The Best Camera for Outdoor and Wildlife Photography

Outdoor camera

Washington Landscape


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

Thoughts on Photography in Low Light and Camera Noise.

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A friend dropped by my shop to show me photographs he took of some musicians performing at a local evening event. As we looked at his images, we talked about how successful they were and how he had to push his ISO higher and higher for lighting conditions he was forced to shoot under.

He began by rating his camera first at ISO 800, then later, higher than that because of the low mood lighting. He didn’t want to use a flash because it would have disturbed the ambiance of the musicians and for the audience. The only illumination was a couple of little spotlights that had been redirected towards the musicians. In compensating for the low light, his only concern as he prepared to shoot was image noise.

Digital image noise is noticeable by the presence of coloured speckles where there shouldn’t be any. For example, instead of clear dark or coloured background, there might be different colour speckles in the background. Noise is closest to the “grain” one used to see when using high ISO films, except with film it was more about those areas that didn’t expose correctly.

Photographers have always struggled with the effect of high ISOs and I remember when 400 ISO was considered a pretty grainy film. In the days when film was king there were all sorts of special chemicals to process film to try to get fine grain and allow for pushing film to a higher ISO than 400. Photography magazines had article after article discussing ISO grain.

If photographers asked my advice ten years ago I would have suggested they use Ilford’s Delta 3200 ISO black and white film and to rate it at 1600 and process it in Ilford Perceptol, but these days some camera sensors are amazing in their ability to “see” light. Modern camera companies control the way images are processed in their cameras, and there is a lot of marketing based on beautiful images to encourage buyers to spend money on whichever new model they are promoting.

When selecting higher ISO today, the signal from light photons is amplified, and with that the background electrical noise that is present in a camera’s electrical system is also amplified.

Without enough light for a proper exposure the camera’s sensor will collect a weak signal and more background electrical noise is also collected.

This isn’t the place for making recommendations for which is the best camera for low light shooting. I’ll leave that to others. I suggest readers do some research on different manufacturers and tests on the cameras they own. There are also programs like Noise Ninja, Neat Image, Topaz DeNoise, and NIK’s Dfine that can reduce the effect of high ISO, and those that aren’t in the mood to follow the herd of photographers that purchase a new camera every year just to reduce digital noise, might try one of those programs.

For me, it comes down to the purpose of the photographs. If I was photographing a college basketball game and the images would be used in brochures or magazines, I would want the cleanest, lowest noise images I could get; but if they were going to end up as pictures in an on line album, or just stored in a computer’s hard drive for friends’ viewing, I wouldn’t be too concerned about noise. Therefore, I suggest that photographers determine the purpose in advance of any photos taken in low light.

There is a lot of information on the Internet about specific cameras and their abilities regarding sensor noise. I suggest doing some research and checking out other photographers’ comments regarding what they own, or may be thinking of upgrading to, and as I said before, do some experimenting with the camera they have.

I enjoy receiving comments. Thanks, John

My website is at

The basics of photography and depth of field

One topic that I have discussed during many classes that I instruct, and defined to many people that have come to my shop when they think they have are lens or focus problems, and more than once written about is “depth of field”, but it still seems to be an elusive concept for many. 

 I pondered about this last Thursday when a local photographer showed me an 8×10 print from photographs he had made inside a church during a wedding the previous weekend.  He showed it to me proudly, but commented he wished that his lens was sharper at its wide-angle focal length.

 The print displayed a view down the central isle with church pews left and right, leading to a pulpit in the distant centre, likely about 30 feet from where the photographer was standing.  The overall exposure was fairly good, and he told me he had shot at an aperture of f/2.8.  However, the fact that his photograph wasn’t in focus, except for the pulpit, had very little to do with using his zoom lens at its wide-angle focal length.

 The definition of depth of field is “that area around the main subject, in front of and behind, that is in acceptably sharp focus”.  In application the wider the lens’ aperture is the less the depth of field, or that area of sharp focus, around the main subject will be.

 Wide aperture lenses are very popular these days and using a lens at a wide aperture like f/2.8 when making a portrait isolates the main subject and produces a soft, out-of-focus background by reducing the depth of field.

 Using a wide aperture can increase the exposure in limited lighting conditions, but along with the benefit of additional light reaching the camera’s sensor the resulting effect is reduced depth of field.  Creating a field of focus behind the subject of twelve inches or so might look really good when making a portrait, but in that photograph of the church isle with pews on both sides and the distant pulpit, everything in the foreground, from the photographer to the pulpit, looked out-of-focus.

 Many photographers unwittingly rely too much on their photography equipment to (magically?) make good images and blame faults in their photographs on that same equipment. Understanding the basic concept of depth of field would have made that photograph work easily. 

 I have photographed weddings in that same church and instead of relying on a wide aperture to bring the necessary light into the dim environment, I use a flash and an aperture opening that will give me lots of depth of field so the foreground as well as the background will have reasonable sharpness.

 Yes, subjects closer to the flash will be brighter and those further away will be darker, but I use an off-camera flash cord and hold the flash at arms-length above my head, and direct the light over and above the closer pews and onto more distant subjects. With film this technique is more hit and miss, but with digital technology I just check the camera’s LCD (liquid crystal display) and make any light intensity corrections on the flash menu. I can also make further corrections to the image in seconds in postproduction using PhotoShop.

 The smaller the lenses aperture is the more the area of focus, or depth of field, will be.  I prefer using a small aperture for scenic photography and, as in this instance, interiors.  In both types of photographs I am concerned with all elements in the photograph, front to back, of being sharp and in “acceptably sharp focus”.

 Assuming the lens isn’t sharp when the real problem is with photographic technique can get expensive if the photographer goes so far as replacing a lens. My recommendation is to spend time learning the basics of photography like depth of field instead of blaming equipment when problems occur.