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Wildlife photography; camera, lens and film recommendations.

Giraffe silhouette © 2006 Wildlife Extra.

There are many pitfalls technically which the enthusiast new to this metier may well fall into. It is essential again that good research is done before allowing some glib sales person to talk you into an unsuitable package and mortgage to boot.  Alternativley, for those of you who don't want to spend £800-1000+ on equipment, and are happy with very good photos rather than absolute prize winners, see Wildlife photography for beginners, idiots and the bone idle.

Camera Body. If you are serious about wildlife it has to be an SLR, nothing else will do. The versatility is critical. Really the only brands worth looking at are Canon and Nikon. Exponents of both these major brands will argue about which is superior and although Nikon were a little slow out of their blocks concerning stabilised lenses, there is little to choose between them. It is always a mistake to purchase the cheapest model as the build quality is always poor. Always buy the body and lens separately, as the kit / package lenses that come with them are always poor with virtually no resell value.  

 

Hippo fight. © 2006 Wildlife Extra.
For digital users choose whether you want the full frame models which are newer but very good quality indeed or the 1.6 magnification variety. Whichever you choose it is the pixel count which is crucial and for really sharp images you should not be looking at anything less than 8m mega pixels. Cameras now have hundreds of features, but most photographers, even the top ones, only use a relatively small percentage of these. The most important features are the multi exposure, focusing point, depth of field preview button, predictive following focus and exposure over-ride. If your camera does not have any of these you should think of switching to another model.

Finally One last point, and an unpopular one -body doubles. Yes, one camera is never enough, not so much because you can have different set ups in two as the digital format has largely taken care of that, but should one go wrong, and this is an area that digital is not so robust, you will be finished.

 

TOP TIPS ON WHAT CAMERA EQUIPMENT TO USE.

  • If you have a zoom lens, with the possible exception of elephant or giraffe, it is likely that you will always be at the long end of it, so ask yourself ‘is a straightforward telephoto with a better optical quality from its quicker F stop a better option.’
  • Always better to buy a better quality shorter fast lens zoom or telephoto than a slower longer one.
  • Second hand is fine, don't be proud. Most shops offer warranties anyway and if looked after there is not much that can go wrong with a lens.
  • Both Canon and now Nikon have stabilised lenses, the IS and VR respectively. Your images will improve dramatically with one of these; if you cannot afford it save up. The second hand market is virtually redundant for these lenses which work on both film and digital cameras. They are probably the biggest single advance in technology in the last ten years.
  • Support. Although a monopod and certainly tripod is a fantastic way of ensuring stability often they are completely unsuitable to photographing wildlife, especially if used in a vehicle. Bean bags are the answer, carry it empty and fill with rice, chick peas or whatever is available.

 

  Lenses. The most important item. This is the tool which gives the sharpness, the clarity and the colour. It is the piece of kit than can transform a well composed photo into an award winner, so this is where to spend your money. Generally every photographer wants more mm; a 300mm is seldom enough, but then again if it is birds you are after neither is a 400mm.  
Film. Film is still available despite Agfa's decision to stop production. For some yet to be explained reason Fuji have halted production of the fabled Velvia 50 slide film, but brought out two replacements in the last three years, and anyway they are still way ahead of the competition in both slide and print. If you are still taking in this format remember to check carefully the speed rating on the film. It is no use having a great lens then putting fast film through it when the bright conditions dictate the opposite. Although not gospel a 100 film is four times sharper than a 400, and more importantly unless it is something very special indeed you must question why you are even photographing in poorly lit conditions. Obviously a digital camera does not have these problems.

Cleaning. Photography gear can almost become part of your anatomy, when you think of Lanting, Wolfe, Shah and Scott you automatically think of them with cameras around their neck. Like parts of the anatomy, they need to be looked after. The crucial tool for the outside of the camera is an air blower brush, however they are not suitable for the inside around the sensor or shutter curtain. A small brush with hairs is the job here. A frequent exercise like this is much more effective than a yearly spring clean.

Remember it is fun, it is satisfying but it can be supremely frustrating, get out there.