Recommended Landscape Photography Gear
I started doing landscape photography because I love the outdoors, and having a camera in the outdoors just seemed like a great fit.
But, my early photos certainly didn’t reflect what I was seeing in real life, and unfortunately, no one seemed to be willing or able to offer any real help.
I remember going on, so called, photo trips where the instructor/guide would be more interested in taking their photos than helping me with mine or would offer some bogus suggestion like “just close your aperture to f/16.”
When I returned home and reviewed my images, the ratio of good to bad images was pretty sad. But, what does discovering the best gear have to do with making great images?
Actually, a lot.
If you understand exactly what you need to make great landscape images like a pro, you can concentrate on really making great landscape images without being burdened or held back by too much, too little or the wrong gear.
Using the right tools is the foundation of beginning to grow as a landscape photographer since it frees you to develop your photographic skills as an artist. You can learn how to make great images by practicing, but first, you need the right tools.
Gear vs Images
Now. before we get into the gear, too many photographers are more interested in gear than in making images.
I understand that photo gear is fun, but it's only a tool, and the real fun should be creating images.
Photography gear, especially professional level gear, can be expensive, but that shouldn't hold you back.
My best advice is to use what you can afford, but try to get quality vs. quantity.
With lenses especially, you're better off getting one quality lens than a bunch of cheaper lens, even if you have to buy used equipment. The old advice is to buy the best glass, you can always change and upgrade cameras.
With cameras, I would try to move towards full frame. And listen, even with the top cameras, when new models come out, there are real bargains in the older models.
Finally, with respect to all the other gear, check out the rest of this article. I've really condensed what I use down to a smaller, more practical kit – but with real quality pieces.
Photography Gear Reviews
If these cameras are a little out of your budget, consider buying used or buying the best digital camera you can afford. First, check out scientific reviews at DxO to survey what they believe are the best cameras suited for landscape photography. Use DxO to get a scientific reference on cameras and lens – sharpness, resolution, dynamic range etc. Then, uses other sources to get a hands-on analysis.
I recommend LensRentals.com for their (almost) completely unbiased and knowledgeable reviews (for example, look at their review of the Canon 5dsr). I say unbiased because a rental is a rental, and the profit is relatively the same, so besides what biases everyone has (they might just like or use one brand as opposed to another, for example), they are serving a vast audience which likes and uses all different brands.
Make sure, when you look at other reviewers also, to understand their biases – are they selling equipment, are they a Canon or Nikon only user, etc. Some good reviewers are The Digital Picture for Canon, and Thom Hogan for Nikon.
You can also see what consumers say in their reviews about camera gear at Fred Miranda. Be aware, however, consumers normally don't buy a $6,000 lens then post a review about how bad the lens is and what a terrible decision they made. You'll notice that the more expensive gear tends to have a higher rating. So take these reviews with a grain of salt.
Retailers – new and used
I highly recommend both B&H and Amazon for new equipment. Also, look into Fred Miranda for buying and selling used gear. If your local dealer price matches B&H and Amazon and allows for returns, you might want to develop a relationship there. Many, however, do not allow for returns, and it’s important to test and evaluate your gear before keeping it.
Although B&H does allow for returns, Amazon is still the king in this area. No questions asked and within 30 days they are extremely accommodating.
You can sell your used camera gear on B&H, Amazon, or Fred Miranda.
B&H usually offers very quick, but lower quotes – so if you're in liquidation mode, this is the place to go. Amazon allows you to set up as a merchant to sell gear. You'll usually receive a little higher price, but the set up may take a little more effort, and, because they offer a 30 return privilege, you will wait for the 30 days to receive your funds. Finally, Fred Miranda offers relative inexpensive memberships after which you can sell your gear. You'll probably get your highest price here. You are rated, however, as to your credibility and newbies will have a little harder time selling since they've not been really vetted. Of course, there's always eBay, which is a little riskier.
The prices on Fred Miranda are high enough that, although it's great for selling, it often pays to buy new because the incremental savings may not be worth the additional risk. Granted, most photographers always save their boxes and never file their warranty cards, but getting warranty work on a used piece of gear is often not honored, even with the warranty card, unless an original sales receipt is also submitted.
My experience on years of purchasing used gear has been really pretty good. The only bad apple was a small flash purchased on eBay. Fortunately, the seller refunded the bad flash, and I bought the same used flash from B&H, with a short warranty, for almost the same price. There's a big difference, however, between a bad $100 flash, and a faulty $3,000 camera body. Just make sure it doesn't sound too good to be true, and shop with care.
Please understand that I participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to Amazon.com. Accordingly, I am compensated for referring traffic and business to these companies. Where practical, I've linked the company's actual home page, even if not an affiliate relationship, so you can get a full understanding of what the various companies offer, and, if desired, order directly from them. Additionally, I've linked products that are not affiliate links because I feel they are quality products, and won't limit my recommendations simply because of affiliate relationships.
