positive correlation, the longer the lens the more expensive it gets.  But it’s not just long lenses that cost a pretty penny, the wider a lens gets the more expensive it gets as well.  Fifty millimeter lenses tend to be the least expensive and then it climbs in either direction you go from there.  As lenses get more complicated to manufacture, include more elements, they increase in price.  The 70-200mm lens I used for this article costs around $2,100 at the time I purchased it, my 50mm lens cost less than a quarter of that.

Conclusion

Long focal lengths can be tough to maneuver in a tight crowd.  Generally you like to plan your day of photography out and choose the lens that best suits your needs.  The point of this article was two-fold. First, I wanted to show that 70-200mm lenses are awesome for landscape photography.  Second, and lastly, I wanted to highlight the importance of knowing how different focal lengths impact different subject matter to help you make more informed decisions when it comes to picking lenses.  I hope I succeeded.

Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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