A Beginner Landscape Photography Kit for $797: My Gear Recommendations
Earlier this year I dropped and broke my full-frame Sony a7rii camera. Ouch...
While it was in the shop being fixed, I had to go back to using my older, more basic camera setup. And you know? It did a pretty damn good job. Now, that's not to say that I'll be selling all of my prized full-frame gear, but I do think the Sony a6000 is possibly the best value for your money when starting out in landscape and travel photography.*
With that in mind, I decided it might be helpful to put together my specific recommendations for a complete gear list for getting started with landscape and travel photography that won't totally break the bank, but can still result in really high-quality images. If you buy some of this used, you can get it all for about the price of a new smartphone. I buy used equipment all the time and have never had any issues. At the end, I'll make some recommendations for upgrades and optional accessories to consider as well if you have room in the budget, but they're definitely not necessary.
Sony a6000 + 16-50mm "Kit" Lens (Buy at Amazon)
This camera is shockingly good for the price. There are better options for video (a6300, a6500), and every major brand has something similar, but this is quite good for landscape photography. It's incredibly light and small for the kind of camera you're getting, which is especially nice for hiking and travel. Unless you decide to go with one of the upgraded lens options below (nice, but expensive and not necessary), buy this camera with the included kit lens.
Sony 55-210mm Telephoto Zoom Lens (Buy at Amazon)
You definitely don't need a long telephoto zoom lens, but I find that it opens up a lot of creative options in landscape photography and can be used to capture the occasional wildlife shot. Instead of being limited to just the wide-angle grand vista shot, you can zoom in tight and pick out interesting details as well. You might be able to save a little bit of money (especially if you're buying new) by purchasing this in a kit with the camera and 16-50mm lens (above), but I kept this separate since not everyone will want both lenses to start with. When I looked, the price was about the same used in a kit versus separately, so probably not a big deal either way.
SanDisk 32GB Memory Card (Buy at Amazon)
You need a memory card. This one'll do the trick. There are probably cheaper (and certainly more expensive) options, but SanDisk is very reliable maker of SD cards and 32GB should be plenty to start with. Don't buy used here, not worth the risk to save $5 in my opinion.
MeFoto Backpacker Aluminum Travel Tripod (Buy at Amazon)
Landscape photography and tripods go hand in hand. They allow you to get really sharp images and shoot longer exposures which lets you try out some star photography, can lead to better images in low light (common for landscapes), and allows for interesting effects like silky smooth flowing water and motion in clouds. There are undoubtedly better tripods out there for more money, and you very well might want to upgrade someday, but this will work well in most situations and be very lightweight for hiking and travel. When I looked, buying used only saved about $10, so I'd just go with new. Plus you can choose from about 10 different colors. Hot pink, anyone?
Tiffen Circular Polarizer Filter (Buy at Amazon)
Tiffen is a good price point for getting started with filters. There are lots of other types of filters, but the circular polarizer is probably the most important for landscape photography. Filters come in different sizes, but you don't have to get one for each lens. Get one to fit your lens with the widest front diameter and then get "step-up" adapter rings (below) to use them on your smaller lenses as well.** If you only buy the 16-50 "Kit" lens, you'll need filters with a 40.5mm diameter. If you buy the 55-210 zoom lens as well (my recommendation), get filters with a 49mm diameter and a step-up ring.
Tiffen 3-Stop Neutral Density Filter (Buy at Amazon)
Think of this as sunglasses for your camera. It's not strictly necessary, but it can open up some options to do longer exposures even when it's particularly bright outside. If you want to photograph waterfalls or seascapes and create that silky smooth long-exposure look, pick one of these up; they're cheap. Filters come in different sizes, but you don't have to get one for each lens. Get one to fit your lens with the widest front diameter and then get "step-up" adapter rings (below) to use them on your smaller lenses as well.**
40.5 to 49mm Step-Up Filter Ring (Buy at Amazon)
Each of your lenses probably has a different diameter and takes different size filters. Instead of buying a set of filters for each lens, just get them for your lens with the biggest diameter and then get these adapter rings so you can use the filters on your smaller lenses. If you went with the two suggested lenses above, you'll want to get 49mm filters and a 40.5mm to 49mm step-up adapter ring.** Any brand will work, jut get the cheapest one you see.
Wasabi Camera Batteries and Dual Charger (Buy at Amazon)
There's no getting around it. By far the biggest downside to these small Sony cameras is the battery life. It's pretty bad. That said, I don't find switching batteries to be that much of a hassle, so I just carry a few extras around with me. These off-brand ones are almost as good as the Sony ones and waaay cheaper. It's what I use on both the a6000 and the a7rii.
Zeiss Lens Cleaning Kit (Buy at Amazon)
You're outdoors. Your lenses will get dirty. This is the best product for cleaning them and it's cheap.
