Sign up for our newsletter
Stay up to date on all the latest photography gear!Subscribe
How An Auto-Leveling Tripod Makes Life Easier For PhotographersGetting your tripod level can be...
5 Reasons To Buy A High-Quality And Adjustable TripodShopping for a tripod can be confusing....
Sigma 20mm F1.4 DG DN Art Lens ReviewNobody else makes a lens like the Sigma...
Wide Angle Wildlife
Reach for your wide angle lens to capture more of your subject’s story.
5 National Parks For Summer
They’re not too hot, not too crowded and they offer tons of summer-specific photographic opportunities.
Rafting Grand Canyon
For a new photo perspective on this iconic landscape, take a trip down the Colorado River.
Telephoto Wildlife Technique
How to get the most out of your long telephoto lens for wildlife.
Lake Of The Clouds
Best times and locations to photograph in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, Michigan.
Adam Jones on photographing the elements that give America’s first national park its out-of-this-world reputation.
This is the 1st of your 3 free articles
Become a member for unlimited website access and more.
FREE TRIAL Available!
Already a member? Sign in to continue reading
Camera, Lenses, Landscapes!
Today’s digital landscape photographers can choose from a great variety of DSLRs. Full-frame DSLRs have the advantage of larger sensors that can capture more light for better image quality and offer room for more pixels of any given size or larger pixels for a given pixel count. APS-C cameras have a cost advantage while still having a relatively large image sensor. Four Thirds System sensors can deliver excellent landscape images, as well, and cameras made with this format sensor often have a significant size and weight advantage for their camera bodies and lenses.
In this article, we present landscape outfits that consist of a camera and a three-lens kit of a wide-angle zoom, a normal zoom and a telezoom. This provides coverage for the majority of your landscape photography, plenty of compositional flexibility and excellent image quality. The popular wide-to-tele “superzooms” are compact and versatile, but the design and production challenges of correcting aberrations and distortions throughout such a wide range at an affordable cost make our three-lens kit a better choice for serious landscape work.
On these pages, we visit some excellent DSLRs (and mirrorless models) for landscape photography, including the newest cameras with next-generation technology, and we provide our recommendations for the best landscape zooms for each DSLR. Two of the DSLRs in this article weren’t available in stores as we went to press. The Canon EOS 5D Mark III and the Nikon D800 are two of the most eagerly anticipated cameras for landscape photography, and based on our preliminary information and limited hands-on experience, they look like they will be among the best cameras for landscape photography ever developed.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III
The viewfinder now shows 100% of the actual image area, with a superimposed display of AF points, gridlines and shooting data that you can switch on or off as desired. You also can compose and focus using the 3.2-inch, 1,040,000-dot LCD monitor in Live View mode. A new HDR mode merges three bracketed frames into a single image in-camera for improved detail from shadows through highlights. An automatic alignment function allows for doing HDRs handheld.
The EOS 5D Mark III improves on the EOS 5D Mark II’s video features in terms of image quality and function. It uses new H.264 video compression formats (editing-friendly ALL-I and space-saving IPB) and two ways to embed SMPTE-compliant time coding (which syncs separate cameras and audio recorders). You can shoot individual clips as long as 29 minutes, 59 seconds, adjust audio level manually and even use headphones to monitor audio thanks to a new jack. The Mark III shoots 1080 full HD video at 30p, 25p and 24p, 720 HD at 60p and 50p, and 640×480 SD at 30 and 25.
A new AF system, which is the same as the one in the new flagship EOS-1D X, features 61 sensors, up to 41 of them cross-types able to read both horizontal and vertical contrast: 15 to 21 cross-types (depending on lens) at ƒ/5.6, 10 to 20 at ƒ/4 and 1 to 5 ultra-high-precision cross-types with lenses of ƒ/2.8 or faster. The AF system works in light levels as low as EV -2 and features the same high-performance AI Servo III AF tracking algorithm as the EOS-1D X.
