|Don't let rambunctious
meerkats get you down. Be ready for your next wildlife expedition
by knowing both your subject and your camera gear.
For maximum flexibility, consider a digital SLR. You can choose
from ultra wide fisheye lenses to long
telephotos. And DSLRs generally beat digicams when it comes to both low
light performance and speed.
DiSLR's have sensors of varying sizes. Full
frame DSLR sensors have the same or very similar dimensions to the 24mm
x 36mm frame size of 35mm film
cameras and excel in low light, in capturing detail and in allowing for
shallow depth of field. But DSLRs with smaller sensors can prove
beneficial in wildlife photography - particularly if you don't
have thousands of dollars to spend on fast 500mm or 600mm telephoto
or simply want a smaller and lighter camera kit. That's because
the smaller camera sensor results in an in-camera crop. If you
use a DSLR with a 1.5x crop factor, for example, a 300mm lens will have
an effective focal length of 450mm. A 2x crop will give you an
effective focal length of 600mm using the same 300mm lens.
CROP FACTORS OF
|Nikon D300, D200, D90, D5000, D60, D40x and
|Nikon D3, D3x, Nikon D700
|Fuji S5 Pro and earlier models.
|Canon 50D, 40D, 30D, 20D and Rebel series
|Canon EOS -1D Mark III
|Canon EOS 5D 12 mp; 5D Mark II 21.1
mp, EOS-1Ds Mark III
|Olympus E3, E620, E520, E420, E-30
|Panasonic G1 (micro 4/3 -
electronic viewfinder interchangeable lens camera)
|Pentax K-7, K-20d, K200d, K2000, K-10d and
earlier models (also true of Samsung models)
|Sony a200, a300, a350, a700 and earlier
|Sony a900 24.6 mp
U S E F U L F E A T U R E S
DEPTH OF FIELD
Most DSLRs now offer depth of field preview, and it's a feature well
worth having. Do you want both the eyes
and nose of a frog in focus? Depth of field preview lets you know
if you've accomplished your goal. If you haven't, you can try a
You'll also want to be able to manually overide exposure and
focus. A camera's meter, no matter how sophisticated, still sees
the world differently than the human eye. In some situations, you
will need to adjust your exposure to avoid blown-out highlights or
loss of shadow detail. Manual overrides also allow you to be more
there may be times when you deliberately want to underexpose or
overexpose an image for effect or to use long exposure times.
Spot metering is another useful feature to have, and I personally
prefer a camera that allows me to automatically bracket exposures in
WHITE BALANCE, SHARPNESS, CONTRAST AND SATURATION
Most digital SLRs will let you make some adjustments to white balance
and to sharpness, contrast and saturation presets.
This isn't required but can be useful, especially when you are using
moderately slow shutter
speeds on a tripod.
Olympus initiated live view on DSLRs, and all other major DSLR
makers are now following suit. This can be a helpful feature,
with macro photography. I personally don't use live view often -
though I'm more inspired to do so when I'm using a camera that has a
free angle or tilting LCD screen. The ease of using live view
also varies between manufacturers.
|D300, D3, D700, D90
|Canon Rebel XSi,
Canon 40D, 50D
EOS 1D-Mark 111
|Olympus E-520, E-510
(several earlier models also offer live view.)
|Olympus E-3, E-30, E-620
|Pentax k20d, K-7
|Sony a300, a350
Camera manufacturers take different approaches to image
stabilization. Sony, Pentax, Samsung and Olympus offer in-body
If you use Nikon. Fuji or Canon camera
bodies, you'll need to purchase lenses marked either
IS (Canon) or VR (Nikon) to gain the advantage of reduced camera shake.
can take beautiful portraits of wildlife, up-close images of insects or
environmental landscapes without ever desiring autofocus, but if
you're interested in action photography, a DSLR with fast and effective
autofocus and focus tracking and/or predictive autofocus is a big plus. You'll also want to
consider frames per second if capturing fast action is your goal.
