My Three Favorite Lenses

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Crepuscular rays and spring wildflowers in the Palouse Region of Washington State.

Canon 11-24mm f/4L

The first on my list of top three favorite lenses is the Canon 11-24mm f/4L. This is the lens that I use for 90% of all my photography. The incredibly large field of view allows me to exaggerate leading lines and take advantage of dramatic skies and interesting foregrounds. Because of the extremely close minimum focusing distance with this lens, I’m able to get up close and low to create artistic shots with lots of depth and interest. Because of the extreme angle of view, I need to be careful not to include too much in the frame.

Death Valley Dune Storm

Canon 24-70mm f/4L IS

For situations when my wide angle lens takes in too much of the scene, I turn to my Canon 24-70mm f/4L IS. This is an excellent lightweight lens for carrying and shooting with or without a tripod. As a landscape photographer, I initially didn’t think that the IS, or image stabilization, was an important feature. I’ve since found that I often use this lens hand-held, so this feature has come in handy many times. The thing I love about this lens is its versatility. At 24mm I can shoot scenes that are fairly wide angle and at 70mm I can shoot scenes that are starting to enter the telephoto range. 50mm gets me just about what the eye sees. I think, if I were only able to carry one lens, this would be the one.

Frosty Morning Palouse

Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS

Last on my list of favorite lenses is my Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS telephoto zoom lens. I love the ability of this lens to change the perspective and compress scenes, making distant elements appear closer together. It’s lightweight and I’ve found the image stabilization useful in quite a few situations where hand-holding has been necessary. This lens was particularly useful in the Palouse with its endless rolling hills. A perk with this lens is the ability to pair it with a 1.4x tele-extender, giving me 280mm on the long end. As with the previous two lenses, this lens has f/4 as its widest aperture. This cuts down the cost and weight of these lenses considerably. I rarely shoot below f/5.6, so I just don’t find it necessary to carry around the heavy and expensive f/2.8 alternatives.

What lenses do you use? Feel free to share your thought in the comments below.

About Author Chip Phillips

Spokane, Washington based photographer Chip Phillips began his relationship with photography in 2006 when his father gave him his old Pentax Spotmatic film SLR camera. Chip was immediately hooked, and soon made the transition to digital. Given his lifelong love of the outdoors, he naturally made the progression to focusing on landscape photography. A professionally trained classical musician, Chip performs as Principal Clarinet with the Spokane Symphony Orchestra, and is Professor of Clarinet at Gonzaga University. Chip’s images have been published in various books and magazines, including Outdoor Photographer, National Geographic, Popular Photography and Imaging, Digital Photography, Digital Photo, and Digital Camera Magazine. In 2009, Chip won first and second place in the landscapes category of Digital Camera magazine's Photographer of the Year contest. Chip is proud to be a founding member of PhotoCascadia, a group consisting of some of the top landscape photographers in the Pacific Northwest.

  • Alan Brunelle

    I have a Nikon D750 (full frame) and use the less-than-Holy-Trinity (f/4 based): Nikon 16-35mm f/4 + Nikon 24-120mm f/4 + Nikon 70-200mm f/4 (I actually put the 1.4 TC on it, so it is roughly a 105-280mm f/5.6 equivalent). The f/4 lenses are (much) less expensive then the f/2.8 counterparts and for Landscape shooting I would rarely be less than f/5.6 or f/8 anyhow, so the faster lenses aren’t really needed. The only unfortunate part is that the 70-200mm f/4 has a 67mm filter thread rather than the more standard 77mm for the 16-35 & 24-120. I use the Lee filter system and each lens has a dedicated adapter ring attached.

  • Hi Chris, I wonder if you often use ND grad filters with your 11-24mm lens. At my experience, these filters cause a distracting vignette when used at focal lengths wider than 24 mm with a full frame camera.

    • Chip Phillips

      Hi Christian-I just started using a polarizer with the new adapter available from Photodiox, but don’t use grads anymore. I blend in Photoshop instead. When I used to use grads with my 16mm I would hand hold the large plate filters made by Singh Ray and not get any obvious vignetting.

  • Gary R Hook

    +1 on the browser behavior. Let me decide if I want to view the image larger, please.

    And honestly, I don’t care about your Canon lenses. I don’t use Canon equipment. What matters is the focal length, and why. There are quality lenses available from other manufacturers (and some arguably better that OEM glass), even for Canon bodies. Tell me why the focal length matters, then separate the discussion of brand, please, or leave it out altogether. Glass quality is its own religious discussion.

    Lovely images. The dunes are especially nice, to my eye. Kudos.

    • Chip Phillips

      Hi Gary,
      I just happen to use Canon but agree that there are many other amazing lenses out there.

  • A. Atkinson

    Maybe it’s my browser (FF), but I wish the pictures didn’t white out with that orange dot and arrows as soon as I scroll down the page to see them. I realize they open in a modal, but it would be nice to be able to read the text AND see the image at the same time

  • Hi Chip, first of love. I love your work. Surprinsly, i have same lenses gears as you have. Except i opted for the 70-200mn f2.8 alternative Because it is a wonderful glass for portraits.

    Lots of landscape photographers are using Tilt Shift lens. What is your thought on this topic? Do u see lots of opporunities in landscape photography beside milky way subject that will justify the use of this type of lens? Herve

    • Chip Phillips

      Hi Herve,
      I have never personally used a tilt shift lens, but I know some photographers who love them.

  • Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8, Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8, Nikon 70-200mm f/4; so basically a similar set-up to you Chip! (Using a Nikon D810)

    • jtmcg

      My setup also. Especially love the D810 and 14-24 combination.

  • Any conversation about lenses should start with which bodies you’re shooting.
    I love my 70-200 f4 but shoot it on a crop sensor, and a 50mm is very different depending on which sensor you’re using.
    Are you full frame or crop sensor?

    • Chip Phillips

      Full frame, currently a Canon 5D Mark III. Chip