We’re in a day and age when almost every new camera that comes out, from phone to APS-C to full-frame to medium format, is an absolute workhorse and capable of capturing amazing images in its own right.
We’re also in a time where every ‘professional’ release is pushing and expanding the boundaries of digital photography. It’s a great time to be a photographer in 2021.
And although that big thing, the ‘P’ word, happened in 2020, we still were fortunate to get some incredible camera releases – some of the best ever, to be frank.
So, I thought we’d shine a light on some of that awesomeness – and highlight some older cameras that are still getting it done today at the highest level in the landscape realm. I have been fortunate to shoot with many different bodies over the course of leading workshops and I know what makes a ‘landscape’ camera shine. P.S. Stay tuned for a wildlife-edition.
What’s most important for a ‘landscape’ camera?
A higher resolution sensor allows for vivid detail, but also cropping opportunities.
Dynamic range is the spectrum of luminosity in a scene, from shadows to highlights. Being able to capture a huge range is essential for a landscape camera – it means more data in a single shot and less of a need to bracket/blend exposures, but also less noise when recovering shadows and highlights.
Noise handling is crucial – from dynamic range recovery to night photography to general high ISO shooting. The best cameras for landscape photography today are usable up to ISO 12,800 with noise reduction in post.
Ergonomics & Build
This is important. A camera should feel great in the hands, be easy to use and shoot with, and have great build. Things like quality weather sealing are very important when shooting in harsh conditions…which can happen a lot as a landscape photographer.
You could list a whole other slew of features, but this is what’s most important in my experience.
Let’s get into it. These are the best full-frame cameras for landscape photography that you can buy today. You’ll notice all are mirrorless cameras. There are still great DSLR options available today (like the Nikon D850), but mirrorless is definitely the future.
Sony made a momentous splash with the Sony a1 – it is a flagship camera in every sense. I mean, it is mind-blowing what Sony did with this thing. And not to ruin any spoilers, but the a1 will be at the top of the list for the wildlife edition too.
Sony took every industry leading spec out there and somehow produced a camera that matched or exceeded every one. It is 100% the best camera you can buy today. The downside? A hefty price of $6,500.
But, you get a 50 MP full-frame sensor, perfect for incredible detail. You have the ability to crop and still maintain a high-resolution file. It has dynamic range of ~13.5-15 EV depending on the measurement source. Those values put it right at the top with the other cameras on this list.
You’d expect a huge 50 MP sensor to come with a little noise, but Sony has been crushing noise handling for years. Noise performance is on par with the Canon R5 and just a little behind the Z7 II. Again, the a1 is competing right at the top.
The a1 sets itself apart with an industry leading autofocus system, the highest resolution viewfinder, incredible burst speeds if you ever do venture into other genres, and amazing file quality.
The Sony a1 also has the improved ergonomics that have graced Sony’s recent bodies, the new Sony menu system, and better weather sealing, and the most native lenses out of any of the big mirrorless systems.
This is the camera folks, that’s all.
Nikon Z7 II
Nikon has shortcomings, no doubt. But, I can tell you one thing, their new mirrorless bodies are some of the best out there for landscape photography. When you look at the camera realm with more than just landscapes in mind, I agree the Canon R5 is probably winning the race.
But, Nikon nails landscape cameras, they just do. Overall image quality, dynamic range, noise handling – the Z7 II is the leader in all those categories. Pair it with some of the best ergonomics out there and landscape-focused features, and boom, the Z7 II is one of my favorites.
The ergonomics of the Z series cameras are so good. I’d say it’s the most comfortable camera in the hand and changing settings/using camera features is a breeze. I think the Z7 II and the R5 are setting the bar, and it’s one area both have an advantage over the Sony cameras.
The Z7 II gets dual card slots, if that matters to you, and has features like focus shifting shooting and the ability to capture exposures over 30 seconds without a remote/intervalometer.
Where does it come up short? Well, lack of lenses for one. That’s Nikon’s big shortcoming right now, it’s been a huge disappointment. The Z system has so much potential, but new releases have been painfully slow.
It also shines in the landscape realm, but use it for anything else and the R5 and a1 are going o have the advantage. The Z7 II has excellent focus, but it’s not quite at R5/a1 levels, it cannot compete on the video front, and the burst rate is much slower than those two cameras.
If you a pure landscape shooter though, I really think it’s tough to beat the Nikon Z7 II and it’s why I shoot with a Z7. It also comes at a much better price than the a1 and R5.
