Best High End Landscape Photography Camera on a Budget
Sony a7RV, Canon EOS R5, Nikon Z7 II, Sony A1… the list goes on. It can feel like a major project trying to figure out what camera to buy or upgrade to. There are just so many options and variables. On one hand, if budget isn’t an issue - you’re in luck. Those who can afford the best cameras on the market, you really can’t go wrong with any of the full frame, top of the line, flagship mirrorless cameras from all major brands. They are all excellent at this point.
On the other hand, those wanting to upgrade to a more serious camera without spending between $3-6k just for the body, will have to do a lot more research and have tougher decision to make. A lower budget often translates to sacrifices, and it’s not easy trying figuring out what’s worth giving up. While there tons of opinions on this topic and many great options, I can say with confidence that a used Sony a7rIII holds it’s own and is comparable to the latest high-end camera gear, at half the price or less. Here’s why…
**I have not received any form of compensation by Sony. This article expresses my own opinions and experience working with numerous camera brands in the field.
For landscape photographers, there are a few key ingredients that make for an excellent camera and one of the most important is high dynamic range, or the camera’s ability to capture both very dark and very light parts of a scene. While there are many good options from all of the major brands when it comes to dynamic range now, that wasn’t necessarily the case even a few years ago – which is definitely something to consider when shopping for used gear. Older Canons for example, while excellent overall, struggled with dynamic range until very recently. Also full frame cameras in general will have better DR than anything with a smaller sensor. Comparatively, the full frame Sony a7rIII has dynamic range that is on par with any of the top cameras you can buy right now.
There is certainly a lot of debate on the topic of resolution. In my mind, a high resolution camera makes a ton of sense for most landscape photographers. Yes, this allows you to make a huge print if you decide to, but that isn’t the main factor in my mind. The main thing I enjoy about a high resolution sensor is the ability to crop both in post-processing and in the camera itself. While I encourage photographers to do their best to crop (compose) in the field, having the option to do an extreme crop (especially to a panorama) while editing afterwards is so important. At 42 megapixels the Sony A7riii is great for this.
I also love setting up my Sony cameras to go to crop mode with the push of a button. This means going from full-frame to a 1.5x crop in the camera, which will take something like a 100mm focal length and make it 150mm. For example, a 1.5 crop effectively turns my 24-105mm lens into a 24-160mm, making it more versatile. Of course you lose resolution when you do this, so having a lot of megapixels to work with is important. Sure, you could just crop afterwards, but doing so in the field will affect where you choose to focus, the exposure you decide on, and has a big effect on how you decide to frame the image. In my opinion, cropping in camera is a huge benefit to having a high resolution camera like the Sony a7rIII.
Usability and functions
Along side resolution and dynamic range, the overall usability of the camera is right up there. You could argue it’s even THE most important factor. In my mind, size matters exponentially – which makes bulky cameras like the Nikon d850/d810 and older Canon DSLRs a no go. Yes they are incredible cameras, but both the bodies and the lenses are huge and heavy. The mirrorless Sony a7rIII and many of the lenses that go with it are much smaller and lighter. In terms of setting function buttons and user-modes, the Sony also excels and beats cameras like the d850 in my opinion (d850 doesn’t have user modes at all). Battery life is also another key factor and the main reason that the Sony a7rII is not really a great option. However, the battery life in the Sony a7rIII is excellent.
Ability to upgrade
The other thing I love about recommending the Sony a7rIII is, of all the older used cameras you could buy, I feel like the Sony gives you the easiest path to upgrade the body in the future. It uses the same batteries, compatible memory cards, and of course the same lenses as the latest Sony a7rV and A1. If you buy something like a used d810 or d850 or an older Canon DSLR, you will have to upgrade everything when you decide to move forward including lenses, batteries, card, etc.
Of course there are some drawbacks and the a7rIII is not perfect. The main issue is it’s not weather sealed as well as some other brands or even the latests Sony’s. That has never been an issue for me and I have had mine very wet many times, but I do worry about it more than I ever did with my Nikon DSLR’s that are built like tanks. The other issue for some is the menu system. It is not very well thought out and can be confusing. Again, not a big deal for me at all, but worth mentioning. The new models have greatly improved on this. It also doesn’t have focus stacking built in which is nice to have, but certainly not a deal breaker in my opinion.
I teach landscape photography workshops full-time, so I have the opportunity to work/play with nearly every new camera that comes along. As mentioned above, all of the major brands are making incredible cameras these days and it’s very difficult for me to make a strong recommendation on which brand to go with as they are just all so good. But if you are on a budget, I feel like a used Sony a7rIII is an easy recommendation for anyone who hasn’t decided on a system and is trying to get an awesome camera for the least amount of money.
At the moment, I currently own a Sony a7rIV (waiting on the A7rV) and the Sony a7RIII. The a7rIII is so good that I still use it just as much as the IV. When the a7rV gets here, I plan to sell the IV and not the III. I will still be using the a7rIII on a regular basis going forward. Yes the IV and V are overall better, and if money is no issue get one of those instead, but it’s very telling that I honestly couldn’t care less which camera I grab when I go out to shoot.
For a camera that can be had for so much less on the used market, it’s pretty impressive.