One of the most common questions I am asked in my nature photography classes is “what kind of equipment do I need to take good bird and wildlife pictures?” I usually answer this with basic equipment suggestions and some basic tips for getting into bird and wildlife photography.
Let me start by saying that today’s dslr (digital single lens reflex) camera bodies are more than capable of producing high quality images. They all have more than enough megapixels to give the average user a large enough digital file to use for web sharing, printing, entering contests, whatever you choose to do with it. So, there is some good news already if you are a beginner. Don’t worry about the megapixels!
Why did I mention dslr cameras and not point and shoots? Although many of today’s point and shoot cameras are also capable of producing excellent quality images, they are not yet able to interchange high quality lenses with different focal lengths and specific purposes. I don’t really even like to call them point and shoot cameras anymore, I prefer to call them “all in ones”.
The all in one camera is much better suited for general photography such as landscape, travel and group shots, etc. Some are even pretty good at macro. When it comes to birds and wildlife however, dslr camera bodies with interchangeable lenses are the way to go. This will allow you to upgrade and grow with this genre of photography as you become more and more adept at it
So now that you are going to get your digital slr for nature photography, which one to get? Some considerations are:
- Crop sensor
- Frames per second
- Battery life
Of course, most of us have budget considerations when making a purchase such as this. Here are my recommendations.
- Purchase a good “consumer” or even a “prosumer” dslr. This will cost you anywhere from approximately $899.00 to $4500.00 depending on the make and model. Canon and Nikon have many good choices as well as Sony. Sony is newer into the market but are making great strides with their offerings.
- You might want to buy a dslr camera body with a crop sensor. This means simply that the sensor is smaller than the equivalent full frame 35mm from the film camera days. In effect, it gives you more effective focal length for your lens. For example, a 400mm focal length lens effectively becomes a 600mm with a 1.5 crop sensor.
- Quite often in bird and wildlife photography you will require a fast frames per second rate. This means you can fire a burst of frames in a short period of time therefore increasing your chances of capturing that perfect action shot.
- When making your purchase be sure to check the battery life of your cameras batteries. You may want to consider the optional battery pack that will enable you to put 2 batteries into the compartment to prolong usage before having to change or recharge your batteries.
What’s the best lenses?
You can purchase digital slr camera bodies on their own or packaged with a lens. If you opt to purchase one with a lens I recommend upgrading to the best lens you can. These will often be wide or mid-range focal length lenses such as a 28-85mm. For starting out in bird and wildlife photography I highly recommend a lens that is capable of a focal length of at least 400mm. It might be a good idea to consider a high quality pro series lens as this is an important part of your camera bag, probably even more important than the camera body itself. A lot of beginners start out with a good zoom lens such as a Nikon 80-400 or a Canon 100-400mm.
When it comes to wildlife photography things can sometimes happen quickly and as photographers we have to move and make adjustments quickly. Some of us will be comfortable hand holding our equipment while others will want to consider using tripods and or monopods. I recommend trying both and seeing what you prefer. It is recommended to use a tripod, especially when you are in low light situations and getting slower shutter speeds.
A quick recap for the beginner nature photographer:
- Purchase a good dslr camera body.
- Purchase a good quality lens
- Consider purchasing a tripod or at least a monopod for camera and lens support
- Get yourself a good backpack to transport your new equipment.
David Hemmings is the owner and operator of Nature’s Photo Adventures. His company offers amazing bird and nature photo workshops around the world. David leads many of the workshops himself.