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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

DSLRs & Lenses For Landscapes

The best cameras, lenses and gear for achieving the ultimate landscape photography no matter your budget

Labels: CamerasD-SLRsGear
This Article Features Photo Zoom

Because of their size, ease of use and many advanced features, DSLRs are finding a great deal of popularity with landscape photographers. But can they produce great results? The honest answer is that you can put together a fine landscape DSLR outfit for under $1,000 or spend well over $5,000 on building a superior system. A larger budget will obviously give you many more features and often longer camera life, but at the same time there are several affordable camera models more than capable of achieving amazing landscapes if you're looking for an economical choice over a fully featured model. Medium-format sensors, for example, tend to test very well in color bit-depth, but full-frame DSLRs best them in low-light ISO performance, and most recent models also do very well in tonality, with several new models offering 12 to 14 stops of dynamic range, close to that of film. In essence, you can shoot terrific landscapes with any of today's DSLR systems.


Canon EOS 5D Mark III
The 22.3-megapixel EOS 5D Mark III is Canon's highest-resolution DSLR as of this writing, delivering 14-bit RAW files with an expanded ISO range of 100-102,800 courtesy of a DIGIC 5+ processor. The magnesium-alloy body features enhanced dust and weather resistance, and there are slots for both CompactFlash and SD/SDHC/SDXC media. A 3.2-inch, 1040K-dot LCD monitor complements the approximately 100% eye-level pentaprism viewfinder, which can display an array of information via superimposed LCD. There's a dual-axis electronic level, as well as grid lines you can activate, when desired. The camera can automatically correct for vignetting, chromatic aberration and distortion with many Canon lenses, as well as create three-frame in-camera HDR images and do multiple exposures. Silent Shutter mode provides nearly imperceptible shooting at up to 3 fps, handy when your landscape contains nearby wildlife you don't want to spook. The 5D Mark III can use all EF (but not EF-S) lenses, plus Canon's TS-E tilt-shift lenses. t incorporate multiple-image capture to produce final image qualities similar to those found in medium- and large-format film photography.

Nikon D800/D800E
You can't beat the D800 and D800E for resolution without going medium-format (and at least tripling the cost). The 36.3-megapixel D800 and D800E have 50% more image megapixels than any other DSLR as of this writing. They also currently have the two highest overall scores in DxOMark.com's sensor ratings, and hold first and second place in terms of dynamic range. The D800 and D800E are identical except that the D800E cancels the anti-aliasing effect of the low-pass filter, which results in even higher resolution and incredibly fine details, though this comes with heightened moiré because the anti-aliasing filter reduces moiré at the expense of sharpness. Moiré isn't a problem for the subject matter of most landscape photographers, however. Normal ISO range is 100-6400, settable in 1⁄3- or 1⁄2-stop increments. You can shoot RAW images in 12- or 14-bit compressed or uncompressed. The 3.2-inch, 921K-dot LCD monitors can be zoomed up to 23X for easy manual focusing, and viewfinder grid lines and electronic virtual horizons make it easy to keep things aligned. The camera also features Active D-Lighting and two-shot in-camera HDR (with JPEG only), which can be useful for gaining extra detail from highlight through shadow in high-contrast situations.

Pro DSLR models are the most rugged, with better weather sealing and more durable, longer-lasting shutters. They also have the best viewfinders with the most coverage. The highest-end pro models like the Canon EOS-1D X and Nikon D4 are geared more toward action photographers and photojournalists, with very quick shooting rates and AF performance, as well as great low-light, high-ISO capabilities. Unless you specialize in moonlit landscapes, you'll be better off with a Canon EOS 5D Mark III or Nikon D800/D800E for landscape work, and you can put the money you save into quality lenses or high-end filters.

The ideal high-end, full-frame landscape lens kit would include a wide-angle pro zoom (14-24mm or the like), a medium pro zoom (24-70mm) and a telephoto pro zoom (70-200mm). That would cover just about any landscape framing needs while delivering top image quality and versatility for wildlife work. For the best of both worlds, you also could add key primes in your favorite focal lengths in addition to a really good all-purpose zoom. Besides providing better optical performance, high-end pro lenses are more rugged than lesser lenses, better able to withstand harsh shooting conditions and weather.

Sony SLT-A99
Sony's first full-frame SLT model, the A99 updates the SLT series of APS-C cameras, which feature a fixed semi-translucent mirror that sends most of the light to the image sensor while directing a smaller portion to the phase-detection AF sensor, so you get full-time continuous phase-detection AF even with video. A high-end OLED Tru-Finder electronic viewfinder replaces the conventional SLR's pentaprism assembly, providing eye-level continuous viewing. And there's no vibration from "mirror slap," either, which affects the sharpness of an image. The drawback is that a bit less light reaches the sensor than with a conventional DSLR. With 14-bit RAW files, the camera also offers a full-frame, 24.3-megapixel Sony Exmor HD CMOS image sensor in a very efficiently sized, magnesium-alloy camera body with weather sealing, which makes it ideal for long hikes. ISO ranges from 100-25,600, and a tilting/swiveling, 3.0-inch, 1229K-dot LCD monitor supplements the OLED eye-level EVF. A built-in GPS unit can record latitude, longitude and altitude in the image metadata, as well.


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