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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Essential DSLR Features For Landscapes

Discover sophisticated DSLR modes and functions to free your creative vision in the field

Labels: D-SLRsGear
Picture Styles
Most non-pro DSLRs have a Landscape scene mode that sets the camera for point-and-shoot landscapes. Also, many DSLRs offer what Canon calls Picture Styles and Nikon calls Picture Controls (Pentax has Custom Images, Sony offers Creative Styles). Among them is one for Landscapes, which sets sharpening, contrast, saturation and hue to what the manufacturer considers optimal for landscapes. You can adjust the sharpness, contrast, hue and saturation (and various monochrome parameters should you choose to shoot black-and-white landscapes), making these controls more valuable for the serious landscape photographer than the Landscape scene mode. Note that if you shoot RAW files, you also can change any of these parameters when processing the RAW file.

Mirrorless Cameras
The new mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras are good landscape tools. They’re very compact and easy to carry pretty much anywhere, yet they have DSLR-sized image sensors and produce DSLR image quality. The lens selection is limited compared to what’s available for DSLRs, but these cameras—Olympus’ E-P series, Panasonic’s GF models, Samsung’s NX cameras and Sony’s NEX duo—are convenient and capable landscape tools, great as backups for a DSLR, or anytime you’re heading into terrain where carrying a bulky camera and a tripod is impractical.

You may think good high-ISO capability is of interest mainly to wildlife and sports photographers, but it’s a great asset for the landscape artist, too. A DSLR that performs well at high-ISO settings will let you use a fast enough shutter speed to negate the blurring effects of wind at the same time that it allows you to set a small enough aperture for extended depth of field and sharpness throughout the landscape from foreground to background. Good high-ISO capability even lets you shoot handheld when using a tripod is problematic. Some of the best landscape opportunities occur in low-light situations, especially at dusk, at dawn and in stormy weather, not to mention the many moods of moonlight and shaded glens and streams. Getting the camera off the tripod to experiment on the fly with compositions and framing is liberating! You may gain extra noise, but with acceptable levels of noise currently ranging up to ISO 800, sensor sensitivity has become part of the exposure equation alongside shutter speed and aperture.

How high can you dial up the ISO and still get good image quality? Test your camera to find out. You can shoot exposures (in manual mode) at each ISO setting with the lens cap on, then blow up the images to 100% on screen and crank up the contrast to get an idea of how “noisy” each setting is. A tip: Underexposed high-ISO images are much noisier than properly exposed ones; never underexpose at high ISOs.

Automatic Panoramas
Stitched panoramic images let you capture wider angles of view than is possible in a single shot. Some cameras will stitch images together into a single panoramic image automatically. Sony’s Sweep Panorama makes it simple: Sweep the camera across the scene, and the camera does the rest. This feature was introduced in compact digital cameras, but has now made its way into recent Sony DSLRs and mirrorless models. You can’t beat the ease and simplicity of Sweep Panorama if you want to try making wide-format images. We love using the feature.

Framing Assist
A number of DSLRs offer electronic horizons in live-view mode, and some also offer a horizon tool in the optical viewfinder. These devices help you keep the camera aligned, even in shots where the horizon doesn’t appear in the frame or is obscured by mist. Bear in mind, though, that these aren’t always accurate if the camera is tilted up or down sharply. Quite a few recent DSLRs also provide handy gridlines, either in live-view mode on the LCD monitor or in the eye-level viewfinder—some even in both. These are useful when you can see the horizon in the image and for aligning vertical lines.


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