Gear List and Total Cost
TOTAL = $797
Since prices will fluctuate a bit over time, especially for used items, the exact total might be slightly different when you look. You can probably also put a bit more effort into finding better deals on used items and save even more money. Either way, that's a good ballpark number for about what you can expect to spend for a beginner (but still very high quality) landscape photography kit that has everything you need to go out and create stunning images with plenty of options for creative expression and exploration.
There are a few other lenses and accessories that I'd like to talk about. Though they're by no means necessary, the lenses will increase your creative options and give you sharper images and the accessories might make your life 2% easier. Think of all of these as bonus options if they fit within your budget.
Rokinon/Samyang 12mm f/2.0 Lens (Buy at Amazon)
This is a very popular lens among landscape photographers, and for good reason. It's a shockingly high quality lens for the price, will allow you to take super wide angle shots (not the distorted fisheye look though), and has a very wide aperture (opening) of f/2.0, which makes it one of the best lenses for astrophotography on the Sony a6000. If you're interested in creating some of those night landscape shots featuring the Milky Way, pick up this lens if it's in the budget. When I just looked, used prices weren't much cheaper than new, but that might change over time. Two things to note: this lens is sold under a few different brands, but they are otherwise identical. Same company, factory, etc., just different names for different regional markets. When I just checked, the Samyang-branded version was the cheapest, but when I looked for a friend a few months ago, the Rokinon version was cheaper. Just buy the cheapest one. Also, this lens is manual focus only, but it's pretty easy to get used to on a wide angle lens like this. Make sure you get the Sony (E-Mount) version, as this is also made for other types of cameras. Note: if you buy this lens, it takes bigger filters than the above two lenses, so make sure you get 67mm filters instead and then you'll need step-up rings to use those on the smaller lenses.**
Zeiss 16-70mm f/4 Lens (Buy at Amazon)
This lens is starting to get up into the big leagues price-wise, but it's a significant step up in quality over the 16-50mm "kit" lens. When I use the a6000 for landscape photography, this is on my camera 90% of the time and some of my favorite images ever were taken with this lens. Yes, it's insanely expensive, but it's also very high quality. If you're just starting out, I'd recommend buying the kit lens with the camera as listed above. However, if you know you will be creating large prints or just generally want to get very sharp and contrasty images and it's within your budget, this lens is amazing. I've also heard great things about the 18-105 f/4 lens (~$500), but haven't personally used it so I can't recommend it. This lens take 55mm filters, so remember to take that into account when buying filters and step-up rings.**
Peak Design 20L Everyday Backpack (Buy at Amazon)
First, any backpack will work fine; you don't need one specifically designed for photography. If you have a good hiking backpack with straps on the outside (or just plenty of room inside) for the tripod, that'll work perfectly fine. By choosing the smaller Sony a6000 system, you don't need a huge bag with lots of dividers and such. That said, a bag designed for photography can be nice to have. There are a million bags out there, and none of them are perfect. Seriously. However, this one, while ridiculously expensive, is my favorite I've tried so far. It fits a laptop as well and is just meticulously designed down to the last detail. I resisted buying it for a long time due to the price, but it's really a fantastic piece of gear and lives up to the hype.
Peak Design Leash Camera Strap (Buy at Amazon)
Your camera will come with a camera strap. You don't really even need a camera strap. Even so, I'm a huge Peak Design fanboy, and I really like the straps that they make. Plus, you'll be like all of the cool kids with those red circles dangling off your camera...
Peak Design Capture Clip (Buy at Amazon)
Expensive, but totally worth it if you do a lot of hiking. This genius device attaches to your backpack shoulder strap (or belt, or wherever) and holds your camera in a quick-release sort of situation so you can whip it out at a moment's notice when that bear crosses the trail right in front of you. It seems kind of sketchy to have your camera dangling exposed like that, but it's extremely widely used and gets excellent reviews. You can trust anything that Peak Design puts out; they make excellent products.
*This isn't an ad or sponsored content in any way. No one is paying me to recommend any of these items, and the Amazon URLs are not affiliate links. I have no financial incentive for you to spend a cent on any of this. Just thought it might be helpful for someone getting into photography since the gear situation is unnecessarily overwhelming and doesn't actually matter that much past a certain threshold.
**Get filters for your lens with the widest diameter front element and step-up rings to use those filters on your smaller lens(es):
16-50mm "Kit" Lens - uses 40.5mm Filters
55-210mm Telephoto Zoom Lens - uses 49mm Filters
Zeiss 16-70mm f/4 Lens - uses 55mm Filters
Rokinon/Samyang 12mm f/2 Lens - uses 67mm Filters
For example, if you buy the 16-50, 55-210, and 12mm lenses, then you'll want to buy 67mm filters, a 40.5 to 67mm step-up ring, and a 49 to 67mm step-up ring. That's probably super confusing, so just shoot me an email at email@example.com if you're not sure what to buy.
Finally, you can create surprisingly good photographs with a smart phone these days, so if this doesn't fit in your budget right now, don't let that stop you from creating beautiful pictures!