When shooting landscapes, you’ll be hiking a lot, so there’s something to be said for traveling light. Packing only the essentials will keep your load manageable and your budget under control. Today’s entry-level gear is capable of producing some stunning imagery, and as your expertise grows, you’ll always be able to upgrade to superior equipment for even better image quality.
Giottos MTL9240B Tripod And 5011SB 3-Way Head
1Economy DSLRs. There are quite a few DSLRs that are more than capable of producing high-quality images at a low cost. For landscape photographers, the Sony Alpha DSLR-A380, for instance, offers a number of desirable features. A high-resolution, 14.2-megapixel CCD sensor provides a lot of resolution for big landscape prints. The LCD monitor features live view, and it has a unique quick phase-detection AF that prevents disruption of the live view during focusing. Most other DSLRs have to flip the mirror up and down into the light path to use phase-detection AF, which disrupts the live view, and contrast-based AF that does not disrupt live view is slow. The monitor also tilts up and down for easy shooting at odd angles, which is ideal for using strong foreground in a scene or shooting overhead. Sony’s effective Dynamic Range Optimizer (DRO) tames contrasty scenes, and the SteadyShot INSIDE sensor-shift image stabilization works with all Sony lenses to provide sharper shots when you have to shoot handheld. The DSLR-A380 includes anti-dust technology to keep spots off the image sensor, and the camera even provides two memory-card slots (Sony Memory Stick Pro and SD media), a rare feature on an entry-level DSLR.
Hoya Circular Polarizer
2Economy Landscape Lens Kit. Probably the best route for an entry-level landscape photographer is to start with a standard zoom that starts wide and goes to telephoto. That covers nearly anything you may want to photograph. Camera manufacturers and major lens makers offer zooms of 18-200mm or longer, which, when used on entry-level DSLRs with their APS-C image sensors, provide focal lengths equal to 27-300mm or longer on a 35mm camera. The benefits of a wide-range zoom include having a wide range of focal lengths at your fingertips, not having to buy and carry several lenses, and not having to change lenses in harsh field conditions. If you don’t wish to put all your optical eggs in one basket, a good entry-level two-lens kit would include a wide-angle zoom (18-55mm) and a normal-to-tele zoom (55-200mm).
Olympus Zuiko 40-150mm ƒ/4-5.6
Canon EF-S 18-55mm ƒ/3.5-5.6
For Four Thirds System cameras, with their 2x focal-length factor, there really isn’t an equivalent of the superwide super-zoom (to match the field-of-view range of a 18-200mm lens on an APS-C camera would take a 14-150mm lens on a Four Thirds camera), but a great entry-level two-lens kit would be 14-42mm and 40-150mm zooms, which would cover those focal lengths.
If you need to work handheld to capture a fleeting moment, stabilized lenses are well worth the extra cost. Most current Olympus, Pentax and Sony DSLRs have built-in sensor-shift stabilization that works with any compatible lens, and other manufacturers offer image stabilization in many of their newer lenses.
3Economy Landscape Accessories. For sharp landscapes, a tripod is an absolute must. While you may not be able to afford the lighter carbon-fiber models, there are a variety of good, sturdy tripods from Flashpoint, Giottos, Gitzo, Manfrotto, Slik, Sunpak and others. Legs that come with a standard head are frequently found in this price range, but if you want to have more versatility for framing your landscapes, consider buying a head separately. Large ballheads are generally beyond the economy budget, so you might look at a good three-way pan-tilt head. The main concern is steadiness: if the tripod and head won’t hold the camera solidly in place, they’re of little value at any price.