Wildlife Photography

Finding the Right Camera for Wildlife Photography

Finding the Right Camera for Wildlife Photography

For wildlife photography, you’ll definitely want to use a telephoto lens – the bigger the better. Depending on where you’re shooting, wild animals aren’t likely to wander right up to you, strike a pose, and wait for you to take a picture. Whether you’re shooting scampering monkeys at your local zoo, going on safari to Africa, or just trying to capture those pesky raccoons in a nearby park, it pays to invest in the right equipment so you can get just the shots you want.

Your first decision is whether to go with a point-and-shoot camera, film-based or digital. Unfortunately, most of your point-and-shoot cameras, like the popular Canon PowerShot, are fine for casual portraits, but but their lenses aren’t powerful enough. The best you can expect with one of these cameras is a 200mm equivalent, which is almost "real" telephoto – but not quite. For wildlife photography, you’ll need a lens equal to 400mm equivalency in a film camera. So, by default, that means you’re best off with a single-lens reflex (SLR) camera and interchangeable lenses.

Next stop is to shop around for your equipment. If you head over to eBay, you can find a good used 35mm film-based SLR like a Nikon F100 for between $400 to $500. You’ll also want some lenses – a good basic lens setup starts with a f/2.8 24mm lens for wide-angle work, a decent fast zoom in the middle focal lengths (Tokina's 80-200mm f/2.8 is great, but does cost around $600) and a big telephoto lens – Nikon makes a decent 500mm f/8 mirror lens for around $700.

Spending that sort of money may make you choke, but without the proper equipment – good lenses in particular – you don’t have a chance of getting good pictures of those fleeting, faraway animals. And remember, you can do fantastic wildlife photography with a digital SLR, too. Canon's EOS 10D has 6.3 megapixels of resolution and sells for about $750. It also takes interchangeable lenses, so all of lenses mentioned above will work (just make sure when you buy them that they’re compatible with a Canon mount.) Because of the difference between digital resolution and film, you get a bonus if you go digital – an inexpensive 55-200mm lens actually provides a 35mm equivalent zoom range of approximately 90-320mm. And with a 320mm lend, your wildlife photography will equal that of the professionals.

It's All in the Lens

As mentioned above, it's not really the camera you use that matters in wildlife photography, it's the lens. You need a big, big telephoto. Otherwise, even if the animals you're trying to capture look great in the vewfinder, they'll just be tiny spots on your photos. At minimum, you'll want a 300mm lens, but the closer you get to 600mm is even better. Tamron sells a zoom telephoto with a 200-500mm range for around $900 that's not a reat lens, but gets the job done. If money's no object, you can pick up a 500mm f5.6 lens for Canon that's made by SAigma and sells for -- are you ready? - $3,300. If you're planning to do wildlife photography, it's going to involve an investment on your part. But if wildlife photography's your passion, it's worth it.

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