The legendary Ansel Adams had summarized landscape photography as – “the supreme test of the photographer; and often the supreme failure.” I have not found a better one-liner that could summarize what landscape photography means to me and hundreds and thousands of other landscape photographers.
I can understand why the legendary photographer may have said something like this. For one part, photographic equipment was nowhere near as evolved as they are today.
But things have improved since the days of Ansel Adams. Cameras back then didn’t have built-in light meters and a single exposure measured the knowledge and mettle of a photographer.
We live in a world where the camera does the bulk of the work. Plus, we have the luxury of instant gratification – thanks to the vari angle touchscreen at the back of the camera. We are truly blessed.
So, in this golden age of photography, how does one choose the best camera for landscape photography?
Table of Contents
- How to Choose the Best Camera for Landscape Photography?
- Full-frame Mirrorless Cameras
- Full-frame DSLR Cameras
- Closing Thoughts
How to Choose the Best Camera for Landscape Photography?
Which are the main parameters that you should pay attention to when choosing a camera for landscape photography? Let’s quickly go through them.
An average digital camera has more tech in it than the computer that sent the first rocket to the moon. Many photographers don’t even use all the tech that comes with a camera. So, when we talk about cameras for landscape photography let’s not talk about features and tech that are not relevant to the subject.
Which camera features are a must-have for beautiful landscape photography? When we talk of cameras for landscape photography it is hard to ignore the resolution bit. Most photographers will agree that resolution is the most important aspect when deciding on a camera. But wait, aren’t we forgetting something? What about the size of the sensor?
Sensor size has a direct relationship to the amount of light that a camera can capture. The larger the chip larger is the amount of light that the camera can capture and vice-versa.
Additionally, smaller the sensor size smaller is the actual field of view that you are going to capture, even with a lens that is designed for a 35mm camera.
Let’s say that you mount a 14-24mm lens on an APS-C camera. This lens is designed to utilize the image circle of a full-frame camera. However, when you mount the lens on an APS-C camera, which has a smaller image circle, only a part of the light that comes through that lens is utilized by the sensor.
Continuing from the above example, the Nikon D5300 has an APS-C chip. That is much smaller than that of a 35mm chip (such as the Nikon D850). How much smaller? Well, the ratio between the dimensions of the APS-C unit and that of a 35mm (Full-frame) sensor is 1.5.
We also use that to state the crop factor of the camera. I will come to that shortly.
On the other hand, a full-frame chip such as the one inside the Nikon D850 will utilize the entire amount of light that is coming in through the lens.
Crop Factor is an important term that we need to understand. The ratio of the dimensions of the sensor you are comparing to a 35mm chip is the crop factor. When the crop factor kicks in, i.e., when you use a full-frame lens on an APS-C camera, the effective focal length of the lens changes.
To find out what is the effective focal length simply multiply the focal length of the lens with the crop factor. So, a 14-24mm lens becomes a 21-36mm lens when mounted on an APS-C camera with a crop factor of 1.5.
As a landscape photographer, it is important to have an understanding of this concept. Because, when you use a full-frame lens on a crop camera your effective focal length will change and with it the Field of View (FoV) that you capture.
As a landscape photographer resolution is your best friend. The higher the resolution, the more is the amount of detail that you can capture in the image. The higher resolution has several advantages.
Most importantly, the higher resolution allows you to print large. Landscape photographs are captured to be showcased on a large platform. Whether that is a large canvas print or a metallic print or a 40-inch blowout on glossy paper that you frame and hang on your favorite wall.
The more the amount of resolution, the higher is the amount of detail and consecutively higher is the possible print size.
The Low-pass Filter
The Optical Low-pass Filter (OLPF) of a camera does the job of countering false colors and moiré in cameras that have a high resolution. The position of the OLPF is directly in front of the imaging chip. It has the effect of reducing the overall image resolution.
Cameras without an OLPF will produce a much sharper image of a landscape scene. In any case, you don’t need OLPF for shooting landscape. It is more necessary for fashion photoshoots, especially close-ups of fine fabric.
That said, higher resolution on large sensor cameras has made it redundant to use the OLPF. A reason why a lot of the high-resolution cameras these days either don’t have OLPF or have the option to switch it off on demand.
Low Light Performance
The best camera for landscape must have good low light performance. Usually, sensor size is a big factor in that regard. Full frame cameras like the Nikon D850 and the Sony Alpha A7R IV have better low light performance.
What exactly is the low light performance indicator for cameras? The first thing is the dynamic range of the camera. I have discussed this below.
The second parameter is the low noise threshold that results in as little amount of noise as possible even when shooting at a relatively high ISO.
