Getting in to nature photography...

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by Smileyguy, Apr 3, 2007.

  1. Smileyguy macrumors 6502

    Nov 29, 2004
    Hi everyone,

    I'm currently working as a freelance journalist, covering a lot of environmental and nature issues. Whenever I'm writing features, editors are always asking me if I can source some good photos to go along with the article, which can often be difficult to do. Because of this, I'm now strongly considering branching out and adding photography to my repertoire. I know it's not something I can learn overnight, but I've always had a reasonable understanding of the basics, I just need to get a good camera and get practising.

    So, my question to the forum is: Can anyone recommend a good digital camera for publishing quality outdoor/nature photography? My budget is quite tight, but from what I've seen in some quick browsing I should be able to find something. I'd be thrilled if I could keep under $600 for the main body, less would be great. I'm perfectly happy to go secondhand, one camera I've already looked at is the Canon 10D.

    So if anyone does have any suggestions, I'd be really grateful to hear them.


  2. superted666 Guest


    Oct 17, 2005
    Not sure about US prices but you could probably pick up something like a nikion d200 for that second hand in the US.

    Allthough not a owner i have used one and i was very impressed!

    5fps would help you get the perfect shot if the animal was in motion too.
  3. Smileyguy thread starter macrumors 6502

    Nov 29, 2004
    Thanks for the tip. I'm actually in Ireland so I'll probably be dealing in euros but just used dollars because most people on the forum are in the US, I think.
  4. compuwar macrumors 601


    Oct 5, 2006
    Northern/Central VA
    While you could likely find a used S2, Digital Rebel, D70s or the like around that price, good lenses for wildlife are going to cost a lot, starting at about twice that, and going up from there. Wildlife doesn't let you get close, that means another $600-800 of support for long lenses, and expensive long glass. Then wildlife is most active around dawn and dusk, necessitating fast lenses, which aren't cheap if they don't just say "50mm" on the barrel.

    The cheapest decent lens if you're including non-mammalian wildlife is probably the Sigma 50-500mm. It's about $1000 new, but it's really slow and you're only going to be getting shots in daylight. It's not all that heavy though, so you could get away with ~$400 of support that'd hold up in the field, or ~$150 that'd last maybe the first season.

    Assuming you want the ability to do full-bleed periodical pages, and you want to be able to do it well, you're probably looking at ~$2200 to start with reasonable gear that'll hold up in the field. If you've got a picky photo editor, then it'll go up from there.

    Truthfully, you're probably better off just getting stock images to go with your stories unless you really *want* to be a photographer. Sitting around in the cold, getting ready to nail that shot when some old codger out for a walk comes and spooks the thing you've been set up with for 40 minutes waiting for the right light isn't for the casual shooter.
  5. ChrisA macrumors G4

    Jan 5, 2006
    Redondo Beach, California
    All beginners do the same thing: they go shopping for a camera body first. Which body you buy absolutely does not mater. For your type of photography the BIG TICKET item is the lens(es). Expect to pay a lot more for the stuff that connects to the body then for the body itself So buy a Nikon D200 or a Canon. But either way you will need a big f/2.8 zoom and a good tripod and ball head, a macro lens and some kind of wide angle lens too. Some kind of travel case and backpack. Software and computer for processing and cataloging The total price is such that the body is the minor component.

    Sorry but you just happened to select THE most expensive photographic genres. Even more expensive in terms of equipment costs and your time then sports. In nature photography to get publishable work you have to (1) shot in the "right" light, so you wait for the light and (2) typically capture some animal behavior of interest, so you wait for that too. And then as in any visual art form composition and color matters. At least if shooting a football game you know when, where and what to aim your $1,800 lens at In nature it's up to you to find the subject.

    $600 is not a realistic budget if the goal is professional quality nature photography.

    You are a writer. Let's say I ask you what kind of word processor I should get so I can become a professional witter too. Silly question isn't. especially after reading the above.

    If you want to "source images" why not learn about stock photo agencies and become a kind of "broker" where you do a search and re-sell at a slight markup or just offer to find then for an hourly fee. Then you become an editor not a photographer. Later as your skill inprove you can show some of your work.
  6. Westside guy macrumors 603

    Westside guy

    Oct 15, 2003
    The soggy side of the Pacific NW
    Hmm... I'm not sure he's thinking "wildlife", since he said "outdoor/nature". That'd be more wide-angle lenses, and wide aperture (a "fast" lens) isn't as big a deal for those sorts of shots. But still - the Nikon 12-24mm f/4 is $900 (Canon's got a 10-22mm that's supposed to be very good as well), plus the cost of a D80 (or 400D), and at least one decent general-purpose lens... probably still gonna be around $2000, if you want new equipment. Less for used, obviously.

    So I guess the first order of business is to just define what you meant by outdoor/nature. :D

    I think, regardless, that compuwar is spot-on. If you have a hankering to learn photography, then go for it - but otherwise check out the various stock photo resources. Actually check out the stock photos regardless, since you won't be generating publication-quality photos for a while.
  7. compuwar macrumors 601


    Oct 5, 2006
    Northern/Central VA
    You may be right, and that'd mean you could go with about a $2000 lens budget instead of ~$8000 at the high end, but I disagree about fast lenses not being necessary. If you really want to do environmental shots, and have them have punch you need storms, clouds, sunrises and sunsets where good fast lenses will sometimes become necessary to not get a blob of movement where you want detail. It actually requires slightly more dedication than wildlife, lots of days getting up, chasing bad weather and still not having the light quite right. Good landscape photography isn't easy because it's quite teadious. It's actually more difficult on digital SLRs than on an old view camera. With wildlife you can do pretty well with ~100 days/yr in the field if you're not doing it full-time. With landscapes, if you're not doing ~250 days a year, you're likely not getting the good shots.

