Which camera for landscape photography?
With so many options available on the market it can be tough to decide which camera to buy. 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 it must be based on your personal requirements.
If you buy a new camera only because someone recommended it, you might end up disappointed. Some photographers are more concerned about pixels and sensor noise. Others are more practical and choose equipment that does the job and nothing more. If you ask me what camera you should buy, my answer is “it depends”.
Not a good answer, I know.
It is impossible to recommend photography gear without knowing how you are going to use it. What is best for one photographer is not necessarily the best for another. A camera for landscape photography does not need to be packed with fancy 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 the iPhone or a cheap vlogging camera does well in good light conditions. For landscape photography, you don’t need a camera capable of capturing many frames per second. High framerate is a useful feature in sport and wildlife photography.
To give you some ideas what to look for if you plan to buy a new camera, I will explain the most important key feature of a camera and how these features can be useful for you.
Highest possible Megapixel is no longer the most important feature in a camera. Any camera with 16 megapixels (MP) or more is good enough for landscape photography. Hardly any camera sold today has less than 16 megapixels. With a 16 MP camera you can make an A2 print with good quality. A2 size is about the biggest size you are likely to
print unless you are a professional photographer.
A big number of digital photos taken every day never leave the photographer’s computer. Despite this a huge number of photos are uploaded and shared every day on Internet and social media sites. Only a small fraction of all photos will ever be printed. The number of megapixels is not important at all for photos to be seen on a computer screen.
For this purpose all cameras are good enough, even your Smartphone.
Advantages of high megapixel cameras
- If you plan to 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 out portions of you photos when you do post processing.
Disadvantages with High Megapixel Cameras
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 too much of an issue.
Big files take longer time to download from the memory card to the computer. You will need a lot of backup storage.
Big files need a powerful computer when post processing. This might be overkill for pet photography.
More megapixels require better and more expensive lenses to get the full advantage out of all
Physical size of the image sensor
APS-C and Full Frame
The size of the image sensor is more important than the megapixel count. The most common sensors are APS-C (crop sensor) and Full Frame (FF) sensors. These two sensor types are most common in DSLR and Mirrorless cameras. APS-C and FF sensors are the biggest sensors used in consumer and prosumer cameras. These sensors are also the most common in professional cameras.
Micro four thirds
Micro four third image sensors have become increasingly popular the last few years. Micro four third sensors are smaller than APS-C and Full Frame. Technology has improved a lot, so a Micro Four Third sensor produces image quality equal to APS-C sensors. The advantage of the smaller sensor is the size of the camera is smaller, and it weighs less.
Small Point and Shoot and Smartphone sensors
Image sensors used in small compact and phone cameras are significantly smaller compared to all the sensors mentioned above. It is in low light conditions you will struggle with the image quality with a Point and Shoot and a Smartphone camera.
The sensor size influence on focus
In general, the bigger the sensor is, the less noise in the image file. Noise from digital image sensors is the equivalent to film grain in analog cameras. Sensor noise is only a problem in low light conditions. If you do a lot of night photography, you will do better with a camera with any of the bigger image sensors.
The Depth of Field (also called Depth of Focus) is slightly shallower with a full frame sensor compared to any of the smaller sensors. In landscape photography where in most cases we want the image sharp all the way from foreground to background, this can be a challenge. Some photographers get a surprise when they upgrade from a Smartphone or Point and Shoot camera to a DSLR. They experience some of their images are no longer in focus throughout the frame. The reason for this is the difference in Depth of Field created in a camera with a small sensor vs. a bigger sensor camera.
The smaller the sensor is, the larger the Depth of Field is. With a Smartphone with its tiny sensor, it is easy to get everything from foreground to background in focus. On the other side, you wall struggle more to create a shallow Depth of Filed with a Smartphone even using a tripod if that is what you want.
An image sensor holds a given amount of (mega)pixels on its surface. A pixel is designed to capture light. The bigger the pixel is, the better it captures light. The more pixels on a small sensor, the smaller the pixel needs to be. 16 MP in a Point and Shoot camera is not equal to 16 MP in a Full Frame camera. To fit the same amount of pixels on the smaller Point and Shoot sensor, the pixels need to be much smaller in size. The difference in image quality will be significant in low light situations. Smartphones have even smaller pixel size and will produce a lot more noise in low light situations.
A sensors dynamic range is its ability to capture veiy bright areas and very dark areas of a scene in the same image. A typical example is when you photograph with the sun in your composition. Either the sun will be way too bright with the land properly exposed or the sun will be exposed correct, and the land will become completely dark.
High dynamic range situations are some of the biggest challenges for landscape photographers. In general cameras with the biggest sensors have wider dynamic range and will handle these situations best. In extreme cases however, it is not possible to capture the whole dynamic range in a scene with any camera. In such conditions different HDR (High dynamic range) techniques are used.
ISO sensitivity and image quality’
ISO is an international standard on how sensitive a camera sensor is to light. In situations with limited light, you can increase the ISO to make the sensor more sensitive to light. The disadvantage is increasing the ISO introduces sensor noise which is reflected in your images. Cameras with the smallest sensors typically cannot go higher than ISO 800 and still retain good image quality. More expensive cameras can do well up to ISO 3200-6400 and above.
Advantages of a high ISO capable camera
The higher ISO you can set on your camera and maintain image quality, the less light you need. Being able to increase the ISO is useful when doing night photography
Disadvantages with a high ISO capable camera
Some manufacturers promise more than they can deliver. Bad ISO performance does no good for your images. As a general rule, the ISO should be set to the lowest possible your camera allows and increased only if it is necessary to get the picture.