The D5200 recently bumped the Pentax K-5 series from first place among APS-C sensors in DxOMark.com's sensor ratings. Key features include the new 24.1-megapixel DX-format (APS-C) CMOS sensor, 14-bit RAW files and in-camera HDR. The pentamirror eye-level viewfinder shows 95% of the actual image area, while the 3.0-inch, 921K-dot LCD monitor tilts and rotates for low- and high-angle shooting in Live View mode. There's a Spot Metering mode that reads 2.5% of the actual image area, an excellent tool for determining scenic brightness range, as well as basing exposure on a specific object in a scene. Lower-end lenses won't make the most of the D5200's 24-megapixel sensor, but the sensor will get the most out of any lens you use on the camera. Expandable ISO range is 100-25,600, settable in 1⁄3- or 1⁄2-stop increments.
The K-30 features a 16.3-megapixel APS-C sensor similar to the high-quality K-5 series, but with 12-bit rather than 14-bit A/D conversion. Despite costing substantially less than the K-5 models, the K-30 is sealed against moisture and dust with a 100% pentaprism viewfinder. It offers the same LCD monitor specs and ISO up to 25,600. There's also an electronic level, in-camera HDR, focus peaking, sensor-shift shake reduction, multiple-exposure capability and a built-in intervalometer. Like all Pentax DSLRs, the K-30 can use all K-mount Pentax lenses, but performs best with the newer ones.
Featuring the same 24.3-megapixel Sony Exmor HD APS-C sensor as the A77, the same translucent mirror technology and the same 2359K-dot OLED Tru-Finder electronic viewfinder, the A65 costs considerably less, but delivers similar image quality. The A65 lacks its big brother's weather resistance, but has a built-in GPS, a 3.0-inch, 921K-dot tilting/swiveling LCD monitor and the same video capabilities as the A77. Other features of note for landscape photographers include in-camera HDR, Sony's Sweep Panorama and 3D Sweep Panorama, and a digital level. Like all Sony DSLRs, the A65 can use all Sony A-mount lenses, as well as legacy Konica Minolta Maxxum lenses.
Landscape DSLR Considerations
Landscape images are generally printed big and with great detail. That means you need a lot of megapixels for a lot of resolution, and you also need lenses that are capable of resolving to such high standards. Modern DSLRs provide at least 12 megapixels in resolution or higher, currently topping out at 24.3 megapixels for APS-C cameras and 36.3 megapixels with full-frame models. Besides resolution, dynamic range and color performance are also incredibly important. The top current performer is Nikon's full-frame D800/D800E, with a little more than 14 stops of dynamic range, roughly that of film. With digital cameras, you also can choose an in-camera white balance setting to suit the conditions, or you can shoot RAW files rather than JPEGs to change the white balance as you process. RAW provides more potential tonal steps, with 4,096 (12-bit) or 16,384 (14-bit) colors versus the 256 colors you'll find in 8-bit JPEGs. RAW also does away with artifacts and quality loss due to lossy compression with a JPEG. While compression certainly looks good online, these effects are quite noticeable when working with large landscape prints.
Landscape images are best focused manually, so quick AF performance isn't necessarily important. Good manual-focusing capabilities are far more useful. Pentaprism viewfinders are brighter (and thus provide easier manual focusing), often with more accurate coverage of the frame over the pentamirror finders found in most lower-end DSLRs. Many digital landscape shooters also use Live View mode to compose and focus because you can magnify a desired portion of the screen to check and change focus. Some newer cameras even offer focus peaking, where the in-focus edges in the live-view image are highlighted. A few newer cameras like mirrorless models and Canon's EOS T4i also offer touch-screen focusing like your smartphone; just touch the point in the image on the LCD monitor where you want to place focus, and the camera will focus there.
Regardless of budget, there are several accessories that are essential for giving your landscapes a creative edge. The effects of a polarizer can't be replicated digitally, like control over reflections on nonmetallic surfaces, including lakes and rivers, which are often vital elements in a landscape. Neutral-density filters and graduated neutral-density filters are available in a large variety of stops for extra control over shutter speed, aperture and ISO. ND filters provide effects like the "cotton candy" blur to running water. Grad NDs with varying densities can be used to control uneven exposures in areas with a lot of contrast or too much dynamic range. While buying the most expensive filters won't necessarily give you the best glass, lower-end optical filters actually can degrade image quality, especially when stacking filters.