Currently, the 35mm cameras used by most landscape professionals are:
- The Nikon D810 or now, the Nikon D850
- The Canon 5d Mark IV or 5dsr and,
- The Sony A7Rii or now, the Sony A7Riii
These cameras are full frame cameras with high resolution, wide dynamic range and the best selection of available lenses. (Actually, the exception to this is that the 5d IV doesn’t have the highest resolution and the 5dsr doesn’t have the best dynamic range – but they currently are the best Canon offers for landscape photography.)
I continue to use the Nikon D810 and am in no hurry to upgrade to the D850. I do like some of the new features like touchscreen etc., but I can wait. If you're making your first purchase, have the funds, and want to go Nikon, the D850 would be the way to go.
Also, there are a number of less expensive cameras, especially from Nikon and Canon so feel free to explore. My only recommendation, again, go full frame. Full frame cameras keeps a 24mm lens at 24mm vs. cropping it to a 36mm lens.
I’ll divide landscape lenses into three groups with one additional specialty lens as follows:
- Wide Angle – somewhere between 11-17mm to around 35mm
- Normal – around 35 – 70,
- Telephoto – 70 and beyond, and
- Macro – to keep the proper distance, you should really consider macro lenses in the 100mm to 200mm range.
You can argue fixed vs. zoom all day long. Zoom lenses, however, have come a long way in quality, are easier to use, and don't require as many lenses. Otherwise, it’s a personal choice.
“My recommendation would be to get the best glass you can and concentrate on quality vs quantity. You can always upgrade camera bodies over time but still keep your quality lenses”.
Some high-quality lens selections for landscape photography might be as follows:
- Nikon 24-120 f/4G ED VR
- Nikon 14-24 2.8, or 16-35 F/4G ED and
- Nikon 28-300 f/3.5-5.6H ED VR, or
- Nikon 24-70 2.8E ED VR, and
- Nikon 70-200 f/4G ED VR, and possibly the,
- Nikon 105 f/2.8 macro or Nikon 200 f/4D IF_ED
Let me clarify the above lens selection. You can certainly use the kit lens, the 24-120, as your only landscape lens. Or, you can use the 28-300 as your only lens. Alternatively, you can use one of the wide angle lenses, let's say the 14-24 or 16-35, plus the 28-300 as a two lens system. Also, you can use either one of the wide angle lenses along with the 24-70 and 70-200 as a three lens system. Finally, you can add either one of the 105 or 200 lenses, as your macro lens. The same type of alternative combinations would apply to the Canon systems within the limitation of their offerings (Canon does have a 28-300 lens but it is too heavy and expensive to be recommended as a landscape lens). Adding an extension lens to one of the longer lenses is another way to go macro. This method does produce great images, as there is no extra glass involved, and is really inexpensive, but it somewhat restrictive in focusing, and a little difficult to handle.
- Canon 24-105 f/4L
- Canon 11-24 f/4L or Canon 16-35 f/4L
- Canon 24-70 f/2.8
- Canon 70-200 f/4
- Canon 100 f/2.8L Macro or Canon 180 3.5 Macro
- Sony offers lenses made by Zeiss. Although I am not totally familiar with their system, it’s easy to make recommendations since they are undoubted of superior optical quality. Additionally, there are adapters, which allow for the use of Nikon and Canon lenses on the Sony body.
Keep in mind that Canon, Nikon, and Sony all offer discounted prices on certain lenses purchased with their camera bodies. This is sometimes a great way to snatch a super lens at a reduced price.
I suggest noly two filters for Landscape Photography. The first, the polarizer, is a must, while the neutral density filter is highly recommended:
- Circular Polarizers – I’ve used virtually every brand available and currently use and recommend the thin Zeiss Polarizers. Their glass does not impart any color cast and is the only thin polarizer, I know of, that accepts a lens cap. The importance of a thinner polarizer is to prevent vignetting on wider angle lenses. Alternatively, you can use the circular polarizer that comes with the NiSi filter holder. A Zeiss screw-on polarizer, however, will be easier to handle and lighter to carry.
- The Nikon and Canon super wide lenses, the 14-24 and 11-24 respectively, require a special polarizer system and I have used and recommend the WonderPana shown here on Amazon. It is, however, very difficult to correctly polarize super wide angles and it may be more pain than it's worth to use these on the super wide angle lenses.
- Neutral Density – I don’t like the variable neutral density filters and have landed on a 3 stop neutral density filter from B+W. This is used to slow down water to capture a smooth versus a choppy surface. It's not used often, but when needed it makes all the difference between a great shot and no shot.
- Split Neutral Density – For years, even with digital cameras, I carried split neutral density filters, but no more. With proper editing, especially with PhotoShop you actually get better results post-processing without any filter.
Tripod, Ball Head and L Bracket
You may want to consider a less expensive lightweight backpacking system and purchase the main system at some point in the future. Regardless, you really will be able to use both tripods depending on the circumstances of the trip.