More durable than the 5D Mark II, the Mark III features improved weather sealing and a locking mode dial. The sensor-dust remover also has been improved. There are now two card slots, one for CompactFlash and one for SD/SDHC/SDXC.
Our preferred three-lens landscape kit for the EOS 5D Mark III starts with the EF 16-35mm ƒ/2.8L II USM, an ultrawide zoom that’s popular because of its sharpness across the zoom range. You instead could choose the EF 17-40mm ƒ/4.0 USM, a lighter, more compact and less costly optic that’s easier to carry in the field. The 16-35mm’s ƒ/2.8 maximum aperture isn’t essential for a landscape lens, as you’ll generally be shooting stopped down to optimize depth of field.
For the normal-range zoom, the new EF 24-70mm ƒ/2.8L II USM would be our first choice. The very fine EF 24-105mm ƒ/4L IS USM is an alternate. It’s a stop slower and thus lighter, more compact and lower priced.
For the telezoom, our first choice would be the EF 70-200mm ƒ/4L IS. Some may raise an eyebrow to this choice when Canon makes the EF 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 IS II, which is one of the highest regarded modern lenses available. The ƒ/4 version is much smaller, lighter and considerably less expensive than the ƒ/2.8 version, and if you’re primarily a landscape photographer who’s going to be stopping down to ƒ/16, there’s almost no difference in sharpness between the two. Canon also offers 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 and ƒ/4 zooms without image stabilization, but unlike all the other lenses we recommend here, those aren’t weather-resistant. If you work from a tripod and in good weather, the non-IS versions can save you a lot of money.
The long-anticipated successor to the camera that started pro DSLR video mania looks to be an ideal landscape camera, too. The EOS 5D Mark III ($3,499 estimated street price) features a new 22.3-megapixel Canon CMOS sensor. That’s not a huge jump over the EOS 5D Mark II’s 21.1-megapixel unit, but the sensor promises a substantial increase in image quality, both still and video. A new DIGIC 5+ processor with 14-bit A/D conversion works in concert with the sensor, allowing for a normal ISO range of 100-25,600 (expandable to 50-102,400) and shooting at up to 6 fps.
A new 63-zone iFCL dual-layer metering system takes into consideration color, luminance and data from the AF system’s 61 points to deliver better exposure in more situations. You also can choose center-weighted, partial (which measures the central 7.2% of the image area) or 1.5% spot metering.
Nikon D800 And D800E
A new 91,000-pixel 3D Color Matrix Metering II system has a newly designed RGB sensor that analyzes each scene and takes into consideration such factors as color, brightness and subject position in the scene to optimize exposure. The meter works in conjunction with the AF system to provide face detection AF in both Live View and optical viewfinder modes.
The D800 features essentially the same new AF system as the recently introduced flagship D4 pro camera, based on Nikon’s Advanced Multi-CAM 3500FX AF module. It has 51 AF points like previous high-end Nikon DSLRs, but now the central 15 points are cross-types. The AF system works in light levels as dim as EV -2 and with lens/teleconverter combos as slow as ƒ/8.
The D800 is built on a magnesium body, and it’s sealed against dust and moisture. A built-in sensor cleaner helps keep the sensor dust-free, which is especially convenient for changing lenses frequently in the field. The shutter has been tested to 200,000 cycles.
A new 3.2-inch, 921,000-dot LCD monitor with a 170° viewing angle is helpful for live-view and video shooting and playback. Brightness is automatically adjusted per ambient light level. The live image can be zoomed for precise manual focusing or autofocusing anywhere in the frame via contrast AF. If using the eye-level SLR finder, you can focus manually or use the phase-detection AF system.
A built-in, pop-up flash unit (ISO 100, guide number 39, in feet) can provide fill light for nearby foreground objects. There’s also a hot-shoe for dedicated external flash units and a PC connector for studio flash. The camera supports Nikon’s Creative Advanced Wireless Lighting System with compatible flash units so you can light ground objects in starscapes as desired.
