The great master of nature photography didn’t shoot with a digital camera, but if Ansel Adams was alive today, we’re pretty certain he would. Here, we look at some of the latest cameras and at the features in which Adams might have been most interested.
Nikon D3S. Nikon’s newest DSLR, the full-frame D3S is another master-of-all-trades, with superb image quality for the speed throughout its ISO range and capable of shooting at 9 fps (11 fps in cropped DX mode), with excellent autofocusing should you want to grab quick wildlife action that occurs while you’re out stalking great scenery. And with a normal ISO range of 200-12,800 expandable to 102,400, it can record excellent images in any light level.
The D3S is Nikon’s first pro DSLR to provide HD video capability. It can capture 720p HD video at ISOs up to 102,400 at 24 fps. The 3.0-inch, 921,000-dot LCD monitor provides Live View shooting with phase-detection and contrast-based AF, as well as manual focusing on a magnified image.
Extremely rugged and well sealed against the elements, the D3S lets you get shots in conditions that lesser cameras can’t handle. A battery good for up to 4,200 shots between charges and dual CompactFlash card slots mean you can do a lot of shooting before you have to think about “refueling.” A Dynamic Integrated Dust Reduction System keeps the big sensor clean.
Nikon D300S. Nikon’s top APS-C format (1.5x crop) DSLR, the D300S improves noticeably on the original D300’s image quality, even though both feature 12.3-megapixel CMOS sensors. Improvements are due, in part, to sensor technology and, in part, to new EXPEED processing. The D300S shares the D300’s normal low-noise ISO range of 200-3200, expandable to 6400, but image quality is better at all speeds. The powerful new processing also makes possible 720p HD video at 24 fps.
The 3.0-inch, 920,000-dot LCD monitor provides Live View operation with phase-detection and contrast-based AF, and manual focusing on a magnified image. A new Virtual Horizon Graphic Indicator makes it easy to level the camera for landscapes.
While not as all-out rugged as the D3-series cameras, the D300S is well built for outdoor shooting. It incorporates slots for both CompactFlash and SD memory cards, and Nikon’s Dynamic Integrated Dust Reduction System to keep the sensor clean.
Also Consider: Nikon’s top-of-the-line D3X features a 24.5-megapixel, full-frame CMOS sensor and all the ruggedness and the AF system of the D3S, but lacks the video capability. The D700 features the same sensor, processing, and AF and metering systems as the D3, but in a much lighter, more compact and lower-priced package. Both are excellent landscape cameras.
As mentioned in the main article, Adams did most of his shooting with large-format view cameras, in part for their movements. While DSLRs don’t have such movements, Canon and Nikon offer a series of lenses that provide them (albeit with not as great a range). Shift allows you to get a tall subject in the frame without tilting the camera up, thus keeping the film plane parallel to the subject and avoiding converging parallel lines. The tilt movement allows you to use the Scheimpflug principle to maximize depth of field: If you adjust things so lines drawn through the image (sensor) plane, lens plane and subject plane converge at a single point, depth of field will be maximized, even at wider apertures. This is especially important with DSLRs, as diffraction reduces image quality noticeably at apertures smaller than ƒ/11 to ƒ/16. Canon’s tilt-shift lenses are the TS-E 17mm ƒ/4L, TS-E 24mm ƒ/3.5L II, TS-E 45mm ƒ/2.8 and TS-E 90mm ƒ/2.8. Nikon’s tilt-shift lenses are the PC-E Nikkor 24mm ƒ/3.5D ED, PC-E Micro Nikkor 45mm ƒ/2.8D ED and PC-E Micro Nikkor 85mm ƒ/2.8D. All can be used on full-frame and small-sensor cameras, of course, providing a wider angle of view on the full-frame models.