I have been asked a number of times, advice on “which camera is best for game shooting and/or wildlife photography?”
It’s come up enough times now that I thought I should add it to the blog in case I get asked again. However it’s not an easy question to answer – in fact impossible to give you a definitive answer right here, and I’ll tell you why:
- I don’t know precisely what you want to photograph.
- I don’t know to what level you are taking your photography.
- I have no idea of your budget.
- I don’t how much gear, or how little gear, you are prepared to walk around with.
General Camera Advice
The first piece of advice I will always give is simply this:
“The best camera is the one you have with you.”
This may seem an odd thing to say, but it is simply true – a camera may be all singing and dancing, but if it’s so big you can’t be bothered to take it out with you, then it’s pointless! A camera in a bag with 5 lenses sat in your study at home won’t take any good pictures, the little camera that is perhaps always in the chest pocket of your shooting coat, in that situation, is going to take a far better picture!
There is always a compromise to pay, whether it be cost, size, weight, convenience, weatherproofing, you just need to decide on what compromises you are willing to make, for your particular circumstances.
Without delving into your personal circumstances I can’t advise on that, but I can advise on the compromises themselves, and what effect they will have. Then, hopefully you can make your own decision, well advised.
Before we start, here are some important things to remember, specific to game shooting photography:
- It is generally action photography, the subjects are moving. You will be looking to achieve a shutter speed of at least 1/125th of a second (to freeze the action) in quite often fading lighting conditions. Look for a good ISO range (sensitivity), and a good maximum aperture on the lens (f number).
- It will quite often be very wet, to keep shooting in all conditions you will need the camera, and lens, to have some weather resistance.
- You may not want to worry too much about the camera when climbing on and off trailers or over fences, look for a well constructed camera.
Pocket compacts: best ones seem to come from the usual suspects – Canon, Lumix, Nikon, Olympus. These can be tucked in the pocket of any shooting coat and will always be with you, so no excuses. They do suffer from “shutter lag” – that delay between pressing the button and the picture being taken. If you are trying to catch an action moment, or a reactive shot, these will struggle. The lenses and the sensors are small so will struggle in low light.
Mirrorless Compacts: a bit bigger, somewhere between a full DSLR and a compact, but might still fit in a shooting jacket cartridge pocket (just). Will give you a screen (sometimes moveable) and perhaps a digital viewfinder. Best offerings are to be found in the Olympus OM-D range, Fujifilm X series, and Lumix G/GH. These give you more control, faster response than compacts and interchangeable lenses. Will help with the action shots, perhaps not quite giving you the ultimate level of control, but not far off.
Digital SLRs (DSLRs): the ultimate choice, but inevitably larger, you’ll need a carry case of some description. These will give you an optical viewfinder, with perhaps live view on a screen as well. They are the best option for action shots, giving you immediate shutter response, and usually some very rapid continuous shooting – great if you are looking to capture shot stream, the kill etc. Best offerings as always from Nikon or Canon. Who are best? Nikon and Canon are on a par, it comes down to whoever makes the camera you are most comfortable with!!
It’s all in the glass …
Much wildlife photography will demand extremely long focal length lenses ie 500-600mm, from a fixed position in hiding. In which case you will need to be looking at a digital SLR and I would say “concentrate on the glass”. By this I mean invest in the best possible glass that you can, and utilise a competent camera body, new or second hand on the back of that.
Forget megapixels, it is the quality of the glass that counts so any camera 12mp or above with the best possible glass will give you great results.
So What’s In My Bag?
Well, I’m a working professional, so the compromise I made was weight and bulk. As I am relying on my cameras as my “tools of the trade” I don’t need to be worrying about them under even the worst possible conditions. (Close inspection of the images to the left here will show you that I am in no way prissy or overly protective of the equipment.) So I need my equipment to be tough enough to stand up to the often rough and tumble world that I work in, to be resistant to the worst possible weather conditions that the British countryside can throw in my direction, I need it to keep working in those conditions reliably all day, and I need it to continue to work when the light begins to fade at the end of the day. So to that end I employ a Nikon D4 as my principle body, and a Nikon D700 to back that up. Both cameras are built exceptionally well, with aluminium chassis, and weatherproof seals to protect the electronics. They both employ exceptional full frame sensors that produce the best quality images at extremely high ISO values. Both are brilliant workhorses.
In terms of “glass” I have two principal lenses – a Sigma 24-105mm f4 and a Nikon 70-200 that I usually mate up with a 1.4x convertor. Both lenses are exceptionally sharp, both are weather sealed, and both have image stabilisation if I need it. As I have recommended above, these were a major investment – “invest in glass”. The glass has to be the best you can afford.
All of this gear comes at a price …. they are HEAVY!! If you see me on a game shoot, I will have both cameras attached to me using a double harness device from Black Rapid. This takes away some of the “wear and tear” on my arms when swinging these around all day.
I am also trialling a new addition to my bag on game shoots – my Fuji XT-1. Much lighter and more compact than my Nikons, this little beauty was purchased as a “travel camera”. However, the results have staggered me, and if the Fuji produces the results required on a game shoot, I may well be looking at a drastic downsizing of the gear.
As I say, it’s all about compromises, and what compromises you are willing to make. Even I am now considering whether I am making too many compromises myself on size and weight. The Nikons have contributed to my long standing tennis elbow and aggravate it constantly, so perhaps compromising my health is one step too far … and perhaps a new Fuji setup is the answer … Watch This Space!!