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Photography Kits For Any Budget
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 17.3×13.0mm, APS-C DSLRs (Nikon calls this format “DX”) have sensors around 23.6×15.8mm, 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.
>> 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.
On A Pro Budget
With a big budget, you can get high-end gear, and you really can’t go wrong with the top DSLRs and lenses. A bigger budget gets you the best image quality, larger sensors, extreme ISO capability, extensive gear possibilities and all the in-camera features that you could ever need for adding subtle or not-so-subtle tweaks to your landscape images.
1 High-End DSLRs. High-end pro cameras are very rugged, built to withstand heavy pro use in harsh conditions. They also have the best sensors, more and/or larger pixels, the most powerful image processing, the fastest shooting rates and produce the best image quality, even at a given megapixel level—especially at higher ISO settings (due, in part, to bigger pixels in the full-frame models and, in part, to more powerful image processing). This high-ISO capability opens up creative landscape opportunities film photographers could only dream about, including high-quality post-dusk/predawn shots and moonlit landscapes. Keep in mind that pro cameras are much bulkier and heavier than even the midrange models, a factor when you’re carrying the camera in the field all day.
Sigma 8mm ƒ/4 Fisheye
PC-E Micro Nikkor 45mm ƒ/2.8D
Canon EF 16-35mm ƒ/2.8L II
Canon TS-E 24mm ƒ/3.5L
Lexar 32 GB Professional 600x
SanDisk 64 GB Extreme Pro CF
The Nikon D3S features excellent image quality at higher ISO settings, great for dusk and dawn shooting. It has 12.1 megapixels, and no 35mm-form-factor DSLR produces better image quality at higher ISOs. Landscape shooters will appreciate live viewing on the 3.0-inch, 920,000-dot LCD monitor, the extremely rugged and well-sealed pro body, long battery life, dual CompactFlash-card slots, a Dynamic Integrated Dust Reduction System to keep images free of dust spots, and the ability to shoot 720p HD video at 24 fps for cinematic videos to accompany images of your scenes.
Tiffen Scenic Enhancement Kit
2 High-End Landscape Lens Kit. A big budget means you can go for the pro zooms, fast primes and tilt-shift optics. The pro zooms and primes are sharper than less expensive lenses and better corrected for distortion (especially important when composing with the horizon high or low in the frame with a wide-angle lens). Pro lenses generally have larger maximum apertures, so you can shoot in dimmer light and really throw distracting backgrounds out of focus. Top lenses also produce optimum image quality throughout a wider range of apertures. Pro zooms feature fixed maximum apertures, meaning that a 28-70mm ƒ/2.8 lens is ƒ/2.8 at all focal lengths, while a midrange 28-70mm ƒ/2.8-4.0 lens slows to ƒ/4 at 70mm. Pro lenses are often better built and better sealed against the elements (but not all are weatherproof; check the manual).
Start with a superwide zoom: a 14-24mm ƒ/2.8 or 16-35mm ƒ/2.8. Add a 24-70mm ƒ/2.8 and a 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 if you like the telephoto point of view; it’s also a great tool for capturing skittish game from afar if you see wildlife. Full-frame fisheyes (generally, 15mm or 16mm) are great for producing a 180-degree angle of view (measured diagonally), handy if you like that specialized distorted, yet frame-filling look.
Canon TS-E and Nikon PC-E manual-focus tilt-shift lenses are definitely high-end and offer excellent optical quality. They provide view-camera-style tilt and shift movements, which allow you to correct converging vertical lines when desired and provide more control over depth of field.
Gitzo Traveler Tripod
3 High-End Landscape Accessories. With large budgets, a top-tier tripod should be your first purchase. One made of carbon-fiber (or similarly exotic materials) will provide better stability and strength than aluminum, yet weigh considerably less. Higher-end tripods are better sealed against the elements and often quicker to set up. You can find sturdy tripods that collapse into more compact packages for easy carrying. You also might consider a wooden tripod—while heavier than carbon fiber, wood suppresses vibrations well, and the material isn’t uncomfortable to pick up in very cold or hot weather.
