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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

>> Camera Performance. All current DSLRs offer quick startup and “wake-up” from sleep mode, excellent multi-segment metering systems, and quick and accurate autofocusing. Higher-end models start up the quickest, can shoot at the fastest rates and have the best AF systems. Even where a midrange model and a high-end model may have similar metering or AF features, the higher-end model has more powerful processing, and thus can operate more quickly and with better algorithms. In short, the higher-end cameras provide the best performance.

>> Ruggedness. Higher-end DSLRs are more rugged and better suited to shooting in harsh climatic conditions than lower-end ones. High-end models are better sealed against moisture and dust, and have shutters tested to 200,000 to 300,000 cycles versus 100,000 to 150,000 cycles for midrange models. The midrange Pentax K-7 is splash-, dust- and cold-resistant, however, as is the Olympus E-3 (which is actually a pro model, but with a midrange price). Not all landscapes are shot in harsh conditions, and you can save a lot of money by getting the lower-priced model (a Canon EOS 5D Mark II instead of an EOS-1Ds Mark III, or a Nikon D700 instead of a D3S, for example). But if you’ll be shooting in harsh conditions, you’ll want a camera that can handle it.

>> Viewing. Live-view operation lets you view the image on the camera’s external LCD monitor before you record it. Most current DSLRs offer live view, regardless of category. Live view is handy for landscape photography because it’s easier to examine a composition and fine-tune focus on the zoomed live image than using the SLR viewfinder. A few live-view DSLRs (including several entry-level models) have tilting or swiveling LCD monitors, making it easy to shoot at high, low and odd angles. Curiously, most high-end DSLRs don’t have this useful feature. (The Olympus E-3 does have a swivel live-view LCD.) However, all of the high-end DSLRs and most mid-level ones have 3.0-inch, 920,000-dot LCD monitors, while most entry-level cameras have smaller, lower-resolution screens. A number of newer high-end and mid-level DSLRs also have built-in electronic levels to help you keep the camera aligned with the horizon, even when it doesn’t appear in the image, useful for landscape photography.

>> Stabilization. While most landscape work is best done from a sturdy tripod, there are times when you’ll be shooting handheld. Image stabilization, of which there are two types, is a great help. Sensor-shift stabilization moves the image sensor to compensate for camera shake, producing sharper handheld images. In-lens stabilization moves a special lens group to compensate for camera shake. Sensor-shift stabilization has the advantage of working with any lens you put on the camera and the drawback of stabilizing only the recorded image, not the SLR viewfinder image (it does stabilize the live-view monitor image). In-lens stabilization stabilizes both recorded and viewfinder images, and can be optimized for each specific lens, but you have to buy more expensive stabilized lenses to get it.

>> Lenses. Traveling with primes in the field is difficult, so most modern landscape work is done with high-quality zoom lenses. Optics are as important as the camera you’re using, and the more you spend on your glass, the sharper the image often will be. Higher priced lenses also can gain you wider apertures for faster shutter speeds and shallower depth of field, so we always recommend buying the best lens you can afford. That said, manufacturers offer a wide array of good lenses that have been built for economy, and there are a lot of inexpensive zooms out there that still provide decent image quality and cover a good range.

>> Camera Bags. The farther you travel, the less you’ll want to carry, so packing for your trip is a trade-off between what you absolutely need and what you can carry. Sometimes all that you’ll need is a small bag with enough room for a camera and a lens, and other times you’ll need to bring along multiple lenses, as well as accessories, extras and backups, not to mention big items like tripods and laptops. Each situation is different, and thankfully, with so many great bag manufacturers offering exciting new designs, there’s no doubt you’ll be able to find the best model to meet your needs. Choosing the right camera bag makes all the difference between a comfortable hike and a difficult journey.

>> Extras. Nothing will make your landscapes sharper than a good tripod and head, and modern tripods are lighter and sturdier than ever before. Of course, while the cost goes up, weight generally goes down, but if weight isn’t a concern, there are plenty of excellent, cost-efficient models that will give your landscapes the sharpness they require. And improving your image-processing pipeline with plenty of high-capacity, fast-transfer memory cards will make capturing that perfect shot all the more possible while you’re losing the light or unable to download to a computer. The extras also can make subtle impacts on your photos, and with optical filters you can turn a good landscape image into a great one. Polarizers, which can’t be replicated digitally, are absolutely indispensable for even low budgets, and as your filter options increase with bigger budgets, so does the potential for spectacular imagery right in your camera.


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