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The Best Sony Alpha Landscape Lenses for Backpacking & Hiking

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Portrait photographers, landscape photographers, and documentary photographers all have different criteria for lenses. Here are some of the best landscape lenses for Sony Alpha cameras for backpacking & hiking.

Sony Alpha backpacking & hiking lens considerations

When a painter goes into the backcountry to paint, he’ll bring a few colors, a small tripod, small boards, and a minimal selection of brushes.  He doesn’t have all of the tools he’d normally have in his studio, but he’s proficient enough to be able to use what’s at hand to get the job done.  

The same goes for photographers.

Read more about deciding what to take in your kit in this post, five lightweight backpacking tips for photographers.

And don’t forget the bare minimum essentials, outlined in camera bag essentials for the backpacking photographer.

Desirable lens characteristics for wilderness travel

  • Small, to easily fit in your limited pack space.
  • Lightweight, to ease the strain on your body as you pound out mile after mile.
  • Zoom capability, to give you a wide focal range with the least amount of equipment.
  • Durable (water & dust resistant).

Features you’ll have to trade off

  • If you want small & light, you’ll have to settle for an aperture of f/4 at the widest.
  • You’re sacrificing depth of field at f/4, but if you’re shooting landscapes this probably doesn’t matter.
  • You’ll want to shoot at various focal lengths without constantly changing gear, which calls for a zoom lens.  You’ll sacrifice a tiny bit of sharpness around the edges but this is only perceptible to the pixel-peepers.

What about using an APS-C lens on a full-frame body?

That’s not a bad idea!  I’ve done that with great results.

Using a lens designed for the APS-C crop sensors (“E” lenses) will cut down your weight and size even further, and usually save you some money too.

  • A full-frame Sony Alpha camera will enter “APS-C” mode when an E lens is mounted.  The area recorded on the sensor is reduced to the APS-C size, increasing the effective focal length by a factor of 1.5 (a 10mm lens becomes 15mm).
  • You can also do the opposite – mount a full-frame FE lens on an APS-C body.  This won’t turn your APS-C sensor into a full-frame sensor though 🙂

If you want to read further about the differences between the current Sony Alpha mirrorless cameras, I break it down in this post.

The best backcountry landscape lenses for Sony

Here’s a summary of the lenses I bring depending on what I anticipate shooting.  I mostly carry my full-frame equipment when backpacking but when I’m really limited to what I can take, I might bring just my a6300.

You may also find my “Sony alpha lenses secret decoder ring” post useful when trying to figure out what all the letters mean.

Wide Zoom - Vario-Tessar 16-35mm f/43" x 4"18.3 ounces
Std Zoom - Vario-Tessar 24-70mm f/42.9" x 3.7"15 ounces
Tele Zoom - FE 70-200mm f/43.15" x 6.9"29.6 ounces

Wide Zoom Lenses

sony wide angle lens photo
This problematic situation – looking into the sun, which is behind hundreds of tiny aspen leaves – was handled wonderfully by the FE 16-35mm lens at its stop at 16mm, f/11. Minimal flaring & aberrations, and very sharp.
Sony wide angle lens photo
Here’s an example of combining the full-frame body with an APS-C lens. Fin Dome, taken with the Sony a7 and Sony E 10-18mm lens at 18mm, f/8.

Full Frame – Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35mm f/4 ZA OSS

The optically-stabilized 16-35mm f/4 lens has always been my go-to wide zoom for Sony alpha cameras.  I love this lens for dramatic shots of the sky.  

This is the most compact FE wide zoom and has excellent image quality.  

Like other lenses I carry into the wilderness, this too is weather resistant.  The optical stabilization assists with handheld shots in low light.  

This lens is 3″ in diameter and almost 4″ deep, weighing 18.3 ounces (the f/2.8 lens is almost a half-pound more and significantly larger).  

I’ve found it to be sharp all-around from 18mm to 30mm.

Check current prices on: B&H Photo Video | Amazon

APS-C & Full Frame – Sony E 10-18mm f/4 OSS

I bought this lens for my a6000 and also put it on my a7 before I had the FE 16-35mm f/4.  It worked great on the a7 in the middle focal ranges and gave me the same coverage in a much smaller, lighter lens.  

It’s the best wide-angle zoom lens for Sony APS-C cameras and will take some great landscapes.  The 35mm equivalent focal range is 15-27mm.  

This lens is 2.7″ across and 2.5″ deep, weighing only 8 ounces (compare to the 18 ounces in the 16-35mm f/4).

Check current prices on: B&H Photo Video | Amazon

Standard Zoom Lenses

sony landscape lens photo
Fallen Leaf Lake, taken with the Sony a7ii and FE 24-70mm lens at 49mm, f/8

Full Frame – Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS

My favorite lens – and the one that’s usually always mounted while I’m hiking – is the Sony 24-70mm f/4 lens.  This lens is the standard zoom counterpart to the 16-35mm wide zoom.   But it offers you some wide capability with the option to immediately zoom in for a tighter shot.

This too is weather-resistant & optically stabilized, with a constant f/4 aperture throughout the entire focal range.  

