Seascape photography is one of my favorite types of photography.
First, you get to spend some time at the beach (and who doesn’t love the beach). Even more importantly, the landscape itself is dynamic and constantly changing as a result of the weather, tides, time of day, and light. So it can be both calming and exciting to be out there shooting seascapes.
If you’re in a hurry and you just need an answer…overall, my choice of the best lens for seascape photography is the Tamron 17-35mm f/2.8-4 Di OSD. You can CLICK HERE to check out the price on Amazon.
Keep reading to find out why and see some of the alternatives that may be better suited for your specific needs.
- What To Look For When Choosing A Seascape Lens
- Best Lenses For Seascape Photography
What To Look For In A Lens For Seascape Photography
Before we dive into the choices, let’s look at some factors that are more specific to seascape photography. Of course, you always want to consider things like sharpness and price, but here are some things you may not think about when choosing a lens for shooting seascapes.
Best Focal Length For Seascape Photography
Like anything in photography, there really are no rules here. You can make compelling seascape images with a variety of focal lengths.
If you already shoot often, a great way to decide on a focal length is to look back at your old images and see what you use most often. You can do this in the Library module of Lightroom by sorting your images according to focal length. That way, when it is time to upgrade, you can make sure you are upgrading the focal length that will be most useful to you and your style.
That being said, if you are getting started with seascape photography, a great lens to start with would be a wide angle zoom lens. So a zoom lens in the neighborhood of 15-30mm (or close to that) is an ideal range to look for.
Consider The Availability Of Filters
Filters are almost a necessity when shooting seascapes.
If I’m pointing my camera at an ocean, it has either an ND filter or a polarizing filter on it about 95% of the time (and for those windy days, even a UV filter can come in handy to keep sand and salt water off the front of your lens).
When you are shooting water, shutter speed is very important. The best way to have complete control over your shutter speed is to have a few ND filters handy. That ensures that even on bright days, you can slow down the shutter speed and create some blur in the water.
A polarizing filter comes in handy when shooting rocks or other similar objects in your seascape images. When things get wet, they reflect light which can be very distracting in your images, especially when you don’t want those objects to be the focal point of the image.
Being able to use filters easily is a big factor for me when choosing a lens to use for shooting seascapes (and any landscape shot for that matter). Frankly, I am willing to give up a tiny bit of sharpness and focal range to be able to use a simple filter system.
Many of the high end super-wide lenses have a front element that is large and protrudes out from the front of the barrel of the lens. This makes it necessary to have a specialized filter system just for that lens.
The inconvenience of this is magnified when you are dealing with crashing waves, salt water mist, and blowing sand.
Along the same lines as filters, the conditions you’ll face when shooting seascapes also mean that the weather sealing on your lens becomes more important.
Sand and salt water are really bad for cameras and lenses. Add wind to that equation and your gear is in danger every time you take it out to the coast.
A weather sealed lens generally means that it uses rubber gaskets on all the areas that have openings. Primarily this means the mount, buttons, and any rotatable rings or points where the barrel extends.
NOTE: Weather sealing does NOT mean that a camera is waterproof. To make your camera 100% waterproof, you need a waterproof housing. Weather sealing just means that precautions have been taken to keep water and dust out as much as possible without affecting the usability of the lens.
This means that sand, mist, or even light rain is probably ok. But it’s no guarantee. To be sure, you can use a plastic rain hood.
It is also a good idea to avoid changing lenses while you’re on the sand (especially if it’s windy).
You should also wipe down your camera and lens with a lightly damp cloth (using regular water…not salt water) after EVERY time you take it out to the beach or shore area.
Best Lens For Seascape Photography
Choosing a lens is a choice that is very specific to the photographer and depends on what system they shoot with and their style of shooting. For this breakdown, I’ll assume you’re taking my advice on the ideal focal length.
I can’t possibly cover every option for every camera system, so I’ll focus on the three most popular (Canon, Nikon, and Sony). If you aren’t using one of the systems represented here, then hopefully this list will at least give you some guidance as to the kind of things you should be looking for.
Tamron 17-25mm f2.8-4 Di OSD
You might be surprised at this pick because I didn’t go with the biggest, baddest, most expensive wide angle lenses on the market…
As long as you don’t NEED a 2.8 aperture when shooting zoomed in past 18mm, then this lens is an incredible combination of sharpness, low distortion, and low light ability (at 17mm). All these factors, plus the very reasonable price, are why I
Full disclosure, this lens is my wide angle workhorse. I’ll occasionally rent some of the more expensive options for specialty work (like night photography). But for 98% of seascape photography, this Tamron gets the job done with great results.
