CAMERAS FOR WILDLIFE:

 

A few weeks ago I promised to put together a list of kit that I would recommend for the field, particularly for photographing wildlife. Here is a brief rundown of the bits that I would consider buying if you’re just starting off and want to get a good, reliable system that will last many years and that you can build upon. The more eagle-eyed amongst you will notice that I only feature two brands of camera, Canon or Nikon. The main reason is that I have only really ever worked with these two systems, so I can’t really comment on any other. It’s also that they are the market leaders, they have the best selection of lenses and other add-ons and I’ve literally run my Nikons into the ground (yeah, I backed a 4x4 over one of them... oops) and they keep working. Canon and Nikon are almost identical in the options they offer - if you’re struggling to decide which route to go down, go and play with them in a shop. My gnarled hands are now twisted into the shape of a Nikon so much that I can barely work a Canon, but you’ll hear the same story from long-term Canon shooters! So... on with the list...

 

I should maybe mention that the links I give here take you to WarehouseExpress.com, which is well priced and offer great service - most of my gear comes from there. I don’t have any affiliation with anyone, so shop around. However, if you must have your toys nownownow, they deliver the next day... just sayin’...

 

COMPACTS:

 

A compact camera is exactly that - any camera that is small enough to fit in your pocket, has a fairly small lens that cannot be changed, and is often described as ‘point and shoot’ because of its ease of use.I have only played with a few compact cameras properly and they all have their limitations compared to SLRs. However, they have a huge advantage if you don’t want to attract attention to yourself. My favourite is the Canon ‘G’ range...I’ve never used the Canon G16 specifically, but I have shot with its ancestors and they all work brilliantly and are well made. More details here:

 

http://www.wexphotographic.com/buy-canon-powershot-g16-digital-camera-black/p1542322

 

Others are available, and there are now all sorts of inbetweeners and bridge cameras, compacts with interchangeable lenses and things like that. I’ve never played with any of them, so go and have a play in a big shop if you’re looking for something like that and see what you like - Currys in the mall off Cornmarket street have quite a big selection... go and play then buy online (it’s usually cheaper). For good, in depth reviews of everything related to cameras, have a look at www.dpreview.com.

 

SLRs:

A quick note on budget: If you are starting from scratch, a good, solid kit consisting of a body, a couple of lenses, a memory card and a bag will probably set you back about £1000. You can spend less, certainly, maybe £600-700 and it will still produce great images, but you may want to upgrade a little sooner. It is obviously possible to spend a lot more, but I’m just covering comparatively basic kit here. If you are limited on budget, second-hand gear is definitely worth checking out. I’ve bought some excellent used kit, just be careful with lenses to make sure they have no scratches, dents or mould in them, make sure the bodies haven’t taken too many frames (under 30,000 usually - shutters are limited to about 100,000 shots before they start to wear out). See what you can find anyway... some used gear has never really been out of its bag before it gets upgraded.

 

BODIES:

 

Ok, so the two bits of a camera that you need are:

  • Body - the bit at the back that goes click. It is pretty important, certainly, but start with a basic one and invest in the best lenses you can afford. The more you spend on a body gets you slightly faster autofocus, a faster frame-rate and more bomb-proof build quality. However, the image quality out of all SLRs is brilliant. Don’t pay too much attention to reviews which rant on about the number of pixels, etc. An entry level SLR body will survive forests, snow and ice (if properly looked after) and give you amazing quality pictures if you use good lenses and point it at interesting things. Don’t spend thousands on a body to then put a cheap lens on it because it’s all you can afford. 
  • Lens - there are hundreds of lenses available for Nikon and Canon cameras. They have two numbers associated with them - a focal length and a maximum aperture. The first is a measure of how ‘long’ it is - the higher the number, the greater the magnification. For landscapes and wide scenes, you’ll be looking in the region of 16-50mm. For frame-filling wildlife shots, 200-500mm. It all depends on the animal, obviously, but typically I use a 300mm for most of my wildlife work. The second number, the maximum aperture, refers to the amount of light that the lens lets in. The lower the number (i.e. f2.8  - don’t ask me what the ‘f’ means, it’s pretty irrelevant), the more light it lets in. The higher the number (5.6 and above), the less light it is able to let through. All lenses can then be ‘stopped down’ which means that you can dial the aperture smaller (f8-f22 usually), but lenses are limited to a maximum aperture. The wider the maximum aperture, the higher the price tag. For example, a 300mm f5.6 will cost you as little as £100 - a 300mm f2.8 costs about £4000. What does this money buy? Well, the ability to shoot in lower light levels, mainly. The build quality is also better, they are weather-sealed and the glass is better quality, so your pictures look sharper. It is a huge price to pay for some subtle differences though, so start off with something affordable and upgrade when you’re ready...

 

Right, so the bodies... Nikon first (in a totally unbiased way)...

 

http://www.wexphotographic.com/buy-nikon-d3200-digital-slr-with-18-55mm-vr-lens/p1530655

 

http://www.wexphotographic.com/buy-nikon-d7100-digital-slr-camera-body/p1536185

 

You will notice that the first one comes with a lens, bundled in as a kit. This lens is very basic, but is enough to get you started. 