Tamrac Expedition 9x Backpack
A high-end landscape filter kit will still include a polarizer (and/or a warming polarizer) and perhaps a full set of graduated ND filters in both a soft- and hard-edged type. You might want to add a variable neutral-density filter, which allows you to change the degree of ND by rotating the filter ring, handy when you wish to use a long exposure time to blur moving water or to make passers-by “disappear” from a scene. Some landscape photographers who work in black-and-white might prefer to use colored filters over the lens in the traditional manner, saving image-processing time later. In a black-and-white photo, a colored filter will lighten objects of its own and similar colors and darken objects of its complementary color. You can use a red filter to lighten red flowers and darken green leaves, so the flowers and leaves don’t photograph as the same shade of gray, or you can use a yellow or red filter to darken a blue sky so that white clouds really stand out. A high-quality clear glass or UV filter can protect the front element of your costly high-end lens against the elements.
Of course, a big budget allows you to carry your gear in style via a top-tier camera bag or backpack, plus a hard case for protecting your expensive gear when traveling. Memory cards at this level offer extremely quick operation for fast file writing and transfer, as well as huge capacities, although they still fill up because the image file sizes are so large with these cameras.
These cameras are the best of the best, offering large, high-resolution sensors for large, high-quality landscapes.
Canon EOS-1D Mark IV
The EOS-1D Mark IV is the only non-full-frame model in our high-end category, featuring an APS-H 16.1-megapixel CMOS sensor with a 1.3x focal-length factor. Besides the excellent image quality, landscape shooters will appreciate the rugged, well-sealed pro body, live view on the 3.0-inch, 920,000-dot LCD monitor, automatic vignetting correction, enhanced full HD 1080p video shooting at 30 or 24 fps, and the ability to nail any sudden wildlife action that presents itself.
Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III
Canon’s flagship model has been surpassed in image quality by the EOS 5D Mark II and in “flash” by the new EOS-1D Mark IV, but it’s still a great landscape camera, with 21.1-megapixel resolution, a rugged and well-sealed pro body, and excellent image quality.
Canon EOS 5D Mark II
The first full-frame DSLR to offer video capability, and the first DSLR with 1080p full HD video, the Mark II features an upgraded version of the EOS-1Ds Mark III’s 21.1-megapixel Canon full-frame CMOS sensor in a lighter, more compact package for less than half the price.
Nikon’s highest-resolution DSLR, the 24.5-megapixel D3X shares the D3S’s extremely rugged and well-sealed pro body and excellent AF and metering systems, with twice the pixel count.
Nikon’s full-frame, 12.3-megapixel D700 offers excellent high-ISO image quality (and low-ISO image quality, too), AF and metering performance, in a more compact and lighter body for about half the price of the D3S. The D700 also has a built-in sensor-dust remover.
Sony Alpha DSLR-A850
The full-frame DSLR-A850 features the same 24.6-megapixel Sony Exmor CMOS sensor, excellent image quality, sensor-shift image stabilization and body as Sony’s flagship model, the DSLR-A900. That makes it a real bargain. There’s no live view, but you can preview the effects of exposure, white balance and the five-level Dynamic Range Optimizer on the 3.0-inch, 921,600-dot LCD monitor via the camera’s Intelligent Preview feature.
Sony Alpha DSLR-A900
The DSLR-A900 includes all of the advantages of the DSLR-A850, as well
as a remote control, and also can shoot at a fast 5 fps. The DSLR-A900 incorporates an optical viewfinder that shows 100% of the actual area compared to 98% in the DSLR-A850.
On A Modest Budget
When looking at midrange gear, you’ll see some perks and extra features that will make landscape photography that much easier to produce, like more durable construction, smarter cameras and plenty of unique features to assist you in making your landscapes as amazing as they can be.
Manfrotto 190X Series
1 Midrange DSLRs. Midrange DSLRs have larger buffers, so they can shoot more consecutive images at top speed—you can shoot sequences of incoming surf to catch just the right moment, for example. Midrange models also are more rugged and better able to handle heavy use and harsh outdoor conditions (although not all are able to withstand rain). A surprising number of pro landscape photographers use midrange DSLRs.
