Choosing a Camera for Landscape Photography
Updated: February 6, 2024
Choosing a camera and lenses can be a complicated process for beginner and professional landscape photographers alike. In late 2016, after a brutally difficult backpacking trip with my Full-Frame Nikon set-up, I made the conscious decision to completely switch camera systems with three competing goals in mind - to get the lightest and smallest possible gear with the highest quality image-making potential, all within my budget. At the time, only Sony had developed a full-frame mirrorless system, and the only other system that offered similar size and weight options for someone like me who climbs Colorado mountains with all of my gear was the Fuji APS-C system. While I knew the Fuji system was of high quality, I knew I wanted maximum resolution, plus I was pretty in love with crisp sun-stars for my photographs, so I placed a high value on that, knowing that on the Sony system I could literally use any lens on earth using adapters.
How to Choose a Camera for Landscape Photography
While there is no one perfect camera that works for everyone, the good news is that when it comes to image quality, the available options today from Sony, Nikon, Canon, Fuji, and many other brands will produce amazing results compared with digital cameras just a few years old - meaning - you probably can't go wrong here. There are some variables though that you will want to consider when choosing a camera for landscape photography, and each camera system does better or worse in these areas, ordered based on what I think are the most important factors:
- Resolution - as measured in megapixels - meaning, the number of pixels that are exposed upon capture. More is usually better, but not always! In night photography, other variables are more important, which you can read about on my night photography gear selection article. I do think some photographers are too obsessed with resolution, and you can get great results even from a 20 megapixel camera; however, I've come to love having the ability to crop and still maintain a high level of quality, plus I typically print at sizes 40x60 and larger, where pixels are a premium.
- Image-capture experience - by this I'm referring to the overall experience with making a photograph, which would include the quality of the electronic view-finder (which have improved significantly since 2016), ease of use, and ergonomics. For example, I have somewhat small hands and so the Sony system fits great into my hands when paired with an l-bracket, while Canon cameras tend to feel overly bulky to me. If you have large hands you may have the completely opposite experience!
- Features - this may seem like a no-brainer; however, some cameras have features that are more important to each person based on how they use it. Some examples would include: in-camera automatic focus stacking, as found in the Canon EOS R5 system and the Nikon Z8; pinch-finger LCD zooming on image review, as found on the Nikon Z8; or Sony A7R5, or dual-memory cards and joystick focusing as found on the Sony A7R5. Another nice feature that you may want to look for is subject specific AI-tracking that exists in the Sony A7R5. This feature is essential for wildlife photography and I couldn't leave home without it now.
- Cost and value of the whole system - this is of course a tricky one since used gear can be obtained for great deals, especially larger, bulkier DSLR systems now that more and more people are adopting mirrorless as the standard. Value is an important consideration as well, meaning, bang for the buck or quality-to-cost ratio. Generally speaking, Sony lenses are a bit more expensive than the Nikon or Canon equivalents, but tend to be smaller and lighter.
- Battery life - Perhaps my biggest complaint of the early versions of the Sony mirrorless bodies was the pathetic battery life, which made for a frustrating experience, especially in cold environments, like mountains. Fortunately, Sony upped their game and the more recent bodies are on-par with Nikon and Canon equivalents.
- Lens ecosystem - every camera system has a different lens ecosystem, some more well-developed than others. This changes quite a bit over time as camera companies develop their lens line-up.
- Weight and size - I probably would put this higher on my list based on my uses as a backpacker and mountain climber; however, I recognize not everyone hikes 20+ miles for their photographs. For a full comparison of this, scroll down to check out my camera and lens selection tool, which makes choosing a camera and lenses based on weight and cost a breeze.
What Lenses Should I Buy?
This is always one of my favorite questions and depending on the day of the week my answer probably changes. With many things in life, the answer is, "it depends." Over time, I have been able to purchase a wide variety of lenses so that I can outfit my kit based on the circumstances. It was long thought common wisdom for the landscape photographer to want to carry three basic lenses:
- Wide Angle - 14-24mm
- Mid-Range Zoom - 24-70mm
- Telephoto Zoom - 70-200mm
This is a great set-up; however, over the past few years I have come to really enjoy photographing tighter, more intimate scenes of nature and one of my main go-to lenses has been my 100-400mm lens [Sony FE 100-400 | Canon R 100-500 | Nikon S 100-400]. Below you'll find highly equivalent camera and lens combinations for Sony, Nikon, and Canon, keeping in mind I am a Sony photographer. I also have extensive experience with Canon and Nikon since I have to teach these systems as an instructor for Muench Workshops:
- Camera: Sony A7R5 - 62 megapixels
- Wide Angle: Sony 12-24mm f/2.8
- Mid-Range Zoom: Sony 24-105mm f/4
- Telephoto Zoom: Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5 - 5.6
- Total cost: $10,392
- Total weight: 8 lbs. / 3.6 Kgs.
