Gear Reviews

 

Essential Gear for Great Landscape Photography

Welcome to my photographic gear reviews. For just shy of 30 years I’ve shot with 35mm film and digital cameras, MF and AF from Minolta, Canon, Nikon, Panasonic and Sony. I’ve directed photographers using larger film formats 6×7″, 5×5″ and 8×10″ as well as digital backs for the larger pro-studio systems, Hasselblad and Mamiya. For the rest of us who can’t afford the big stuff or don’t want to schlep it over mountains, digital full frame (DSLR 35mm equiv.) is fantastic. As for which brand I’ve always had an affinity for Nikon. Something about the ergonomics and logic of their design thinking. Something feels right about it. Photographing landscapes is tricky. You can get shots with cheap cameras and even cell phones, but to get great shots you need some key equipment, without which you’ll have trouble when you want to print it up on canvas or fine art paper. So, here’s some of my favourites and other thoughts.

Photo Gear Reviews – Steven’s Favourite Photographic Equipment

Nikon D800 Full Frame Digital SLR Camera

I’ve shot a few Nikon SLRs and DSLRs. They all feel very good in my large hands. Far nicer than mirrorless cameras for me anyway. The D800 and D800E are brilliant landscape cameras. The D810 is better. They have fantastic dynamic range and detail. The thing that always bugged me with Canons is they seem to always clip the highlights, i.e., the light shades close to white were forced to go white (think clouds!) while Nikons just capture all the good stuff towards the white. There’s battery life for Africa. Some down sides – you have to shoot above 1/250s otherwise you’ll risk a less-than-sharp image. So it’s a bit of a pain for happy snaps of the family unless you’ve got the menu settings sorted and you know what you’re doing. But for landscapes, it’s gold.

Zeiss 25mm f/2 Distagon T* ZF.2 Lens

Shooting landscapes means learning to shoot manually. Manual settings and manual focus. Zeiss are made for this! The hard stop at infinity focus is dead on (unlike Nikon’s lens below). You must ge the ZF.2 series if you want CPU integration with the camera body, i.e., you can change aperture in body, and get metering sorted. This lens is amazing. Sharp, punchy and has no distortion. I had the f/2.8 version, which is half the price and it deserves it’s price tag – no comparison. I’d love to own a set of Zeiss Milvus or Otis lenses. But these older models can be had for a song and are optically amongst the best you can get. Better than Nikon anyway.

Nikon AI-S FX NIKKOR 50mm f/1.2 Fixed Zoom Manual Focus Lens for Nikon DSLR Cameras

An old school manual lens with a huge aperture. It is more like an art lens, and I get some nice out of focus rendering in backgrounds. When stopped down past 2.8 it’s lovely and sharp. It’s also solid metal and feels wonderful in the hands. 

Sony Alpha A7 II Mirrorless Camera

I jumped on the Sony bandwagon. The 1st generation Sony A7 cameras were cute but I’m a big guy and I couldn’t securely grab them. I did buy into the second generation though. More solid, proper metal mount, and a host of goodness. BUT I sold that. It just didn’t have good ergonomics for me. It’s heavy like an SLR but with nothing useful to grab onto unless you fork out more $ for the grip. Other niggles like the menu, it’s slow to use, difficulty focussing a loxia lens. For me, the results were no more fantastic than a DSLR. I sold it.

Zeiss Loxia 50mm f/2 Planar T* Lens

This is a delicious, solid, heavy and beautiful lens. I found it to be super sharp with a very pleasing render. Why I sold it – the focus ring is so finely knurled that I battle to grasp it and wind the thing. There’s something to be said for big clunky rubbery rings found on just all lesser lenses. It was awkward to hold the Sony A7II and then fight with my other fingers to focus this puppy. Maybe ok if all you ever to is shoot on a tripod and have lots of time. To change aperture was equally claustrophobic. Not for me, sadly. I’d really love a Batis lens. C’est la vie.

77mm HOYA PRO1 Digital Filter Circular Polarizer PL DMC Filter

A landscape photographer needs a circular polarising filter on every lens. It cuts out reflections and blue light waves (haze/glare). Meaning you can get on “film” what you eye sees. It’s especially important in New Zealand where the sun is low and the light is particularly blue. You can get a lot of punch out of skies and clouds with these. If you shoot 90º to the sun the sky can get quite dark.

Lee Filters 100 x 100mm Big Stopper 3.0 Neutral Density Filter

Neutral density filters slow exposures down. The darker the filter the slower you can shoot. There’s a few uses for these, but the best is to slow down water. Some shots can take a few minutes to expose.

LEE Filters 100 x 100mm Little Stopper 1.8 Neutral Density Filter

Same as the Big Stopper but not as dark. I prefer this one. If I only had one, it would be this one. I love it.

Lee Filters Foundation Kit / Filter Holder

Filters on the front end of lenses are unwieldy. Some photographers just hand hold these when shooting. I prefer to have all the equipment locked down. Also, there’s less things to hold and worry about. These holders can fit a few filters on at a time. I’ve shot up to three at once.

Formatt-Hitech 85x110mm (3.35×4.35″) Resin Neutral Density Grad Soft Edge 1.2 (4 Stops)

This is another excellent brand. Slightly less expensive than Lee Filters. Just as nice to use for shots with bright skies and dark mid-fore grounds.

Nikon MC-30A Remote Trigger Release for D4, D800, D700, D300

I prefer manual releases like this to digital types. Something about the harsh terrain I shoot in here in New Zealand. If it’s plugged in I know it will work. These are absolutely essential to good landscape photography. Yo don’t want your grubby fingers near the camera when it’s exposing a shot – you’ll get camera shake and out of focus pics.

Kenko LCD Monitor Protection Film for the Canon EOS5D Mark III

These are great for the back screen of all DSLRs. It’s high quality and you can dump the plastic Nikon screen protector. 

ARCA SWISS Monoball p0 with Panning System and QS Slidefix Quick Release System

I researched ball heads to death. I tried one or two and found this p0 absolutely brilliant. ARCA Swiss invented ball heads. It’s really a pleasure to use. Instead of fiddly knobs to tighten-loosen, you grab the knurled ring and twist. Simple. It holds absolutely firm. The only drawback is a lack of variety with camera plates. You can rig a RRS clamp onto the top of this instead of the ARCA one. I’ve never needed to, but it is apparently possible.

Gitzo GT2543L Mountaineer Tripod Ser.2 4S Long (Black)

I love this tripod. Gitzo make terrible ball heads but they do make amongst the very best tripods out there. I’m tall. This sucker is taller than me when fully extended. It’s rock solid – don’t underestimate the importance of a solid tripod for landscape photography. It’s second only to the quality of the lens. I’ve shot in high winds, in water, in snow. It just works very well. The lens are super fast to extent and slap back together again. It’s lightish and very tough. The only the brand I’d look at is RRS.

SanDisk Extreme PRO 32GB CompactFlash Memory Card UDMA 7 Speed Up To 160MB/s- SDCFXPS-032G-X46

I’ve tried other brands, which failed on me. ScanDisk has never failed me. I won’t touch other brands no matter how much the sales staff try to convince me. The CompactFlash records my RAW files.

SanDisk Extreme PRO 16GB UHS-I/U3 SDHC Flash Memory Card with up to 95MB/s- SDSDXPA-016G-AFFP

The SD card records a backup of my RAW files. My Nikon has 2 slots.

Transcend USB 3.0 Super Speed Multi-Card Reader for SD/SDHC/SDXC/MS/CF Cards (TS-RDF8K)

This card reader plugs into my MacBook Pro and reads CompactFlash and SD. It’s never let me down.