Best Cameras for Landscape Photography

Best Cameras for Landscape Photography

Buying a camera can be overwhelming, but the process should be fun and not just a leap of faith. First, choose among the four tiers of cameras: point-and-shoots, mirrorless cameras, entry-level digital SLRs, and professional full-frame DSLRs. Then do some research based on your price range and specifications. Here is what you need to know—all of the information below is current for 2014. 

Option 1: Point-and-Shoots

Point-and-shoot cameras are about the size of a notecard with an attached zoom lens and mostly automatic features (hence the name). Don’t be fooled, technology keeps advancing and these cameras capture great images, are easy to use, lightweight, and relatively cheap.

The point-and-shoot has experienced a megapixel explosion and superzooms (with a 30x zoom or more) are increasingly popular. The reality is that the smaller sensors and lenses can't capture quite as much sharpness or light as bigger cameras. If you want large, professional-grade prints, consider a digital SLR camera below. Otherwise, point-and-shoots have a lot of advantages. When making prints, an average point-and-shoot should produce approximately a 12” x 18” print without a significant drop-off in quality. 

Pros: Cheap, easy to use, lightweight
Cons: Mostly automated, struggle with large prints 
Things to Remember: Don’t be overwhelmed by features—focus on fundamentals like megapixels, zoom, battery life, cost, and reputation
Price Range: $70-$650
Top High-End Point-and-Shoots: Sony DSC-RX100 IIICanon Powershot G16
Top Superzoom: Panasonic FZ200
Top Budget Point-and-Shoot: Canon PowerShot SX260
More: See our page on the Best Point-and-Shoot Cameras 2014


Option 2: Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Cameras

Mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras are a new addition to our list of the best cameras for landscape photography. Built entirely for digital, this modern breed of compact camera foregoes the internal mirror system of a DSLR; instead, light passes through the lens directly to the image sensor like a point-and-shoot. This build allows for a large image sensor in a relatively small camera body.
For landscape photographers, mirrorless cameras are an intriguing option. It’s worth noting that good wide-angle lenses for mirrorless cameras are expensive, and a full set-up can easily end up costing more than a comparative set-up for a DSLR. However, we love the lack of bulk and ingenuity. 
Pros: Lightweight, easy to use, great image quality
Cons: Lenses can be expensive, particularly wide-angle lenses
Things to Remember: Sony, Olympus, and Panasonic dominate this sector, not traditional powerhouses Nikon and Canon
Price Range: From $350 for the Sony NEX-3N up to $2,100 for the Sony A7R
Top Budget Mirrorless Camera: Sony NEX-3N
Top High-End Mirrorless Cameras: Fujifilm XT1, Olympus OM-D E-M1, Sony A7R
More: See our page on the Best Mirrorless Cameras 2014


Option 3: Entry-Level DSLRs

Digital SLRs—bigger camera bodies with interchangeable lenses—take professional grade images and foster the greatest photographic expression. Cameras of this type have considerably larger sensors than do point-and-shoots and capture fantastic detail and color. They also operate with less automation, allowing for adjustments in shutter speed, ISO, and aperture, among others (some point-and-shoots offer variations of these adjustments but it's not the same).

Digital SLR and point-and-shoot size comparisonThe downside of the digital SLR comes with a higher price tag and increased size and weight. These cameras are considerably bulkier than a point-and-shoot and you will need at least one lens and a camera bag to protect your gear. You will also be carrying a much higher dollar value. But on the whole, the image quality produced by the digital SLR is substantially better than the point-and-shoot and generally worth the extra bulk (consider it a form of cross-training). These photographs can be enlarged and hung on the wall for a lifetime.

Pros: Less automation (more room for creativity), professional grade image quality, great for large prints
Cons: Less automation (more room for user error), size and weight, cost
Things to Remember: Get to know the camera before your trip by reading the manual and going out for some test shoots. Many digital SLR’s have automated settings such as ‘landscape’ and ‘portrait’ but you will want a baseline of familiarity
Price Range: Budget DSLR camera/lens kits start at around $500; high-end set-ups can cost $2,000 and up
2014 Market: Things can change quickly, but Nikon cameras currently dominate the entry-level DSLR market with more megapixels and lower prices than their Canon counterparts
Top Nikon Cameras: The Nikon D7100 is the best DX camera on the market. The 24-megapixel Nikon D5300 is a powerhouse mid-range DSLR, and the Nikon D3300 is an outstanding budget DSLR
Top Nikon Lenses: The Nikon 18-300mm VR is an excellent all-purpose lens for everything from grand landscapes to wildlife close-ups. The Nikon 10-24mm is the company's leading wide-angle lens, and the Nikon 16-85mm VR is a quality lens suited for landscapes and everyday use.
More: See our page on the Best Entry-Level DSLRs 2014


Option 4: Professional DSLRs (Full-Frame)

The critical distinction between entry-level and professional digital SLRs is the jump to full-frame—professional DSLRs have extra large sensors that take full-frame images equivalent to 36x24 mm.

DX/FX distinctionIn the image to the right, the inner box represents a DX photograph and the outer box is an full-frame or FX photograph. The difference is rather astounding: full-frame images contain substantially more visual information.

Full-frame cameras are phenomenal, the best of the best, and if you can afford one it will not disappoint. There are few deals in the full-market market and lenses are particularly pricey—the extra large sensors require extremely precise (and therefore expensive) glass.

There are only a handful of full-frame camera models, including the new 36.3-megapixel Nikon D810 and Canon EOS 5D Mark III. Prior to 2012, the runaway camera choice for professional landscape photographers was the Canon EOS 5D Mark II—it captured the highest quality images and was considerably cheaper than the Nikon D3 or Nikon D3X.  In 2012, Canon released the 22.3-megapixel Canon Mark 5D III without any monumental changes, but Nikon released with the powerhouse 36.3-megapixel D800 for $400 cheaper. The tides have changed—the Nikon D810 now is the world's best camera for landscape photography.

Pros: Exceptional image quality (the best), high resolution prints of any size
Cons: Cost, learning curve, size and weight
Things to Remember: With a full-frame camera you should be prepared to invest in quality full-frame lenses (some smaller lenses are compatible but the images will be cropped)
Price Range: The camera bodies start at around $2,000; lenses are $1,000 and up
Top Models: The Nikon D810. For lenses for the D800, the Nikon 14-24mm Wide Angle Zoom and Carl Zeiss 21mm both are phenomenal for landscapes
More: See our page on the Best Full-Frame Cameras 2014


Photography Terminology

Shutter Speed: How long the shutter stays open and exposed to the image (usually a fraction of a second, but shutter speed can range from 1/8000 of a second to minutes in certain low light situations)

ISO: The measure of sensitivity to low light (the higher the ISO the less grainy photographs will be at low light)

Aperture: The size of the opening in the lens when the picture is taken, similar to the iris of an eye. Aperture is measured in f-stop (lower f-stops mean a wider opening for better low-light photography)

Sensor Size Comparison

Most consumers look at megapixels first when buying a digital camera, but the sensor size actually is a more important factor. See our sensor size comparison for digital cameras for more information.