I’ve used Canon, Sony, and Nikon cameras extensively. And I’m not going to lie, there was a point where Canon fell behind Sony and Nikon by a decent amount. Now, this is in terms of landscapes.
Canon has been making beastly wildlife systems since the beginning of time.
In the last 5 years, Canon just wasn’t there with dynamic range and noise handling. The D850 and a7R III were just way ahead when it came to shooting landscapes.
Well, that all changed with the Canon R5 – a massive release from Canon this past year. The R5 is, in my opinion, Canon’s best camera ever. They addressed EVERYTHING. The R5 is now at the top with dynamic range, noise performance is on par, but Canon also blew everyone away with all the other features – video, ergonomics, classic Canon colors, an amazing host of lenses (with more coming), dual slots, insane burst rates, and finally, an autofocus system rivaling Sony’s.
The R5 is one of the best cameras ever made. It is an excellent choice for landscape photography. I still think the Z7 II does a few things better, but literally shoot anything other than landscapes and the R5 is the clear winner.
The Canon RF lenses are amazing too. Buy an R5 and pair it with a 15-35mm f/2.8, you won’t be sorry.
Sony a7R IV
Another Sony camera to consider is the 61 MP Sony a7r IV…yes, 61 megapixels!
The resolution is really the high point for the a7r IV. I know people say megapixels don’t matter too much, and I agree, but I also disagree. Having 61 MP nets you so much detail in those landscape images and it allows you to crop so much, and that ability can go a long ways for adjusting the composition of a photo.
I crop almost every photo I take for composition purposes, and I love having the 45 MP of resolution on the Z7, I can only imagine the 61 MP on the a7R IV.
The a7R IV is a solid upgrade over the former heavyweight a7r III too. The body is noticeably better in the hands. Sony has struggled with ergonomics, Canon and Nikon just do it better. But, the a7r IV is a step in the right direction. The menu system is a detriment too, not a big deal, but not as nice as Canon/Nikon’s equivalent.
The a1 has Sony’s new menu, which is so much better. It’s really minor things, like the menu system and the handling.
I honestly think if you take the a7r IV, R5, and Z7 II, you are going to have to peep for differences. All three are absolutely outstanding cameras.
The a7r IV kind of falls into the same category as the Z7 II, where you get a landscape powerhouse, but other features like burst rate and video are behind the Sony a1 and Canon R5. But, those things really don’t matter much when we’re talking landscape photography.
Nikon Z6 II
The Nikon Z6 II is almost a clone of the Z7 II, but with a lower resolution sensor and improved video features. I think it is one of the best bang-for-your-buck landscape cameras out there.
I spent a lot of time discussing why high-resolution sensors are great in this article, and they are. But, I think about what I’m doing with my images and 90% of the time they are being posted on social media at low resolutions or going towards prints in the 24-36” realm where a 45-60 MP sensor can be overkill.
So, think about what your output is…because the Z6 II could be perfect for you. Personally, my ideal sensor size is like 25-35 MP, and the 24.5 MP of the Z6 II fits right in there.
The Z6 II has the great dynamic range and noise handling of the Z7 II, plus some better video features. The shortcomings are the same as the Z7 II, the AF system is not as good as Canon and video still falls short.
The Z6 II comes at a great price though, which is a big consideration for most as well.
Keep your eyes out for a new Sony announcement this fall though. The Sony a7 IV is coming and rumors expect it to feature a 30-35 MP sensor. I think it will be the camera to get come fall and I think I will buy one myself for landscape work if the specs are there.
Matt Meisenheimer is a photographer based in Wisconsin. His artistry revolves around finding unique compositions and exploring locations that few have seen. He strives to capture those brief moments of dramatic light and weather, which make our grand landscapes so special. Matt loves the process of photography – from planning trips and scouting locations, taking the shot in-field, to post-processing the final image. Matt is an active adventurer and wildlife enthusiast as well. He graduated with a degree in wildlife ecology and worked in Denali National Park and Mount Rainier National Park as a biologist. He also spent 6 months working in the deserts of Namibia before finding his path in photography. Matt’s passion for the wilderness has taken him to many beautiful places around the world. As a former university teaching assistant, Matt is passionate about instruction. It is his goal to give his students the technical and creative knowledge they need to achieve their own photographic vision. He truly enjoys working with photographers on a personal level and helping them reach their goals. You can see Matt’s work and portfolio on his webpage at www.meisphotography.com
Don’t miss the next session of BCJ Live!
Image Review: Wildlife
with Russell Graves
Tuesday, October 12th, 2021
11 am – 12 pm Mountain Time