The best RF and EF lenses for landscape photography

Wilderness photographer Valtteri Hirvonen shares his favourite Canon lenses for stunning landscape imagery.
Waves lap gently at two rock formations against a burnt orange sky.

Wilderness photographer Valtteri Hirvonen uses a range of Canon lenses for landscape photography. This dramatic image of a burnt orange sky was taken during the golden hour – 11pm on a summer's night in Finland. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 200mm, 1/2000 sec, f/2.8 and ISO100. © Valtteri Hirvonen

Landscape photography can place you in some unforgiving climates – just ask wilderness photographer and Canon Ambassador Valtteri Hirvonen who regularly shoots in conditions as low as -35°C from his base in northern Finland. "The camera and lenses are tools for me, and I don't baby them, so weatherproofing is important," he says. "The most epic moments happen when the weather isn't perfect – quite the opposite. When there is a storm, when everyone else stays home, that's when the magical moments happen in nature. I want my gear to work in those situations."

Valtteri has recently switched from his beloved Canon EOS 5D Mark IV and EF L-series lenses to the Canon EOS R5 with RF L-series lenses and is discovering new degrees of freedom in his landscape photography. "I can shoot handheld for one second exposures and it's sharp – it's amazing. I like how a tripod slows you down, but shooting handheld gives you more freedom to move faster."

While build quality is unparalleled in both Canon's DSLR and mirrorless systems, the evolution from DSLR to mirrorless has come with many benefits. "With RF lenses, you can expect anything from better image quality, closer focusing, less focus breathing (which is ideal for focus stacking), enhanced image stabilisation, plus a quicker autofocus motor," says Mike Burnhill, Canon Europe's Professional Imaging Product Specialist.

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Valtteri's go-to lens for landscape photography is the Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM, but each of the lenses he owns brings something unique to the table, opening up fresh creative options. Here, Valtteri talks us through the contents of his lens kitbag, ranging from wide-angle lenses for capturing a broad field of view to telephoto lenses for isolating small details from a distance. Meanwhile, Mike, an expert on lens technology, explains why these lenses are particularly suited to the landscape genre.

Beams of sunlight illuminate a still body of water. In the background the silhouette of a small island can be seen.

The IS in the Canon EOS R5 works in conjunction with the 5-stops of image stabilisation in the RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM lens to deliver up to 8-stops of IS, enabling Valtteri to capture images free of camera shake. "I can work in new ways and I don't have to worry about sharpness so much," he says. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 70mm, 1/8000 sec, f/4.5 and ISO100. © Valtteri Hirvonen

1. Best all-round landscape lens: Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM

"The Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM is a great all-round lens. If you have it, you can survive pretty much any situation. I always have this lens with me and 80% of the time it's the only lens that I use," says Valtteri. "At my favourite focal length of 50mm, I see no quality difference compared with my prime lens – from the centre of the picture to the edges – and f/2.8 is fast enough for most situations. A major bonus is that the new RF version of the lens features stabilisation, whereas the EF version does not, yet it remains a similar size and weight."

Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM

Part of the trinity of essential lenses alongside the RF 15-35mm and RF 70-200mm, the RF 24-70mm boasts a fast aperture and image stabilisation plus a Nano USM motor for silent focusing.

For photographers using the EF mount, Mike recommends the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens. "This is a fantastic all-round lens with a very high reputation for its performance – it's regarded as one of the best of its kind from any manufacturer. The fast f/2.8 aperture makes it good for shooting in low light, and using the wide aperture also allows you to separate a subject from the background using differential focus. As it's an L-series lens, the weather-proofing is excellent. You can be confident that if you're working outdoors and the weather changes for the worse, it will work equally well.

"When designing the RF equivalent, our challenge was to build on the reputation of the EF lens and create an even better RF version for the next decade," continues Mike. "We had to push those boundaries even further."

A large bird with its wings outstretched is silhouetted against a cloud-strewn sky.

"You have to think more about depth of field with a telephoto lens," explains Valtteri. "What do you want in focus? Do you need to stop down more? You have to make those decisions when shooting. I usually start with the aperture open and then stop down until it suits the situation." Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 124mm, 1/640 sec, f/4.5 and ISO320. © Valtteri Hirvonen

2. Best lens for landscapes with scale: Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM

Telephoto lenses can create new, dramatic ways of capturing a landscape: isolating subjects against a blurred background. This technique comes naturally to Valtteri. "When I'm in my familiar home country, I often reach for a telephoto lens," he says. "Because it's often about discovering new details that interest you within a common scene that you've seen many times."

Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM

This high-performance f/2.8 telephoto zoom is the third in the Canon trinity of essential RF lenses offering exceptional image quality in a compact body, designed to work in all conditions.

The new RF lens mount has allowed a total redesign of the Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM lens. "It's around 35% shorter and also lighter at only 1.07kg. In fact, the trinity of RF f/2.8 lenses take up less space than two EF equivalents in the kitbag," says Mike. "You've got the Dual Nano focusing, so focusing is even faster and can compensate for focus breathing. Image quality is maintained as the lens goes through the zoom range, there's closer focusing at 0.7m and the same degree of weather sealing as the EF version. Basically, the 70-200mm is the multi-function workhouse for any professional photographer, whatever the genre."

Mike also suggests the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM lens as an excellent medium-telephoto zoom choice for DSLR shooters. "Most landscape photographers will shoot using a tripod, but if you need to shoot handheld in the field, this lens has a 3.5-stop Image Stabilizer that helps keep pictures sharp," Mike explains. "As in other L-series lenses, the autofocus is powered by a ring-type USM motor that sits around the lens and drives the focusing very quickly. If you want to, you can manually override the autofocus instantly by touching the focusing ring. The lens has a fluorite coating that keeps it clean. If it rains, the water just runs off, without drying and forming hard droplets that affect the image quality."

A small bird perches on a branch surrounded by green foliage. Some of the leaves are in focus, while the rest of the background is blurred.

A super-telephoto lens, such as the Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1L IS USM or its EF equivalent, the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM, enables you to focus on details within a landscape, such as this tiny bird perched on a branch. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1L IS USM lens at 500mm, 1/1250 sec, f/7.1 and ISO5000. © Robert Marc Lehmann

3. Best long landscape lens: Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1L IS USM

"Telephoto lenses are not always the most obvious choice for landscapes," says Mike, "but they allow you to change how you view the scene. The Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1L IS USM lens, especially, enables you to get a perspective of an object that is impossible from other angles. Being able to compress a landscape like a range of hills, or isolate objects on the horizon – it's not always about big panoramic views."

A Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1L IS USM lens.

Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1L IS USM

With 5-stop image stabilisation and L-series build quality, this lens offers performance and image quality like no other thanks to UD lens elements and ASC coatings for unrivalled contrast and sharpness.

"With a telephoto lens, you can find interesting compositions even in dull landscapes," adds Valtteri. "Finding little details, playing with light in the scene and focusing only on that. It's much harder to do that with a wide angle. Plus, it's much easier to include wildlife in the scene too."

With a similar functionality to the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens, which Mike suggests for EF mount users looking for a super-telephoto landscape lens, the Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1L IS USM also has a Zoom Touch Adjustment ring, while also offering quicker Nano USM focusing and an extra stop of stabilisation when used with a camera such as the Canon EOS R5 or EOS R6. "Here you have a lens that is the same size as the EF 100-400mm lens and a little lighter, yet offers more focal reach," says Mike. "When you're shooting with the EOS R5, it is possible to get sharp handheld images with shutter speeds as slow as 1/8 sec at the 500mm focal length.

"Many people would think of this focal range only for sports action and wildlife, but it's also great for landscapes," Mike continues. "It's about looking at landscapes in a different way, isolating areas or details such as groups of trees. One nice feature is the Zoom Touch Adjustment ring, which enables you to adjust tensioning for the zoom, according to the subject you're shooting. It also stops the focal length changing by accident if you tip the lens up or down."

As the sun sets on the horizon, a man jumps from one large rock to another. His reflection can be seen in the still water between the rocks.