One reason I would say that it beats out even the much acclaimed Tamron 15-30 for seascapes is the ability to put a regular filter on the front.
When shooting seascapes you’ll often find yourself wanting to use ND and polarizing filters and the big mattebox systems are unweildy. This is especially important if you are setting up in the surft or climbing up on some shore rock formations.
In addition, it is relatively light and compact compared to it’s more expensive counterparts at this focal length.
There are some downsides though.
If you zoom past 18mm then you lose the 2.8 aperture. If you shoot a lot of astrophotography, this might be a dealbreaker.
Although it is very sharp, it does fall slightly short of the revered Tamron 15-30 or Nikon 14-24 (both of which also have a constant 2.8 max aperture).
Budget Friendly Options
Before we start making some picks, let’s talk about kit lenses. You may have gotten one with your camera. It might have been a 24-105mm (full frame) or 18-50mm (crop sensors). If you have a kit lens that goes wide (24mm or lower) then you should probably just start with that.
Kit lenses in today’s cameras are pretty good and if you are just getting started, you should be out shooting and learning your camera, not upgrading your lens.
That being said, let’s take a look at some of the best budget friendly lenses for seascape photography..
Samyang/Rokinon 14mm Ultra Wide-Angle f/2.8 IF ED UMC Manual Focus Lens
This is a very inexpenseive lense that is quite popular among landscape photographers, especially those that shoot at night.
If you are looking for a low cost entry into wide angle seascape photography, then this might be perfect for you. It can be found for under $400.
Despite the price, this lens boasts exceptional sharpness and handles coma around the edges quite well for such a wide angle of view.
That being said, there are a few downsides.
It is a manual focus lens. Although most landscape photographers tend to use manual focus anyway, shooting seascapes is a little different. With waves moving and crashing at different locations as the tide shifts, you may find yourself grabbing the camera off the tripod and running to capture a shot. Auto focus can really come in handy for those moment.
Another downside is the lack of a filter slot. Like some of the high end ultra wide lenses, this lens has a bulbous front element which prevents you from using standard lense filters. So if filters are a necessity (which they often are when shooting seascapes) then you may end up spending all that money you saved when buying this lens to get one of those large matte box filter systems.
Tokina AT-X 116 Pro DX II
Tokina is well known for making decent lenses in the budget price range. At just a little bit more than the Rokinon lens, this is the perfect budget option for those of you with crop sensor camera.
This lens is available in Canon EF, Sony A, Nikon F(DX) mounts.
This lens delivers image quality that is impressive given the price point. I don’t think it can compete with the other lenses on this list as far as pure image quality (sharpness, contrast, etc.) but dollar for dollar is a tremendous value. If the others on this list are out of your budget and you have a crop sensor camera, then try this one out.
The advantages it has over the Rokinon is the zoom range (11-16mm) as well as the ability to use regular 77mm filters.
High End Lenses (Best of the Best)
Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 G2
Whether you’re shooting on a full frame or crop sensor, this lens is a beast!
If you don’t care about price, using regular filters, or adding extra weight to your bag and just want the best possible image quality…this is the lens to go for.
It is a full frame lens and is available in Canon EF and Nikon F mounts.
Although it is the most expensive lens on this list, it is actually priced considerably lower priced than its Canon and Nikon competitors.
Despite the lower cost, it is as good or better than those name brand lenses on image quality. It also includes vibration control. Which may not be a huge deal when shooting stills on a tripod, but comes in handy for low light hand held shooting or even video.
The focus ring and zoom ring are improved in the G2 version to be smoother that it’s predecessor. But I will say that if you are used to the high end Nikon and Canon lenses, it does feel a little tighter. But you will quickly get used to that.
Be aware though that you’ll need a specialized filter system to use filters with this lens. It does contain a slot in the rear to add an internal filter. I don’t really count this as an alternative to an outer lens. You’ll have to take the lens off the mount in order to change the filter. If you are changing filters often, which usually happens, then that can put your lens and camera at serious risk if you are shooting at the coast. For seascapes, I would consider the rear filter slot unusable.
In addition, there are very limited options for high quality internal filters. Tamrom doesn’t produce their own so you’ll need to find them elsewhere. Overall, it’s really not a viable solution.
That all being said, if top notch image quality is your number one concern, then this is the lens for you.