The RGB-filtered image sensors used in most DSLRs—and the de-mosaicing processing required to turn their output into images—can produce moiré (false colors) and other artifacts. So these sensors are fitted with anti-aliasing low-pass filters to slightly blur the image at the pixel level and thus eliminate such problems. As this process also slightly reduces image sharpness, Nikon offers the D800 in a D800E model (for an additional $300) with an optical filter with the anti-aliasing properties removed to produce sharper images. This could be a very interesting feature for landscape shooters, but you may have to deal with any aliasing/moiré in postprocessing. The D800E comes with a version of Nikon Capture NX 2 software that includes a color moiré correction tool.
Our recommended three-lens landscape kit for the D800 or D800E would start with the highly regarded AF-S 14-24mm ƒ/2.8G or, for those who want a lighter, more compact and lower-priced option, the AF-S 16-35mm ƒ/4G. The logical normal zoom is the AF-S 24-70mm ƒ/2.8G; the lighter and lower-cost option would be the AF-S 24-85mm ƒ/2.8-4.0D. For the telezoom, the obvious choice is the AF-S 70-200mm ƒ/2.8G VR II, with the AF 80-200mm ƒ/2.8D as the lighter and lower-cost option.
The new Nikon D800 ($2,999 estimated street price) features a 36.3-megapixel, full-frame CMOS sensor delivering images measuring 7360×4912 pixels, which is tailor-made for finely detailed landscapes and huge prints. Nikon’s latest EXPEED 3 processing improves image quality and provides a normal ISO range of 100-6400, expandable to 50-25,600, despite the huge pixel count. Like previous full-frame Nikon DSLRs, the D800 also has a DX (APS-C) crop mode, and with the new camera’s high pixel count, DX crop mode becomes much more usable. The D800’s DX-format images are 15.4 megapixels—close to the D7000 and more than the D300S.
he D800 can do 1920×1080 full HD video at 30p and 24p (25p PAL), and 1280×720 HD video at 60p and 30p (50p PAL), in H.264/MPEG-4 AVC (.MOV) format. B-frame compression provides clip lengths up to 29 minutes, 59 seconds. A built-in mono microphone provides Linear PCM sound, and there’s a jack for an external stereo mic. The big full-frame sensor produces cinematic selective-focus control and much better low-light capability than conventional pro camcorders. You can shoot videos with virtually all Nikkor lenses (DX lenses only in DX crop mode, others in FX or DX mode), providing plenty of focal-length versatility.
Sigma SD1 Merrill
Featuring a rugged, yet lightweight magnesium-alloy body, the SD1 Merrill is sealed against dust and moisture. A 3.0-inch, 460K-dot LCD monitor provides easy viewing of just-shot images and menus. The bright eye-level pentaprism SLR viewfinder shows 98% of the actual image area. Images are stored on Type 1 CompactFlash cards (UDMA-compatible); there’s a single card slot. The shutter is rated at more than 100,000 exposures. To minimize vibration, the SD1 Merrill uses separate motors for mirror operation and shutter charge.
The SD1 Merrill features an 11-point AF system, with twin cross sensors for added precision. You can select any of the AF points manually, or let the camera do it. The AF system functions in light levels down to EV -1.
Sensor, Processor & ISO Range
Sigma’s original SD1 DSLR featured a new version of the unique Foveon X3 Direct Image Sensor with three times the pixel count of its predecessor and image-quality improvements to match. Now, Sigma has replaced the original SD1 with the SD1 Merrill (named in honor of late Foveon-sensor co-creator Richard Merrill), with the same performance and characteristics as the original SD1, but with a significantly lower price tag ($2,299 estimated street price). Sigma is offering “Sigma points” to those who bought the original SD1, which can be exchanged for Sigma products.
