What’s are the best kind of lenses to capture the perfect sunset or sunrise? Well, it depends on your camera body brand, your style of photography, the atmospheric conditions present during the sunset, and of course the type of shot you are going for.
With that said, there are some types of lenses that can better enable you to capture that perfect sunset. I’ve done a lot of landscape photography over the years, tromping all over the world, climbing thousands of meters up rocky mountains, and even nearly killing myself a few times — all to get that spectacular sunset shot. There’s been a couple types of lenses that I always have with me during the magic hour.
- An Ultra Wide Angle to capture open, vast expanses
- A Telephoto Super Zoom to make the sun the dominant part of the image
You can add in a regular zoom or 50mm prime there if you want a compromise between the two, though I personally prefer the absolute minimum lens setup, to save on weight and to make shooting simpler.
Recommended Lens Focal Lengths for Sunset / Sunrise
What specific lens you pick obviously depends on your camera system. Holding to what we said above, you do want to be able to capture the ultra wide and the extreme zoom — both types of compositions tend to give the most dramatic sunset and sunrise photos in my experience.
Being a Canon man, I’ll list my canon lens picks. Obviously if you use Nikon, Sony, Fuji, or Olympus, your choices will be different, though you’ll probably want to keep around the same focal lengths as my Canon recommendations.
Keep in mind that Crop Cameras magnify the image while Full Frame cameras do not. You can add a 1.3x or 1.6x more to the focal length if you do NOT have a Full Frame sensor. This can add up quite a bit with the telephoto lenses. For example, a 200m on a Canon Full Frame ends up as a 320mm on a Canon Crop sensor — a very significant difference. The sun, for example, on a Crop Sensor camera with the 200mm will be dramatically bigger and more a focal point of your composition than it would be on a Full Frame.
My Personal Lens Recommendations for Landscapes
- Personally I like to use a Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM Ultra-Wide Angle Lens for a number of reasons. Firstly, the lens coating helps a great deal with reducing or eliminating any flare and second, it is dust and moisture proof . Moisture can be a big problem early in the morning or as the sun is setting so whatever lens you use allow it to ‘breathe’ in a dry space as soon as you get back to base. Blow any residual dust or grit from your lenses and bag if you have been near the beach.
- Another personal recommendation is the Canon 16-35L f/4 which is just about the best canon ultra wide lens for landscapes (that’s reasonably priced).
- If you are on more of a budget, the 17-40L f/4 is another good choice, though inferior to the 16-35L since it’s MUCH softer.
- Canon recently came out with a stellar 11-24L that’s supposedly the best damn ultra wide lens ever made. But it’s nearly 3000 dollars for this.
Best Canon Lens for FF Wide Angle Landscapes
- 14mm f.2.8L
- 14-17mm f4L
- 16-35mm f4L (the best landscape lens for Canon IMHO)
- 11-24mm (right up there with 16-35mm f4L, but twice the price)
Best Canon Lens for Crop Camera Wide Angle Landscapes
The Final Word
Ok, let’s summarize this with a few extra pointers.
- Prime Lenses deliver more quality (but lack zoom)
- Use Ultra Wide lenses to capture an expansive space (an open field, the sun setting over the sea, looking down from a mountain towards the setting sun)
- To capture the sun as a dominate part of the photograph (i.e. it’s HUGE), you’ll need to use a telephoto lens 200mm+. The longer the lens, the bigger the sun will be in the picture.
- Use GRAD Filters to help control the contrasting conditions present during sunsets — this is pretty much required if you don’t opt for HDR photography
- Avoid cheap UV filters or remove your UV filter to reduce or eliminate flare