Which camera for landscape photography should you buy?
Buying a camera for landscape photography can be difficult for many photographers because there are so many options available. It used to be a choice between the two common DSLR brands Nikon and Canon. It is not like that anymore.
Whatever decision you make you must base it on your personal requirements. Some photographers are very focused on pixels and noise in the images. Others are more of the practical kind and choose equipment that does the job and nothing more.
If you ask me what camera you should buy, my answer is “it depends”. It is impossible to recommend any photography gear without knowing how you are going to use it. What is best for one photographer is not necessary best for another.
A camera for landscape photography does not need to be packed with features. If you never or rarely photograph in low light conditions you don’t need to be concerned about sensor noise. Almost any camera today, even an iPhone does well in normal light conditions.
In landscape photography, you don’t need a camera capable of capturing many frames per second. This feature is important in sport and wildlife photography.
To help you decide on a camera for landscape photography, I will explain the key features to look for when considering a new camera and how this features can be useful for you.
Reasons why you should not base your decision on the number of megapixels alone
Megapixel (MP) count
This is a feature that is no longer very important. A camera for landscape photography with 16 megapixels (MP) is good enough for most uses. Hardly any camera sold today has less than 16 megapixels, often more.
With a 16 MP camera you can make an A2 print with good quality. A2 is about the biggest size you are likely to print unless you are a professional photographer.
The fact that most photos never leave the computer’s hard drive is also something to consider. At best most of the photos taken are uploaded to the Internet and social media sites.
For photos only to be seen on a computer screen, the number of megapixels is not important at all. All cameras are good enough.
- If you make a lot of big prints, the more pixels the better. But really, how often do you make prints of huge size.
- With more pixels you capture more details allowing you to crop you photos when you do post processing.
- A lot of megapixels create big files that require a lot of memory card space. Memory cards are less expensive now, so this is not the big issue.
- Big files take a long time to download from the memory card to the computer.
- Big files need a powerful computer when post processing.
- More megapixels require better and more expensive lenses to get the full advantage out of all the megapixels.
Physical size of the sensor
More important than the megapixel count is the type of sensor. The most common sensors are the APS-C and Full frame (FF) sensor. These two types are commonly used in DSLR cameras and some Mirrorless cameras. APS-C and FF sensors are the biggest sensors used in cameras now days unless you look at the extremely expensive medium format cameras.
Next in the range of sensors are Micro Four third that have become increasingly popular the last few years. The Micro Four third sensor is smaller than APS-C and full frame. Technology has improved a lot, so Micro Four third sensors produce image quality similar to APS-C sensors. The difference is minimal.
Finally there is a broad range of cameras using significant smaller sensors. You find them in Point and Shoot cameras and Smart Phones.
- In general the bigger sensor, the less noise in the image file, in particular in low light conditions.
- The size of the sensor is important. A pixel is designed to capture light. The bigger the pixel is, the better id does this. The more pixels you put into a sensor, the smaller the pixels get. This is physics.
If a camera manufacturer put 16 megapixels into a Micro Four third sensor and another manufacturer puts the same number of pixels on a Full frame sensor the image quality of the latter most likely will be significant better. The difference will be significant in low light situations.
- The Depth of Field is slightly shallower with a full frame sensor compared to an APS-C sensor. For some photographers this might be an advantage. In landscape photography where we in most situations want the image sharp all the way from the foreground to the background, this can be more challenging.
In general the smaller the sensor is, the larger the Depth of Field is. With an iPhone the whole image is in focus from the foreground to the background.
Some photographers get surprised when they upgrade from a smartphone or Point and Shoot camera to a DSLR and find their images are no longer in focus from front to back. This is caused by a more shallow Dept of Field in the DSLR.
Another feature of the sensor. A sensors dynamic range is its capability to capture very bright areas and very dark areas in a scene in the same image.
A typical example is when you photograph against the sun. If you shoot in automatic mode either the sun is properly exposed and the rest of the scene is completely dark or the sun is a white bright spot and the rest of the scene is exposed OK.
The more expensive cameras have a wider dynamic range than the less expensive. In extreme situations with very high contrast, no digital camera can expose both the highlight and shadow correct in one shot.
The only way to get around this is to make two or more exposures of the same scene. One exposure for highlights and one for the shadows and then blend these together to one image. High contrast scenes are situations where bracketing, HDR and image blending can be a solution.
