The Best Camera for Outdoor and Wildlife Photography

Outdoor camera

Washington Landscape

Eagle

Landscape Photographer

Digital technology has been around long enough that I occasionally forget there are many people that have never used anything but small-sensored point and shoot digicams. I recently talked with an amateur photographer who was planning to discard his well-used point-and-shoot camera hoping that a DSLR would help him take better pictures. No, that’s not exactly right. He believed like so many others that a better camera would make him a better photographer. Actually, his question was, “What would be the best camera for outdoors and wildlife photography?” He is an outdoorsman and “needed the whole meal deal,” although I am not sure what he actually meant by that. Perhaps he wanted one camera that would be capable of doing everything.

What should be my advice to an aspiring wildlife photographer? I could give him my personal perspective, and I could suggest he search out wildlife and scenic photographer sites online to make his own decisions.

I will summarize what I got from a check of advice from avid wildlife photographers. Wildlife photography is harder on a camera than any other type of photography. Most of the time photographers will need to push the limits of their cameras. And, photographing wildlife will demand speed, resolution, and a well-built, quality camera, and, therefore, the best cameras for wildlife photos are usually the most expensive ones.

The photographer then should begin by looking at cameras that are durable, and capable of taking some bumping around, and be sturdy enough to take some abuse from the weather. And because the photographer would be shooting in all types of lighting conditions, especially low light, early in the morning, or at the end of the day, I would recommend looking at, and expecting to pay more for models capable of higher ISO.

Unlike a tiny digicam the photographer will need to concern him/herself with the lens, as well as with the camera. Personally, I would save my money on the camera and spend it on a quality lens. A saying I have heard over and over ever since I have been in this medium is that “it’s all about the glass,” referring to the lens. A photographer, like any craftsperson, needs the correct tools.

Then there is the discussion of full frame versus crop-sensor cameras when one is deciding on which is the best DSLR. Hmm…I think that’s a can of worms best left for later. There are enough confusing choices to keep a photographer awake at night with topics like which camera manufacturer, which model, and which lens. And I suppose there are also the possibilities with the new host of lightweight, mirror-less cameras making their way into photographer’s bags.

I plan on spending some time helping this about-to-be wildlife/scenic photographer make his own choice about his camera equipment. I would rather not be one of those that advise a particular manufacturer. That choice should be the photographer’s.

If we were able to ask Ansel Adams, one of the most famous scenic photographers, for his thoughts, he would say, “The single most important component of a camera is twelve inches behind it.”

I know that does not assist with the decision of what camera that photographer should get, but it does let him know that whatever he gets, he will absolutely need to spend time learning how to use it.

I always enjoy comments. Thank you, John

17 responses to “The Best Camera for Outdoor and Wildlife Photography

  1. Appropriate timing. I am seriously considering a new camera body. My wife and I are pretty committed to Nikon and I will be staying with them. I shoot primarily nature and outdoors shots and have recently hit the limits of my old D90. Shooting at night especially with the recent auroras had pushed that body (and mine) to the limits.

    Since price is a consideration I am not making the jump into a high end model shooting for a mid range instead like a d5300 of if I can luck out on a refurb perhaps a 7100.

    I am looking for the larger resolution, and the higher ISO. Shooting in the dark I need to have better performance at higher ISO. The d90 is maxed out and I am moving into a d300 we have to put it to the test at night.

    There are other features I am looking forward to particularly the wifi capability and app sync

    So the hunt is on and I am enjoying the research process.

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    • I like that you are trying out the D300 Dave. That is an excellent and very sturdy camera. My favourites on the used market right now are the D300. D300s and D7000. All seem to be selling around 500.00 to 600.00 used. Those models will allow you to use all the camera functions on any Nikon lens since the mount change in 1974.
      Well not wifi and app sync. I know nothing about that stuff. Why are they important?

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  2. Yes I should imagine the most important thing is a good long lens 400-600mm but they are well expensive, and a camera that can take a fair amount of fps. I think I’d be tempted to get a cheaper camera too, even 2nd hand, there’s plenty of good ones around.

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  3. Both above are quite correct in their answers..BUT you did say the person is using a point an shoot..then my first question is how much money can you afford to hand out.. i know what I paid for the Nikon D3 and several lens..and that ain’t honey..

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  4. I too agonize about what camera to upgrade to, I also have an old, tired, well loved D90. I have tossed around the question of cropped vs full frame. I don’t want to have to change all my lenses, my 105mm would work on either I believe, and I think I was told my 150-500 would as well (to a point) but the 18-200 wouldn’t. I usually do landscape and hope to do more wildlife (hence the 105-500).

    I think when anyone is faced with the question of which is ‘the best camera for…..’ it will come down to what you can afford, then chose the best one in that price range. (or take out a BIG loan and get the one you REALLY want!! LOL!!)

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    • There are lots of very good cameras (full and cropped frame) and lenses available on the used market Wendy.
      Ya just have to do some research as to what would work the best for you – then shop around.
      I as have mentioned before for someone wanting to move up from the D90 (on a budget) look at the D300/D300s and D7000.

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  5. I am no expert by any means but I study this stuff like the nerd I am and I do a fair amount of wildlife photography. I shoot canon but I don’t think you can go wrong with any of the major brands and I like the crop sensor for wildlife for the extra reach and full frame for landscape. The new 7dMarkII meets many of the criteria needed for wildlife photography, crop sensor, rugged and weather sealed, good in low light. I love mine. paired with the new canon 100-400mm you have a killer combo that would cover most people’s needs. My two cents. 🙂

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  6. I meant to reply some time ago but became distracted. It is also useful for me to answer because I’m giving an address on landscape photography in a couple of days and it will help to clarify my thinking.

