Undoubtedly there are some wildlife photography subjects where the camera and lens really does matter. For example you are going to struggle to capture grey seals on a sand bank from a bobbing boat at dawn with just your iPhone. Thankfully you are unlikely to be in that position without planning to be there and if you have a passion for wildlife photography then you will probably have begged stolen or borrowed the best equipment you can for what may be a once in a lifetime opportunity.
As a beginner to wildlife photography I am starting to formulate my own opinions on what the best camera and have come to a couple of conclusions;
1. There is no best camera.
2. Our eyes, ears and brain are far better than the latest 400mm f2.8 lens.
There is no best camera, it is however essential that you always have a camera with you. The number of cameras in our house is pretty phenomenal. OK I’m a keen photographer and own a DSLR plus a couple of more portable cameras, not excessive. Then my wife has a camera, again not surprising. We each have our phones which have pretty capable cameras on them, then there’s the old phones lying in the bottom of a drawer somewhere. Finally scraping the barrel a bit we have a laptop each which has a camera. All told there are over 10 cameras in our house and that doesn’t include the vintage film camera at the back of the cupboard.
So what am I trying to say here? Well there really is no excuse for not having a camera on you, and that means the best camera for wildlife photography is the camera you have on you, as soon as I started thinking like this my photography started to seriously improve.
Going out to walk the dog I make sure I have my favourite point and shoot camera on me. You never know when the photo opportunity may arise from ducklings on the pond at the local park to an unusual wild flower growing out of a crack in the pavement.
Cycling into work I will either carry my point and shoot in my pocket or put the DSLR in my backpack. Often the tool I am carrying is not necessarily a perfect fit for the opportunity that presents itself, but a picture of a fox in the distance that tells me what direction the fox was heading in and the time of day is a seriously valuable tool to getting a better shot of the same fox tomorrow.
Our eyes,ears and brain are far better than the latest 400mm f2.8 lens, don’t get me wrong a quality piece of glass is a thing of beauty and in some circumstances may be essential to capturing the images you are after. Keeping your eyes open and your brain engaged can be far more effective than a lens the price of a small car. Whenever I am outside I keep my eyes open for wildlife, a rustling in the leaves whilst I am sitting in a pub garden may be an interesting beetle foraging for his dinner. Strange calls in the evening could be a clue as to the activity of the local foxes. Using your brain to connect these clues together and you can slowly form a detailed picture of the wildlife in your area. So when the opportunity comes to visit the same pub you can ensure that you have some macro kit in your backpack just in case those beetles are still around. Or you can use a spare hour in the evening to go fox stalking in your local park.
The picture at the top of the page is a combination of both of these opinions put into practice. I was cycling home from work on the Blackwater Valley path near Camberley (UK) and decided to stop next to the river to try and work out whether the sun was going to set in a suitable position for a nice landscape shot. As I had finished crouching in the grass on the riverbank contemplating the options I spotted some movement out of the corner of my eye. A beautiful common blue butterfly had recently emerged form it’s chrysalis and was climbing up a grass stem as it pumped it’s wings up ready for flight. I only had a basic camera with me, my miniscule Pentax Q. With a bit of careful thought on camera settngs (low ISO and high shutter speed) I was able to capture this fantastic shot. The Pentax Q has such a small image sensor and a fantastic lens that it actually makes quite a capable macro camera given enough light.