Choosing a Camera for Landscape Photography
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 D850; pinch-finger LCD zooming on image review, as found on the Nikon Z7 II; or dual-memory cards and joystick focusing as found on the Sony A7R4.
- 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 E 100-400 | Canon R 100-500 | Nikon S 100-400]. As such, my main load-out these days typically looks like this, weighing in at 7.8 lbs:
- Wide Angle: Sigma 14-24mm
- Mid-Range Zoom: Sony 24-105mm
- Telephoto Zoom: Sony 100-400mm
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, with a total weight of 4.8 lbs:
- Wide Angle: Zeiss Loxia 21mm
- Mid: Sony 55mm f/1.8
- Telephoto: Sony 70-200 f/4
Occasionally, I will also want a macro lens with me as well, and currently my go-to for that on my Sony set-up is a Voigtlandar 65mm. 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 to help myself and other landscape photographers make a purchasing decision. I also use this tool regularly to assess my gear set-up for various trips when weight is of importance. You can find my current gear set-up here. I've tried to add as many lenses and cameras as possible and continue to keep it updated.
Choose Your Camera and Lenses
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!