The ultra-wide Canon RF 14-35mm F4L IS USM lens pushed Valtteri out of his comfort zone, challenging him to find new angles he wouldn't necessarily have attempted before. "I couldn't have got this shot with any other type of lens," he says. "The angle of view makes the pond look huge and the person was only about a metre away. I shot towards the low sun which gave a golden reflection." Taken on a Canon EOS R5 at 14mm, 1/3200 sec, f/4 and ISO320. © Valtteri Hirvonen

4. Best wide-angle landscape lens: Canon RF 14-35mm F4L IS USM

More compact than the Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM and Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM equivalent lenses, the Canon RF 14-35mm F4L IS USM lens also provides a wider angle of view, albeit with one less stop of light. "It's nice to throw a lens such as the RF 14-35mm F4L IS USM on the camera, as it challenges you to find interesting angles, such as reflections in the sea," says Valtteri. "Of course, there are also situations where it's necessary, such as shooting in tight spaces."

A Canon RF 35mm F1.8 Macro IS STM lens.

Canon RF 14-35mm F4L IS USM

When space is tight, this compact ultra-wide zoom is an ideal choice for capturing all detail in a scene. It's a great lens for landscapes, architecture and smooth, professional-looking video thanks to whisper-quiet AF.

Mike adds: "Generally in traditional landscapes, you're looking for greater depth of field using apertures such as f/8 or f/11. Paying the extra money for an f/2.8 aperture and carrying the extra weight isn't really beneficial. The selling point of the Canon RF 14-35mm F4L IS USM is its wider field of view and that it features UD [Ultra Low Dispersion] and aspherical elements designed to compensate for a whole host of lens aberrations typical with such a compact wide-angle lens."

Mike still highly recommends the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM lens for EF users wishing to add a wide-angle zoom to their kitbag. "It's very sharp at all focal lengths and is especially impressive at the 16mm setting when shooting with the lens wide open. Also, the ability to shoot at 16mm gives you the kind of width you don't normally get in a photograph. It's good for scenes with a lot of detail, such as cityscapes, and the broad field of view is similar to what we see with our eyes."

A close-up of tree bark framed by the fronds of a red plant.

The Canon RF 35mm F1.8 Macro STM is a compact flexible lens for landscapes, environmental portraits and cityscapes. "I'm not a macro photographer, but this lens makes me think differently and helps me to try new ideas," says Valtteri. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 at 35mm, 1/80 sec, f/10 and ISO100. © Valtteri Hirvonen

A small building is reflected in a body of water that's gently rippling, causing the reflection to lose its shape.

"Having a compact option such as the Canon RF 35mm F1.8 Macro STM allows you to capture the beautiful moments that happen when you least expect them to," says Mike. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 at 35mm, 1/400 sec, f/3.5 and ISO200. © Valtteri Hirvonen

5. Best close focusing lens for landscapes: Canon RF 35mm F1.8 Macro IS STM

The only fixed focal length lens in this round-up, the low-cost, multi-purpose, compact and discrete Canon RF 35mm F1.8 Macro IS STM has suited Valtteri's approach for focusing on individual elements in a scene and pushed him to try new techniques. "When you force yourself to use one focal length, you begin to see things differently," he explains. "For example, it's unusual to have a wide-angle lens that can focus so close. I use it to find really small details in the forest, but you also have a wide shot where you can see the trees in the background. I am always looking for details, something to focus on, I don't always want to show everything I can see."

A Canon RF 35mm F1.8 Macro IS STM lens.

Canon RF 35mm F1.8 Macro IS STM

A wide-angle prime lens with a fast f/1.8 maximum aperture and macro capabilities.

Featuring a customisable control ring for making exposure changes, the RF 35mm F1.8 Macro IS STM also has a new optical design. "With DSLR design, any lens with a focal length wider than 40mm has to have a retro-focus design," says Mike. "The optical design is the inverse of EF lenses, with the largest lens element of the RF 35mm F1.8 Macro IS STM at the rear. Coupled with the larger RF lens mount, this means light hits the sensor straighter and allows the quality at the corners of the image to be improved, with less distortion such as chromatic aberrations and light fall-off. Plus, you can get super close with a half-size magnification, which is ideal for capturing spider webs or dew."

For landscape photographers looking for a lightweight, affordable 35mm prime lens using the EF mount, Mike suggests the Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM, which features four-stops of image stabilisation, a fast f/2 maximum aperture for shooting when the light starts to drop and a short 0.24m minimum focusing distance for close-up focusing. "The Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM is a lovely little lens – compact and lightweight, yet still offering high performance," explains Mike. "This is one of my go-to lenses, its flexibility makes it the ideal travel lens to capture urban or conventional landscapes."

كتابة Tim Coleman

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