As cameras continue to evolve and impress, their newest features often play to the fast-paced multimedia world. For landscape photographers, the ability to minimize or eliminate the time it takes to print an image or display it online can have limited use, and tends to overshadow a range of core camera functions that appeal to our genre of photography. Landscape photography can arguably be one of the slowest-paced schools of image-making. As such, it does not have the same subset of requirements as many other categories of photography. Ranging from the most basic features to some of the most advanced technologies, this article strives to highlight a range of specs to look for when shopping for a new camera with the intention of making landscape photographs.
"Landscape photography can arguably be one of the slowest-paced schools of image-making."
When looking for a camera suitable for landscape photography, a number of factors come into play that might not be considered when browsing cameras for other applications. Speed is not nearly as important a feature as image quality, for instance, and exposure control is paramount among most other concerns. High-resolution sensors tend to be most highly favored due to the immense detail they can garner, as well as the larger print sizes made possible by the files they produce. Unlike sports, wildlife, or street photography, landscape shooting tends to be slow and methodical; lower ISOs, slower shutter speeds, smaller apertures, and working from a tripod are essentially obligatory, whereas with other genres of photography, high ISO sensitivities, fast continuous shooting rates, and quick autofocus systems tend to be the most prized elements of a camera system. This isn't to say that those features should be overlooked—they are often welcomed—but they are not nearly as crucial to landscape work as they are to faster-paced shooting applications. Fewer frames will also be recorded during a day of shooting in the wilds of Yosemite versus shooting the Formula 1 Grand Prix du Montreal, so file size, buffer capacity, and card speeds do not stand as much of a limitation for the work you can do.
Here is a list of topics and camera functions you should consider when selecting a camera for landscape shooting.
Without trying to start a debate about the merits of various sensor sizes, it is fairly safe to say that in the realm of landscape photography, bigger is better. Dynamic range, ability to work with a variety of wide-angle lenses, lower noise levels, and sheer image quality are all benefits of larger sensor sizes, whereas longer reach and a more compact form factor are the main benefits of smaller sensors and, as such, are not hugely beneficial to landscape shooting.
Along with sensor size, high-resolution sensors are also favored by landscape photographers due to their ability to decipher fine details more clearly and produce image files that hold up better to larger print sizes. A high-resolution sensor's main drawbacks are a typically lower usable ISO range, which does not truly affect photographers working from a tripod, and larger file sizes that slow down the overall workflow, which is also not a bad thing when you take into account the considered pace of landscape photography.
Optical Low-Pass and Anti-Aliasing Filters
A beneficial side effect of higher-resolution sensors, and those with denser photodiode structures, is the ability to remove the conventional optical low-pass or anti-aliasing filter from the sensor's construction. Many cameras completely remove this filter, and others introduce a secondary filter or technology to negate the effect—either way, this omission leads to sharper imagery at the expense of potentially running into issues with moiré. Luckily, instances where moiré can occur are seldom seen in nature.
Seen in both camera bodies and lenses, image stabilization is a feature that is seldom used for landscape shooting due to the omnipresence of tripods, in many instances. However, for the times when handheld shooting is a must, or preferred, image stabilization can be beneficial since it permits working with slower shutter speeds—and, subsequently, smaller apertures for increased depth of field.
Mirror Up and Vibration Reduction Functions
An oft-used function to better ensure sharp imagery when working with long exposure times, a mirror up setting is a necessity for landscape shooting. Additionally, many cameras now incorporate electronic front curtain mechanisms or other vibration reduction technologies to lessen shutter shock for sharper results.
