Klaserie River Sands

8 things to look for in a camera for wildlife photography

To set you on your way to becoming Africa Geographic’s Photographer of the Year in 2016, Will Burrard-Lucas recently shared with us 10 things you can do right now to improve your wildlife photography. Now he explains what camera features are important if your primary aim is to photograph wildlife.

Here are 8 things to consider when choosing a camera, along with some recent entries into the competition that we couldn’t help but share!

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1. Sensor

Here image quality is a primary concern.

Your camera should be able to record clean images in low light. This allows faster shutter speeds, allowing you to shoot in twilight conditions when many animals are most active. Low-light sensitivity is one of the main improvements in new generations of cameras so this is one of the things you pay for when you get the latest camera. You can find a listing of cameras ranked by low light performance here.

A leopard drinking at first light on the Kgalagadi © Ben ter Huurne

A leopard drinking at first light on the Kgalagadi ©Ben ter Huurne

The sensor’s dynamic range relates to how much detail the camera records in the highlights and shadows. A sensor with a large dynamic range gives more flexibility t0 lift detail from dark shadows or recover it from bright skies in post production.

2. Megapixels

Lots of megapixels can be nice to have, particularly if you want to crop your images. However, having more megapixels comes at the expense of frame rate, low-light performance and dynamic range. For Will Burrard-Lucas the megapixel sweet-spot sits at around 20MP on a full-frame camera for wildlife photography.

3. Autofocus

Wildlife photography requires a camera that can focus quickly. The most important features of autofocus include the ability to select a very small focus point, lots of autofocus points to choose from, an accurate autofocus engine that can reliably track moving subjects and ability to focus in low-light.

A little egret in focus with a sacred ibis in the foreground in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa © Anna-Mart Kruger

A little egret in focus with a sacred ibis in the foreground in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa ©Anna-Mart Kruger

Autofocus generally improves significantly in the higher-end DSLRs so this is one of the things you are paying for when you purchase a pro camera body.

4. Lens availability

Whatever camera you get, you will need suitable lenses. The latest L-series Canon lenses are very sharp and also light for their size, which makes handling them easier. Picking lenses to go with your DSLR can be an overwhelming experience. Your choice of lens is also every bit as important as your choice of camera.

Photographing a southern ground pangolin in Musina, Limpopo, South-Africa © Joseph-Healy-Rennison

Photographing a southern ground pangolin in Musina, Limpopo, South-Africa ©Joseph-Healy-Rennison

5. Ergonomics

When photographing wildlife you need to be able to respond to situations quickly so that you don’t miss the shot. This means you need to be able to adjust settings in the blink of an eye. You should be able to adjust settings with minimal button presses and without taking your eye away from the viewfinder, so a camera where you can customise the controls is best. In general, this is another feature that you get with the higher-end camera bodies.

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6. Speed

The speed of the camera, i.e. the number of frames you can take per second, is important if you are aiming to photograph action or birds in flight. A fast camera may be able to shoot 10 frames per seconds or more, whereas a slow camera may give you closer to three frames a second.

An African fish eagle in action on the Chobe River, Botswana © Rina Lombard

An African fish eagle in action on the Chobe River, Botswana ©Rina Lombard

7. Full-frame/crop factor

A DSLR with a small sensor has a crop-factor. This may be desirable when photographing wildlife because it means you can get away with using a shorter (less expensive) lens and still get the required magnification.

On the other hand, since full-frame sensors are larger, they collect more light, which means they will give you superior image quality over a smaller sensor. You can also get shallower depths of field with a full-frame sensor, which can help isolate your subject.

Which you choose, therefore, comes down to budget. If you have a limited budget then I recommend getting a crop-sensor camera because they are cheaper and you can also use less expensive lenses to get your desired focal length. If, however, you can afford it, you will get superior image quality from a full-frame camera, but you also need to be prepared to spend more on lenses in order to get the same reach.

8. Build quality and weather sealing

Wildlife tends to live in wet or dusty places so gear needs to be able to survive in these conditions. Build quality and weather sealing tend to be features of pro bodies.

Wildebeest in the rain in Tanzania © Chloe McCormack

Wildebeest in the rain in Tanzania ©Chloe McCormack

Find out which cameras Will recommends on his website here and sign up here to his free wildlife photography course to get more great tips and advice. You can also get Will’s free guide to equipment for camera trap wildlife photography at Camtraptions. Think you have what it takes to be Africa Geographic’s Photographer of the Year? Enter here.



Africa Geographic Photographer of the Year

The Africa Geographic Photographer of the Year Competition is brought to you by Land Rover and Canon, in association with At Close Quarters, Airlink, Klaserie Sands River Camp, Hideaways, iSimangaliso Wetland Park, Thule and Rhino Tears. The competition will run from December 2016 to May 2017 and entrants can submit images via the online entry form or via Africa Geographic's Instagram channel. This profile will be used to showcase photographic tips from experts as well as blogs from our sponsors to set you on your way to becoming our Photographer of the Year!

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