Questions about starting to take wildlife photos

March 21, 2011 Wildlife Photography  One comment

I get asked quite a bit what type of camera and lenses should someone buy for wildlife photography.  Let me tell you, it’s NOT the  high dollar DSLR’s that will take great photos, it’s YOU.  My first DSLR was the Canon Digital Rebel (300D) the first affordable DSLR Canon came out with back in the 90’s.  That camera, to this day takes GREAT photos.  Currently my brother has it, I lent it to him with some lenses and he’s taking great shots with it.

Here’s a photo I took with the Digital Rebel and the old kit lens, the 18-55mm.  It’s a long exposure of 30 seconds and I had the camera on my tripod.

Bridge - Moore Haven, FL

And one more with the Digital Rebel:

Bronc Rider

If you’re considering moving up from a point and shoot into something more advanced, but aren’t sure if you’re really going to go gung-ho with the DSLR, definitely consider buying a used one on Ebay…check out the old Digital Rebel, the XTi, etc.  Once you get hooked, and learn the settings and how to shoot in manual then go to one of the newer camera bodies.

As for lenses, it just depends on what you want to shoot.  If you’re going for birds, I really think you need at least a 300mm lens.  When it comes to lenses, you do get what you pay for.  I highly recommend the L series lenses from Canon…but if you can’t afford those, try to get something as close to it in the 300mm range that you can.   A couple of options that will keep you around the $1500 range for a lens is the Canon 70-200mm f4/L non-IS lens and the 1.4x teleconverter (you can add and remove the teleconverter depending on how close or far away your subject is) or the Canon 100-400mm f4/5.6 USM IS L, which is what I shoot with.

If the camera body you have is still good and mechanically sound, I suggest you don’t spend the money to upgrade to a new body, spend the money on your lenses.  The lenses will last for years, through all kinds of new camera bodies that Canon comes out with.  Get your good lenses now and save up later if you want a newer camera body.  I also suggest keeping the older camera body, even if you get a new one.  It’s always nice to have two camera bodies so that you can put your zoom lens on one and a macro or landscape lens on the other.  There’s nothing worse than changing lenses in the field and finally seeing that one bird you’d been looking to photograph and you’ve got the wrong lens on your camera.  Trust me.

Now, not to say that the less expensive Tamron and Sigma lenses are bad.  Quite the opposite.  I used to have a 70-300mm Sigma zoom that also had a macro mode.  It did really well for being under $200.  What I have found with the cheaper lenses is you usually have more bad shots than good, where with the better quality lenses you’ll have more good than bad images if you’re familiar with your camera and photography.  Also, if you’re going to go with a cheaper lens, you really need to shoot in manual mode…you can control so much that way and guarantee better images.  The cheaper lenses do tend to focus slower, and you really want the fastest focusing lens you can afford when you’re shooting wildlife.

This was shot with the super cheap Sigma 70-300 1:4/5:6 which runs just under $200, in the macro mode:

Lubber Munchin' On Dollarweed

Now, Sigma DOES make some pretty darn good lenses these days.  When I went out to New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado a couple years ago, I rented the Sigma 10-20mm wide angle, that thing did a phenomenal job!

Virgin River, Zion National Park

Don’t dis the kit lenses.  When you go looking to buy a camera body, they usually offer two options.  Camera body only or the camera body and one lens.  I’ve kept the original 18-55mm kit lens that came with my digital rebel and still use it to this day.  It makes an excellent landscape lens.  I also took that out west a couple years ago and it was the one I ended up using in Upper Antelope Canyon in Page, Arizona.  I took this shot hand-held (no tripod) with that lens.


So, when you go looking to buy a camera…and you need lenses, check out which ones come with the camera you’re  looking at, you might actually like it.

There are some other good cheap options.  If you’re considering getting a macro lens, but aren’t sure if you’re going to stick with macro photography.  Try a screw on filter.  They sell those really cheap on Ebay, you just need to get one that’s the correct size to fit on the lens you’re going to put it on.

This was taken with the digital rebel, the 18-55mm kit lens, and a screw on bower macro filter.  I think I paid maybe $20 for the filter?

Teeny Tiny Spider - Macro

Of course, I got hooked on macro photography and purchased the Canon 100mm f2.8 macro, here’s a shot with that lens:

Hang In There

Happy shooting!

One comment to Questions about starting to take wildlife photos

  • Kristi Hines not found  says:

    Thanks for the lens tips. I might have to start with the filters for macro – the shot of the little spider looking guy is pretty amazing!

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