Converse to the end of the sensitivity range most people look at when camera shopping, for landscape shooting a low minimum ISO value can be a boon for shooting in bright outdoor conditions with smaller aperture values without having to resort to neutral density filters. While typically not a make-or-break spec on a camera, sensitivities of ISO 100 or lower can certainly aid a landscape photographer's process.
|Comparing a low ISO to a high ISO|
Exposure Metering and Control
Probably one of the most overlooked specs when shopping for cameras, an accurate, sophisticated exposure meter is critical when it comes to landscape photography. Aside from using an auxiliary light meter, which is the most preferred choice, most in-camera meters are quite adept at calculating exposure settings using color, in addition to luminance, information. While not too many breakthroughs have occurred in recent years, some things to value in regard to exposure control are spot metering ability, low-light sensitivity to negative exposure values, and a wide range of exposure compensation values if you are the type of photographer who prefers to work in aperture- or shutter-speed priority modes.
Recommended Digital Cameras for Landscape Photography
With the above topics in mind, there are a number of cameras that ideally fill the bill. This isn't to say that any or every camera could be used for landscape shooting, but the following represent a mixture of features that make them truly suitable for a slow and considered workflow, as well as offering the ability to produce large prints with immense detail that is appropriate for exhibiting photographs of nature.
Unlike most medium format DSLRs, the Pentax 645Z is at home outside of a studio due to its weather-sealed design and relatively compact form factor, considering the large 51.4MP 43.8 x 32.8mm CMOS housed inside. This sensor's design omits an anti-aliasing filter for a high degree of sharpness and is able to record 14-bit raw files in either PEF or DNG formats for post-production flexibility. Its physical design incorporates a large 3.2" 1.04m-dot tilting LCD for shooting from low angles, and two separate 1/4"-20 tripod mounts are featured on the body for greater stability when shooting vertical images atop a tripod.
Moving down in size but retaining nearly the same resolution is the Canon EOS 5DS R, which distinguishes itself from its sibling, the EOS 5DS, by its low-pass filter effect cancellation to reap the benefits of its full-frame 50.6MP CMOS sensor fully. Also contributing to sharp imaging is a Mirror Vibration Control system that pairs with a Time Release Lag setting to minimize the likelihood of mirror vibrations causing an unwanted loss of sharpness while shooting.
For Nikon shooters, the D810 remains the company’s high-resolution body of choice, and is characterized by an FX-format 36.3MP CMOS sensor whose design omits the optical low-pass filter entirely for notable sharpness and resolution. An electronic front-curtain shutter reduces the risk of mirror slap for maintained sharpness and the D810 holds the distinction of having a truly low native sensitivity value of ISO 64 to aid in working with slower shutter speeds, to blur movement more easily.
In terms of mirrorless options, the Sony Alpha a7R II holds the current distinction of being one of the highest-resolution cameras available, with its full-frame 42.4MP Exmor R BSI CMOS sensor. Unique among other full-frame sensors available, the back-illuminated design avails cleaner imaging results throughout the wide sensitivity range, up to ISO 102400, and in-body 5-axis SteadyShot INSIDE image stabilization helps to achieve sharper results when shooting handheld.
For instances when size and weight are of the utmost importance, such as backpacking through the woods or going on long hikes, Sony's Cyber-shot DSC-RX1R II is a versatile point-and-shoot option for landscape shooters. Comprising many of the same imaging specs as the a7R II, including the full-frame 42.4MP BSI CMOS sensor, in an even more compact package, this svelte camera expands on the feature set with the inclusion of a unique variable optical low-pass filter for controlling the amount of moiré reduction needed. Additionally, the integrated Zeiss Sonnar T* 35mm f/2 lens is an ideal optic for landscape applications and is perfectly matched to the high-resolution sensor, for optimal results.
Finally, closing out our look at some recommended digital options for landscape photographers is possibly the most esoteric option of all. However, it serves as an apt transition into our next section. The Hasselblad CFV-50c digital back is significant among many other digital backs in that it retains compatibility with legacy Hasselblad V-series cameras, and can also be used in conjunction with view cameras, such as the Cambo ACTUS-DB with SLW-80 Interface Plate in order to gain the perspective and depth of field controls that many landscape shooters rely on. In terms of imaging, the CFV-50c sports a 50MP 43.8 x 32.9mm CMOS sensor in order to output images with 16-bit color depth, and features Hasselblad's Natural Color Solution for maintained color consistency between shoots.
