Nature & Landscape Photography Cameras – The Complete Guide
Outdoor & Nature photography is a broad category that can range from landscapes & seascapes to wildlife, or even flowers and bugs and other flora or fauna. With such a diverse range of subjects, the required camera equipment is equally broad. What is the best camera or lens for nature photography? Indeed, it depends on what your favorite type of subject is!
This article will focus primarily on general nature & landscape photography, and we may create additional articles in the future to include more specialized recommendations for things like wildlife photography. This is a continually updated guide that includes some of the latest cameras on the market, and also some of the best values from previous generations.
In other words, whether you’re on a very tight budget or have an unlimited one, this guide will help you pick the absolute best camera for outdoor photography!
Consideration: Full Frame VS Crop-Sensor
In our opinion, landscape photography is one of the primary areas of photography where both full-frame and crop-sensor cameras can be used professionally to create stunning results. Why BOTH, though? To explain this, we should consider the two main reasons why people “upgrade” to full-frame cameras:
First, many people upgrade to full-frame camera bodies for their image quality. Full-frame sensors will always be a little better than cropped sensors if they’re both from the same generation. However, this difference is far more pronounced at higher ISOs than lower ISOs. In fact, at ISO 100, (or whatever is the base ISO for your camera, such as 64, 160, or 200) …the newest generations of crop-sensor cameras have incredible image quality!
And, of course, many traditional landscape & nature photographers will find that they shoot almost every single picture at their camera’s base ISO!
In other words, this “big difference”, this main reason for getting a full-frame camera is, in fact, at its smallest and least noticeable when capturing most landscape photographs.
(Of course, if you’re into wildlife photography, you may very well find yourself often shooting fast action images in low light, needing ISOs like 3200 or 6400, so keep that in mind!)
Second, many photographers appreciate the types of lenses available on full-frame, and the options they provide. Whether it’s extremely shallow depth with a very fast aperture, or it’s an ultra-wide focal length, full-frame has historically dominated the realm of, well, innumerable options. On a crop-sensor camera, your options are slightly more limited for achieving shallow DOF, especially at medium and wide-angle focal lengths.
This can be a problem for crop-sensor shooters who are interested in portraiture, or other fine-art subjects, however, most landscape photographers are going in the opposite direction- they need MORE depth, not less!
In fact, for example, on a 1.5x crop sensor a 16mm lens at f/8 is going to yield more apparent depth than a full-frame sensor with a 24mm lens at f/8. You would have to stop down the full-frame setup to f/11 in order to achieve the same final result in DOF.
And, while it used to be true that only full-frame camera mounts had ample wide-angle lens options, the current situation is nearly the opposite- there are numerous options for incredibly sharp wide-angle and ultra-wide lenses on both APS-C and Micro Four Thirds cameras! Even if you want to achieve the full-frame equivalent of 14mm or 12mm, you can find a crop-sensor option or two…
Thus, once again, we realize that if you’re planning to spend almost all your time shooting landscapes or general outdoor adventure photography at f/5.6 or f/8, not only will one of full-frame’s greatest advantages be lost on you, but you’ll actually be better off in terms of depth!
Also, crop-sensor lenses can be just as sharp and just as wide as full-frame lenses, while being significantly more compact and lightweight for those of you with a serious case of wanderlust!
(Of course, remember that if you have a high-megapixel crop-sensor camera, you’ll run into diffraction (it softens images slightly) a little bit sooner when stopping all the way down.)
Therefore, although full-frame sensors are indeed a bit superior to smaller sensors in certain ways, crop sensors are a force to be reckoned with in the world of general outdoor photography. So, if you can’t afford a whole set of exotic lenses or a high-dollar full-frame camera body, don’t worry, there are plenty of affordable options that still deliver incredible results.
Also, even if money is no object, yet you would still prefer to carry a lighter, smaller set of equipment, the maybe a crop sensor system is still the best choice. Especially for things like telephoto wildlife photography, or high-magnification macro photography, having a crop sensor camera works beautifully.
