The Best Cameras for Nature Photography
“There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep Sea, and music in its roar:
I love not Man the less, but Nature more”
– Lord Byron
I can’t think about nature photography without having those above words ringing inside my head.
Nature photography is not only a way to capture breathtaking images of Mother Nature, but a pilgrimage in itself. The more I take it, the more I find myself ‘cleansed.'
My love for nature photography comes from this undeniable urge to be within nature.
It is but natural for someone so intoxicated by the fragrances of nature to pick up a camera and start shooting images of it.
Digital Technology has Made it Easier to Shoot Nature Photos
When I started my journey in the world of photography, I had this medium format film camera Agfa Click IV. It could shoot rolls of cut film. Obviously, there was no instant gratification in the form of an LCD screen. There was a minimum waiting period of 48 hours before I could get my hands on the prints.
Afterward, I moved to a smaller 35mm film camera which shot 36 exposure rolls. At times I could stretch it up to 38 exposures, depending upon my efficiency in loading the roll of film. But even then there was a mandatory waiting period of at least 24 hours before I could get the prints back.
Much later I moved to a digital camera. It was one of those old models that had no rear LCD screen and could shoot only 12-14 exposures before the built-in memory filled up.
To make it worse, there was no way to insert a memory card either. Nature photography is something that I always did, with each of these cameras. Although, I must say that they did not always turn out the way I wanted them.
With the advancement of digital technology and the improvement that it brought about in cameras, landscape photography has become a much more easy pursuit for photographers.
Metering has evolved manifolds. Today’s 3D metering systems using a dedicated 2016 pixel RGB sensor (Nikon D7100) or the RGB+IR 7560-pixel metering system (Canon EOS 80D) are some of the most advanced metering systems available.
With advanced metering systems, come the definite advantage of being able to review what you shoot almost instantaneously. This has LED to a boom in some images that are being produced these days. More and more photographers are heading outdoors to satisfy their photographic urges.
The Best Camera for Nature Photography
7 Best Landscape Cameras
A Quick Look at the Top Choices
If I had to choose the best camera for nature photography, I would have picked the likes Nikon D5 or the Canon EOS 5DS R. These two cameras summarize what the best camera for nature photography should be. The D5 has excellent weather sealing while the 5DS R has a large number of megapixel; the resolution that ensures it can capture a lot of details. The Sony a7S and the a7R II are two other cameras I simply adore. They have excellent low light capabilities.
What Makes a Good Camera for Nature Photography?
Image Sharpness and High Resolution: A Must Have
Nature photography requires, above all, the ability to produce large crisp frames; have the likes of which can be processed and then printed big. Unlike snapshots which are rarely printed and only ever shared as small resized JPEGs on social media, nature photos are best viewed in full size and are sometimes printed on canvas to produce décor.
That invariably means you need both a high resolution and a lot of sharpness. Cameras like the Nikon D810 and the Canon EOS 5DS R are ideal for that purpose.
Sharpness without resolution does not work for large sized prints, neither does the opposite. Traditional sensors come with a sort of filter that slightly diffuses the image. This takes care of moiré and false colors. However, if you want to increase image sharpness, you will have to remove the optical low pass filter.
That invariably brings moiré and false colors back into the equation again. The Canon EOS 5DS R I mentioned above has the effect of the OLPF canceled out. Together with the high-resolution sensor, you can create razor sharp image with an incredible amount of detail, as long as you don't mind the odd false color and moiré.
I prefer the increased image sharpness. There are a million different ways to handle moiré and false colors in Photoshop, but I like the edgy sharpness that comes from a combination of a large, high-resolution sensor and the absence of the OLPF. It allows me to print big even in the rare instance when I crop.
One more thing about image sharpness. You will not get the desired level of image sharpness without a sharp lens. A standard 18-55mm lens paired with a camera without the low pass filter will not give you any significant advantage.
You need a lens that is free of distortions and aberrations to be able to work efficiently with such a camera. Sharpness entails some other aspects. We will discuss those in further detail at some another time.
You need High Dynamic Range, even at Low ISO
Most digital SLR cameras have a dynamic range that is matching or superior to the dynamic range of film cameras. Dynamic range refers to the ability of the camera to see a larger degree of change in intensities of light across a scene.
Greater dynamic range ensures a more realistic representation of the scene image. It is extremely useful when shooting landscape photos where extremely bright areas co-exist with extremely dark ones in the same frame.
