Choose carefully and sleep with it
So you want to photograph birds and animals, but the point-and-shoot isn’t delivering the goods. Surprise, surprise!
I’ve lost count of the number of times people see me out and about with one of my big lenses and immediately think I can help them get better pictures.
They’ve frequently got a perfectly respectable compact camera, probably bought because the guy in the shop said the built-in 30 x zoom will ‘get you out there’ over 700 mm. But they don’t cut the mustard as a wildlife kit.
Most people buy this stuff in the fond hope that they literally just have to ‘point and shoot’ at whatever takes their fancy, and in any conditions. No need to read the instructions, just stick it on auto and Bob’s your uncle.
Learning hard way
As somebody who specialises in learning the hard way, I can say with confidence that the answer for would-be wildlife shooters lies within the following four bullet points (which, to save time, I should get printed off as a hand-out):
• If you want to shoot birds and wildlife, don’t buy low-end gear because disappointment will soon follow
• Avoid mirrorless cameras, the auto-focus is usually too slow
• Get a DSLR with good auto focus capability
• Spend more on a good lens and less on the camera itself.
Some entry level kit suggestions (remembering I’m a Canon tragic):
• Good value/performance camera bodies suitable for wildlife include: Canon EOS 700D (formerly the Rebel T5i) and the EOS 60D, or perhaps the Nikon D3300 and D5300. I’ve also heard good reports about the Pentax K-50 and KSI
• The Canon and Nikon suggestions (above) have 9-11 point AF and deliver around 18MP files – that’s plenty
• On the lens front, a zoom offers the best entry value/reach and Canon, Nikon and Tamron all have excellent 70-300 mm ‘glass’ at f/4-5.6, with image stabilisation at well under $1000.
• If you want to do the job properly, I would recommend the Canon 7D Mk II body with the EF 100-400 f/4.5-5.6 L IS II USM. It is one of my favourite combinations and could change your wildlife photography forever.
Best advice of all
And now for the best advice of all: think of your kit as a sniper thinks of his rifle. Get to know it intimately, sleep with it if necessary and use it at every opportunity.
Or as a famous amateur golfer who’d just won his national championship for the umpteenth time told a young reporter who asked for his secret to success: ‘The more I practice the better I seem to get.’
©Tony Neilson May 2017
(Note: We are not sponsored or supported by any camera manufacturers.)