Of course, always make your decisions based on personal needs and preferences, not numbers and charts, or even internet opinions! Part of the fun of photography is the gear, indeed, so get whatever kit makes you happy!
Best Nature Photography Cameras | Value/Budget Winners
Although this camera isn’t the most exotic, modern DSLR (or mirrorless) camera body on the market, it is hands-down one of the best values when you consider all the factors- price, image quality, and general reliability.
The D7200 is an outdoor photographers’ dream camera, at just $700 refurbished, or ~$400 used, with its 24-megapixel sensor that lacks an AA filter and benefits from the same ground-breaking advances in dynamic range and resolution that put Nikon well ahead of the competition many years ago. In fact, it’s almost the same image quality at ISO 100 as a full-frame D750! Yes, it’s that good at ISO 100. Oh, and it’s got dual card slots, if you’re obsessed with card slots, and it’s moderately weather-sealed, too.
The Canon 6D is another classic, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” outdoor photographer’s dream camera, being one of the lightest full-frame DSLR bodies around, and delivering great image quality from its 20-megapixel sensor that is, in fact, slightly better than the “mk2” successor. The built-in GPS, wifi connectivity, and pro-grade weather sealing will make any adventure photographer very happy. Plus, any nightscape/astro-landscape photographer will love the stunning high ISO performance, that is still competitive to this day.
(Click HERE to read our 6D review, and check out a sample timelapse video made at ISO12800!)
Of course, if you do shoot active outdoor subjects, such as wildlife, then the 6D’s autofocus system might betray the camera’s age, indeed. Anyone looking for a budget-friendly but more future-proof camera should instead consider a much newer camera instead, such as the Canon EOS R, or M6 mk2.
Still, 6D “classics” can be found for as little as ~$700 used if you’re patient, and that’s a value you really can’t beat with full-frame.
Nikon D750 / D780
Next we have both an old, semi-outdated value winner, and a brand-new, impressively cutting-edge camera that is still relatively affordable despite being one of the newest cameras on the market. (With Canon, we hesitated to recommend the 6D mk2 simply because it just doesn’t offer much more than the 6D; the 6D is just that good!)
The Nikon D750 is one of the best full-frame adventure, travel, landscape etc. cameras ever made. It is a perfect balance of incredible image quality (at low and high ISOs) …and additional features that pros might want such as autofocus for wildlife & action, or dual card slots if landscapes are just your hobby and you actually do portraits & weddings for a living. ;-)
The D780, however, offers an abundance of new features, such as 4K video, and improved autofocus both through the viewfinder and in video / live view.
It’s like a D780, but mirrorless, with a beautiful electronic viewfinder and in-body stabilization. Its mirrorless autofocus isn’t as perfectly-suited for wildlife subject tracking as, say, a Nikon D780 or Nikon D500, however for general nature, landscapes, and nightscapes, it’s going to offer one huge advantage that you really don’t want to miss: The incredible Nikon Z-mount, with a whole new realm of possibilities in lens selection and performance.
For one, the Nikon Z 14-30mm f/4 S is one of the coolest new lenses that a landscape/travel photographer could want; it goest to 14mm, and yet is about as portable as a kit lens for a beginner crop-sensor camera! If you’re on a budget, yet want one of the most promising futures in digital camera technology, a Z6 and a 14-30mm (or 24-200mm f/4-6.3) are a solid investment.
The Z6 has good enough battery life for a day or two of hiking and casual outdoor photography, and it’s highly weather-sealed.
Sony A7 III
In our opinion, Sony has joined, if not surpassed, “the big two” with this latest 24-megapixel full-frame mid-range camera. It is significantly better than all of Sony’s previous mirrorless, SLT, and DSLR cameras. It’s one of the only cameras that actually beats the legendary Nikon D750 and Canon 6Ds for image quality, if only by a small margin that you’re unlikely to notice in most real-world conditions.