    Ireland's got great landscapes, but they're shot enough by professionals that you really want punchy, sharp and different. I wouldn't want to do predominately landscapes without at least MF in Ireland unless I had a really decent lens selection and some very specific goals.
  8. Smileyguy thread starter macrumors 6502

    Nov 29, 2004
    Thanks for all the advice guys, it's really appreciated. When I first started to really consider learning photography properly, I sort of thought my budget might not be enough to do nature stuff seriously (by nature, I sort of mean a mixture of landscape/wildlife/and maybe some environmental photojournalism).

    Because I probably can't afford what I'd need to that seriously, I'll ask a different question. Let's say I want to get into amateur photography seriously, and buy a camera that will be a step on the ladder before I get some "real" kit, and will allow me to play around with aperture, exposure and the like and learn as much as I can, and still allow me to take high quality pics (a good zoom, say x10, would be important too). What would people recommend then?

    I had a Canon Powershot G2 before and I really liked it, but I ended up losing it. I took some really lovely shots with it. Without wanting to disrespect the titles I write for, I think that often decent quality shots to accompany pieces will be enough to satisfy some of their needs, it doesn't need to be professional, Nat Geo standard, up-close nature/action photography.

    I suspect there are loads of similar threads for this question, so I'll do a search, but to reiterate, my new criteria are:

    - Camera for very enthusiastic and serious amateur
    - Something that will be good for learning the basics of how more professional cameras work and for getting experience in photography
    - Something will work okay with outdoors/nature/wildlife. A good zoom function would be important.
    - Something will produce sharp photos that print well.

    The G2 (I may be mixed up on the model, but I think it was a G2) seemed to fulfill these needs quite well. Could anyone make a suggestion of a more current model? As my needs are dropping, my budget will too. I remember getting the G2 for under $400 I think - is this price range practical this time around?
  9. compuwar macrumors 601


    Oct 5, 2006
    Northern/Central VA
    A- Any 6MP and up DSLR will fit the bill. Personally, I'd stay with a Canon or Nikon lens mount if you want to be able to bring lenses forward and may want a pro body at some point. You'll have more pro body choices with those two than any third party and more third party lens choices. That means any reasonably recent Canon, Nikon or Fuji body. The low end is the Nikon D40x or a used Fuji S2Pro.

    B- See A above.

    C- That's lens-dependent, and something that you can play with depending on available light and distance.

    D. See A above for up to 8x10 as tack sharp and 11x14 or over if printed well.

    Note that 6MP cameras won't get editorial play in a lot of publications simply due to editors not wanting a deluge of images from amateurs. If you're already in, that may not be as much of a factor.

    About the lowest entry that'll get you anywhere cool is a D40x, 300mm f/4 AFS, Benro C-228, Acratech UBHand a QR plate or two.

    That looks like this:

    Benro: 199.95
    Original Acratech w/LH rubber knobs: 289.95
    New (gray) 300: 949.95
    D40x kit with 18-55mm: 799.95
    2x arca swiss plates: ~90

    You should be able to save 200-250 getting the 300mm AFS used, but with the D40 you have to get AFS lenses, so older EDIF lenses aren't going to work (too bad, they're cheaper by a lot.)

    The EOS Rebel 400D is $20 cheaper with their 18-55 (don't know how that lens compares though) but a grey 300/4 is $70 more.

    You could start with either body/kit combo and see how things go, I'd get the tripod and head sooner rather than later if you're going to shoot for publication though. You can spend a lot less on a tripod, but it's not likely to last or support longer glass well. You can spend a lot less on a head, but it's not likely to last or support longer glass well. I don't have direct experience with that tripod, but it seems to be about the best price/construction carbon fiber pod around, and CF is good for cold, vibration and weight without really giving up stability- all important in the field.
  10. Lovesong macrumors 65816


    Sep 15, 2006
    Stuck beween a rock and a hard place
    I think he means that he'd rather get a prosumer P&S, rather than a low-end dSLR.

    You should have a look on That site has pretty much most cameras that you would consider. Canon has the Powershot G7 and the S3 IS, both of which are suposed to be excellent. Check out Lumix/Panasonic. They use some really nice lenses (made by Leica)- I had an FZ-20 about a year ago, which was a 12x zoom, and took some nice images, when the ISO was below 400. I think their new one is the FZ-50.
    Both Olympus and Sony have a couple of new cameras that you might be interested in- Olympus's SP-550UZ, and the DSC-H9.

    These cameras will produce great images, given your needs, and will not break bank (~$500). They will allow you to take wildlife and landscape photographs, and will help you learn a bit about photography given their manual control options.
  11. srf4real macrumors 68040


    Jul 25, 2006
    paradise beach FL
    I got the Lumix fz50 six months ago and have already taken alot of excellent pictures with it. It's not in the same league with the dslr but many shots I've taken couldn't have been done any better with $8,000 equipment. For a novice with around $600 it has been a dream come true! :)

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