Film and Film Cameras
Perhaps one of the last vestiges of film relevance, many landscape photographers still rely on using film to attain the results they desire. Without delving into resolution and comparisons to digital imaging, it can be objectively stated that film provides a different look for imagery that many landscape photographers cherish. The exaggerated and saturated colors that Fujifilm Velvia provides are difficult to match with digital imaging, as is the muted, softer color palette of a color negative film, such as Kodak Portra. And then something in between, Kodak Ektar mixes the punchy saturation of a transparency film with the ease of use and flexibility of a color negative film. For the classicists out there, black-and-white film is also a medium that cannot be totally matched in the digital realm, and still comprises a number of classic film types favored for several decades, including Ilford FP4 Plus and HP5 Plus, and Kodak Tri-X 400 and Tri-X 320.
Recommended View Cameras
Beyond film choices alone, film cameras also present a unique set of features that are typically well-suited to landscape imaging, specifically in regard to large format view cameras. Nearly peerless in relation to digital, the ability to work with a view camera affords the photographer immense control over perspective, depth of field, and composition, as well as the benefit of working with sheet film formats that typically begin at 4 x 5", for unsurpassed image quality and detail. Working with a view camera also reinforces a number of the desired working methods for landscape shooting, most notably the necessity to work at a slow and methodical pace. Use of a tripod is essentially mandatory; each exposure must be manually loaded and removed before and after shooting; and simply composing an image requires viewing an upside-down and laterally reversed image on a ground glass, from beneath a dark focusing cloth. The other key point to aspiring landscape photographers interested in using film is the availability and affordability to top quality used gear. If, however, you're in the market for a new view camera, a range of options is still available, including those that are more readily compatible with medium format digital backs.
While well-known in the realm of studio and architectural applications, Arca-Swiss cameras are equally versatile in nature due to their lightweight construction and intuitive handling. The F-Field C 4 x 5" View Camera is a rare example of a monorail camera that is quite suitable for use on location, due to its compact profile and overall weight of less than 6 lb without a lens. Even with this streamlined design, more than 100mm of rise and fall is afforded on the rear standard, along with 40mm of shift on both standards, and a collapsible 30cm rail means the whole camera can be stowed easily in a backpack.
Similar in intention, the Linhof Technikardan 45 S is another lightweight monorail camera that offers the flexibility of a studio camera in a compact profile, measuring 5 x 8.5 x 10" when folded, and weighs just 6.6 lb. Offering a maximum extension of 485mm, this camera supports working with some of the longest lenses available, along with nearly limitless tilt/swing and up to 50mm of rise or 55mm of shift.
Moving into the folding “field” cameras that most would associate with large format landscape photography, the Linhof Master Technika 3000 is one of the latest iterations of the famed Technika series of cameras, and is also unique in that series due to its omission of a rangefinder. Seldom used for landscape shooting, by removing the rangefinder from this model, a modest reduction in weight and size is afforded. This Master Technika 3000 also incorporates an additional notch in the trademark drop-bed design to permit use of some of the widest focal length lenses, without vignetting on vertical compositions.
Completing our brief look at view camera options is a pair of wooden field cameras, which embody the true stereotypical image of large format landscape photography. The Wista Field-45DX is certainly one of the most handsome cameras in this list, which is not to say it isn't also a quite capable camera for shooting. Full front and rear camera movements are available, along with a 12" bellows draw to support working with a wide range of focal lengths. This model is the lightest among view cameras, at just 3.25 lb, and folds down into a 7.3 x 8.3 x 3.8" package. Similar but larger, the Field-810DX takes the same outward appearance and feature set, but maximizes it for 8 x 10" shooting. A bellows draw up to 21.7" is possible due to a double-extension bed and both front and rear tilt and swing movements are possible, along with front rise and fall.