The photodiodes in image sensors are color blind; they detect the amount of light that strikes them, but not its color. To produce color information, conventional sensors are covered by a grid of red, green and blue filters so that each pixel records just one primary color of light (red, green or blue). The missing color data for each pixel is obtained via sophisticated interpolation of data from neighboring pixels. The Foveon X3 sensor takes advantage of the fact that light penetrates silicon to different levels depending on wavelength (color). It stacks its 44.4 million effective pixels in three 14.8-megapixel layers. Because of this stacking, each of the 4.8 million surface pixel sites can record light of all three primary colors. As a result, the Foveon sensor doesn’t require the low-pass blurring filter needed by conventional RGB-filtered sensors to avoid aliasing artifacts, and that results in greater resolution for a given horizontal-by-vertical pixel count. By most accounts, the 4704×3136-pixel images delivered by the SD1 Merrill’s Foveon sensor provide resolution equivalent to those of a 25- to 30-megapixel conventional sensor. The ISO range is 100-6400.
Our preferred three-lens landscape kit for the SD1 Merrill (with its 1.5x focal-length factor) starts with a superwide zoom. Sigma makes three good contenders. We like the combination of focal range, sharpness, contrast and value afforded by the 10-20mm F4-5.6 EX DC HSM. The 8-16mm F4.5-5.6 DC HSM, 10-20mm F3.5 EX DC HSM and 12-24mm F4.5-5.6 DG HSM II are all good options as well. For a midrange zoom, our choice is the 17-50mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM; the 17-70mm F2.8-4.0 DC Macro OS HSM is a lower-priced option. For the telezoom, the 50-200mm F4-5.6 DC OS HSM fits the bill focal-length-wise, but the APO 70-200mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM is better suited to the SD1 Merrill optically.
Other Important Features For Landscape Shooters
Like previous Sigma DSLRs, the SD1 Merrill favors simplicity over bells and whistles. Twin control dials provide direct access to exposure modes (program, shutter-priority, aperture-priority and metered manual), drive modes and user-chosen custom settings; you even can activate mirror prelock without going into LCD monitor menus. There’s also a built-in flash—a rarity on a pro DSLR—along with a hot-shoe for dedicated external flash units and a PC connector for studio flash systems (all handy for fill light on nearby objects and macro work). Maximum flash-sync shutter speed is 1⁄180 sec. A dust protector over the image sensor can be removed for easy cleaning (and since the protector doubles as an infrared filter, its removal makes it possible to do infrared photography, a task not easily done with other DSLRs).
The 77-segment evaluative metering system coordinates with the 11 AF points to optimize exposures. There’s also center-weighted and spot capability.
The SD1 Merrill doesn’t have video capability.
Well sealed against moisture and dust, the rugged magnesium-alloy A77 contains a shutter tested to 150,000 cycles. The DT 16-50mm ƒ/2.8 SSM “kit” zoom, VG-C77AM vertical grip and HVL-F43AM flash unit are also sealed against weather and dust. The camera automatically corrects for vignetting, chromatic aberration and distortion, and provides AF fine-tuning. SteadyShot INSIDE sensor-shift image stabilization works with all lenses, and there’s a sensor-dust removal system.
Along with eye-level viewing and continuous phase-detection AF for video, the A77 uses a new AVCHD Progressive 2.0 codec that provides 1920×1080 full HD video at 60p (as well as 60i and 24p for a “movie” feel). The A77 also can do 1440×1080 and 640×480 MP4 video at 30p. You can record stereo sound via built-in microphones, and plug an external mic into the provided jack.
The SLT concept provides full-time continuous phase-detection AF, even in video mode, with eye-level viewing via the built-in OLED Tru-Finder electronic viewfinder, or viewing via the external LCD monitor. There are 19 AF points, the central 11 being cross-types. You can choose any of them yourself, or let the camera choose the appropriate one. The AF system can function in light levels down to EV -1.
The A77 gives you a choice among 1200-zone evaluative, center-weighted and spot metering. The meter sensor meters the color and brightness data directly from the image sensor and recognizes a wide range of subject and shooting situations.
Our preferred three-lens landscape kit for the A77 begins with Sony’s widest zoom, the DT 11-18mm ƒ/4.5-5.6 (the A77 is an APS-C camera, with a 1.5x focal-length factor). For the normal-range zoom for the A77, the Zeiss DT 16-80mm ƒ/3.5-4.5 would be our first choice. For the long zoom, the 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 G is the best option.
