Landscape photography is one of the most popular genres for camera fans. But, before you can capture great landscape photography, you need to not only watch the weather and investigate the best times of day for the best light, but also explore the best camera gear for landscape photography.
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So, where to start? Well, you won’t be capturing any landscapes without a camera – and ideally a high resolution one at that, to capture all those subtle tones, shades and details in a landscape that, although essentially ‘fixed’, is actually always changing and evolving with the light and with the weather.
You’ll also need the right sort of lens for the job – and, for landscapes, that typically means a wide angle lens, possibly even an ultra wide variety – unless you’re intending to zero in on particular details and aspects of your landscape, which is, again, equally valid. While we think of landscapes as being fields, mountains, rivers and streams, there are also cityscapes of course – a subject that blurs both landscape and architectural photography, and has its own requirements, such as the possibility of using tilt and shift lenses to avoid converging verticals when shooting tall buildings, for example.
Landscape photography often means travel and, although you’ll want the best kit at your disposal, there’s often compromise required in terms of size and weight of tripod, as well as the bag or backpack to fit camera, lens, tripod, filters and various other accessories in.
So we’re here to help you pick through what is essential and what is optional when it comes to choosing the best photographic equipment for landscape photography – with advice provided to suit both high-end and budget spends, along with differing skill-sets, to boot.
Cameras for landscapes
We’ve picked two top-quality cameras here, but at opposite ends of the price scale. The Sony A7R III is small enough to be portable but offers some of the best image quality you’ll see from a full-frame camera. But for those on a tighter budget, the Nikon D3500 punches well above its weight (and its price point).
We could have chosen something like the Canon EOS R here for both performance and portability – both crucial for landscape photography – but Sony’s longer established A7 series just pips it in our eyes and the Sony A7R III is one of the best mirrorless cameras ever. At the A7R III’s heart is a generous 42.2 megapixel resolution sensor identical to that offered by its Mark II predecessor, wedded to its maker’s FE full frame lens mount, in tandem offering shed-loads of detail. Further impressing us is the camera’s life-like 3,686,000-dot resolution viewfinder. Alternatively there’s the tilting 1.44 million-dot resolution LCD on the rear plate – useful for composing shots when the camera’s mounted on a tripod – which, once again, has the bonus of touch sensitivity. Also benefitting landscape photographers is the fact that the Sony’s magnesium alloy body is dust and moisture sealed. It’s portable too, thanks to a body only weight of 657g, while the AF performance – in being both swift and accurate – is a real jewel in more general terms. To sum up, this latest generation Sony is a seriously capable contender for landscape fans.
Fortunately for landscape photographers, the D3500 is not only its maker’s lightest DSLR, at just 415g with battery and card, it’s also Nikon’s most affordable APS-C DSLR and one of the best cameras for beginners. You’ll find the camera bundled with a lightweight 18-55mm kit lens – its widest angle setting the most suitable for landscapes, and of course it’s also compatible with an extremely broad range of Nikon-fit lenses. The D3500’s body isn’t image stabilised, but if you’re using it with a tripod for landscapes that’s hardly a deal breaker. More important is the 24.2-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor at its heart, while an on-board Guide Mode helps newbies select the correct settings. Should you want to share and review images in the field (literally), Bluetooth rather than Wi-Fi is offered by way of cable-free transfer, which at least lets users transmit images to a smartphone, as well as utilise a handset as a remote means of firing its shutter. Another bonus for landscape photographers is the 1,550-shot battery life; three or four times the amount you’d typically get from a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera.
Lenses for landscapes
For spectacular landscape vistas and perspectives, an ultra-wideangle lens is what you need. We’ve got two suggestions here: one top of the range optic for Sony’s full-frame mirrorless camera system, and one much more affordable lens for APC-C DSLRs.
Yes it’s expensive, but if you’re really serious about shooting landscapes and have a premium camera with which to do it, why not go the whole hog and opt for one of Sony’s best lenses? Those shooting in the great outdoors will relish the fact that this lens 35mm full frame format lens is dust and moisture resistant, while the front element has a dust and grease repelling fluorine coating for easy cleaning. What’s more a Nano AR coating cuts reflections for improved clarity and contrast. Flexibility is provided courtesy of a manual focus ring, focus hold button and an expected AF/MF switch. With image stabilisation built into the bodies of Sony cameras, the lens itself doesn’t require it, but most landscape photographers will be using a tripod anyway to get their horizons straight and level. For those desiring to deploy hyperfocal focusing for their landscape shots – and seeking out points of interest at various focal lengths – the minimum focus distance is 0.28 metres, or 0.92ft.
If you own a Nikon APS-C sensor like the D3500 and you’re out in the wet and the wild, you will appreciate this weather sealed optic’s fluorine coating on its front element, which helps to repel moisture and aid cleaning. Nikon DSLR cameras don’t feature built-in image stabilisation, but this lens usefully does, via its four stop equivalent ‘VC’ (Vibration Compensation) system. This Mark II upgrade of this lens is a major one, thanks to a new ‘HLD’ (High/Low modulated drive) auto focus system, though of course there’s the option to switch to manual and pick out particular elements in your landscape to focus on. Our own reviewers reckoned this one bettered Nikon’s own, pricier AF-S DX 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5G ED lens for performance and image quality, though there is a more budget 10-20mm VR zoom from Nikon available too. Put simply, this lens is a sound option for scenic vistas and one of the best Nikon lenses you can choose right now.