This lens is 2.9″ in diameter and 3.7″ deep and weighs 15 ounces.  You’re not going to find a better standard zoom lens smaller & lighter than this.

Check current prices on: B&H Photo VideoAmazon

Looking for something a little cheaper?  The Sony FE 28-70mm OSS lens covers just about the same focal range but for much cheaper.  This lens has a variable aperture from f/3.5-5.6 and lacks the anti-flare coatings of the Vario-Tessar lens.  It’s slightly smaller and lighter – 2.9″ x 3.3″ & 10.4 ounces.

APS-C – Sony Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS

This standard zoom lens has a focal range of 16-70mm, which will end up being an equivalent of 24-105mm on an APS-C body.  

The quality of this lens is indicated by its constant aperture of f/4 throughout the zoom range, anti-flare lens coating, multiple aspherical lens elements, and optical image stabilization.  You’ll be able to shoot a great range from landscapes to tight shots with sharpness throughout.  

This lens is 2.6″ across by 3″ deep and weighs only 10.9 ounces.  And at less than $1,000?  A great deal for Sony.

Check current prices on: B&H Photo Video | Amazon

A cheaper, but longer and heavier option is the Sony E PZ 18-105mm f/4 G OSS lens.  This lens gives you a 35mm focal range of 27-157.5mm and a constant aperture of f/4.  This lens also features optical image stabilization.

Telephoto Zoom Lenses

landscape telephoto lens for sony
The Sony 70-200mm f/4 on the Sony a6300 – looks kinda funny!

I prefer wide lenses for landscape shooting and don’t often take a telephoto lens hiking.  Shooting with the Sony a7ii gives me enough resolution to crop photos tighter if I need to.  These lenses just add too much weight to my kit for something I rarely use.  Ask yourself the same – will you really use it enough to justify adding it to your backpacking lens kit?

If the answer is yes, consider the following.  You may also want to bypass the 24-70mm f/4 lens and look at the 24-240mm to get the range of two lenses in one.

Full Frame – Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS

My top choice here for quality is the fixed-aperture FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS lens.  Because it starts at 70mm, you’ll definitely need to carry at least one more lens to give you wider shots.

This moisture & dust resistant optically-stabilized lens is the largest lens in the lineup here.  But when I’m carrying only camera gear and not overnight gear as well, this is the telephoto zoom I carry.  

This lens features specialized glass elements and coatings to keep your images sharper throughout the focal range and without introducing any aberrations.  

It does weigh a hefty 29.6 ounces (heavier than the equivalent Canon DSLR lens), is 6.9″ long, and 3.15″ in diameter.  But it’s the best telephoto lens for Sony Alpha cameras for backpacking & hiking given the attributes we’re looking for.

Check current prices on: B&H Photo Video | Amazon

APS-C – Sony E 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 OSS LE

You’ll get a 27-300mm focal range out of this optically-stabilized lens.  With this great range, the only other lens you’ll need is the 10-18mm wide zoom.  Now you’ve got it all covered!  

This lens has multiple quality glass elements to reduce aberrations and maximize sharpness.  One feature I like – a zoom lock button, so that the barrel won’t creep as you’re carrying this over your shoulder.  

It also features the same small size & weight of other E lenses – 2.7″ x 3.8″ and just a squeak over a pound at 16.2 ounces.

Check current prices on: B&H Photo Video | Amazon

Alternative – Sony FE 24-240mm f/3.5-6.3 OSS

The FE 24-240mm 3.5-6.3 is your lens if you just want one lens to cover the range from 24mm to above 200mm.  

This variable-aperture & optically-stabilized lens is really compact & light given its focal range.  It does have a variable aperture, so you’ll only be able to open up to f/6.3 at the longer focal lengths.  

This lens is also lacking the lens coatings & extra-low dispersion elements that the more expensive lenses offer.  

But it’s smaller and cheaper, so depending on your use it may be a great option.  This lens is 3.2″ x 4.7″ and weighs 27.5 ounces.

Wrapping up our landscape lenses for Sony Alpha for backpacking & hiking

Sony has been coming out with some great lenses to compliment the small lineup that they started with when they introduced the Alpha mirrorless cameras.  

I wanted to include some of the other lenses here because they’re great for portrait & general travel photography.  But we had to keep our focus here (no pun intended).

If you’re looking for Sony Alpha lenses for backpacking & hiking, these are the best lenses that fit the bill and will give you great shots as you venture into the wilderness.

If you have any other thoughts on which lenses you should take into the wilderness, or questions about what I’ve written here, I’d love to hear them below.

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Max Karren, Back o' Beyond

Wednesday 30th of August 2017

After reading this post and extensive deliberation, I sprung for the Sony Vario-Tessar 16-70mm. Upgraded from the kit 28-70mm lens. Planning to take the new lens backpacking in Yosemite late Sep. Can't wait! Thanks John.

John Peltier

Wednesday 30th of August 2017

Cool, can't wait to see the photos! Yosemite and the eastern Sierras in the fall is AMAZING!

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