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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
Sigma SD1 Merrill
The SD1 Merrill features the unique APS-C-sized Foveon X3 image sensor (1.5x crop), which records red, green and blue light information at each and every pixel site in three layers. This sensor design does away with moiré problems and the resulting need for a blurring low-pass filter. Sigma claims roughly 46 megapixels of resolution (4800 x 3200 x 3 layers) though that number is generally considered to be closer to 15 megapixels. Sigma fans claim a large amount of sharpness and color fidelity, but low-light abilities in the Sigma are lacking, however, with an ISO range of only 100-6400. The rugged magnesium-alloy body is sealed against weather, and the viewfinder shows 98% of the actual image area. It's complemented by a 3.0-inch, 460K-dot LCD monitor, but the camera doesn't provide live-view or video capability.

Sony SLT-A77
The A77 provides most of the flagship A99's features in a more compact, 24.3-megapixel APS-C package. The same TMT translucent-mirror technology and high-res 2359K-dot OLED Tru-Finder are at the heart of the system, which is wrapped in a weather-resistant, magnesium-alloy body. There's a built-in GPS, and the 3.0-inch, 921K-dot LCD monitor tilts and swivels for easy low-angle compositions and video shooting. Multi-frame noise reduction, Auto HDR and Dynamic Range Optimizer are useful for JPEG landscapes, and Sony's Sweep Panorama and 3D Sweep Panorama make shooting in-camera stitched panoramic images simple.

Is Full Frame Going To Take Over?

Where "full-frame" technology once had been found only in the rarefied air of DSLRs that cost several thousand dollars, during 2012 several new models emerged at much lower price points. No one would say these new models from Canon, Nikon and Sony are inexpensive, but cameras with full-frame sensors that cost around $1,500 are certainly a lot more affordable and attractive to most landscape photographers than models with price tags in excess of $3,000. Furthermore, cameras like the Canon EOS 6D and Nikon D600 could be stops on the way to sub-$1,000, entry-level models.

For many landscape photographers, the ideal DSLR emphasizes resolution, bit-depth, signal-to-noise ratio, high-ISO performance and overall image quality over features like speed and AF performance. Until recently, to get all of the features we wanted for scenic shooting, we also paid for a camera that had photojournalism-level shooting speeds, combat-ready body construction and the latest AF engines and AF sensors that engineers could come up with. Those are great features, but when you have your camera on a tripod overlooking a sunrise in the Great Smoky Mountains, you don't really make full use of all of them.

The new "mid-range" full-frame DSLRs are shaping up to be excellent options for landscape photography, as they align with most of our priorities. We expect to see even more full-frame options that will be particularly attractive for landscape photography.


Canon EOS Rebel T4i
Canon's top entry-level EOS Rebel model, the T4i features an 18-megapixel APS-C sensor, 14-bit RAW files and an expandable ISO range of 100-25,600. The eye-level pentamirror viewfinder shows 95% of the actual image area at 0.85X magnification, while the 3.0-inch, 1040K-dot external monitor tilts and rotates for easy odd-angle shooting. The monitor serves as a touch screen; in Live View mode, you just touch the point on the live image where you want the camera to focus. Spot metering mode measures 4% of the actual image area. The T4i can use all EF and EF-S lenses.

With more than a dozen DSLR models selling for under $1,000 today, you can find up to 24 megapixels in resolution at a great price, but all of these cameras are APS-C format, not full-frame. Many house pentamirror viewfinders, but there are also pentaprisms (Pentax K-30) and even high-quality OLED electronic viewfinders (Sony SLT-A65). Entry-level models are aimed at photographers moving up from compact cameras, so many of these DSLRs also have a number of simple-to-use automatic Scene modes, including Landscape and Sunset. Entry-level DSLRs aren't nearly as rugged as higher-end models, but they should serve the "weekend" landscape shooter well, and a rainproof cover will keep you shooting even in those gorgeous clearing storms. (It's not a bad idea to use a rainproof cover even with "weatherproof" cameras, when possible.)

For lenses, if you're just getting started in landscapes, you may want to consider one efficient superzoom: 18-200mm, 18-250mm, 18-270mm or even 18-300mm. These provide all the focal lengths you'll need in one convenient package. They aren't as sharp as shorter-range zooms of equal price or prime lenses of equivalent focal length, and they also have more distortion, but they let you learn which focal lengths best meet your landscape needs and keep your sensor from being exposed to dust. Once you figure out the focal lengths you prefer, you also can continue to build your kit with additional shorter-range, but higher-quality zooms or favored focal lengths in primes.


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