Every now and again I get a DM or email asking me what is the best camera for landscape photography.
As the cliche goes: the best camera is the one you’ve got on you.
When you’re starting to take outdoor photography more seriously, that answer really doesn’t satisfy you. You want to know about dynamic range, megapixels, weatherproofing, battery life, DSLR vs. mirrorless… The list goes on.
So what is the best landscape camera?
Unfortunately, there’s isn’t a straight answer to this question. There are pros and cons to every bit of gear and your personal use ultimately dictates what equipment you’ll need.
In this article, I’m going to take a comparative look at the top cameras for landscapes (including an affordable option). I’ll then go on to explore what you should look for in a good outdoor camera and how your unique requirements might affect your purchasing decisions.
The Nikon D850 is widely regarded as one of the best cameras for landscape photography. If you’re an enthusiast or professional looking for incredible image quality, excellent dynamic range, and a battery that will outlast your patience, this is a solid choice.
The high-resolution sensor means you’ll get incredible image quality while also maximizing your dynamic range due to the low ISO compatibility which goes all the way down to ISO 64. You can also recover up to 2.5 stops of blown-out highlights. This will help you to capture as much detail as possible from shadowy foregrounds to bright skies.
I’m always shooting at awkward angles and frequently find myself lying in mud just to look through my viewfinder. The D850 solves this problem with a 3.2-inch tilting LCD display screen and image live view meaning you can set up your composition with ease.
If you’re trying to capture a low-light scene, you’ll be happy to hear that this camera can focus in near-darkness at EV-4. This is ideal for that moment the sun is about to hit the top of those mountains in the distance.
If mouth-watering time-lapses are your thing, be prepared to be able to capture 8k time-lapse sequences of nearly 10,000 full-sized images with its Interval Timer Mode.
The Sony a7R IV is the fourth in a series of high-resolution full-frame mirrorless cameras and has caused countless landscape photographers to cheat on their brand of choice. With a 61 MP sensor, ridiculous low-light capability, and beautiful dynamic range, I predict more infidelities to come.
If you’ve not already been seduced by the powers of the Sony a7R series, you will be after this introduction.
Despite the high price point, both the a7R III and the a7R IV are increasingly popular choices for professional landscape photographers due to their ability to capture stunningly high-resolution images. Time to find a bigger wall to hang up your printed images because this exceptional mirrorless camera can handle it.
Of course, megapixels aren’t everything and fortunately, the a7R IV doesn’t stop there. Unlike studio photographers, outdoor photographers require robust gear that can handle the shooting environment. The A7R IV boasts a deeper grip, improved moisture handling, and better resistance to dust.
One of the biggest pain points of being a landscape photographer is the weight of all your gear. By the time you’ve packed your camera, lenses, drone, food, water, and spare clothes, hiking up a mountain for sunrise can often feel like a chore. Thankfully, the Mark IV doesn’t add to your problems. It weighs 23 ounces and is 5.2 x 3.9 x 3.1 inches in size - another perk of going mirrorless.
There’s nothing worse than a powerful camera that feels clumsy so you’ll be pleased to hear users report that it feels good to use. It has an intuitive menu system and button placement seems to make sense for the most part.
The Canon 5DS R is another professional-level camera that features a super high megapixel sensor and a sturdy build. If you want stunningly sharp images, excellent long-exposure handling, and satisfying color reproduction, this is the camera for you.
While the Canon 5D MK III is a great all-round camera, the 5DS R is mainly built for studio and landscape shooters. The result: a purpose-built camera that will satisfy your demands as a professional nature and wildlife photographer.
Unlike the 5DS, the 5DS R has introduced a second low pass filter which creates a cancellation effect. Generally, low pass filters cause very minimal blurring by ever so slightly separating pixels in order to reduce aliasing. The 5DS R, however, cancels the blurring effect, resulting in super-sharp images.
It also boasts an impressive 50.6-megapixel sensor which makes it just about the highest megapixel full-frame camera you can buy on the market, behind the a7R IV. This allows you to print out super high-quality versions of your images and even allows room for cropping without losing significant detail.
If you’re used to using the Canon range, you’ll be able to pick up this camera without having to re-learn the UI. It’s still as intuitive to use with a sensible menu system and a sturdy build that will handle a variety of environments.
Unlike the a7R IV and the D850, it has a fixed 3.2” LCD screen. As a Canon 5D user myself, this is certainly a drawback in some situations, such as wanting to set up your camera low to the ground. Most of the time, however, it really doesn’t make much of a difference.
Not everyone needs or wants to spend thousands of dollars on outdoor photography equipment. Settling for a more budget-friendly camera for landscape photography doesn’t mean you need to settle for poor quality.
The a6000 is one of the best affordable mirrorless cameras, sitting at under $500. It’s a cropped sensor 24.3-megapixel camera and while you’re not getting the level of detail as the likes of the a7R IV, you’re still getting value for money.
The Sony a6000 is one of the cheapest in a line of Sony mirrorless cropped sensor cameras. Although it was released back in 2014, it’s still a good option for those on a budget. The newest version in the series is the a6600 which comes in at under $1500 for the camera body alone.
Despite being the cheapest in its series, it still has a 24-megapixel sensor like the later models. As a stills camera, this still performs remarkably well but it falls behind when it comes to video, only shooting 1080 at 60fps.
As with other Sony cameras, it sports a 3” LCD screen which can be tilted for ease of viewing. One of the best features of the a6000 is its auto-focus system. The camera uses a 179 point detection system which gives you much wider coverage. That combined with the ability to shoot continuously at 11ps makes it great a tracking moving objects like birds and animals.
