Yes, yes, it's a variation of the title of one of Charles Dickens' great novels that you read in high school and never picked up again. "Great Combinations" here, however, means something very different. We're going to be putting together some of what we believe to be the "great" combinations of camera bodies and lenses. What do we mean by "great"? Not necessarily "great" in terms of the absolute perfect quality, say a $15,000 medium format digital camera (although these have their drawbacks, too), but "great" in terms of bang for your buck. Let me give you an example. My first serious camera was a Nikon F100, a 35 mm workhorse of a camera. Seriously, it felt and acted bombproof. I loved it so much that I got a second one. What was my first lens? A fixed 20 mm Nikon lens. Ultrasharp. High quality. Perfect for wide landscapes. Now, you ask, did that work well on your general travel trips to Europe? No, it did not. But I didn't want to sacrifice the quality to get a lower priced, mediocre lens even though it covered a wider range of focal lengths (say 20-200 mm). I wanted one awesome landscape lens (and that was all I could afford). For quality and especially for value, that lens was a $300 Nikon 20 mm. And there you have it. If you have a type of photography you would like to do and your intent is to get the best picture quality shooting that particular genre, then follow along. We'll be going through different great combinations for a variety of genres of photography (landscape, portraits, travel, all-around, macro) and a variety of brands. We'll start off with a great combination for Canon for someone who only wants to shoot landscapes. Remember, these are only suggestions from myself and from those who have had input on these questions, such as other professionals and the Pictureline staff. These are not the only great combinations, but ones that we found very, very enticing for their quality and value.
CANON PACKAGE FOR LANDSCAPE
Canon 5D Mark III for a camera body. To begin with, when shopping around for the landscape camera of your dreams, you first want to ask if the sensor is a "full frame" sensor or a smaller sensor. The full frame sensor is about the size of a 35 mm piece of film, 24 mm x 36 mm. What that means is that the focal lengths in the lenses, such as 24 mm lens for wide angle and 200 mm lens for telephoto will remain "true" to the view you would see on a normal 35 mm camera. So if you buy a fixed 50 mm lens, then you see the same angle of view on a digital SLR (dSLR) as you would your old Canon EOS 7. No change. When you buy a digital SLR with a smaller sensor (often called an APS-C), then you get a "cropped" view. Think of it this way. With a smaller area to view for the sensor in the camera, the same 50 mm lens is now going to act like a magnifier. It "sees" a smaller part of your subject and therefore crops out much around the edges. It appears to you and to your sensor as if you had put on a longer lens, one that would offer you more of a close up. Therefore, when you own a Canon 60D or 7D or Rebel series camera, all of the lenses will have a "crop factor." Your 50 mm lens becomes approximately a 70 mm lens; your 10 - 22 mm zoom lens becomes a 16 - 32 mm or thereabouts. The factor by which you can multiply the focal length is approximately 1.4 - 1.6 depending on the size of the sensor. For a landscape photographer who often wants a nice wide view of a scene, this can be devastating. That photographer may have wanted a very wide view in a 17-40 mm lens, but with the Rebel body ended up with a 28 - 60 mm lens. Workable, but disappointing if you wanted the very wide angle of view.
For our "Great Combination" therefore, we're going to suggest a Canon 5D Mark III, or a Canon 5D Mark II as it is also has a full-frame sensor and costs about $1000 less. A 22-megapixel capture gives an astonishing file size for prints. Most agree that a print up to 26 x 40" is acceptable given that you have taken the image with a very sharp lens (and made an exposure that is also sharp). The Mark III has doubled is speed for taking photographs, up to 6.2 frames per second (fps), but this is often not a mandatory need for landscape photographers as they usually are taking one shot at a time. This is also why a Mark II is a very reasonable option still for the landscape photographer as its frames-per-second (3.1 fps) is perfectly acceptable for the photographer on a tripod taking single images.
Canon 24 - 105 mm for a lens. This was a hard choice as there are so many great prime (fixed) lenses for the Canons, but as we were evaluating a new landscape photographer's need for just one lens, and still considering quality and value, we decided on the 24 - 105 mm lens for a few reasons. First, the quality of the lens is surprisingly good even though it spans quite a range of focal lengths. Are there sharper lenses? Sure, try the 24 mm TS (a runner up for the distinction of Great Combinations), but the 24 - 105 mm is still excellent and spans an area that a landscape photographer still might need. Second, I'm thinking not just of the wide angle foreground, middle ground, background shots, but also of the zoomed 105 mm shot of the mountains where the photographer may want to "compress" the landscape, making it look more accessible. For versatility, this is possibly the one lens that the landscape photographer can start with and build a collection on. Some may worry, however, that it is an f/4, meaning the lowest aperture of the lens is f/4 and does not have the very "fast" or "wide" apertures of other lenses. Our answer was that it doesn't really need to be "fast" since most landscape photographers use small apertures, such as f/11, f/16, and f/22. These apertures allow for great depth of field which is often desired to make sure the landscape is in focus in both the foreground and background.
CANON PACKAGE FOR LANDSCAPE - RUNNER UP
The runner up for the Canon package for landscape photographers is again the Canon 5D Mark II or Mark III, but this time with a Canon 17-40 mm lens. This is a wide angle dream and is very wide on a full frame sensor such as the 5D Mark II or Mark III. Again, it is f/4 at its widest aperture, but for the landscape nut, this is probably not the worst thing in the world. And it's relatively cheap!
CANON PACKAGE FOR LANDSCAPE - RUNNER UP TO THE RUNNER UP
The runner up for the runner up for (not a typo) the Canon package for landscape photographers is again the Canon 5D Mark II or Mark III, but this time with a Canon 24 mm Tilt-Shift (TS) Lens. This glass is very, very sharp. It is wide angle and can offer some of the nifty shifting and tilting features for landscape and architecture that only a Tilt-Shift lens can do on a 35 mm dSLR.
We welcome your comments on the Great Combinations, knowing that we are not evaluating other brands here, not making comparisons with other brands, nor saying these are the only combinations. We are simply finding combinations that will produce excellent images for people who know what kind of photography they want to produce. Those with smaller budgets certainly have other options, and those with larger budgets, of course, have far more than these options. We are looking for the value to quality ratios!