 

As for the bodies, what is the difference between them? The second one is built a bit better so will survive being bashed about. It autofocusses quicker, particularly in low light, and it can shoot frames a bit faster. If none of these matter to you, go with the cheaper one, spend the difference on lenses. Simple, huh?

 

LENSES:

 

So, it’s useful to have a range of focal lengths at your disposal, usually in two zoom lenses to start - a wide zoom and a telephoto zoom - check these two out...

 

http://www.wexphotographic.com/buy-nikon-16-85mm-f3-5-5-6g-vr-ed-af-s-dx-lens/p1025671

 

http://www.wexphotographic.com/buy-nikon-70-300mm-f4-5-5-6-g-af-s-vr-if-ed-lens/p1014102

 

This two lens kit will set you up nicely. Probably keep you going for a few years and still keep going as a backup when you come to upgrade. Sharp glass, image stabiliser on both (VR in Nikon - vibration reduction, useful in low light). A good, solid kit. If you buy a body and lens ‘kit’, then don’t bother with the wide one. Just get a telephoto zoom, the 70-300...

 

If your budget is a bit more limited, go for this:

 

http://www.wexphotographic.com/buy-sigma-70-300mm-f4-5-6-macro-dg-lens-nikon-fit/p1008570

 

Not quite as sharp, no stabiliser, but a good lens nonetheless. Really cheap... Sigma make lenses to fit both Canon and Nikon, so you can get this one to fit a Canon, too...

 

If you find that you have a whole heap of money lying around, buy one of the following and get me a pint with the change. This is an excellent lens, quite big and heavy, but not one you’ll need to upgrade any time soon. 

 

http://www.wexphotographic.com/buy-nikon-80-400mm-af-s-nikkor-f4-5-5-6g-ed-vr-lens/p1536507

 

And finally, this one is one of my favourites. It’s tiny, incredibly sharp and un-killable. Mine lives in my back pocket, it shoots in the dark and gives lovely photos every time. It falls into the same focal length range as the wide zoom, but is sooooo much better when it comes to image quality. I use this all the time when in markets because it looks rubbish and you won’t stand out, but you can shoot in dark back rooms and the photos are professional quality. Just buy one.

 

http://www.wexphotographic.com/buy-nikon-50mm-f1-8-g-af-s-lens/p1525420

 

SLRs - CANON

 

Ok, so on to Canon... as I said before, so similar to Nikon that it’s almost impossible to separate the two. So similar, in fact, that I’m not even going to caption these links... the above captions fit almost exactly...

 

BODIES:

 

http://www.wexphotographic.com/buy-canon-eos-700d-digital-slr-camera-with-18-55mm-is-stm-lens/p1536818

 

http://www.wexphotographic.com/buy-canon-eos-70d-digital-slr-camera-body/p1540518

 

LENSES:

 

http://www.wexphotographic.com/buy-canon-ef-s-18-135mm-f3-5-5-6-is-stm-lens/p1531368

 

http://www.wexphotographic.com/buy-canon-ef-70-300mm-f4-5-6-is-usm-lens/p1010309

 

http://www.wexphotographic.com/buy-sigma-70-300mm-f4-5-6-macro-dg-lens-canon-fit/p1008573

 

http://www.wexphotographic.com/buy-canon-ef-100-400mm-f4-5-5-6-l-is-usm-lens/p12857

 

http://www.wexphotographic.com/buy-canon-ef-50mm-f1-8-ii-lens/p12814

 

Ok, so that’s about it really. There are a whole load of other bits and pieces that I could ramble on about, but this will set you up for a solid start in the world of cameras. Two pieces I should probably mention are a memory card and a bag to put it all in... SLRs come with neither, and both are kind of essential. I’ve always used Sandisk memory cards, get a 32GB one that fits your camera and forget about it. I’ve never had one fail on me (yet) and if you fill 32GB on a day out, you’re shooting too much. Put your camera down every now and then and look around you more. It’s even in 3D! As for bags, Lowepro, Tamrac, Kata, Crumpler and Thinktank make solid ones, all of which I’ve tested to destruction. Get one that doesn’t look too much like a camera bag, unpick and colour in any logos, stick bits of duck tape to it and smear a bit of paint on it - generally make it look as rubbish as possible without damaging the structure and you’ll slip past the pickpockets...

 

So there you have it. Any specific questions, let me know. If you have a massive windfall land in your lap and want to spend £10000 on camera gear, please let me come and play... my email address is andrew@andrewwalmsleyphotography.com ...

 

On another note, I’m starting some photography tuition sessions at Harcourt arboretum, just south of Oxford, from the 18th January. I’m doing the first few sessions at a bit of a discounted price of £50 per person for 7 hours of tuition in a maximum group of 6 people - plenty of one-on-one time for all your questions. The main focus of the first session will be to get you out of shooting in auto, explaining shutter speed, aperture and ISO, but I’m happy to answer any questions you may have. Email me on the above address if you’re interested, one slot has already been filled and I’m going to advertise it widely from tomorrow. There will be more sessions though!

 

Happy snapping...