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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Build A Landscape Kit On Any Budget


Great photographs don’t always depend on the price of your equipment. OP takes a look at the advantages and disadvantages of entry-level, midrange and top-tier gear.

This Article Features Photo Zoom



Even though technology has certainly changed, the keys to capturing a great landscape haven’t. By finding a good subject in attractive light, exposing your image properly, composing it well, focusing accurately and keeping the camera absolutely steady, you can make amazing landscape images with practically any DSLR. DSLRs come in a wide range of prices, from just under $500 to nearly $8,000, so what exactly are the advantages to each price tier when it comes to photographing a scene? We’ve divided this article into three sections of cameras and gear. Cameras below $800 are ideal for low budgets, while midrange cameras go up to about $1,800 for APS-C models. High-end systems extend from there all the way up to medium-format cameras. As cost goes up, so do the possibilities, so let’s take a look at what you get with the landscape kit that you can afford to build.

>> Image Quality. Megapixels basically determine how large you can blow up an image before you can see the pixels. More megapixels can mean more detail, important in intricate landscape images, but image quality also depends on the quality of the sensor’s photodiodes and circuitry, the RGB and low-pass filters covering the sensors, the image processor and noise-reduction algorithms, and more (including, of course, how sharply focused and exposed the image is, and how steadily the camera was held during the exposure).

These items are more sophisticated in higher-end DSLRs generally, though that’s not to imply that entry-level DSLRs don’t produce good image quality. They’re capable of producing excellent images, especially at lower ISO settings, and especially when compared to compact digital cameras of equal pixel count. DSLRs have much larger image sensors, which means they have much larger pixels for gathering light more effectively.

>> Format. DSLRs come in several formats based on the size of their image sensors. Four Thirds System DSLRs (from Olympus) have sensors measuring 17.3x13.0mm, APS-C DSLRs (Nikon calls this format “DX”) have sensors around 23.6x15.8mm, and “full-frame” DSLRs have sensors measuring 36x24mm, the same as a full 35mm film-image frame.

Full-frame cameras offer two major advantages. First, lenses frame just as they do on a 35mm camera, whereas APS-C sensors have a 1.5x focal-length factor (a 100mm lens frames like a 150mm lens on a 35mm camera) and Four Thirds System sensors have a 2x factor (a 100mm lens frames like a 200mm lens on a 35mm camera). This means you need to use very short focal-length lenses with the smaller sensors to get truly wide-angle images. Today, all DSLR manufacturers and major independent lens makers offer true wide-angle lenses for smaller-sensor cameras.

The second advantage of a full-frame sensor is that there’s room for more pixels of a given size, or bigger pixels for a given pixel count. Generally, more pixels and bigger pixels are better, so full-frame cameras can be expected to produce better image quality than smaller-sensor cameras. The drawbacks to full-frame sensors are that they’re more expensive to produce (currently, the lowest-priced full-frame DSLR costs more than the highest-priced APS-C DSLR), and that big sensor makes the full-frame cameras bulkier than smaller-sensor models. Keep in mind that all-out pro models are much bulkier and heavier than lower-end DSLRs and less pleasant to cart around in the field for long periods.
There are big-name landscape pros who use full-frame DSLRs and big-name landscape pros who use smaller-format DSLRs, so the choice is up to your pocketbook and image-quality needs. The highest-resolution DSLRs and those with the best high-ISO performance are all full-frame models.
There are big-name landscape pros who use full-frame DSLRs and big-name landscape pros who use smaller-format DSLRs, so the choice is up to your pocketbook and image-quality needs. The highest-resolution DSLRs and those with the best high-ISO performance are all full-frame models.

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