This denotes the number of stops of light between pure black and pure white that a camera can see. Each stop has the effect of doubling the amount of light.
You may ask what is the dynamic range of the human eye? Well, it is about 20 stops. The digital camera does not have the same range as the human eye. But it is very close and getting closer with every update. For example, the Nikon D850 has a dynamic range of nearly 15 stops.
There is a certain amount of importance attached to dynamic range in cameras for landscape photography. The human eye can perceive both the darkest and the brightest parts of a scene at the same time. The camera, on the other hand, can only see 15 stops at the most. That is why it becomes necessary to choose whether you wish to expose for the highlights and crush the blacks or expose for the shadows and blow out the highlights.
With a camera that has a higher range, you have a bit more freedom to work with.
Weather sealing is not an absolute must-have requirement. But a weather-sealed camera has a much better chance of surviving in inclement weather. If you are shooting landscape photography you must prepare for bad weather.
Taking a weather check before you leave home is always a smart thing to do. But being prepared for the worst-case scenario is the most prudent thing to do. That includes buying a camera (and a lens) that comes with weather sealing.
Full-frame Mirrorless Cameras
First up is the full-frame mirrorless camera. Mirrorless systems have completely taken over the camera world. I am not discounting DSLRs. But they are dying breed. When it comes to landscape photography everyone prefers to have a compact camera that is light and won’t put us under stress as we hike, and make our way to beautiful locations to photograph. Mirrorless cameras would be my preferred choice for landscape photography.
1. Sony Alpha 1 (Best Camera for Landscape Photography, Overall)
The Sony Alpha 1 is the latest and the greatest mirrorless camera that has ever rolled out of a Sony assembly line. The 50-megapixel resolution produces stunning images of 8640 x 5760 pixels. It is almost like a medium format camera under the skin of a compact camera. The image quality is stunning. If you want to print big and capture sweeping vistas, panoramic views of a forest, or stunning rugged shorelines in your hometown this is the camera that can get you those.
I like the Alpha 1 for more than just its medium-format-like resolution. It has a 15-stop capturing a stunning amount of detail in both highlights and shadows. Plus, it has a native ISO range of 100-32000.
Best Features of the Sony Alpha 1
- 50 megapixel full-frame RS sensor
- BSI sensor architecture for exceptional low light performance
- Paired with the BIONZ X image processor
- Built-in 5-axis SteadyShot stabilization for sharp images
- AF sensitivity from -4 to +20 EV
- Electronic Viewfinder with 9.4 Million-dots resolution
2. Canon EOS R5
The Canon EOS R5 is aimed at video enthusiasts, but I feel that the 45-megapixel sensor is way too irresistible to not shoot landscape photos with. The Canon EOS R5 too comes with a 5-axis stabilization system built-in. That means you will get sharp image quality even when you are hand-holding the camera for the most part.
Landscape photographers are least bothered about things like continuous shooting speed, 4K video, or fast autofocusing in their digital cameras. These are best left for photographers who are shooting wildlife and sports, and of course video.
What landscape photographers are looking for though are high resolution, exceptional image quality, and high dynamic range. The EOS R5 offers all that and more.
Best Features of the Canon EOS R5
- 45 megapixel full-frame sensor
- Paired with a DIGIC X image processor
- Built-in 5-axis Sensor-Shift body image stabilization
- AF sensitivity from -6 to +20 EV
- Electronic Viewfinder with 5.76 Million-dots resolution
3. Nikon Z7 II
Nikon Z7 II is the upgraded version of the successful Z7. There are some upgrades in the new camera that are interesting as well as some that are superficial. For example, the new camera comes with dual image processors. The large full-frame sensor offers a lot of detail. You can print large canvas prints as well as metallic prints with your digital images.
Landscape photographers prefer to shoot with a tripod. But on occasions, they also shoot hand-held for a quick snap. In any case, a camera stays on the shoulder of the user for most parts.
A lightweight mirrorless camera makes more sense than a big bulky DSLR. And that is precisely why a lot of landscape photographers are switching to mirrorless cameras these days.
Best Features of the Z7 II
- 45.7-megapixel CMOS sensor
- Dual EXPEED 6 image processors
- BSI sensor design
- 493-point Phase Detection AF system
- 5-axis body image Stabilization
- Electronic Viewfinder with 3.69 Million-dots resolution
Full-frame DSLR Cameras
Here are my top picks for the best full-frame DSLR cameras for landscape photography. I have consciously tried to limit my options to high-res cameras.
1. Canon EOS 5DS R (Best Camera for Landscape Photography, DSLR)
The Canon 5DS R is a high-resolution camera designed for landscape, fashion, and product shoots. But the high resolution of the camera is equally suitable for landscape projects. At 50-megapixel the resolution of the camera can give medium format cameras a run for their money.
