Come prepared: Choosing your landscape photography equipment
Sure, having proper landscape photography equipment on location doesn't guarantee any good output per se, but it definitely helps. The key word here is proper. Unsurprisingly, it is you who can define it best. After all, your gear should suit you, and you alone. Let's begin then.
Landscape photography equipment put to work [Could someone please turn the lights on?]
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This article starts a series which will comprise several instalments. While the information contained here was current when initially published in summer 2016, it might have since become outdated. Be sure to complement it with your own research.
To get started
Choosing your kit is an important task. Ultimately, you don't want to be annoyed by peculiarities of your gear over and over again, or end up with some busted piece of equipment in the field, miles away from any supplies. Certainly, some compromises are inevitable. But you need to be aware of them, and sure about their necessity. Just keep this in mind:
A thorough consideration of all factors before you make the final decision and hand over your hard earned cash is vital for your work.
It is that simple.
One more thing: While doing your due consideration, say, reading an online review and – especially – any comments accompanying it, consider only what matters to you. Neither the reviewer nor the commenters are aware of it, nor do they care about it. You know better.
Landscape photography equipment: Cameras
When speaking of photography gear, the first thing to discuss is quite naturally the camera. Choosing one means making a decision with far-reaching consequences. This is especially true for landscape photography equipment. Before committing yourself, you definitely want to ask yourself the following questions and carefully consider the answers:
Are you going to shoot almost exclusively landscapes, or do you want a versatile camera for all possible subjects?
This is not a silly question. Most if not all camera reviews cater to a vast audience with very different needs and interests. Cameras ranking best in these reviews are inevitably chosen on the ground of their possible appeal to the majority of review readers. In real life, however, very few buyers will ever use all features which accounted for camera's high evaluation and thus triggered their purchase decision.
In other words, if you are not going to record video or sports, you don't need a fast predictive autofocus in your camera. If you are not interested in night photography, you won't require your camera's stellar performance at high ISO. And so on. These features are all nice to have, but having them alone without actually using them will be of no avail to you.
A camera suitable for landscape photography should, in my opinion, first and foremost deliver truthful and detailed colour rendering in natural daylight. High dynamic range is a must, too. Everything else might count as valid selling points... for others.
Dynamic range describes the ability of a medium to record and represent fine shadow gradations. The more different shadow levels are discernible in the resulting image, the higher is its dynamic range. The concept traces back to the zone system defined by Ansel Adams and Fred Archer.
Can you work with a single fixed lens, or do you need the ability to change lenses on your camera? If you are positive about the latter, are there quality lenses available for your desired camera build in your preferred focal range?
There are undeniable advantages to an SLR or a mirrorless system camera, with greater versatility – again – being the biggest. But nothing is without a cost. In order to benefit from this advantage, you'll need to bring several lenses on location and carry them along all the way. SLR cameras alone can be rather bulky and relatively heavy. Add a couple of quality glass lenses, a tripod with a coupling, and you may face some serious logistic problems with all that stuff.
On the other hand, fixed lenses are generally well adjusted to work with their respective sensors. Cameras which use them are often cheaper, smaller, and lighter than their system counterparts. If you are sure to spend 95% of your time working with a single focal length, a suitable fixed lens camera can be right for you. Some manufacturers offer several models with different fixed lenses, so when you do need an alternate focal length, you can invest in a similar camera attached to another lens. Admittedly, this doesn't look like the best – or the cheapest – solution, but it just may work for you in your particular situation. Besides, having a fixed-lens camera with you as your fallback system may prove like a smart move should you really require one.
How do you plan to use and present your images, i.e., how big do you need them?
Along with the maximum sensor resolution, both its size and format, or aspect ratio, account for this.
To look good in print, images of all sizes can be securely scaled to match the resolution of 300dpi. When this secure print size is big enough to allow comfortable viewing from a distance, print resolution can be reduced as viewers' eyes will be unable to make out small imperfections in the printed image caused by its lesser resolution.
For example, a 24MP image with a 3:2 ratio, that's 6,000x4,000px, will securely print at (6,000px / 300dpi =) 20", or close to 51cm, wide. While this is by no means huge, you would probably be able to blow the image up a little, say, to 25" printed at 240dpi. Depending on the subject, even a 30" (76cm) print with 200dpi is manageable.
On the other hand, a 24MP image with a 4:3 ratio, or 5,640x4,230px, will securely print at only 18 3/4", short of 48cm, wide. At 200dpi, the image will only grow to become 28" (71cm) wide. It's whole two inches smaller just because of the slightly different sensor format.
How challenging do you expect your shooting conditions to be? Will they require the camera body to be environmentally sealed? Will you have to carry all your gear for long distances and/or in rough terrain?
If you are going to take pictures in wet, dusty, or cold conditions, your camera body be better prepared to take it hard. If you plan to bring your photography equipment along on mountain tours, do consider its overall weight, and also choose your lenses and tripod with respect to this.
How much do you want to spend?
This is not a catch question. Cheap may have its merits, but in general, you get what you pay for. In this respect, if you want to pursue photography as a trade, I would advise that you spend as much money on your photography equipment as you can afford at any given point in your career. If you are on a tight budget, the introduction of a new camera model is a great opportunity to save on dropping prices of its predecessor still in stock at retailers.
Now that we boiled down the essential questions, read on for some possible answers.
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