Recommended Panoramic Cameras
Aside from view cameras, the other arena where film can likely still outshine digital in a number of ways is with panoramic cameras. Landscapes are the traditionally fitting subject for panoramic shooters, and panoramic cameras frequently prove to be the most intuitive and well-designed tools for the job, especially due to their bias for wide-angle focal lengths and relatively compact profiles in comparison to view cameras. Currently there are two remaining contenders in the realm of panoramic cameras, both of which produce 6 x 12 and 6 x 17 models.
The Horseman SW612 is the most modular of the panoramic options, with the ability to work with 6 x 7, 6 x 9, and 6 x 12 film backs, as well as a choice of lenses ranging from 35mm to 135mm. Each of the lenses is set in a dedicated mount with helical focus rings for setting focus by distance or, alternatively, a ground glass back is available for focusing through the lens. A more contemporary variant, the SW612D camera is available to accept either Hasselblad V or Mamiya 645 digital backs, in addition to 6 x 7 or 6 x 12 film backs. For more expansive panoramas, Horseman also produces the SW617 camera body, which is available in a kit with the Schneider Super Angulon XL 72mm f/5.6 or 90mm f/5.6 lens.
For Linhof shooters, the line of Technorama cameras is nearly as legendary as the famed Technika field cameras, and currently comprises the 612pc II 6 x 12 model and 617s III 6 x 17 model. These cameras both have a series of dedicated lenses set in helical focus mounts, and each of the lenses is matched to dedicated viewfinders to provide an accurate field of view for composing in the 2:1 or 3:1 format. The 612pc II is unique in that each of the dedicated lens mounts incorporates 8mm of preset rise to compensate for converging verticals automatically. The camera is pointed slightly upward, and features a tripod mount on the top of the body, as well, so converging lines can be corrected when pointing downward. A bit more flexible, along with a wider format, the 617s III enables the use of the dedicated Shift Adapter to provide adjustable +/- 15mm of rise and fall with select wide-angle lenses.
hi, I'm an enythusiast . I want a camera that can capture landscape and also better to capture night sky. In night some
cameras dont provide exact colors and details. I want clear image of night without noise. But in medium budget of course.
Thanks in advance
The first section is great, features that matter or not, well written. But I'm baffled by the rest. The lack of good APS-C recommendations and a whole "film cameras" section... Who is the audience for this? Surely a guide is for people who don't know much about photography and just want to learn. If the recommendations are either "shell out thousands of dollars" or "unearth your dad's camera", it seems like the guide is missing the point.
The intentions of the article aren't to get too deep into specific cameras; the ones mentioned are there because I feel they represent the best possible considering their class and their use for landscape photography. They fit in with what is described in the beginning of the article best. At the beginning of the cameras section I write "...there are a number of cameras that ideally fit the bill. This isn't to say that any or every camera couldn't be used for landscape shooting..." Once you move beyond some of these more specialized models and larger sensor sizes, truly any new DSLR or mirrorless camera nowadays is an apt performer for landscape shooting, there are just some that will offer better dynamic range due to sensor size and processing capabilities or save you weight due to a more compact build.
The film cameras are included here, too, because landscape photography is a perfect avenue for still using film in a legitimate manner. It's the type of genre that isn't benefitted as much by the speed of digital, and gives you the time to really work with film using precision tools such as view and technical cameras.
Maybe it was too early to include it in your list at the time you post your article, but I think that the Pentax K1 certainly should be on it.
I am just an amateur photographer, and do not plan on making it a career, are there many options on a tighter budget that would take comparable photos? Again, not looking for perfect images, just something with a higher quality picture than what I have currently.
