Choosing Camera for Landscape Photography
I completely understand the frustration of those who decided to buy the very first cameradedicated to landscape photography. If you check the specs of any DSLR or mirrorless camera, the list of features and parameters is endless. Plus, the well-oiled marketing machine only adds confusion to the whole process by trying to sell you something that you simply do not need.
So, what is the most important parameter in choosing the best camera for landscape photography? The most amusing part of the entire process is that one of the most important parameters I look for is never listed in the endless list of specs. What is it?
The Dynamic Range of the Sensor
The dynamic range is the number of tones from the lightest light to the darkest dark that the camera can reproduce in a single photo.In landscape photography, it is very common that the dynamic range of the scene is enormous. When shooting sunsets and sunrises, we have extremely bright areas around the sun and dark areas in the shadows. This is when the dynamic range of the camera sensor becomes a key factor.
Until I switched from a Canon 60D to a Sony a6000, I did not fully understand the importance of a camera’s dynamic range. The dynamic range of the Sony sensor was almost two stops wider than that of the Canon 60D. This one difference completely changed the way I take and edit pictures. With the new sensor, I am now able to capture the entire dynamic range of the scene more often with one shot, which means the need for using HDR photography has almost diminished.
Let me give you an example. If we compare the most popular professional camera, which is the Canon 5D Mark 3 that costs $3,000, and the entry level mirrorless Sony a6000, we see that the a6000’s sensor exceeds the dynamic range of the 5d Mark 3. Do not get me wrong, the 5D Mark 3 is an amazing professional level camera that is typically used by most wedding and even photographers, but it is not as good for landscape photographers.
My main point is that buying an expensive camera will not automatically result in owning the best camera for landscape photography. You need the right model that meets your photography needs.
Quality of the Image
The second characteristic of a camera that I look for is the Quality of the Camera’s image that the sensor produces. This factor is much more difficult to quantify. There are two ways to approach this issue. One is to check trusted reviews, which can be problematic since trusted sources are not too easy to come by these days.
The second approach and the one I use is to check it yourself. There are plenty of resources where you can download the sample RAW files for any camera. My switch from Canon to Sonywas not an easy decision to make but, when I downloaded the sample RAW photo posted by one of the German photographers, the quality of the image simply blew my mind. That was the deciding factor of my switch.
The next characteristic I look for is an easy one. I want to make sure that I have a decent bracketing functionality in my camera. Bracketing is an important technique for landscape photography and for me personally. I bracket pretty much all of my shots.
You can check my detailed article on bracketing: The Comprehensive Gude to Bracketing in Photography
When the dynamic range of the scene exceeds the dynamic range of the sensor, the only way to capture the full range of the scene is to take multiple shots and merge them together during editing using an HDR photography technique or digital blending.
When I decided to switch from a DSLR to a mirrorless camera model, one of my choices was the Fuji X-T1. I really liked the design, ergonomics and controls of the X-T1, but it could only take three bracketed shots at one stop intervals. This seemingly small shortcoming made this model less than ideal for landscape photography.
Less Important Parameters
Now that we’ve discussed some of the most important parameters, I want to list a couple that are less important for landscape photography.
One of them is high ISO performance. 90% of my landscape photos are shot at ISO 100. The reason for this is because I use a tripod and my need for high ISO performance in minimal. If we look at the Canon 5D Mark 3, it outperforms the Sony a6000 in shooting in dark conditions by a large margin but, this does not make it a better landscape camera. Like I said before, it is perfect for weddings and events. Ideally, I would love to have a wide dynamic range sensor in my camera that could produce clean images at high ISO. However, this will cost you around $3,000.
Focusing Speed and Accuracy
Focusing speed and accuracy are other characteristics that are not too important for landscape photography. In most cases, you shoot static scenes using the Back Button Focus technique or a manual focus so the accuracy, speed, and tracking become less important. But, if you are planning to compliment your landscapes with wildlife photography, which is a very common combination, the focus performance becomes an essential factor.
Let me give you some of my personal recommendations for the best cameras for landscape photography.