- Camera: Nikon Z8 - 45.7 megapixels
- Wide Angle: Nikon Z 14-24 f/2.8 S
- Mid-Range Zoom: Nikon Z 24-120 f/4 S
- Telephoto Zoom: Nikon Z 100-400 f/4.5-5.6 S
- Total cost: $9,688
- Total weight: 7.96 lbs. / 3.6 Kgs.
- Camera: Canon EOS R5 - 45 megapixels
- Wide Angle: Canon RF 14-35 f/4
- Mid-Range Zoom: Canon RF 24-105mm f/4
- Telephoto Zoom: Canon RF 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1
- Total cost: $8,497
- Total weight: 7.74 lbs. / 3.51 Kgs.
I've also built out a kit for long-range backpacking where weight is a higher premium, utilizing smaller prime lenses and a light-weight 70-200mm f/4 lens, which doubles as a macro lens, with a total weight of 4.9 lbs:
Occasionally, I will also want a dedicated macro lens with me as well, and currently my go-to for that on my Sony set-up is a Voigtlandar 110mm. My friends that use the Canon RF system rave about the Canon 100mm RF Macro due to its 1.4x magnification.
So Many Camera Systems to Choose From!
It is an exciting time to be alive if you are an avid landscape photographer or even someone starting out. The options are endless and the quality of camera gear has improved significantly. I developed a tool, which you can find below, to help myself and other landscape photographers make a purchasing decision. Have fun with the tool and play around with it to see how the weight of your kit changes based on the system and lens choices you make.
I use this tool regularly to assess my gear set-up for various trips when weight is of importance, like when I hiked 500 miles on the Colorado Trail. I also have a page dedicated to my current gear set-up.
I've tried to add as many lenses and cameras as possible and continue to keep it updated, so have fun with it!
Choose Your Camera and Lenses
Choosing a Camera and Lenses for Landscape Photography
Sony Recommendations and Loadouts
As a full-time Sony Professional Photographer, I have extensive experience with the Sony system and have owned almost every lens Sony has produced. As such, I have some thoughts on various loadouts that you may want to try out to maximize your experience for landscape photography.
Loadout 1: Maximum Quality
For serious landscape photography, you can't really go wrong with the Sony A7R5, which is my trusted workhorse. I also use this camera for wildlife photography (because I'm too poor to afford the Sony A1, which would be the better choice). I used my Sony A7R5 exclusively for my 35-day Colorado Trail Thru-hike, so you can trust that it will hold up to the elements. Things I love about the A7R5:
- The reticulating LCD is fantastic for vertical work when you're really low or high off of the ground with a tripod.
- The fast processing speed when paired with a fast memory card, like the Angelfire 1TB CFExpress A card, makes focus stacking and bursts for wildlife quite enjoyable.
- In-camera focus stacking works great and operates quickly.
- The new menu system works well and makes things much easier to find than on previous models.
- Slow-motion video modes - great for content creation.
- 61 Megapixels - great for cropping and printing large.
- Still lighter than Nikon or Canon equivalents.
Sony 12-24 f/2.8. This lens is a beast, but much lighter and smaller than you might expect. It's sharp. It has amazing coverage. It works well for night photography. It takes rear filters that are not nearly as clumsy as the old front filter kit set-ups offered by NiSi, Lee, or Fotodiox.
Sony 24-70 f/2.8 GM II. This lens is almost perfect. It covers the coveted 24-70 range; it is lightweight (24.5 oz.); it's sharp; and its compact.
This is where things get tricky. The obvious choice for me is to use the versatile and sharp Sony FE 100-400mm (which is arguably Sony's best lens for intimate landscape); however, you lose out on the 71-99mm range. I personally did an analysis of my photography in Lightroom when I was using the Sony 24-105 and found I was not photographing between 71 and 99 a ton. However, if you do find yourself using those focal lengths, consider the Sony 70-200mm FE f/4 Macro lens and pairing it with the more wildlife-centric Sony 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 lens, which is still a fantastic work-horse for landscape photography.
