Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Full-Frame: DSLRs For Landscape Master Work
Can you produce Ansel Adams-level images from a DSLR? Today’s full-frame models give you some outstanding options.
One of the many things Ansel Adams was known for was the superb image quality of his prints, which exhibited excellent detail and a magnificent range of tones. Of course, the light, the compositions and the subjects themselves certainly are part of the mix. But Adams' prints are so technically perfect that viewers appreciate them for that, as well as for the artistic aspects.
Adams worked mainly with large-format view and field cameras, in large part because the big (4x5-inch, 8x10-inch and even larger) film sheets, under his guidance, yielded wonderfully detailed, fine-grain prints. Images from smaller-format cameras just didn't meet his requirements. While small SLRs were lightweight and quick "extensions of the eye as used freely in the hand," 35mm was known in those days as the "miniature" format.
Now we're well into the digital era and today's "35mm" full-frame DSLRs can produce image quality that we think would suit Adams' high standards. Statements like this always elicit a response and often that response is pretty incendiary, but consider the realities. Currently, the lowest-pixel-count, full-frame DSLR delivers images measuring 4928x3280 pixels—enough to run the image as a full spread in this magazine at the 300 dpi publishing standard. The highest-pixel-count, full-frame DSLRs deliver images measuring 7360x4912 pixels—enough to publish at 24.5x16.4 inches at 300 dpi—and even bigger for a fine-art print. That's well into Ansel Adams territory.
All other things being equal, more pixels mean more detailed images and the ability to make bigger prints. And bigger sensors can collect more light than smaller ones, which makes for a better signal-to-noise ratio and cleaner images—and, thus, finer image detail for a given pixel count, along with better performance at all ISOs. For Adams-type images, big sensors with lots of pixels are the way to go.
You can do landscapes with any camera, of course, just as you could in the film days. Were he shooting today, Adams might well use a digital back on a large-format view camera for several reasons, but it's unlikely he would eschew DSLRs in the same way that he bypassed 35mm film SLRs. Today's full-frame DSLRs are a great choice for demanding digital landscape photographers. They can deliver terrific image quality, even in dimmer light (compared to other digital camera types and film), they're much easier to carry into the field than large-format cameras (especially with a kit of lenses), and price-to-performance ratios make them very attractive. Canon's 21.1-megapixel EOS 5D Mark II now sells for well under $2,000, while the brand-new 20.2-megapixel EOS 6D and 24.3-megapixel Nikon D600 sell for around $2,100. Sony's 24.3-megapixel SLT-A99, Canon's 22.3-megapixel EOS 5D Mark III and Nikon's 36.3-megapixel D800 and D800E offer some other advantages, and they're priced in the $2,800-$3,200 range.
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