Which brand of dslr should I buy and how much should I spend?
Why does it matter if I have a crop sensor or not?
Full frame sensors will perform better at higher ISO settings
Landscape photographers love them because they can get the full wide angle focal length out of a non-full frame sensor lens.
Full frame sensors will yield a brighter scene when you look through your viewfinder
Full frame sensors will create a more shallow depth of field than a crop sensor
Feature for features being equal a crop sensor body costs less
Wildlife photographers tend to (though not all) opt for crop sensor bodies because it gives your long lenses more effective focal length (trust me on this one as well).
Crop sensor bodies will fit a broader range of lenses than a full frame sensor body
What is the best lens for bird and wildlife photography?
Choosing the right equipment, what is right for you?
By: David Hemmings Pro Nature Photographer
When I teach my beginner bird and wildlife nature photography classes by far one of the most common discussions always ends up being centered on equipment requirements and needs. It can indeed be a very daunting task when looking at all the choices out there for dslr’s (digital single lens reflex) and their interchangeable lens systems. What about zoom lenses compared to fixed focal length lenses? What about the glass itself and the lens speed? How much focal length do I need? What the heck is a crop sensor and how does that affect my focal length? What does VR and IS mean and do I have to have it?
If you have been looking to make a purchase of new equipment and upgrading from your point and shoot or all in one to a dslr with different lenses then this is what you are likely facing to make decisions. I am going to attempt to put this into an organized and easy to understand layout in this article for you.
The answer to this question is going to depend on a few personal factors number one likely being budget restrictions. First, let me tell you that you really can’t go wrong with any of the brands. Canon and Nikon are by far the most popular but manufactures such as Sony, Sigma and Pentax also make great camera bodies. There will be three distinct levels of price ranges starting with what is commonly labeled as consumer models. These are usually entry level camera bodies capable of doing most of what the average person is going to do with it very well. They all have more than enough megapixels so do not get hung up in that game! A lot of what I shot in my early years was published and printed from an 8 megapixel body. They all have good quality sensors and are capable of producing high quality image files providing you know how to expose properly. These entry level camera bodies will start around the eight or nine hundred dollar range and go up to as much as a couple of grand or so.
Then we have then level referred to as the “prosumer” class. These bodies will have more features, be capable of shooting faster frames per second, will often have faster and more accurate auto focus systems and will likely be a big step up in build quality and component materials. They can range in price anywhere from a couple of grand to about 3800 bucks. Starting to go “ouch” yet?
Next we have the professional, high end camera bodies. They are built to last with high quality everything and should have the top ratings for the latest capabilities of technology built into them. Super-fast af systems, unreal frames per second rates and built to withstand the rigors of constant use, abuse and travel. All of this comes at a cost, usually 5k plus. Yikes.
When dslr’s first came out most, if not all, the sensors were quite a bit smaller than the original film 35mm format. Canon was the first to introduce a “full frame” digital sensor and then anything not full frame was then called a “crop sensor”. The full frame as it is now called, is equivalent to the 35mm sensor. So what is the difference and why should it matter to you?
They each have their own set of advantages and drawbacks over the other, not necessarily better, just differences. Here are a few of the full frame advantages:
I could explain all of this technically, but trust me on this for now.
Let’s look at the advantages of a crop sensor body:
So, there you have it, the standard differences and a cost, the choice is really up to you. In regards to crop or full frame sensors, I recommend that if you are most interested in bird and wildlife photography, purchase a crop sensor body.
In my opinion, I do not think that there is any one lens that will do it all in bird and wildlife photography. Each different lens has its own unique advantages over another type of lens. Again, as with the camera bodies, there is entry level consumer lenses, prosumer or mid-range lenses and higher end professional lenses. Let me cut right to the chase here. Buy the best glass you can afford! The lens is likely a more important piece of photography gear than your camera body. Believe me, there is good glass and not so good glass.
First though, let’s look at focal length requirements and zoom over fixed length lenses. I always recommend to my students that you should be looking at a minimum of 300mm focal length if you are going to be doing bird and wildlife photography. You will more often than not find yourself wishing you had more focal length than less, believe me. For this reason, the crop sensor camera body is a bonus. Let’s look at how this works quickly. If you put a 300mm lens on a 1.5 crop sensor you are actually getting the effective focal length from that lens as 450mm. You can see how this is an advantage to the bird photographer over a full frame sensor.
So know you know how much focal length you need as a minimum. Now do you want a fixed focal length lens or a zoom lens? Quite simply both are good for different reasons. A zoom lens gives you the luxury of having different focal lengths at your fingertips without having to re-position yourself in relationship to your subject being closer or farther. This is great except that you will rarely use anything closer than 300mm. A prime, fixed focal length lens gives you just one focal length but it does some things better such as, and this can be very important in wildlife photography, focusing faster in lower light conditions. It will also likely give you a better quality image file than a zoom lens, but not in all cases. In addition a 400mm fixed focal length lens will weigh less than its comparable 100-400 or 80-400 zoom counterpart.
Getting back to costs, if you plan on spending a lot of time doing photography and it is a passion for you, open up your wallet for a piece of really good glass. They hold their value extremely well, unlike camera bodies and they should last you a lifetime. The pro lenses are made to resist bad weather and being knocked about from prolonged use and travelling.
If money is no object, then you could have a look at the 500, 600 and 800mm lens category
Oh yeah, don’t forget a good carbon fiber tripod to support your gear when not hand holding it.So there you have my two cents worth on the topic of what equipment to buy when starting out in bird and wildlife photography. I hope that this helps to clear up a bit of the mystery.
If you have any questions feel free to write to me at [email protected]
Written by: David Hemmings. David owns and operates Natures Photo Adventures and has been published by National Geographic and many other magazines and books.