Sony’s top fixed translucent-mirror camera, the SLT-A77 features a 24.3-megapixel Sony Exmor APS HD CMOS image sensor that delivers 6000×4000-pixel images in RAW or JPEG form. While not of great importance to landscape shooters, it’s interesting to note that a new Bionz imaging engine can process all that data quickly enough to permit shooting full-resolution RAW or JPEG images at 12 fps with continuous autofocusing (albeit with the lens at its widest aperture and exposure locked at the first frame, and at 8 fps at any aperture, with exposure set for each frame). ISO range is
100-16,000 (expandable to 50 and 25,600).
Other Important Features For Landscape Shooters
The excellent eye-level Tru-Finder shows 100% of the actual image area at a 1.09X magnification (with a 50mm lens at infinity) and provides dioptric eyepiece correction from -4.0 to +3.0—more than typical DSLR finders. It also can provide extensive information displays when you want them, as well as previewing exposure compensation, white balance and Creative Style settings. You can display three types of grids, helpful in keeping that horizon horizontal in landscapes. A 3.0-inch, 921,000-dot LCD monitor tilts 150° up and 180° down, as well as 180° clockwise and 90° counterclockwise, providing another viewing/composing option, handy for odd-angle shooting.
Auto HDR quickly shoots three bracketed exposures and merges the best of each into an image with detail from shadows through highlights, even for handheld shooting. Dynamic Rage Optimizer improves shadow and highlight detail with a single shot. Handheld Twilight shoots a six-shot burst at different settings, then uses proprietary Sony digital compositing technology and noise reduction to produce a single image with suppressed blur and noise.
A built-in GPS unit can automatically geotag images as you shoot (with latitude, longitude and altitude); you can then use that data to see where a specific image was shot, organize and search for images, or place images on digital maps. Sweep Panorama makes it easy to create dramatic stitched panoramic images in-camera by simply sweeping the camera across a scene.
Olympus OM-D E-M5 (Mirrorless)
Inspired by the classic Olympus OM-1 35mm film SLR, the new OM-D E-M5 mirrorless digital camera combines a classic look with the latest technology. This Micro Four Thirds System camera offers a number of features of interest to the landscape shooter.
First, there’s a new 16.1-megapixel Live MOS image sensor. Along with Olympus’ TruePic VI image processing, it provides improved image quality from ISO 200-25,600.
You can compose and manually focus (or monitor autofocus) via a new 1,440,000-dot eye-level electronic viewfinder (which, unlike many EVFs, is centered over the lens axis), with a 120 fps refresh rate. You also can use the tilting 3.0-inch touch-screen OLED monitor, great for odd-angle shooting and easy and touch-screen AF.
A new 5-axis image stabilization counters horizontal shift, vertical shift, rotary motion, yaw and pitch. It works for both still and video shooting, and is built into the camera body so it works with all lenses.
The contrast-based AF system is an updated version of the FAST (Frequency Acceleration Sensor Technology) AF system introduced in the PEN E-P3. At 240 fps off the sensor, it’s twice as fast as the E-P3 system, providing a maximum shooting rate of 4.2 fps with 3D tracking AF. The camera can shoot at 9 fps in single-shot AF mode.
Able to handle heavy rain and blowing sand, the OM-D E-M5 features a rugged and lightweight magnesium-alloy body. The new M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-50mm ƒ/3.5-6.3 EZ kit lens and provided FL-LM2 flash unit are also dust- and splashproof, as is the accessory HLD-6 Power Battery Grip.
For those who like to record motion in their scenic shots, the OM-D E-M5 can record 1920×1080 full HD and 1280×720 HD MOV (MPEG-4 AVC/H.264) video at 60i (59.94 fps), and 1280×720 HD and 640×480 SD AVI (Motion JPEG) at 30 fps. A built-in microphone provides stereo Wave Format (Linear PCM) sound. You can shoot video in program, shutter-priority and aperture-priority AE modes or manual, and apply a number of effects, including the cool new Echo and Multi Echo (which leave a momentary residual image of a subject’s movements).