The Pentax K-7 packs a lot of useful features into its very compact and water-, dust- and cold-resistant body. There’s a 14.6-megapixel CMOS sensor with a dust reducer and sensor-shift Shake Reduction that provides Pentax lenses with up to four stops of compensation. An electronic level is an incredible tool for helping you to keep your landscapes aligned, even when the horizon doesn’t appear in the image. Three-frame, in-camera HDR capability is a big help with scenes that have too much contrast, while in-camera correction for lens distortion and lateral chromatic aberration also enhance final image quality. Despite the camera’s tiny dimensions, there’s a big 3.0-inch, high-resolution 921,000-dot LCD monitor with live view and an optical SLR viewfinder that shows 100% of the actual image area. The camera also can shoot HD video.
B+W Warming Polarizer
Heliopan Grad ND Filte
2 Midrange Landscape Lens Kit. A midrange landscape lens kit would include the same range of focal lengths as the entry-level kit, but these can be higher-quality optics for a step up from the “kit-lens” class. You also can go for wider and longer focal lengths. As you’d expect, midrange lenses are sharper and built better than entry-level lenses, but don’t offer some of the benefits that pro-level glass does, such as a constant fixed aperture. Midrange DSLRs are all APS-C (1.5x to 1.7x focal-length factor) or Four Thirds System (2x factor) cameras, so take that into consideration when looking at focal lengths.
The basic zoom kit for APS-C cameras would include a wide zoom (10-20mm, 10-22mm, 11-16mm, 12-24mm, etc.), a midrange zoom (17-50mm, 17-70mm, etc.) and a telezoom (70-200mm). Of course, if you just “see” wide-angle landscapes, you won’t need the telezoom, but you may want to add an inexpensive ultrawide or fish-eye. A single-lens “kit” that covers most landscape needs would be a zoom of 15-85mm, 16-80mm, 16-85mm, 17-70mm or even 16.5-135mm.
Tamron AF18-270mm ƒ/3.5-6.3 Di II
Tokina AF 16.5-135mm ƒ/3.5-5.6
Pro-Optic 8mm ƒ/3.5 Fish-Eye CS
For Four Thirds System cameras, a good midrange landscape lens kit would include the 9-18mm, 10-20mm or 11-22mm wide zoom, the 14-54mm, 18-50mm or 12-60mm midrange zoom or maybe the 18-180mm wide-range zoom. The Olympus E-3 is a pro body, so a high-end landscape kit for it would include the 7-14mm, 14-35mm and 35-100mm SHG lenses.
Clik Elite Jetpack
3 Midrange Landscape Accessories. With a midrange budget, you can get a carbon-fiber tripod, which will be lighter, yet sturdier than lower-priced aluminum models. More expensive tripods also start to come with perks, like weatherproof leg locks and removable center columns for taking macro shots of flora along the way.
You also can get a good ballhead, one rated to hold the weight of the camera and lenses you’ll use with it. Most landscape photographers prefer ballheads because they can position the camera as desired by unlocking a single knob, then lock the camera there by tightening the same knob. Most ballheads also offer 360 degrees of rotation, so you’re not locked into horizontal or vertical framing.
Hoodman 4 GB RAW CF
Kingston 32 GB SDHC
Besides a polarizer, a midrange landscape kit should include a graduated neutral-density filter—clear on one half, dark on the other half. You can position the dark half over a bright sky area in a landscape image, reducing the brightness range enough to record detail in the sky and in a dark foreground. Grad ND filters come in a range of strengths, and a two-stop filter with a soft gradation is a good general choice. You also might consider a warming polarizer instead of a regular polarizer; this adds a pleasant warm cast along with the polarizing benefits.
For memory cards, higher prices get you bigger capacity and faster read/write times. With street prices starting at about $20 and up, you’ll be able to afford 4 GB capacities and up with faster transfer speeds. These step-up cards are handy for shooting sequences, especially important in rapidly changing conditions.
