“What is the best camera for landscape and wildlife photography?”

This comes from a comment I made to an article on John Enman’s blog.  He had been asked by someone “What is the best camera for outdoor and wildlife photography?”  That stated me thinking.  I read “outdoor” as “landscape” but that makes little difference.

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

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Near Boolcoomatta Station, South Australia

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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?

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White-tailed Sea Eagle, Hokkaido, Japan

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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.

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Assynt, Northern Scotland

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You should in general shoot landscapes 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.

For wildlife, though, you are likely to use high shutter speeds and often need to shoot 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 pack in long walks in my 30s. These days I would probably keep that to 16 kilos and my light pack (mirrorless equipment) is probably about 8 kilos. 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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4 comments on ““What is the best camera for landscape and wildlife photography?”

  1. Brian Rope says:

    Good piece Murray.

    Like

  2. enmanscamera says:

    This is an enjoyable article. I like that you prefaced it with, “A better place to start is..” That put the lecture in your court. Unlike mine that was pretty much a response.
    Well written and well worth any photographer taking the time to read and ponder

    Like

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