- Feisol Tournament CT-3342 3 Section Rapid Carbon Tripod – Of all the tripods that I've used, and I probably have as many tripods as I do bags, the Feisol is the best overall tripod. In fact, if I could only have one tripod, it would be the Feisol. I only wish I would have found it earlier. I devote a blog review of this great tripod along with other tips on using the tripod, L bracket, and ball head. I have no reservations about recommending the Feisol as this is my go-to tripod.
- MeFOTO Carbon Fiber Roadtrip Travel Tripod/Monopod Kit – This is a phenomenal, lightweight, all in one backpack/travel tripod with ball head, monopod, and bag. Priced right, even if you later purchase a larger main tripod, you’ll always come back to this system for ultra-light expeditions, it’s that good. It's less sturdy than the Feisol or Gitzo but, all in all, you get more than what you pay for here.
- Gitzo GT 3541XLS – The Gitzo GT (in the featured image on this post) is a gigantic tripod that will last a lifetime – and it’s priced accordingly. It easily goes to 79.5 inches high – so you might ask – why so high? The reason is that when you are setting up on uneven surfaces, like a mountain, the longer leg can be used downhill to provide an even set up. It is a beast but quickly appreciated in real life.
- Ball Head – There is no ball head quite like the RRS BH-55 LR (in the featured image on this post). Quite simply, it’s the best there is. The MeFOTO already has its own ball head so the BH-55 works with the Gitzo and Feisol. If you want to go lighter, consider the RRS BH-30 LR. In fact, this is my preferred ball head with the Feisol.
- L Brackets – In order to connect your camera to the ball head and to shift from landscape to portrait shots, you need an L Bracket. I use and recommend the L Brackets from Really Right Stuff like the Nikon D810 bracket on Amazon. Kirk, another fine company, also produces L Brackets and their Nikon D810 bracket can be found on Kirk's page here or on Amazon here.
- Tripod bags – The best tripod bags, I believe, are the Domke Tripod Canvas bags available on Amazon. This is all you need and I highly recommend them over the super padded tripod bags that are otherwise available. Both the Feisol and the MeFOTO come with a tripod bag as standard.
Remote Shutter Release
If you want the sharpest images possible, you absolutely have to use a remote shutter release. After years and years of using poorly designed and ineffective shutter releases, I’ve landed on a company that just gets it right. The RNF-4s for Nikon and RF-911 for Canon work perfectly and are inexpensive to boot. Unfortunately, they do not currently make any remote releases for Sony but Sony does offer a wired release.
Admittedly, I’m a bit of a bag freak. Actually, and I guess as opposed to many photographers, I like a two bag concept. One bag with just enough of what I need in the field and another bag with all my other gear.
I don’t know about you but I just don’t believe I need a battery charger when I’m out in the field. I would like one when I get back to my base camp and need to recharge the batteries. Additionally, I see a number of photographers who use huge backpacks. Ostensibly, everything is in the bag. But what typically happens is that the photographer sets the bag down, sets up the tripod, moves the tripod, then moves again, only to run back and retrieve their bag. Doing this over and over again on a shoot gets old quickly.
I use a sling bag from Think Tank that fits just the gear I need in the field and hangs as a ballast from the center of my tripod. That way, I’m keeping my gear off the ground, increasing the stability of my tripod and avoiding having to run back and retrieve my gear every time I move.
Use your old bag to store all the items you don’t need in the field.
Since most landscape photography starts before sunrise and ends after sunset, I carry a head torch and use and recommend the Nitecore HC90 for really technical trips and the much more affordable Black Diamond Spot for less technical shoots. You can also check out my post on my TactBright website concerning Head Lamps here.
Also, carry extra batteries and flash cards.
Of course, a protective hat and polarized sunglasses are a must, as well as the big 3 pharmaceuticals – lip balm, insect repellant, and sunscreen, which should be added for all trips.
Also, you may some sort of business card, like the stellar and inexpensive offerings from Moo.com to share with other photographers and prospective clients.
Finally, I don’t use neck and hand straps while the camera is on the tripod. The reason is, many outdoor situations involve wind and having your camera move around because the strap is blowing in the wind, only exacerbates blur, which is the opposite of your goal to get sharp images.
I do use a hand strap when off a tripod and the one I recommend is the Peak Design Clutch CL-2. This is easy to install and uninstall and is, quite frankly, the best strap on the market.
Landscape Photography is all about previsualizing the image and having the right gear to carry it off.
It is important to understand that traveling light with the best possible gear will make for a happier photographer and better images.
Even though I’ve discussed some relatively expensive gear in this article, I hope you can see that a reasonably good or even used camera, preferably full framed, with an L bracket and the all-inclusive meFOTO tripod, a remote shutter release, Think Tank sling bag and circular polarizer is all you need to start taking images like a pro. Additionally, this starter package is really reasonably priced. From there, the sky’s the limit.
Enjoy the journey.
Thad M Brown