DSLR setups for fans of the great outdoors

With a modern DSLR in your hand, the world's beautiful vistas are your oyster

By Sebastian Anthony on January 22, 2011

Ah, so you want to take photographs of beautiful vistas! The good news is, because landscapes tend to move very slowly and you generally have lots of light outside, you don't need quite the same level of camera or lens that sports and portrait photographers need.

In general, you are looking for a camera with as many megapixels as possible—especially if you want to produce large prints of your photos. For lenses, a wide-angle lens (between 10 and 35mm) is generally what you want for landscape photography, but some specific applications might need different lenses, which I'll cover below.

Camera body
To be honest, almost any modern DSLR will perform well at outdoor photography. As always, though, the more you spend, the better your results will be and the larger you will be able to print your photos. It basically comes down to what kind of photographer you are.

  • Purposeful If you know exactly where you want to take a photo and you've got a car to wheel around lots of camera gear, get the Canon 5D Mark II. Keep an eye out for the Mark III, though, which may be out by the end of 2011.
  • Traveling If you're not sure where or when you will be taking photos, opt for the much smaller and lighter Canon T2i (or "550D" in some countries). It has much the same feature set as the 5D, but it's about half the weight and one-quarter of the price. They are not in the same league when it comes to image quality, though; the 5D is far superior.
  • A bit of both If you're somewhere in between—perhaps you drive somewhere, and then hike?—grab the Canon 7D. It's a truly excellent camera that comes very close to the 5D in terms of features, and it's almost half the price of the 5D. It's both a little lighter and a smaller, too.

It's also worth noting that professional landscape photographers don't actually use DSLRs—they use medium format cameras, or even large format; but that's another topic for another time.

The right lens 250-canon-14mm-f28l
Picking the right lens is a little trickier. If you opted for the 5D camera body and you only want to take stunning landscape photos, get the Canon 14mm f/2.8L II. If you went with a T2i or 7D camera body, you should get the Canon EF-S 10-22mm instead.

If you chose the 5D but want a little more flexibility—if you don't always want to take photos of huge, rolling landscapes—the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II is truly awesome. In fact, get the Canon 14mm and the 16-35; it's the perfect combination for wide-angle outdoor photography!

Now, if you want to do outdoor photography that isn't of the wide-open-vista variety, you have two options. If you want to take photos of wild animals, you want a telephoto lens; and if you want to take photos of plants and insects or other close subjects, you want a macro or normal lens. For more info, check the sports enthusiast or portrait taker solutions.

So far, you've had a pretty cheap ride! Fortunately (or not), there are plenty of neat accessories that you can buy for outdoor photography. First, you'll certainly need a good tripod; anything by Manfrotto will do. If you like to hike, a monopod is a better solution. If you're a traveler (or hiker), add some spare batteries to your order when you grab your camera body.

If you want to experiment with time-lapse photography, when you take a series of photos over a very long period of time, you'll need a timer or intervalometer. If you have some extra money to burn, the official Canon remote timers are pretty good, but a cheap one from Aputure is just as good.

Finally, you should probably invest in some filters, which are thin sheets of glass that you screw into the front of your lenses. At their most basic, filters might save your lens if you drop it; polarizing filters or warming filters can drastically improve your photos. Filters are a complex subject, though, and require a lot of trial and error to discover what kind of effects you prefer. Do some Googling before buying any filters.


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