Like all Micro Four Thirds System cameras, the OM-D E-M5 can use all Micro Four Thirds System lenses. The sensor has a 2.0x focal-length factor, but the 9-18mm zoom provides an angle of view equivalent to an 18mm lens on a 35mm camera, and the 7-14mm Four Thirds System zoom (usable on the OM-D EM-5 via the new MMF-3 Four Thirds Mount Adapter) provides a wide-view equivalent to 14mm. Due to their short flange-back distances, Micro Four Thirds cameras can use any lens for which an adapter is available, further expanding lens choices.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 (Mirrorless)
Panasonic’s top Micro Four Thirds model has the best overall image quality in the current Lumix G line. The 16.05-megapixel Lumix DMC-GH2 looks like a mini-DSLR, but contains no mirror or mirrorbox, and an eye-level EVF replaces the SLR’s optical viewfinder. The result is a very compact interchangeable-lens camera packed with features and performance.
The 3.0-inch, 460,000-dot LCD monitor tilts and swivels for any angle of shooting, while the built-in EVF provides live-view eye-level shooting when desired. The LCD monitor doubles as a touch screen—you can select camera functions, select the focus point and even trip the shutter just by touching the screen.
Autofocusing is via Panasonic’s “Light Speed” contrast-based AF. You can call up positionable horizontal and vertical guidelines on the LCD when desired to help keep horizons level.
ISOs range from 160-12,800. You can set different aspect ratios (4:3, 3:2, 16:9, 1:1) while retaining the same angle of view with a given lens because the camera uses only 16.05 million of the sensor’s 18.31 million pixels for a given aspect ratio. Intelligent D-range Control lets you bring out more details in bright and dark areas.
The GH2 can do 1920×1080 full HD video at 60p and 60i (and 30p and 25p, with a firmware upgrade), and 1280×720 HD at 60p in AVCHD format. It also can do 1280×720, 848×480, 640×480 and 320×240 Motion JPEG video at 30 fps. Variable frame rates can produce sped-up and slow-motion effects, and continuous AF is available. You can record stereo sound via a built-in or an external microphone. For full-resolution still images, the maximum frame rate is 5 fps and 40 fps at 4 megapixels.
Like all Micro Four Thirds System cameras, the GH2 can use all MFT lenses regardless of manufacturer. It can use other lenses via adapters; many are available. The Panasonic MFT lineup currently lists 14 lenses, from a 7-14mm wide-angle zoom and an 8mm fisheye to a 100-300mm zoom. With the MFT sensor’s 2x focal-length factor, this provides focal lengths equivalent to 14mm through 600mm on a 35mm camera.
Pentax K-01 (Mirrorless)
Pentax’s newest mirrorless model features a 16.3-megapixel APS-C image sensor similar to the highly regarded sensor in the flagship K-5 DSLR. Normal ISO range is 100-12,800, expandable to 25,600, and the camera accepts just about any Pentax K-mount lens ever built, plus Pentax medium-format and screw-mount lenses, via adapters. The K-01 features a retro-meets-contemporary look that’s functional as well as creative. Smaller and lighter than the K-5 (4.8×3.1×2.3 inches and 16.9 ounces vs. 5.2×3.1×2.3 inches and 23.3 ounces), the K-01 features a machined aluminum frame with a covering highlighted in yellow, black or white.
Autofocusing is contrast-based, with focus peaking to aid in manual focusing on the big LCD monitor. With focus peaking, in-focus edges in a scene are highlighted in color so you easily can see where focus is, even in dim lighting. The 3.0-inch LCD monitor features 921,000-dot resolution, but doesn’t tilt or swivel.
The K-01 incorporates Pentax’s effective sensor-shift shake reduction, which works with all lenses. It provides a high-speed-vibration sensor-dust removal system, and a number of built-in filters offer access to creative special effects in-camera.