You don’t necessarily need one of the above mentioned cameras in order to take landscape photos. While you won’t get the same detail in the image with a less expensive llower resolution sensor, there are still plenty of cameras that you could use for good landscape images. I would suggest contacting our Photo Department through email with this inquiry. In the email, you might mention what camera/equipment you are already using and the limitations that you are finding with said equipment. You might also mention what type of budget you have for a camera. We would then be able to research options that might best suit your needs. [email protected]
I would agree with most of the advice given in this article, with the exception of the comments on lightmeters. In my experience lightmeters have never been less important than they are today. In the days of film a lightmeter was the only tool available that would allow you to make an educated guess as to proper exposure. With the advent of the histogram light meters are a far less essential tool, especially when shooting static subjects like landscapes. Today rather than having to take a variety of exposure readings and then make a compromise exposure most likely to render the most important details correctly I simply shoot 1 or 2 test exposures and then take a look at the histogram. Most times I am then able to achieve the results I want by setting a final exposure based upon info gained via the histogram. In my work leading photo tours. i find that most photographers, including those with top of the line equipment, have very little understanding of how to interpret a histogram and therefore continue using the lightmeter techniques once advocated by folks like Ansel Adams and Minot White. Big mistake!
You're correct, Winston, that light meters may be less essential than they were in the past, however I would argue it's not a mistake to say they are still an important tool that many still find useful (myself included). Sure, with digital you can spend time looking at a histogram and making several test exposures to dial in your exposure setting, however, that process can take up avaluable time and it isn't training you on how to read the scene without relying on making test exposures to interpret lighting ratios or exposure values. Working with a light meter can yield fine results in less time, and it trains you to pay more attention the exact lighting ratios of a scene. Even better than either method, though, is to combine them.
Also, they needed to be included in this article since it is not solely focusing on digital cameras- with film cameras, especially large format cameras, a light meter is still a very valuable piece of equipment.
Very thorough and informative article. As a past user of large and medium format cameras for landscape work you hit the points well.
I think that you should reformat the images and captions of cameras though as they reference incorrectly... At least in my mobile device.
I had the privilege of working with 4 x 5 Kodachromes back in 1980. Our lab client had shot several Scottish and Irish castles when sheet Kodachrome was still available (exposed film had to be processed in Rochester). I made 4 x 5 contact internegatives and 30 x 40 prints which were virtually grainless. Amazing! These days the 80 and 100 MP backs approach that quality level (or maybe equal it?).
I will always miss my favorite film which is Kodachrome (ASA 25). So wonderful that a song was even written about it - Paul Simon. My introduction to its gorgeous qualities was the gigantic picture made from 1 tiny 35mm frame which used to span across the entire Great Hall of Grand Central Station in New York City.
Thanks for prompting that memory. Kodachrome 25 was great for landscapes in Wyoming and Montana (my first SLR, Minolta SRT-201 from 1978, which I still have in its Pelican case, along with 3 lenses), as it had a beautiful characteristic of going from dark blue to black; rather dramatic for the sky. If I needed to go to a high speed film, it was often Ektachrome 200, but the lower the speed, the more comfortable I seem to be. Shooting a "bridge camera", those old SLR techniques have served me well as our local newspaper has printed a photo I took of a C-130 airtanker taking off last summer in a smoky haze. Panning with the 8 MP (~3.5MB images), provided a half-page image clear enough to read the word under the pilot's side window, with just a bit of blurred forest hills in the far background. The newspaper was happy with it, and I was happy to contribute to my community. Contemplating my first DSLR, since it's harder to find 4GB SD cards, the maximum size for the Panasonic DMC-FZ18.
Above someone already mentione the lack of sensors smaller than full frame. Finally the main Question is how big the shots are presented...and today even Crop and Micro4:3 are able to present a wide range of possebilities.
On the FF side I miss the quite new Pentax K1 because Pixelshift, flixeble display and high exposure range.
On the film side I think especially the wide landscape cameras form Linhoff that use more than one usual frame of a 120 Film (eg.6x12 amd 6x18) should be mentioned. I peronally love my old Pentax 6x7for this kind of pictures.