Plus, the effect of the OLPF is canceled out in this camera which makes the images even sharper. You can get a lot of detail. And that means you can also print big.
Best Features of the Canon EOS 5DS R
- 50.6-megapixel CMOS full-frame sensor
- Comes with dual DIGIC 6 image processors
- Low-Pass Filter effect cancellation for sharper images
- Native ISO range of 100-6400
- 61-Point High-density reticular AF system
- Optical viewfinder
2. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
The Canon 5D series has always been a huge hit with professionals. Mark IV comes with several refinements and some really interesting features. One of them is the Dual-pixel RAW feature. This feature allows the photographer to make micro-adjustments to a few aspects of an image after it has been taken. Like shifting the focus point ever so slightly, or the bokeh.
When it comes to capturing detail and dynamic range the 5D Mark IV is a superb camera to work with and the results are simply stunning. Sure it does not have the advantage of super-resolution as some of the other cameras do, but it can more than hold its own when it comes to performance.
Best Features of the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
- 30.4-megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor
- DIGIC 6+ image processor
- Native ISO range of 100-32000
- 61-Point high density reticular autofocus system
- Dual-pixel RAW
- Optical Viewfinder
3. Nikon D850
How can you ever leave out the Nikon D850 from a list of the best camera for landscape photography? The D850 is a versatile camera something that both professionals and enthusiasts will find exciting to work with. The D850 comes with a 45.7-megapixel full-frame BSI sensor. The dynamic range of the camera is good too. Overall image quality is beautiful.
It is pertinent to mention that dynamic range will fall the higher you push the ISO number. This is true with all cameras. Except for the ones that come with dual-native ISO.
Best Features of the Nikon D850
- 45.7-megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor
- BSI sensor architecture
- EXPEED 5 image-processing engine
- Multi-CAM 20K 153-Point autofocus system
- Native ISO range of 64-25600
4. Canon EOS 6D Mark II
The best thing about the EOS 6D Mark II is that it is one of the lightest full-frame cameras in the business. A lightweight camera is easier to lug throughout the day. Say if you are hiking through the day for your images, the last thing you would want is a heavy camera bogging you down. The lightweight and powerful sensor of the full-frame Canon EOS 6D Mark II makes perfect sense.
A full-frame camera has larger pixel sizes. Resultantly, the camera is likely to respond to low light situations much better than an APS-C camera with the same number of pixels.
Best Features of the Canon EOS 6D Mark II
- 26.2-megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor
- DIGIC 7 image processor
- 45-Point all cross-type autofocus system
- Native ISO range of 100-40000
- Dual Pixel CMOS autofocusing
- Decent weather-resistant build quality
5. Pentax K-1 Mark II
The Pentax K-1 Mark II is a full-frame DSLR using a 36.4-megapixel sensor. A large sensor packed with a high number of pixels, plus it does not have the anti-aliasing filter promises a lot of detail in the images. Another excellent thing about the Pentax K-1 Mark II is its superb weather sealing.
I also like the Pixel Shift Resolution II technology (that’s part of the 5-axis Image Stabilization system). This has the effect of making and combining four sequential images to produce a single image with an incredible amount of detail and color information.
Best Features of the Pentax K-1 Mark II
- 36.4-megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor
- Paired with PRIME IV image processing engine
- Pixel-shift Resolution II technology
- Built-in 5-axis body shake reduction technology
- Weather sealed construction, perfect for landscape photography
- Native ISO range of 100- 819200
Many of the DSLRs I have listed here come with excellent continuous shooting speed. But continuous shooting speed is not a requirement for shooting landscape photography. Hence I have deliberately refrained from discussing those features.
6. Nikon D810
Coming to the D810. This is a slightly dated model. Though the 36.3-megapixel full-frame body without an anti-aliasing filter is still a formidable tool in the hands of a landscape photographer.
A native ISO of 12800, a Multi-CAM 3500FX 51-point autofocus system, and an electronic first curtain shutter make for the other important features of this camera.
Best Features of the Nikon D810
- 36.3 megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor
- Paired with EXPEED 4 image processor
- Multi-CAM 3500FX
- 51-point autofocusing sensor
- Native ISO of 12800
- Optical viewfinder
The best cameras for landscape photography are a combination of high resolution, excellent wide dynamic range, and decent ISO performance. Several cameras tick all the boxes.
With these parameters when you add the optional parameters like technology, weight, weather sealing, and availability of compatible OEM lenses, Sony emerges as the best option. That is why I have selected the Sony Alpha 1 as my favorite camera.