Second - Fastest DSLRs
|Canon EOS 1D Mark III
8 fps with
optional battery grip
(11 fps DX crop)
||5 fps (8 fps with battery pack)
|Sony a700, a900
Most entry level DSLRs average 3 fps - which is certainly fast enough
to record action. But their buffers are often smaller (meaning
that you can't take as many images before the camera insists on a rest
to complete image processing), and their autofocus systems are often
less robust. Regardless of the frame rate, you'll miss action
shots if you are depending on autofocus and your camera is unable to
quickly lock on the correct focus point. So if capturing action
is your goal, check reviews before purchasing a camera. And, if
possible, try out the camera with your selected lenses before making
your final decision.
Is autofocus absolutely necessary for action photography?
No. Wonderful images were created before autofocus was
invented. But it can certainly increase the odds of getting the
Before buying a camera, look at the manufacturer's selection of
lenses. Do they make the lenses you need, or do third party
manufacturers produce acceptable substitutes?
Both Nikon and Canon have a wide range of lens choices - ranging from
extreme wide angles to fast, beautiful, long telephotos. Almost
all third party lenses (Sigma, Tamron, Tokina) are also available in
Canon or Nikon mounts, and Nikon and Canon lenses are the most easily
But Olympus also offers a range of lenses well suited to wildlife
photography. With the 2x crop factor of its cameras, Olympus's
have effective focal lengths ranging from 14mm to 600mm.
Panasonic/Leica also produce lenses for the
four-thirds mount. Due to the 2x crop factor, an Olympus kit can
be significantly smaller and lighter than a kit covering similar focal
lengths from other manufacturers. The smaller sensor size of
Olympus DSLRs, however, makes noise somewhat more apparent in image
files when shooting at higher ISOs.
Pentax offers very good value for the money and makes some excellent
prime lenses. The company recently released a 60-250mm zoom and
has an updated 300mm f4 (450mm equivalent focal length) but does not
yet manufacture readily accessible lenses in the 400mm to 600mm range.
Sony has also been lacking in lenses in the 400mm to 600mm range, but
its newly released 70-400mm f4-5.6 G SSM lens (105-600mm focal length
cropped sensor cameras) received the 2009 TIPA award for best expert
Third party lens manufactuers do make some longer telephoto lenses
for both Pentax and Sony camera mounts.
DECIDING ON A
If possible, try
making your decision. Some cameras are small and light; others
will help develop your biceps. If you're planning to buy big
glass, a heavier body is often desirable. But if you hike into remote
areas, have smaller hands or prefer stalking wildlife to sitting in
blinds, a lighter, more portable system may suit you well.
If you intend to
use manual focus, make sure
that you can see through the camera's viewfinder well enough to
adjust focus. And spend some time playing with camera
controls. Can you easily access the controls
that you will use most frequently? Check how
quickly the camera focuses with your chosen lens
As DSLRs get better and
better, digital noise is becoming less of an issue. But If you
will frequently be shooting at higher ISOs, test
how well the camera performs at ISO 800, 1600 or above or compare image
samples at dpreview.com and imaging resource.com. You may want to
choose a camera that
allows you to determine whether or not to apply noise reduction since
some cameras are programmed to take a heavy handed approach to noise
and sacrifice too much image detail in the process.
Beautiful images can be made with any of the DSLRs currently on the
market. Entry level DSLRs don't have the speed, durability,
viewfinders or weather proofing of their bigger brothers, but they are
much less expensive and several allow you to have significant creative
control over your final image. If you're on a limited budget,
better to spend your money on a better lens than to immediately
purchase a camera which may be far more than you will initially need or
Another option, particularly if you're interested in action
photography, is to look for used or refurbished mid-level
There are several sites that can assist you in your choice of a
provides summaries of camera reviews, while Dpreview.com offers its own
detailed camera reviews with
of sample images. Dpreview
hosts forums, allowing you to
obtain advice from scores of photographers. Just be forewarned
that some photographers are so loyal to their own camera
brand that they are unable to acknowledge that others should make a
Resource, you can directly compare images of the same subject taken
with different cameras at various ISO settings.
inspire you, here are
the links to a
few wildlife and nature photographers. Frans Lanting, John Shaw and Moose Peterson
Fitzharris and Arthur
Iwago and John
gear. Images made with Pentax cameras can be viewed at the Pentax
Gallery. And here are some examples from Sony.
KNOW YOUR CAMERA
Once you decide on a camera, spend time getting to know it.
You'll be able to be more creative when you photograph and will also be
likely to obtain the results you are after in the field.