While recent Pentax DSLRs have offered in-camera HDR capability, the K-01 improves on it, allowing the photographer to choose among three exposure increments and the level of the effect (as well as Auto HDR). You even can do HDR shots handheld.
The K-01 can capture 1920×1080 full HD video at 30p, 25p and 24p, 1280×720 HD at 60p, 50p, 30p, 25p and 24p, and 640×480 SD at 30, 25 and 24 fps (the 50 and 25 fps rates are PAL system). A built-in microphone records stereo sound, and there’s a jack for an external mic. Video format is MP4 with H.264 compression. You can adjust the shutter and aperture, and use the camera’s sensor-shift stabilization for video. A video button provides instant start of recording. Maximum clip length is 25 minutes.
The K-01 uses the same D-LI90 battery as the K-5 DSLR, so you should get more shots per charge than other full-time live-view cameras that use smaller batteries (but not as many as the DSLR). There’s a built-in flash unit (ISO 100, GN 39, in feet, 12 in meters), plus a hot-shoe for Pentax dedicated external flash units. Images are stored on SD, SDHC or SDXC cards (UHS-I-compliant).
Also of interest to landscape shooters are the Pentax K-5 weather-resistant DSLR, which as of this writing has the highest score of any APS-C-sensor camera in the DxOMark.com raw sensor ratings, and the Pentax 645D, an under-$10,000 medium-format DSLR with a 40-megapixel 44x33mm sensor and excellent image quality.
Sony NEX-7 (Mirrorless)
Featuring the same 24.3-megapixel APS-C sensor as the SLT-A77, but with a mirrorless design so the light doesn’t have to travel through a translucent mirror to reach the sensor, the NEX-7 produces the best image quality of any Sony digital camera. ISO settings range from 100-16,000. Besides image quality, the NEX-7’s landscape assets include manual-focus peaking, which outlines in-focus edges in your choice of white, red or yellow, making it easy to see exactly where focus is in a scene. You can frame images via the tilting 3.0-inch, 921,600-dot LCD monitor or the built-in 2,359,000-dot XGA OLED eye-level EVF (the same one used in the SLT-A77 and A65).
Auto HDR combines the best of two bracketed shots in-camera to provide more detail in shadows and highlights. Sweep Panorama and 3D Sweep Panorama modes let you create in-camera stitched panoramic images merely by sweeping the camera across the scene. Dynamic Range Optimizer (DRO) improves detail in high-contrast scenes. Anti-Motion Blur and Handheld Twilight modes quickly capture six images and then combine the data to minimize blur in motion and low-light shots.
Twin dials atop the camera complement the traditional NEX “three buttons and a dial” setup on the back to make operation easier than ever. An electronic first shutter curtain and the absence of an SLR mirror make for very quick response—shutter lag is just 20 milliseconds.
Especially handy for landscape photography, the NEX-7 can correct chromatic aberration, vignetting and distortion in-camera. The camera has ultrasonic sensor-dust removal, but no SteadyShot Inside sensor-shift image stabilization. (Sony’s 18-200mm zoom for the NEX cameras has Optical Steady Shot stabilization.)
Should you wish to record nature in motion, the NEX-7 can shoot 1920×1080 full HD video at 60p, as well as the more usual 60i, plus 24p for a “cinematic” feel, thanks to the new AVCHD Progressive 2.0 format. The camera also can do 1440×1080 and 640×480 video at 30p in MP4 when smaller files are needed. A built-in microphone provides Dolby Digital stereo sound. You can shoot videos in P, A, S or M mode. The camera will shoot full-res still images at 10 fps with focus and exposure locked at the first frame or at 2.5 fps with continuous AF and exposure adjustments.
The NEX-7 uses Sony E-mount lenses, which currently number three: an 18-55mm kit zoom, an 18-200mm “superzoom” and a 30mm 1:1 macro. Other lenses can be used via adapter. Sony offers two adapters that allow you to use Sony Alpha (DSLR) lenses on NEX cameras—the LA-E2 even provides a translucent-mirror phase-detection AF system similar to the one in the SLT-A65.