What’s in my bag?

Landscape Photography Gear

 

landscape on nikon live view

I started doing landscape photography because I love the outdoors, and having a camera in the natural world 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, 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.

Picard's advice

I understand that photo gear is fun, but it's only a tool, and the real fun should be making 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 get used. 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. You can check out scientific reviews at DxO to survey cameras best 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 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, but that seems to be 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.

Disclosure

 

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.

 

Cameras

 

Currently, the 35mm cameras used by most landscape professionals are:

Why?

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.)

 

 

Lenses

 

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

You can argue fixed vs. zoom all day long. Zoom lenses, however, have come a long way in quality and are easier to use than fixed. Otherwise, it’s a personal choice.

My recommendation would be to get the best glass you can – concentrate on quality vs quantity. You can always upgrade camera bodies over time but will keep quality lenses.

A really high-quality lens selection for landscape photography might be as follows:

Nikon

  • Nikon 14-24 2.8 and/or 17-35 2.8,
  • Nikon 24-70 2.8,
  • Nikon 70-200 4.0, and
  • Zeiss 100 2.0 Milvus or Nikon 200 4.0

Canon

  • Canon 16-35 4.0
  • Canon 24-70 2.8
  • Canon 70-200 4.0
  • Zeiss 100 2.0 Milvus or Canon 180 3.5

Sony

  • 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.

 

Both Canon and Nikon’s recommended wide angle lenses are critical for landscape images and are a good starting point. From there you could go to the 70-200’s, and circle back to the normal and macro lenses.

Another option is to start with the Canon and Nikon kit lens – the Canon 24-105 f/4 or the Nikon 24-120 f/4, and upgrade or add on later. Actually, just owning one of these kit lenses for your system will allow you to make some superb landscape photos.

Finally, keep in mind that Canon, Nikon, and Sony offer a special price on certain lenses purchased with their camera body. This is sometimes a great opportunity to snatch a super lens at a reduced price.

 

Associated Gear

 

Filters

I suggest 3 filters for Landscape Photography. The first, the polarizer, is a must, while the two neutral density filters are 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.
  • Split Neutral Density filter – I realize you can do a lot with photo editing but there are times when a split ND filter will capture the detail in the sky better than any post-processing software. It has to be used correctly and I personally only use a 3 stop soft filter. My personal recommendation is a glass filter by NiSi. Glass is more fragile than plastic but it’s the only filter which I believe doesn’t degrade the image or create any color cast.
  • Neutral Density 10 stop – I don’t like the variable neutral density filters and have landed on the 10 stop, again, NiSi neutral density filter. This is used to slow down water to capture a smooth versus a choppy surface. It's not used often, but when needed is all the difference between a great shot and no shot.

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.

  • 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, it’s that good.
  • Gitzo GT 3541XLS – The Gitzo 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. Quite simply, it’s the best there is. The MeFOTO already has its own ball head so the BH-55 works with the Gitzo.
  • 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 here. Kirk and their homepage, another fine company, also produces L Brackets and their Nikon D810 bracket can be found here.
  • Tripod bags – The best tripod bags, I believe, are the Domke Tripod Canvas bags here. This is all you need and I highly recommend them over the super padded tripod bags that are otherwise available.

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.

Camera Bags

 

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.

Miscellaneous Gear

 

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.

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, consider 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.

 

Summary

 

Landscape Photography is all about the right gear, so you’re not thinking about gear in order to get the best landscape images. It is important to understand that traveling light with the best and lightest 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
NatureViews.com