gear

What Gears do I Use to Start Wildlife Photography? Part 1: Camera by Yuan Yue

I started photography about a decade ago as a hobbyist, but just about one year ago I kind of want to learn how to make really good images, and I took wildlife as my niche. In this article, I am going to talk about what gears I use to get started and my rationale for choosing gears.

There is always a theory about photography and videography: GEARS DO NOT MATTER. I partially agree with that, but if we are talking about wildlife photography in particular, not photography in general, I have to say: GEARS DO MATTER! The reason is very simple: you can't be just 10 feet away from a lion in Maasai Mara and take a picture of the lion, right? 8 out of 10 times, you just could not get close enough.

So we need special gears for wildlife photography, from camera bodies to lenses and accessories. But the most critical gear in wildlife photography is the telephoto lens, I believe. Like this image, I am about 100 feet away from these deer but it looks like I am very close to them. 

Two white-tailed deer in Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee.

Two white-tailed deer in Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee.

My suggestion is, if you want to be a "real" wildlife photographer, consider invest some money for some good quality gears to get started. I am not saying you need to buy most expensive cameras and lenses, not at all. And you don't have to buy brand new ones, used ones are good enough to start. There are tons of used gears on eBay. Take me as an example, 80% or more of my gears are used from eBay, no hassle at all (But you need to know how to choose used gears.)

General rule: To use a telephoto lens, a camera that can change lenses is preferable, that means we need a DSLR or a mirrorless. However, there are still several good superzoom point-and-shoot camera in the market, like the crazy Nikon COOLPIX P1000, you can use the link to check it out.

Nikon COOLPIX P1000

Nikon COOLPIX P1000

Telephoto lens, at least 200mm focal length is just enough. That means you can be in a reasonable (or safe) distance from wildlife and take pictures of them, in which the animals can be seen as primary subjects in the picture.

Let me explain what I have used for my wildlife photography since I started.

Camera:

Although some super zoom small camera can do a great job, I still prefer traditional DSLR, not just because the image quality, but also because of its versatility, I can use different lenses for different purposes such as landscape, portraits, etc.

I use Canon, most of the time. I have been using 40D for several years as my general camera, last year I upgraded to Canon 80D as my primary camera because I wanted to do photos as well as YouTube videos.

Canon EOS 80D

Canon EOS 80D

Here are some pictures that I took with 80D.

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80D is an amazing camera, very easy to use, and if you buy a used one, it is cheaper than a brand new iPhone 8. The auto-focus is great, and you have the articulating screen, which is awesome for vlog videos. 

More importantly, as an APS-C sensor camera, it can give you an extra focal length compare to those expensive full-frame cameras. For Canon, you need to multiply the focal length of your lens by 1.6. For example, if you have a 70-200mm lens mounted on 80D, your actual focal length become 320mm, 120mm more for free! 

And for the most part, it is not easy to see the difference in image quality between APS-C and full frame.

So, as a new wildlife photographer, I really recommend Canon 80D, it's more durable than cheaper ones and can give you a reasonably good image quality if you use good lenses. You can try to shoot several times to see if you love wildlife photography or not. At least, you can sell the camera very easily online without losing too much money.

But because I am still producing documentaries, I am picky about image quality these days, so I finally upgraded 80D to full-frame 5D Mark IV. It is a little bit expensive, but I know it can hold up for a long time.

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

I am satisfied with the image quality, I know it will be great. And it is so easy to work with, just as 80D. It is heavy, but I think it is a good thing for me because that means I need to work out more to carry the camera. And I really like that solid feel when I hold it. 

The other thing that I consider important is the durability. As a wildlife photographer, you may need to go to many unusual places to get pictures that you want, that means you may have dirt around, water, rain, or other stuff. Hot weather, cold weather (Polar Bears!) You don't want your camera to die when you are working. The build quality and weather-seal function of 5D Mark IV is fantastic, I assume it can work in some of the most extreme weather conditions. I'll find out and do a following-up post.

Here are some pictures that I took with 5D Mark IV.

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I need to say that I still need more time to get along with this camera because there are so many things going on in the camera, but I can see its potential to be a workhorse in wildlife photography.

Mirrorless camera is getting more and more popular these days, even Nikon just teased their full-frame mirrorless system recently. But for some reason, I tried some Sony camera several times, they just don't work for me, its too small to handle and not very durable as far as I see (dead in a hot day.)

Feel free to check out all the gears that I mentioned above by using links down below:

Canon 80D

Canon 5D Mark IV

Nikon P1000

In the next article, let's talk about lenses.

DISCLAIMER: The links in this article are affiliate links. I do get a little bit of commission if you buy products via those links. I am not sponsored by any of those brands that I mentioned in this article.