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.
Olympus E-3. Olympus’ pro DSLR, the E-3 is a 10.1-megapixel, Four Thirds System model that’s rugged and splashproof (as are a number of the lenses for it). And all Four Thirds System lenses are designed specifically for the Four Thirds format, producing excellent image quality.
Olympus introduced sensor-dust removal in its first DSLR, and all Olympus DSLRs incorporate this handy feature for those who change lenses often in the field. A Live View button provides easy access to this feature, and the LCD monitor tilts and swivels for easy high-, low- and odd-angle shooting. An IS button activates the built-in, sensor-shift image stabilization, which works with all lenses.
Pentax K-7. Pentax’s top-of-the-line DSLR, the K-7 packs a 14.6-megapixel CMOS sensor (1.5x crop), a 3.0-inch Live View LCD monitor and even HD video in its smallest-in-category body. That body is weather-, dust- and cold-resistant, handy for getting those dramatic inclement-weather shots. Pentax SDM lenses are also weather- and dust-resistant. There’s a built-in intervalometer (ideal for time-lapse studies, such as the sun rising or setting, or an eclipse), a dedicated Live View button for easy operation of that feature, and your choice of two RAW formats—Pentax’s proprietary PEF or Adobe’s “universal” DNG. Other features of interest to landscape photographers include in-camera, three-frame HDR, auto correction of lens distortion and chromatic aberration when DA-series lenses are used, and the ability to use all Pentax lenses. There’s sensor-shift shake reduction that works with all lenses and a sensor-dust remover.
Sigma SD14. This no-nonsense image-making device is excellent for landscape photography. There’s a simple-to-activate mirror prelock and a wide selection of lenses. But mainly, the Sigma SD14 is the only current DSLR to feature the unique Foveon X3 image sensor. The photodiodes used in image sensors can’t detect color, they can only collect photons. To provide color data, conventional image sensors are overlaid with a Bayer filter array—a grid of red, green and blue filters—so that each pixel reads only red, green or blue light. Each pixel gets info for the missing colors from neighboring pixels via sophisticated proprietary interpolation.
The Foveon sensor takes advantage of the fact that different light wavelengths penetrate silicon to different degrees. Blue wavelengths don’t penetrate very far, green ones penetrate farther, and red ones go the deepest. So the Foveon sensor stacks three layers of pixels. Thus, every pixel site records all three colors, red, green and blue, and no interpolation is needed. Sigma bought Foveon last year, so Sigma’s DSLRs are likely to remain the only ones to feature this sensor.
Sony DSLR-A850. The full-frame, 24.6-megapixel A850 offers the same excellent image quality as its A900 big brother, along with most of its features, at a $700 savings. The A850 also shares the A900’s Sony Exmor CMOS sensor, dual Bionz image processors, multi-stage noise reduction, lenses and even dimensions. The main difference between the A850 and A900 is of little interest to the landscape photographer— the A850 tops out at 3 fps vs. 5 fps for the A900.
A full-frame sensor with 24.6 megapixels means lots of detail in landscape shots. Sony’s five-level DRO (Dynamic Range Optimizer) helps tame contrasty scenes. Super SteadyShot sensor-shift image stabilization works with all lenses, and there’s a sensor-dust remover.
The A850 doesn’t offer Live View operation, but an Intelligent Preview function lets you check the effects of exposure, white balance and DRO on a preview image on the 3.0-inch, 921,000-dot LCD monitor.
Also Consider: Sony’s first full-frame DSLR, the A900 offers the same high-res, 24.6-megapixel Sony Exmor CMOS sensor and dual Bionz processors as the newer A850, and offers faster shooting (5 fps) and a 100% SLR viewfinder. The pixel count, image processing and availability of excellent Zeiss T* and Sony G-series lenses make it an outstanding landscape camera.