Even by DSLR camera standards, the dynamic range of the D810 is much higher because of its ability to capture up to 60% more light at ISO 64 (the smallest ISO rating on the camera) compared to similar full-frame cameras. It, in fact, is almost in the same bracket as some of the lower end medium format cameras.
Top Notch Low Light Shooting Capabilities
For landscape photography, you need cameras that have the capability to shoot at a very low lighting situation and yet be able to produce noise-free frames. Ordinary DSLRs when shooting in low light situations will struggle because they are either incapable of capturing a lot of light in low ISO and or when those frames are adjusted for exposure during post-processing a lot of noise creeps in.
Low light shooting abilities is a vague term. What it signifies is that the camera must be able to shoot clean frames in low light to extremely low light situations without adding a lot of noise in the frame. True, noise reduction techniques have gone through the roof in the last few years, and so has the high ISO capabilities of some cameras. The Sony A7 S ( $2,698.00 ) is one camera that comes to my mind immediately.
The Sony A7 S is an exceptional camera in some ways. I originate from a traditional SLR segment of the industry and have often sung grace of big yet reliable cameras.
They are still my favorites when it comes to making images. But having said that, traditional SLRs are increasingly being given a run for their money by mirrorless cameras.
You may have heard about the term ISO invariance. It refers to a sensor’s ability to produce frames which have a low noise signature and high dynamic range at low ISO base. It also signifies the redundancy to use a high ISO number when shooting the images.
Images shot at low ISO can be adjusted for exposure during post-processing without any additional amount of noise, to what you would otherwise expect at the equivalent ISO level, being introduced.
Cameras like the Sony a7S as well as the Nikon DF are extremely highly rated because of their ISO-invariant characteristics.
Waterproofing and Build Quality
Though you will not always be shooting in bad weather, a nature photographer cannot ignore the inherent risks of his trade. A nature photographer must be prepared at all times to deal with bad weather.
What it means is that his gear should ideally have some weather sealing. Nikon’s D4 and D4S, as well as the recently released D5 ( $6,496.95 ), have excellent weather sealing. These are the sort of camera that is ideally suitable if you routinely expose yourself to bad weather.
But the thing with weather sealing is that it is never going to be enough to have it on the camera alone. You also need to have a matching weather sealed lens.
Lenses like then AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/4E FL ED VR or the AF-S 200-400mm f/4G ED VR II lens are well built and come with weather sealing. Among third-party lens manufacturers, the Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8 ZF.2 is another excellent weather-sealed lens.
Good Built-in Metering Capabilities
The built-in metering of your camera must be top-notch as well. If you are going to use an external light meter for your shots, then this is something you can safely overlook. But if you are going to rely on the metering system of your camera then it pays to have an advanced metering system.
Why do you need an advanced metering system? This is because an advanced metering system will be able to detect the range of color tones in the scene much more accurately and therefore be able to set the right exposure settings more often than not. The 180k-pixel RGB sensor of the Nikon D5, for example, is a case in point.
- 36.3 MP FX-format CMOS sensor without an Optical Low Pass Filter (OLPF)
- 30% faster EXPEED 4 image processing engine
- 51-point AF system and 3D Color Matrix metering III with a 91,000-pixel RGB sensor
- ISO 64-12,800 expandable to 51,200
- Featuring a new RAW Small Size option, which produces 16MP images with much smaller file sizes
The Nikon D810 comes from a high pedigree. It is the next stage in experimentation that Nikon started with the D800 and the D800E. The D810 replaced both the previous cameras, bringing the increased sharpness of the D800E and combine that with the reliability and image quality of the D800. The D810 is a 36.3-megapixel full frame camera with no optical low pass filter.
The D810 isn’t designed for sports. It has a continuous shooting speed of only 5fps (7 fps in DX format). But what it does is capture stunning landscapes as well as exceptional low light photos. The full-frame CMOS sensor is ably supported by an EXPEED 4 image processing engine. Together, it lends the camera the capability to capture images at an ISO of 64-12800 (further extended from 32 – 51200).
- 20.8MP FX-Format CMOS Sensor
- EXPEED 5 Image Processor
- 3.2" 2.36m-Dot Touchscreen LCD Monitor
- 4K UHD Video Recording at 30 fps
- Multi-CAM 20K 153-Point AF System
The D5 is the new flagship DSLR from Nikon. Though it is primarily designed for sports and action photography, I like its excellent weather sealing. That kind of makes it a top choice for nature photographers. The sensor has a resolution of 20.8 megapixels and is backed up by Nikon’s EXPEED 5 image processor. The multi-CAM 20K 153-point AF system and the 180k-pixel RGB sensor is an unbeatable combination.