Loadout 2: Budget-friendly Sony Set-up
It's a great time to be alive as a photographer because you can get a lot of quality from slightly older camera bodies that still pack a lot of features into a small package. In the Sony ecosystem, it is hard to go wrong with the Sony A7R4, which is about $1000 less than the A7R5 mentioned above. It has the exact same sensor and is only missing a few features you may or may not care about, including focus stacking. If you are looking to cut costs further, you can get a lot of mileage out of the Sony A7R3, which still has 42 megapixels and creates beautiful landscape images.
Sigma 14-24 f/2.8. For around $1,300 (about $2,000 less than the Sony 12-24 mentioned above), you gain access to a perfectly sharp and competent wide angle lens that has been reviewed well and takes amazing images. I personally have used this lens extensively and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it.
Sony 24-105 f/4. This lens isn't quite as sharp as the 24-70 f/2.8 GM II; however, it weighs less, costs half as much, covers more focal length, and just offers more versatility. I personally have used it extensively in my own work and it produces great photographs when used with care.
Sony FE 100-400mm. When paired with the Sony 24-105, this lens will help you cover a lot of focal length ground in a relatively small package. I personally use this lens in about 60% of my work these days and just find it to be unbeatable for landscape photography.
P.S. consider pairing your Sony 100-400 with a more versatile foot for tripod use.
Loadout 3: Night Photography with Sony Primes
Relating to night photography, extensive testing with up-scaling programs has been done trying to compare the performance of cameras with less megapixels to cameras with more megapixels, and there are mixed results, with only the most hard-core pixel peepers being able to notice differences. I personally think that choosing a camera for landscape photography should involve asking yourself what you plan on using the camera for. If you are only using it for night photography, then you may want to consider some key features that will help you capture the image. For example, while it is technically a better low-light camera, the 12 megapixel A7SIII is missing some crucial features that the 62 megapixel A7R5 has that you may want, including the ability to customize a bulb timer for exposures longer than 30 seconds. This is crucial for my personal work flow for night photography because I'm often capturing exposures of 3-5 minutes in duration for my foreground and need a way to easily customize the timing of these exposures. The A7R5 excels at this. You also may look at the 33 megapixel A74 as I do think it offers wonderful versatility in a more affordable package.
Wide Angle Prime
Sony 14mm f/1.8. I'm absolutely in love with this lens and usually carry it as my only wide-angle lens even for non-astrophotography use cases. It's incredibly sharp, light, small, and has makes capturing the night sky a breeze.
Mid Range Primes
Sony FE 20mm f/1.8G. I personally find 20mm to be a very useful focal length for capturing the night sky or other wide angle landscape scenes and the Sony 20mm f/1.8 is a great lens to accomplish this task.
Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 GM. 35mm is a really fun focal length for capturing the night sky, offering a sweet spot between 55 and 20. This lens is also incredibly sharp and has other use-cases for street photography and portraiture.
Sony FE 55mm f/1.8. This is one of Sony's first lenses and still is one of their sharpest. It also has tremendous upside as a dedicated night photography lens, offering the ability to get tighter compositions of the night sky and objects that might be a little further away from you such as mountains.
Loadout 4: Affordable, Lightweight, and Versatile Backpacking Sony Camera System
If weight is your primary concern, you can't really go wrong with the 33-megapixel Sony A7C II. Coming in at just 15 oz., this little camera packs a lot of punch in a small body. It's also important for me to note here that on my 500-mile, 35-day hike on the Colorado Trail, I brought my Sony A7R5 and it was great.
Sigma 16-28mm f/2.8. If you require a wide angle lens for your backpacking adventures, I think you can't go wrong with the 15.9 oz. Sigma 16-28. Coming in at just $899, it's quite affordable in a small package and with its 2.8 aperture, you'll be able to capture photographs of the night sky.
Tamron 28-200 f/2.8-5.6. The $799 Tamron 28-200 is easily one of my favorite all-around lenses. It offers tremendous versatility in a lightweight 20.3 oz. package and takes quite sharp images. It's also f/2.8 at 28mm, making it useful for night photography. The only downsides of this lens are that it suffers from pretty noticeable chromatic aberration and has pretty bad flare resistance when shooting into the sun; however, it was my lens of choice for my 500-mile hike on the Colorado Trail this past summer.
Still left wondering what camera and lenses you should choose? Feel free to leave a comment below! Full disclosure, the links in this article and in my tool above are affiliate links. If you choose to click on them and purchase something, it helps me a tiny bit and is greatly appreciated. Cheers!