Combine incredible image quality with a body that has numerous much-welcomed features such as incredible battery life, dual card slots, and great autofocus plus decent weather sealing, and you’ve got one of the best all-around cameras on the market today. They’re still around $1200-1500 used, and $1999 brand-new most of the time, but if you can afford it, you’ll be happy you saved up for it. (2020 UPDATE: a replacement could be coming out later in 2020!)
Fuji X-T4 / X-T3
Fuji’s flagship APS-C cameras are shockingly affordable considering their image quality and the rest of their spec sheets. The only APS-C mirrorless system (so far) to offer dual card slots, the X-T4 also boasts flagship autofocus, great battery life, and impressive 4K video for those nature photographers who don’t just shoot stills.
Also, it’s worth noting that Fuji is one of the only companies that offers a sensor that isn’t the traditional Bayer pattern; their X-Trans sensor design offers an incredible balance of dynamic range, color reproduction, and low-light (High ISO) performance.
Lastly, Fuji’s X-mount has some of the most weather-sealed APS-C lenses available, for those outdoor photographers who plan to shoot in some tough conditions!
Sheer Performance & Image Quality Champions
If you have an unlimited budget, and the highest standards, the best DSLR for nature photography is definitely currently the Nikon D850, and its mirrorless sibling, the Nikon Z7. Currently the best all-around image quality DSLR on the market, (D850) and a nearly identical sensor in the mirrorless realm, (Z7), these two cameras are worlds apart, and yet delightfully similar.
Simply put, you can’t go wrong if the factors of image quality and robust, reliable operation are your primary concerns; the D850‘s image quality is the current reigning champion for all-around full-frame landscapes, with its base ISO of 64. The mirrorless Nikon Z7 builds on this legacy, with new technology such as in-body stabilization and neat functions like focus stacking, and of course the already impressive full-frame Z-mount lens lineup. The Z7 is, according to people who are brave enough to actually tear cameras apart, the most highly weather-sealed mirrorless camera on the market, and generally impressively robust in its construction, making it a great choice for all types of outdoor photography.
(Then again, if you’re not going to make huge prints with your images, you can get all of the Z7’s impressive functionality in the more affordable Z6, too!)
Canon 5D Mark IV / EOS R
Although Canon does have a more high-resolution camera available, the 50-megapixel 5DS/R, the 5D mk4 and EOS R represent the future of Canon cameras. They both have a respectable 30-megapixel sensor, one that takes a pretty huge leap forward in terms of dynamic range for you landscape photographers, and extensive bracketing options for those who want even more dynamic range.
While the Nikons do offer more resolution and better dynamic range, if you already own Canon cameras & lenses then you would have to be a truly obsessed pixel-peeper to “jump ship”. If your nature photography interests include wildlife or extreme sports, the 5D mk4 has a hand-me-down 1D-series autofocus system. If you want a more future-proof, cutting-edge system, then Canon’s EOS R offers a 5Div sensor on their new RF mirrorless lens mount, which is already shaping up to be attractive to outdoor photographers with relatively portable lenses like the 15-35mm f/2.8 L IS and 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS.
Sony A7R III / Sony A7R IV
With incredible resolution and overall image quality that rivals the best that even Nikon can offer, Sony’s latest two A7R-series cameras are two of the best full-frame camera bodies that money can buy. Incredible dynamic range, clean images overall, and 40 megapixels or even 60 megapixels if you should require such resolution.
The Sony E/FE lens selection didn’t always have an abundance of options, especially for wide-angle landscape shooters who didn’t want to deal with lens adapters for their Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 or Canon 11-24mm f/4. However, now, there are innumerable “exotic” options available, from the Sony 12-24mm f/4 Gto the new Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 DN Art, as well as more portable and/or traditional options such as the Sony 24mm f/1.4 GM and Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 GM.