A good photo backpack lets you carry your whole landscape kit into the wilds and allows you to keep your hands free, handy on rough terrain or should a photo op suddenly turn up. Bags in this range also include space for laptops, as well as weather sealing and rain covers.
There’s a variety of midrange cameras that offer incredible potential for landscapes.
Canon EOS 7D
Canon’s top midrange model offers a category-leading 18 megapixels. Other features of interest to landscape photographers include vignetting correction, a dual-axis electronic level, Auto Lighting Optimizer and Highlight Tone Priority to handle tough contrast. The EOS 7D can shoot full-res still images at 8 fps, great should a wildlife action moment occur while you’re out there.
Canon EOS 50D
The EOS 50D features 15.1 megapixels, a 3.0-inch, 920,000-dot live-view LCD monitor, lens vignetting compensation and AF fine-tuning, quick AF, a sensor-dust remover and more for two-thirds of the price of the 7D, but no video.
The 12.3-megapixel D300S adds 720/24p HD video capability, an electronic virtual horizon and a slot for an SD/SDHC card to accompany the CompactFlash-card slot. Other features include excellent 51-point AF, full-res shooting at 7 fps, your choice of 12- or 14-bit RAW recording and the ability to use the full range of full-frame and DX Nikkor lenses.
The first DSLR to feature HD video, the D90 offers excellent 12.3-megapixel image quality and surprisingly good AF performance at a very good price, along with a sensor-dust remover, a 3.0-inch, 920,000-dot live-view LCD monitor and more.
The E-3 is Olympus’ flagship camera, but its aggressive price puts it in the midrange category. The E-3 has a rugged dust- and splashproof body, a free-angle tilting/rotating LCD monitor with live view, slots for CompactFlash and xD-Picture Cards, Olympus’ pioneering Super Sonic Wave Filter sensor-dust remover and super-quick autofocusing with Olympus SWD lenses. Like all Four Thirds System cameras, the E-3 has a 2x focal-length factor, which is great for taking landscapes at the tele end.
This midrange model actually features more pixels than the E-3 (12.3 vs. 10.1), a larger free-angle LCD monitor with added live-view capabilities and six creative Art filters. It shares the E-3’s dual memory-card slots, but not the E-3’s pro-rugged splashproof body.
Sony Alpha DSLR-A550
The DSLR-A550 features a 14.2-megapixel CMOS sensor, a tilting 3.0-inch, 921,600-dot live-view LCD monitor, sensor-shift SteadyShot image stabilization with all lenses, effective five-level DRO (Dynamic Range Optimizer) to handle high-contrast scenes, two-shot in-camera Auto HDR that works even in handheld operation, and slots for both SD and Memory Stick Pro media.
Sony Alpha DSLR-A500
Essentially an A550 with a 12.3-megapixel CMOS sensor, the A500 shares most of the same features, but has a lower-resolution tilting live-view LCD monitor (230,000 vs. 921,600 dots).
Sony Alpha DSLR-A380
On An Econo Budget
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
1 Economy 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
2 Economy 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.
3 Economy 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.
Tenba Mixx Photo Daypack
On a tight budget, we recommend one filter for landscapes that’s absolutely necessary: a polarizer. Its effects can’t be replicated digitally, including elimination of unwanted reflections from nonmetallic surfaces like lake surfaces, ponds and other bodies of water. A polarizer also can darken a blue sky so white cloud formations stand out dramatically (the effect is strongest when the sun is to your left or right) and produce more saturated colors by eliminating the polarized flare that desaturates them.
PNY 16 GB Optima SDHC
SanDisk 2 GB SD
You can save money by choosing a memory card with slower read and write speeds, which isn’t extremely important when shooting landscapes, so when deciding which cards you need, look at capacity foremost. Also, purchase at least two cards, if not more. You don’t want to have to start deleting shots just because you run out of space.
Since your budget landscape kit will be fairly compact—a compact DSLR, one or two smaller lenses and one filter, along with spare batteries and memory cards—you can make do with a smaller camera bag. Just make sure it comfortably will hold everything you intend to carry and is strongly built. Billingham, Crumpler, Domke, Kata, Lowepro, Mountainsmith, Tamrac, Tenba and Think Tank are just a few of the manufacturers that make good bags at effective prices.