As there are ways to handle scenes with extreme dynamic range, the sensors capability is not that big deal, at least for most of us. You can’t get it all, well, you can for money.
The higher you can set the ISO the more sensitive the camera is for light. With a very high ISO you can take photos with less available light, for example, stars at night or Aurora Borealis, which is popular up north where I live.
However, the ISO figures the manufacturers claims in the brochures often is too high. Well, it is correct you can adjust to this very high ISO, but the quality of the photos will be bad with a lot of noise.
Sensor noise is important if you plan to make big prints. There are many ways you can correct noise when post processing your photos, but you want as little noise as possible in the original file from the camera.
Cameras with the smallest sensors can go as high as ISO 800-1600 and still keep a good quality. The high-end camera can do well up to ISO 3200-6400 and above.
- The higher ISO you can set on your camera the less light you need. High ISO is useful when doing night photography
- Some manufacturers promise more than they can deliver. Bad ISO performance does no good for your images. In general the ISO setting should be set to the lowest possible and only be increased if absolutely necessary to get your image.
The availability and quality of lenses are important when you look for a new camera. The well-known brands like Nikon and Canon have been on the market for many years. Their collection of lenses for the DSLR range is very good.
For the newer Mirrorless systems, the lens choices are a bit more limited. But again, how many lenses do you need. As long as you can get the most common focal length lenses you should be fine.
For landscape photography, you want to make sure the camera manufacturer you consider have a good wide angle lens. There are a many third party lens manufacturers making very good lenses.
Photos out of focus are one of the most common problems in photography. Most cameras have both manual and auto focus system. In good light conditions, auto focus system will generally work fine.
If you want to focus very precisely or you want to control where to set the main focus, you want to focus manually. The biggest issues with the focus systems in cameras are how fast the camera can focus and refocus the subject.
There are two main focusing systems used in digital cameras - Phase detection and Contrast detection.
Phase detection focus is generally faster compared to contrast detection. This system is better for action photography.
With Contrast detection focus you can use Live View on your camera and focus live. Contrast detection focusing is slower, but this technology is improving fast.
Any of these two focusing systems will do well in a camera for landscape photography as you rarely will have any fast moving subjects.
Other things to consider when buying a new camera
How many images you can shoot with a fully charged battery is important. In cameras where you use an Electronic viewfinder or the LCD screen to compose your photos the batteries in general last for fewer frames.
With a DSLR, you will be able to take more images compared to a Mirrorless camera. Batteries is a small issue as you can always bring a couple of spare batteries with you
The possibility of instantly transferring your images to your laptop, smartphone or even to the Internet via Wi-Fi is a feature a lot of photographers appreciate. Wi-Fi is most common in Mirrorless and Point and Shoot cameras.
The DSLR manufacturers have been more reluctant on adding this into their cameras. This is about to change and newer DSLR’s will likely have Wi-Fi built in
Manual camera settings
If you want to develop your photography, you must be able to adjust the settings of your camera. By adjusting settings manually you can make creative decisions instead of letting the camera make the decisions.
You should be able to adjust focus, shutter speed and aperture manually
Screen and Viewfinder
The choice of LCD or viewfinder is important for many photographers. I have always shot with a DSLR composing through the optical viewfinder. I find this more comfortable, and it is certainly better in bright light.
Many Mirrorless cameras use Electronic viewfinders that are very bright and good to use. I am not fond of LCD screens as they tend to be bad in bright light. I use my iPhone quite a lot and sometimes struggle when I have to compose my photos through the LCD screen.
Being able to handhold your camera at slower shutter speeds is always useful. However, if you shoot most of your photos from a tripod which I recommend for landscape photography, this is not very important.
There are different image stabilization systems. It is either built into the camera body, or it is built into the lenses. The result is the same but if you choose a camera body without image stabilization you will have to use lenses with image stabilization built in if you want this feature.
Flash and hot-shoe
Sometimes a flash might be useful. The built-in flash in most cameras is not powerful enough. If flash is required, you might be better off with an external flash with more power.
If you want to use an external flash, your camera must have either a hot-shoe mount or a flash connection. Again in landscape photography you will rarely need flash, so it is not that important
Being able to record video with your camera is of course nice. I find myself rarely use the video function of my DSLR. If I shoot video the quality I get from my iPhone most of the time is good enough for me.
A lot of cameras have video functionality, but the quality varies a lot. If video is important for you, you probably want to have a camera with full HD video capabilities.