Suffice it to say, Sony’s flagship high-megapixel cameras are the current champion when it comes to all-around versatility, especially for those who shoot both photo and video.
Best Cameras For Travel & Landscapes | Honorable Mentions
Nikon D5300 & Nikon D5600
These 24-megapixel crop-sensor cameras might be beginner cameras, however, their sensors and image quality speak for themselves. If you’re looking for a small, lightweight DSLR that you can add to your kit as a 2nd camera or a travel kit, these are some of the most affordable options with the best overall image quality.
While everybody else is buying mirrorless and full-frame cameras, a landscape photographer who doesn’t need cutting-edge autofocus or video features, these two cameras offer incredible image quality, especially at ISO 100, that rivals the latest full-frame cameras.
The Nikon D5300 is unique for Nikon in that it offers built-in GPS tagging for you travel photographers who want it, and of course, the D5600 is simply the most up-to-date version of the D5300, if you don’t need GPS but would like as many of the latest improvements as possible. You can find these cameras used for just a couple/few hundred dollars.
Canon EOS M6 mkII, Canon 90D
While Nikon has much older entry-level cameras that offer incredible image quality for landscape work, Canon’s latest mirrorless and DSLR cameras are where they truly hit their stride in terms of dynamic range. Their latest two APS-C cameras, the mirrorless M6 mk2 and 90D DSLR, both share a 33-megapixel sensor that is pretty impressive among APS-C options. Canon’s balance of beautiful colors, and decent dynamic range, has always made them a favorite for those who want a well-rounded camera.
Of course, the Canon EF, EF-S, and & EF-M lens selection is impressive, but keep in mind that Canon does not make “L” grade lenses specifically for the two APS-C mounts. Thankfully, companies like Tokina have you covered with some extremely sharp options such as the Tokina 11-20mm f/2.8, 14-20mm f/2, and 12-28mm f/4, all of which rival full-frame’s sharpness potential.
The full-frame flagship from Pentax DSLRs offers more next-generation features than its DSLR competition, such as built-in stabilization and pixel-shift mode for very high-res images.
Pentax is a great choice if you value durability, functionality, and overall features, without breaking the bank. The Pentax K-1 can be found for as little as $1000 used, and yet it offers robust durability including weather sealing that rivals that of Nikon’s flagships and Canon’s 1D-series flagships.
(If you’re never seen pictures of completely frozen, iced-over Pentax cameras, these cameras seem to be a top choice of landscape photographers who like to torture their cameras.)
If you’re looking for one of the most portable options, with many impressive next-generation features, Olympus is simply the best option out there. For outdoor photographers who are are going to be shooting in utterly terrible conditions, no camera as small and lightweight as the OM-D E-M1 mk3 (and mk2) has as much robust build quality and flagship-grade weather-sealing. Most other professional-grade cameras that are built to be “indestructible” are (as the Pentax K-1 we just mentioned shows) pretty massive beasts. (Although, the Nikon Z7, when paired with the shockingly portable Nikon Z 14-30mm f/4 S, is pretty darn cute, too!)
Olympus has one trick up its sleeve that more adventurous landscape photographers might love to have while out hiking and traveling quickly: a hand-held pixel-shift mode that actually works quite well, delivering 50-megapixel images and even more finely-detailed images if you have the time to switch to tripod pixel-shift mode.
Other Format Cameras For Nature & Outdoor Photography
This article is only able to cover the most common full-frame and APS-C sensor sizes. Indeed, some dedicated landscape photographers may prefer to use medium format cameras, and many adventure / travel photographers these days are probably exploring the new mirrorless “pixel-shift” options as well to get extremely high-resolution, clean, sharp images from more compact kits. However, those cameras and technologies are so different that they definitely deserve their own guides! Another day, indeed.
We hope this gear guide has helped you get an idea of your options, and the current playing field! We’ll look forward to creating more guides soon for outdoor, nature, and landscape photographers who have more specific interests, so stay tuned!
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