Another great cheap outdoor and wildlife camera is the Canon Rebel T7i. Also known as the 800D outside of America, the T7i is an incredibly popular 24MP DSLR under $1000. It’s the ideal camera for photographers looking to produce quality images while also looking after your bank account.
This camera is one of the best choices for those with a budget between $500-1000 and it shares a lot of the same features as some of the more expensive models. It’s clear it has been built with the casual nature photographer in mind.
One of the most important considerations for casual photographers is a good auto mode system. The Rebel T7i does a good job all round in the auto mode, setting the exposure, focus, and white balance. It makes it incredibly easy for beginners to point and shoot at a subject without worrying about more complicated settings.
I’d recommend any casual or beginner user to learn some of the basic manual settings in order to gain more control as the flash system can be a bit keen. Moreover, the camera has a tendency to lower shutter speed rather than increasing ISO in low light, resulting in blurry images.
If money isn’t a consideration for you and you’re looking for the best of the best then you’ll want to start looking at medium format cameras.
Medium format cameras have the ability to produce much larger high-resolution images than full-frame DSLRs and near-perfect color accuracy. But, with that comes a hefty price tag.
The Fujifilm GFX 50S is a 51.4MP medium format camera that packs a punch when it comes to image quality. This mirrorless beast boasts a 43.8 x 32.9mm sensor and while smaller than film counterparts, it doesn’t lack in the number of pixels produced. The camera supports G-mount lenses which are equally as impressive as the body itself.
Although the camera itself has some size to it, it’s comfortable to hold because of its large handgrip. Not only is it great to hold, but it’s also easy to use with a sensible interface and logical dial placement.
Aside from usability, your landscape images will achieve excellent color accuracy and insane levels of detail. The ISO can be dialed all the down to 50 which contributes to an impressive dynamic range which is hard to achieve on most full-frame cameras.
In part, the improved image quality you’ll experience with the GFX 50S is down to the G mount lenses. Of course, there has to be a compromise and this is most noticeable in its autofocus and operational speed. But, if image quality is your main priority, then you’ll not be disappointed.
If you’re willing to part with $5,500 for the body and another $1500-2500 for a lens, this the GFX 50S is a fantastic choice for landscape photographers that need incredibly high-resolution images.
Landscape, outdoor, nature, and wildlife photographers all have similar needs when it comes to choosing a suitable camera. As well as the unique challenges landscape photographers face, there are also universal aspects you should consider when choosing any camera.
Camera resolution refers to the amount of detail a camera can capture and is measured in pixels.
The fewer pixels a camera can capture, the more grainy the image will be as you print it in larger sizes. Conversely, cameras that capture more pixels will retain more detail and the images will appear sharper.
Megapixels is one of the most leaned on selling points of any digital camera these days. In essence, the more resolution the bigger the potential print size. That’s why camera manufacturers are having a race to the top when it comes to increasing sensor resolution.
As well as the increased potential print size, higher resolution cameras allow for cropping without losing significant detail or image quality. Cropping is useful when you don’t get your composition quite right or when you simply didn’t have enough time to set it up.
Most people don’t need super high-resolution cameras of 40MP+ unless you’re printing really big. I’ve successfully used my 22-megapixel Canon 5D MKIII to shoot images that ended up being printed on the back of a double-decker bus. Granted, I’d achieve better results if I had higher megapixels but the point is, it worked and the client was happy.
Megapixels aren’t everything. One of the most important factors in determining image quality is the sensor size. It’s why phone companies can boast all they want about megapixels but will struggle to compete with images produced by full-frame cameras.
Digital cameras will usually either have a cropped or full-frame sensor and some, like the Fujifilm GFX 50S, will sport a medium format sensor, which is bigger. As a general rule of thumb, the larger the sensor, the better the image quality and dynamic range. This means that you’ll get better detail, contrast, and tones from a larger sensor.
The sensor is an electronic device that collects light information after it passes through the aperture. You will typically notice a crop factor number when you’re looking at camera specifications. Since cropped sensors are smaller than full-frame, the focal length of the lens will be multiplied. Each camera manufacturer will have a different crop factor but it will be displayed something like 1.5x.
So, if you’re shooting landscapes on a cropped sensor, you will need to take into account that your focal length will be different from what it says on the lens. For example, a 24mm lens on a cropped sensor camera will act more like a 35mm would on a full-frame camera.
This will purely depend on your specific shooting conditions. Weatherproofing is something to take into consideration when buying a new camera for landscape photography. You should keep in mind the operating temperatures as well as factors like dust and water resistance.
A good weather-sealed camera will give you more flexibility and peace of mind when shooting in different conditions. Even if you don’t think you’ll be in extreme conditions, it’s still something to keep in mind. For example, if you get a stray splash of seawater when you’re on a boat or a gust of wind blows sand in your direction when you’re on the beach.
Be aware that weatherproofing is definitely not the same waterproofing. While most cameras will handle a bit of rain, they’ll certainly not appreciate a swim in the local pool.
It can be hard to tell how weather-sealed a camera is and some spec sheets will provide minimal information. You might need to check on first-hand user reviews if this is an important consideration for you.
Finally, your budget is ultimately the determining factor on what kind of camera you go for. Armed with all the information about sensor size, megapixels, dynamic range, and other key specs, you should be able to pick the best camera for you within your target budget.
Keep in mind that costs can easily creep up when you start to add in lenses, filters, and any other landscape photography equipment.
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