Roger Spencer Photography

Technical

Because I receive many questions regarding the equipment that I use, I have provided on this page a brief discussion of the technical aspects of photography, intended primarily for the beginner.

Format: DSLR DX format.  Cameras with full frame sensors do offer better quality, especially at higher ISO settings (which I seldom use in landscape photography).   However, full frame sensor cameras also cost significantly more, are heavier and larger.  At this time, for me personally and the type of photography that I do, I am satisfied with quality I'm getting from the DX format.

Camera:  In 2006 I switched from 35mm film to a digital SLR.  I now shoot with a Nikon D7100.  I chose Nikon because my film cameras were Nikon, so I already owned several Nikon lenses that are compatible with Nikon's DSLRs.  Don't listen to anyone who tells you that Nikon or Cannon is the only way to go and trashes the other.

Manufacturer: All of the major manufacturers produce high quality equipment, certainly to the extent that the differences in equipment are insignificant in comparison to the ability of the photographer.  I do advise that you stick with one brand for controls/software familiarity and equipment compatibility.  Stay with one of the major photographic manufacturers, and avoid store brands.  If you switch from film to digital, I suggest staying with the same manufacturer for a couple of reasons.  One, your film camera lenses are probably compatible with the same manufacturer's digital cameras (check to make sure before purchasing).  And two, there will be similarities in the controls, hastening the learning curve.

What I use: Nikon cameras and lenses.

Lenses: Buy the best you can afford.  If money is a limiting factor (and isn't it for most of us?), buy a less expensive body and better lenses.  The body is simply a film/sensor-holder -- the lens  more directly affects image quality.  Don't let a camera store salesman sell you an expensive high-end camera body (which you probably don't need) and the cheapest  zoom lens (which will produce poor image quality).  I suggest a two lens setup; one similar to a 17-55mm or 24-80mm zoom, and the other a 80-200mm or 70-300mm (as opposed to a 28-200mm "do everything" lenses).


Buy a lens from your camera's manufacturer, or a lens from one of the major aftermarket lens manufacturers (Tamron, Tokina, Sigma, etc.) specifically designed for you camera.  Stay away from store brands.  In lenses, you will get what you pay for.  A cheap lens will produce cheap-looking images.

What I use: AF-S Nikkor 17-55mm f/2.8 G ED, Nikkor 60mm f/2.8 AF Micro, AF-S Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G ED, Nikkor 80-200mm f/2.8 ED IF.

Tripods: You might not like this advice.  It involves a piece of equipment that you probably consider optional, is awkward and heavy to carry around, and requires a considerable amount of time and inconvenience to use in the field.  Worse yet, it will cost at least $200.  Buy a tripod.  More specifically, buy a high quality tripod, and use it religiously.  A tripod will do two things for you.  First, the obvious.  Don't let anyone mislead you.  At almost any shutter speed, and certainly at any shutter speed that you will use to produce the type of landscape images that you see on this web site, you will get appreciably sharper images using a tripod as opposed to hand-holding your camera.

A second advantage to using a tripod, less obvious but just as significant, is improved compositional control.  Using a tripod results in more effective compositions.  It allows you to analyze the scene and make precise adjustments in composition, ensure level horizons, and check the corners of the frame for unwanted inclusions.  A necessary related accessory is a cable release. 

I almost never take a photo without a tripod.

What I use: A Manfrotto 190CXPRO4G carbon fiber tripod with a ball head, and a Bogen 3221 aluminum tripod with a pan/tilt head.

Filters: Filters are a useful accessory.  There are literally hundreds, and their use is a matter of taste.  I use only a very few (even fewer since going digital).  My primary use is to enhance what is already there, not to create an artificial-looking effect.  A filter used effectively improves the image, but its use is not apparent. 

What I use: When I shot film, the three basic filters I used were split neutral density, 81B, and polarizer.  Now that I primarily shoot digital, the 81B (warming) filter is no longer needed (replaced by the white balance control on the digital camera).  There is also less use for the split ND (although I do use them), as the digital technique of shooting the same scene at various exposures and combining them in post processing can be utilized.  I use a circular polarizer more often than not for landscapes.

The split neutral density (half clear, half light gray, with a gradual transition) is useful in dealing with a high-contrast situation (such as a bright sky, or part of a scene sunlit and part in shadow) where the scene contains a range of contrast beyond the exposure latitude of the sensor.  As I said, there are various techniques for handling extreme contrast in the digital age during post processing (combining images shot at various exposures manually in Photoshop, processing the same RAW image at different exposure values and combining them, or using one of the HDR programs to combine images.)  I use all of these techniques, but still feel that if you have a composition that lends itself to the split ND (i.e., a level horizon), you'll have a superior quality image to the other methods.

I do use an HDR program for many shots with good results.  However, I do keep the images "realistic" looking.

The most useful filter for the nature and landscape photographer is the polarizer, and I use it quite often.  The most popular use is to darken blue skies, but I find it even more useful for eliminating glare and reflections on foliage and wet rocks, therefore letting the true colors show through.  This can be especially useful for fall foliage.  I also like to use it in stream photos to let the rocks on the bottom show.  This filter is just as useful when shooting digital as it is with film.

I would be happy try to provide brief answers to any technical questions regarding equipment, etc.  I'm not an expert, but I know what works for me.

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