Tripods for landscapes
If you’ve taken all the trouble to carry your gear to the perfect location, right as the sun is setting on the horizon, you don’t want to ruin it all with camera shake. A tripod will let you capture super-sharp landscapes even as the light is failing – which is often the best time for photography.
Here’s a sturdy option from the Benro brand for landscape photographers wanting rigidity and straight horizons to boot, as well as something convenient and portable to carry and one of the best tripods around. It can shrink down to a length of 49cm, yet can be extended up to a generous 179cm in height, with the aid of four-section legs. We found its resistance to flexing was impressive even when extended to the max, while its centre column can be rotated vertically through a full 180° arc with the creative flexibility of various locking angles along the way, making this one a versatile option. While set up from scratch takes a little longer than some tripods, swinging the legs down and adjusting the centre column proves relatively painless, and making adjustments is a smooth yet precise process. Some retailers sell this tripod as a kit with a ball head included; otherwise you'll need to select a tripod head separately – or use one you have already.
Small, lightweight, affordable, easy to use and swift to set up… what more could we ask of a travel tripod that will equally suit landscape photographers? OK, so it’s a bit basic, but if you’ve budgeted £100 to spend, you won’t mind missing a few bells and whistles. Unusually perhaps, this option from Italian manufacturer Manfrotto uses clip locks rather than the twist variety, but with a weight of a manageable 1.5Kg and folded length of 41cm it will fit inside your backpack as well as just on the outside of it. It’s certainly one of the more compact and manageably lighter tripods out there, although, that said, we don’t get a spirit or bubble level or spiked feet, and there are just two lockable leg angles to choose from. The Manfrotto head is also basic for the money, with a single adjustment knob and no panning lock or release – but the plus side of all of the above is that it’s quick and easy to set up as well as being swift and simple fold down again and move on to your next landscape shooting location.
Filters for landscapes
Traditional filters still have a place in landscape photography, where they’re used to control bright skies, subdue reflections and increase colour saturation.
Landscape photographers face the continual challenge that the sky is much brighter than the ground, leaning to underexposed or overexposed images. One way of avoiding this is by investing in set of graduated filters. This LEE landscape filter kit includes its new LEE100 filter holder and the likes of a 0.6 Medium ND Grad filter, a combination which provides an excellent starting point for landscape photographers. With a filter holder and one filter selected, all you need is the optional extra of an adaptor ring (dependent on the camera lens you’re using) to get underway. The holder itself comes with three filter guide blocks and a pouch, while the provided ND grad filter is described as the company’s most versatile of its kind, thereby making for a decent place to start.
Filter specialist LEE claims that its LEE100 polariser is an entirely new design that should help ensure attaching a polarising filter is as simple as possible. Photographers just need to clip it into the receiving slot on the holder and snap it into place, whereupon it remains securely fixed until it’s time to remove it. For those who already own a LEE 105mm polariser, there’s a new 105mm polarising ring that allows the polariser to be screwed into place and clipped on to the new holder. The new LEE100 polariser provides a claimed subtle warm tone to help give natural colours in your scenes, particularly blue skies and lush greens, that added, vivid intensity. Ease of use is aided by an integral ring with two clips, that, as discussed, snaps onto the front of the new LEE100 filter holder; this allows it to be used in conjunction with other favourite filters.
Backpacks for landscapes
We can advise you on the best camera kit for landscape photography, but you’ll still need a way to get it to your destination. Here are two backpacks designed for the job.
Here’s an all weather backpack option for storing almost anything and everything you’ll need for the great outdoors, and one of the best camera backpacks you can get right now. Rather than opting for one massive pack that will fit all your gear but weigh a ton in the process, the advantage here is that the system is modular, in that it allows for all sorts of clip-on accessories, while finding room for a DSLR, lenses and even a drone in its ‘standard’ configuration. As with many packs of its ilk, this one features adjustable Velcro dividers to sort out your gear and can fit a full frame DSLR with 24-70mm lens attached, while a large tripod can be added without any issue, via double Velcro fixers. Extra paid-for accessories include a bottle pouch and phone case, should they be needed, while landscape photographers will also be pleased to hear that a pull-out waterproof cover can be unfurled from the pocket on the underside of the ProTactic BP 350 WII. Padded straps aiding comfort include a chest strap, while its size ensures that it can still be taken aboard an aircraft as carry on luggage.
This slightly more affordable option is a small backpack with big ideas. As the name suggests, it’s accessed by a rear opening pocket that can house a DSLR and up to three lenses, while a top pocket can house a drone, and a front pocket can house a laptop, a tablet and some A4 documents – or maps if you’re going out hiking. For landscape photographers heading into the great outdoors a waterproof cover is provided in a side pocket, though, as its shoulder straps are a little on the basic side, this is probably not the best pack for prolonged use, even if its size makes it ideal for that occasional city break. As most, if not all, landscape photographers will be packing a tripod on their travels we loved the fact that this Manfrotto features a special zip-up side pocket for one, albeit a relatively compact example.
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