    I think “what is the best camera for landscape and wildlife?” is the wrong question.

    A better place to start is:
    • What do I actually photograph and what do I aim to photograph?
    • What forms of output do I use and aspire to?
    • What are the restrictions of my equipment including camera and lenses and support?
    • Am I getting the best possible results from my existing equipment, given its limitations?

    Then, having considered and answered all those questions:
    • Are the limitations of my equipment restricting me and if so in what way?
    • Is purchasing new camera or lenses a sensible choice in these circumstances?

    For example, if someone is only posting to the web and only shooting in the middle of the day, getting better equipment may not make much difference.

    Landscape and wildlife photography have different requirements but are similar in many ways.

    In both cases the most important thing apart from lighting and exposure is that it should be sharp where it needs to be. And unless you can use a shutter speed high enough to get images as sharp as they would be on a tripod, you should use a tripod. You should test to see what that will be at different focal lengths and it is likely to be significantly higher than the old film standard of one over focal length (depending also on VR/IS). A cheap tripod may not be much use, though. It should be a good tripod (which is likely to be expensive) and carbon fibre if you want a light one.

    For landscapes, any lens may be suitable, it depends on the subject and your preferences. I perhaps prefer ultrawides but in that case you have to understand how to compose with them. Long telephotos are the go for wildlife, really good ones are very expensive and don’t expect an all-purpose ultrazoom to be very sharp.

    If we’re talking DSLRs or mirrorless cameras with interchangeable lenses, the quality of your lens is likely to more important than the quality of your camera. In general, though, the smaller the sensor of your camera, the less capable at higher ISOs. This is compounded if you are using a slow all-purpose zoom.

    Landscapes, you should in general shoot at low ISOs, using a tripod where necessary, and adjusting apertures for optimal sharpness (look at reviews for your lens) and optimal depth of field. In this case, high ISO capabilities of the camera are not so important. Street photography in low light, though, is a different matter. Also, for night landscapes in the unlit countryside, it is useful to have a fast lens and a camera capable at high ISOs so your exposure times with star trails don’t spiral out of control, or so your exposure times can stay low enough (10 secs say) to keep stars still.

    Wldlife, though, you are likely to need high shutter speeds for in low light. So as well as a long lens, it is advantageous to have a fast lens and a camera that is capable at high ISOs. The longer the lens is, the more essential a tripod is likely to be as well. Also, autofocus is critical and DSLRs still have the advantage here.

    A final constraint is weight, particularly where you are carrying your equipment in a pack or are travelling. If your back is OK, your legs are OK, your health is OK and you have a good pack, you can carry a heavy pack for considerable periods of time should you choose to do so. This may be very valuable to get the right shot in the right place at the right time. I used to carry a 25 kilo (55 lb) pack in long walks in my 30s. These days I would probably keep that to 16 kilos (35 lb) and my light pack (mirrorless equipment) is probably about 8 kilo (18 lb). However, there is no point carrying equipment you don’t use and sometimes travelling very light can be an interesting exercise.

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    • Murray, To get a blog read and searched out these days ya must have a catchy title.
      The first paragraph intro is supposed to make the “sale” to get ’em reading…hopefully. As I am sure you deduced, my article is really about making one think about choosing a camera and lens for what ever use, not just “landscape and wildlife” photography.

      What I learned in my 19 years of teaching photography to college and university students is, give ’em one topic at a time.
      I try to keep my articles around 600 words. That takes many rewrites and edits, even 600 words are sometimes too many for modern online readers. Especially if they read on a hand-held device.

      From what you have written I expect your address on Landscape photography would be well worth listening to, even for experienced photographers. Those first four points and the additional two are great headings that are thoughtful and I am sure your audience will enjoy your point of view.
      I could see what you have written posted almost as-is for blog readers.
      Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts Murray, I really appreciate that.

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      • Thanks very much for your feedback John. It’s interesting to consider how I might adopt your posting strategy. I certainly don’t have your teaching experience, just teaching computer software in a workplace environment for a year or so. I’m probably a bit demanding of readers in what I post in that if I feel a detailed historical or ecological account is appropriate, I’ll include it. So maybe I’m not catering so much to the “quick fix” audience.

        One of my posts is nearly 4,000 words, on the extent to which the history of Easter Island can provide parallels for sustainable development today. I’ve had quite a few hits on that and tracing back a search string, found it was recommended reading in a school in the US. So it seems longer articles can work sometimes too. (http://murrayfoote.com/2011/07/08/easter-island-a-parable-for-our-times/)

        I already had an outline for tomorrow’s address under the headings “Finding an image/ Light/ Equipment/ Exposure/ Why RAW/ Technique”. I have prepared a Powerpoint slideshow and selected images for that. I wrote up a slightly modified version of my comments above (with a link to your blog), posted it in the Canberra Photographic Society Blog, and put a link to that in the slideshow. I touch on some of the points in the address and members of the audience can read it later if they want to.

        https://canberraphotographicsociety.wordpress.com/2015/05/04/what-is-the-best-camera-for-landscape-and-wildlife-photography/

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      • I think an article on a photographic experience or one that is “how to” is very different than an article on the history of some thing or some place. Six hundred words on how to buy a camera is a lot, whereas 400 words on Easter Island may not be that much for someone interested in Easter Island. Gosh, it is History!
        By now you have my comments on your article, “What is the best camera…” for the Canberra Photo society” and I sure would like to be present at your lecture.

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  7. Pingback: “What is the best camera for landscape and wildlife photography?” « Canberra Photographic Society

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