These DSLRs are great entry-level choices for landscape photographers.
Canon EOS Rebel T2i
The EOS Rebel T2i features a number of image-quality-enhancing features of interest to landscape photographers: Auto Lighting Optimizer (enhances shadow detail and adds contrast to flat scenes); Highlight Tone Priority (adds up to one stop of detail in bright areas); Peripheral Illumination Correction (automatically corrects lens vignetting); four-level High ISO Noise Reduction; and Long Exposure Noise Reduction.
Canon EOS Rebel T1i
With the T1i, you get 15.1 megapixels, a high-res, 3.0-inch live-view LCD monitor, HD video, 14-bit RAW images, ISOs to 12,800, a sensor-dust remover and the ability to use all EF and EF-S lenses—for about $100 less than the new T2i.
The D5000 features a 12.3-megapixel CMOS sensor similar to the one in the higher-end D300S, along with similar excellent image quality. It offers a tilt/swivel live-view LCD monitor, very effective Active D-Lighting to hold detail in high-contrast scenes and compact dimensions with a light weight.
Nikon’s lowest-priced “new” DSLR, the D3000 features 10.2 megapixels, very simple operation, a 3.0-inch LCD, Active D-Lighting, +/-5-stop exposure compensation and more.
The E-620 features a 12.3-megapixel Live MOS sensor, and you can shoot your landscapes in any of four formats: 4:3, 3:2, 16:9 and 6:6 square. The 2.7-inch live-view LCD tilts and swivels to any angle, and sensor-shift stabilization works with any Four Thirds System lens. Six in-camera Art Filters provide creative options that you can apply to your scene.
The tiny E-450 features 10 megapixels, Supersonic Wave Filter dust reduction, three Art Filters, Shadow Adjustment Technology and recording on CompactFlash and xD-Picture Cards.
The K-x packs lots of useful features into a very compact 4.8×3.6×2.7-inch package, including a 12.4-megapixel CMOS sensor, operation on widely available AA batteries (lithiums or rechargeable NiMH units provide excellent performance on long hikes), an ISO range of 200-6400 (expandable to 100 and 12,800) and in-camera three-shot HDR for capturing shadow and highlight detail.
Sony Alpha DSLR-A330
Essentially a 10.2-megapixel A380, the A330 otherwise offers the same features and the ability to accept the wide range of Sony and Minolta Maxxum-mount lenses.
The Most Important Equipment Vs. The Most Expensive
In this article, we’ve outlined some of the gear you’d need to build a solid outfit for your budget level. We’re suggesting the equipment you’d want as a foundation, and from there you can add accessories that fit your personal style and shooting habits. We’ve kept this simple in the article because, beyond the foundations, everyone tends to have different needs.
As you build your system, I suggest that you keep something in mind that was told to me when I was in school. I had a professor who responded to my desire to buy an exotic, but relatively modestly priced light modifier by telling me that the most expensive piece of gear is the one that’s never used. There’s a flip side to that sentiment as well: The least expensive piece of gear is the one that you use all the time.
At the time I was contemplating my lighting purchase, I didn’t have much money, and although it wasn’t too expensive, it would have been a stretch for me. After some contemplation, I reconsidered and planned a different shoot, and I ended up spending the same money on a new, top-notch ballhead and a pair of excellent filters. To this day, I have those filters in my bag just about every day, and the ballhead continues to work flawlessly.
In the intervening time, I’ve continued to add to my gear collection as money allowed and my needs evolved. Putting one’s kit together is a lifelong endeavor, and there always will be additions to make for a special trip or a particular shot that you’ve previsualized. Like me, over time you’ll end up with some gear that gets used more and some that gets used less. What’s important is that as you start, go with those tools that you’ll use most often and then add the items that have more specialized purposes. In the long run, you’ll spend more time shooting and less time wishing you had the right tool for the moment.
—Christopher Robinson, Editor