Weight and size
For some photographers weight and size of their camera and lenses have become important. Introduction of the significant smaller Mirrorless cameras have made this a hot topic lately. Now you can buy a camera with almost all features of a DSLR but much smaller.
In my opinion as long as I have to pack my camera and lenses in a backpack it does not matter much if the weight is a few kilos more or less. If it should make any sense to me the gear should be so small it can fit in my pockets.
It is very subjective what is too big and too heavy so this is a decision you have to make. If you do a lot of hiking with your camera equipment less weight is better.
How robust the camera is, is another factor to consider. This is important for a professional photographer. Few photographers wear out their camera.
You can never be 100% guaranteed against camera failure whatever robust your camera is. Because of this professionals bring a spare body even if they have the best and most robust system available.
In general it is more important a camera for landscape photography is robust and weather sealed than a camera used by a studio photographer.
There is a price for everyone. In general DSLR cameras and lenses are the most expensive. But it is no problem buying a DSLR less expensive than a Mirrorless.
The most expensive Mirrorless cameras are in the price range of semi-pro DSLRs. When deciding on a new camera I suggest you first decide what type of camera covers your needs. When this is decided, you can buy one in a price range that suits you.
How to decide between the different systems?
Why should you consider a DSLR camera for landscape photography?
- Best image quality available
- Best option in low light because of the bigger image sensor
- Best ISO performance available
- Optical viewfinder (OVF) - works fine in bright light
- Fast focus if action is your thing
- Known brands as Nikon and Canon have a wide range of lenses and equipment available
- Camera and lenses are big and heavy
- Camera and lenses are generally more expensive
Mirrorless camera (Compact System Camera - CSC)
The smaller Mirrorless cameras are becoming more and more popular as the image quality has improved.
- Much smaller and less weight compared to a DSLR
- Less expensive compared to DSLR
- High-quality LCD screens
- Less camera shutter noise because there is no flapping mirror inside
- Some cameras have a high frame rate per second
- Image quality not yet on par with DSLR’s in low-light
- Availability of lenses more limited
- Slower focus
- Some cameras only have LCD (no Electronic Viewfinder - EVF)
- Less battery capacity because of the EVF and LCD using a lot of power
Looks similar to a DSLR but don’t have the possibility to change lenses. Most bridge cameras are bigger than compact cameras.
- Have fixed lenses covering a great zoom range - some more than 1000mm
- No sensor dust problem as lenses cannot be changed
- Manual settings available
- Electronic Viewfinder (EVF)
- Image quality is not comparable to most DSLR or Mirrorless cameras due to smaller sensor
- Cameras are bulkier. Not a pocket camera
Compact camera (Point and Shoot)
Compact cameras are generally small, and many of them can fit in a pocket.
- Small and low weight - easy to carry around
- No sensor dust problems
- Comes in all price ranges
- Often lacks manual controls
- Lower image quality due to the small sensor
- Difficult to get shallow Depth of Field
- No viewfinder, image must be composed through LCD screen
Smartphone camera for landscape photography
Increasing popularity as quality improves, and this is the camera “you always have with you”. I find myself using my iPhone more and more and do my edits on my iPAD.
- Small and low weight - pocket size
- Instant upload to social media
- Instant editing with and increasing number of smartphone apps
- Image quality still not comparable with DSLR and Mirrorless cameras
- No optical zoom lens
- Bad low light performance
- No in camera manual settings
- Shallow Depth if Field almost impossible
- Shutter and focus quite slow
As you can see, there are many options on which camera to buy. Most landscape photographers still prefer DSLR cameras, but they are getting though competition from Mirrorless cameras.
It is no longer only Nikon and Canon that matters in the camera world. These two brands have dominated the camera market for many years.
Now you also have to consider Sony, Fuji, Panasonic, Olympus and others.
If you don’t want to spend the money on DSLR and Mirrorless, you have a lot of other options among the cameras with smaller sensors and not to forget smartphones. Interesting enough smartphone cameras are now added to the increasing range of sites doing camera reviews. For reviews of camera phones have a look at this site.
iPhone images are getting accepted in the well-known stock photo agencies like Getty Images. On one of the biggest photo sharing sites, Flickr, the number of photos shot with iPhone is higher than photos shot with Canon and Nikon.
If you photograph in good light and you are not to concerned about image noise, you can make great photos with any camera manufactured today.
Remember the most important with a photograph is the story it tells and how it is composed. It is no longer the camera that is the limitation; it is the photographer.