- LPF (Low-pass filter) effect cancellation takes full advantage of the original resolving power of the 50.6 effective megapixels CMOS sensor, delivering even higher resolution images.
- Newly designed 50.6 Megapixel full-frame CMOS helps deliver ultra-high resolution images
- EOS Scene Detection System features a 150,000-pixel RGB+IR Metering Sensor
- 61-Point High Density Reticular AF including up to 41 cross-type AF points and EOS iTR
- Advanced mirror control mechanism and new user-selectable shutter release time lag
We had briefly read about the EOS 5DS R, a camera that has medium format comparable resolution. The 50.6 megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor is capable of capturing an incredible amount of detail. Even if you feel like cropping your images, you can still retain a lot of detail to make large sized prints. To make matters even more irresistible, Canon has the low-pass filter effects canceled out. The result is an incredible amount of sharpness along with a stunning amount of detail.
- 16MP full frame CMOS sensor
- 5.5 frames per second continuous shooting
- 39-point autofocus system with 9 cross-type points
- ISO100 - 12800
- 3 inch LCD with 921,000 dots
Superficially what I like about the Nikon DF is its analog camera looks. But looks apart the DF is a fantastic camera for shooting nature photos. This stills dedicated camera has an array of buttons and dials that will ensure that you will never need to dig into the digital menu. Plus the well-built magnesium alloy body is more than capable of handling the pressures of outdoor shooting.
- 36.4MP AA Filter-less CMOS Sensor w/ 33 AF Points; SR Shake Reduction w/ Pixel Shift Resolution System APS-C Crop Mode for backward compatibility with PENTAX APS-C Lenses
- GPS/Electronic Compass/Astro Tracer
- Cross-tilt LCD display. Weather-resistant body
- 1080/60i video; Focus peaking in video mode will assist with manual focusing.
- LED illuminated body points
The Pentax K-1 is a true-blue outside and nature shooter. Why? Because it is one those rare cameras that come with the perfect combination of full-frame sensor, high resolution, and fantastic weather sealing. The 36.4-megapixel sensor on the Pentax K-1 is capable of capturing a lot of detail. The magnesium alloy body of the camera is capable of withstanding anything that Mother Nature can throw at it.
- World's first Full-frame back-illuminated Exmor R CMOS sensor-42.4MP, 5-axis in-body image stabilization optimized for 42.4MP full-frame, 4K movie recording with full pixel readout and no pixel binning
- 2.4-million dot XGA OLED Tru-Finder w/ ZEISS T* coating, Simple connectivity to smartphones via Wi-Fi and NFC w/ camera apps, Fast focal plane phase-detection AF realized with A-mount lenses
- Shutter vibration suppression, first curtain shutter, and silent shutter, Resolution meets sensitivity 42.4MP up to ISO 102,400 / 4K up to 25,600, Durable, reliable and ergonomically enhanced for professional use
- Fast Hybrid AF with 399 focal plane phase-detection AF points
The a7R II is also a formidable camera for nature photography. What works in its favor is the high 42-megapixel resolution on the EXMOR R BSI CMOS sensor and the BIONZ X image processor. BSI sensor architecture ensures that the camera can shoot clean frames in low light environments. The a7R II is a close competitor to the D810 regarding resolution. It is slightly ahead regarding resolution.
- Full-frame camera with 5-axis image stabilization
- Fast and effective, enhanced Fast Hybrid AF
- 12.2 megapixels 10 35mm full-frame Exmor CMOS sensor
- BIONZ X image processing engine
- High 50Mbps bit-rate XAVC S format recording of Full HD movies
The ultimate low light champion and for my money a camera that should always be in your camera bag when you are heading for the great outdoors. The Sony A7 S II is a great low light camera, something in the same range as the Nikon DF. The A7S II is powered by a 12.2-megapixel full frame EXMOR CMOS sensor and BIONZ x image processor. Weather resistance is dubious, though, and this is not the camera if you expect bad weather along the way.
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Wanderlust at heart and a shutterbug who loves to document his travels via his lenses; his two passions compliment each other perfectly.
He has been writing for over 6 years now, which unsurprisingly, revolve mostly around his two favorite pursuits.
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