Digital SLRs tend to have either full-frame or cropped sensor types. This refers to the actual size of the sensor. Full-frame models employ a chip that is approximately the same size as a traditional 35mm film frame (36mm x 24mm), while cropped digital SLRs adopt a smaller sensor – typically in the region of 25.1 x 16.7mm.
The smaller size of a cropped sensor effectively multiplies the focal length of the lens. This multiplication factor can range from 1.3x to 1.6x depending on the manufacturer and chip size and needs to be applied to calculate the camera’s 35mm equivalent focal length. For example, a 24mm wide-angle effectively becomes 36mm when attached to a cropped type SLR with a 1.5x multiplication factor. To achieve the exact same wide-angle characteristics and field of view of 24mm on a crop camera, you would need to attach a 16mm lens instead. Most camera brands have a lens range designed for cropped type SLRs, such as Canon’s EF-S and Nikon’s DX lens ranges.
Generally speaking, the larger the sensor, the better the image quality. Typically – though not always – full-frame sensors boast better dynamic range, cleaner shadow detail, lower noise and enhanced tonal transitions. Also, while the crop factor can be advantageous to wildlife photographers shooting subjects further away, landscape photographers wish to retain the characteristics and large field of view of traditional wide-angle lenses.
An increasing number of landscape enthusiasts are now favouring mirrorless cameras. Fuji, Olympus, and Sony have led the mirrorless revolution, producing a range of innovative mirrorless models that rival the quality and versatility of a traditional SLR.
As the name suggests, their design discards the (arguably) outdated and bulky reflex mirror and prism mechanism – instead, light passes through the lens directly onto the sensor. This enables a lighter, more streamlined construction. Images are composed via either an electronic viewfinder (EVF) or LiveView on the rear LCD screen – or in some instances a supplementary optical viewfinder (similar to a rangefinder).
Sensor size ranges greatly depending on the model, with some mirrorless cameras boasting a smaller, micro four-thirds chip (with a 2x multiplication factor), while others models are full-frame. Mirrorless users benefit from such things as focus peaking and enhanced video capability, although battery life is typically shorter than that of an SLR camera. While their quality is undoubted, arguably their biggest appeal to landscape photographers is related to size and weight. Generally speaking, they are smaller and more portable – as are compatible lenses and accessories. Weight is a big consideration for landscape enthusiasts. The best vistas are often elevated or require a lengthy walk, potentially over rough or uneven ground. The less you have to carry, the more prepared you will be to walk further and for longer in order to access the best viewpoint.