What’s the best camera for wildlife photography?

What is the best camera for new photographers wanting to get into wildlife photography? Pela Monroe, LA

Sep 20, 2004
Outside Magazine

Nikon D100

A: It's not the camera, it’s the lens. Any ol' camera will do for wildlife photograph, film or digital. But you need a BIG telephoto. Otherwise, even if the creatures you’re photographing look fairly large in the viewfinder, you'll find that in the finished print they look like little dots on a grassy background.

Right off the bat that eliminates every "point and shoot" camera on the market, film or digital. Even the ones with relatively long telephotos don't have the "pull" you need. Plus, the telephotos on those cameras need more light when extended, meaning it's difficult to take action shots when using a camera's full telephoto capability.

In short, it’s a single-lens reflex camera for you, plus a few lenses. Film cameras still have an edge here simply because of price. You can get a great SLR like Canon’s A2E for $160 (www.canon.com) or so on eBay. That's a good semi-pro camera that retails new for around $500 and that has loads of automatic and manual adjustments, excellent light-metering, and Canon's eye-tracking focus that focuses where you look.
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So far so good. Now it gets tricky—and expensive. At a minimum, you'll want a 300mm lens. Something close to 600mm is even better. Tamron makes a zoom telephoto with a 200-500mm range that sells for around $900 (ww.tamron.com). It's not a really great lens, but it has good power and would work. Better lenses are out there, for more money. The ideal: Sigma's 500mm f5.6 lens for Canon (www.sigmaphoto.com). But it goes for $3,300. And you can spend more. Sigma also makes a 135-400mm lens that sells for around $550 and would work fairly well.

On the digital side, Nikon's D-100 (www.nikonusa.com) offers somewhat reasonable pricing in a 6-megapixel camera—it sells for about $1,500, body only. That really gives me pause, as in two years it will look absurdly dated and obsolete. But there it is. It'll take any Nikon-mount lens, and modelsprices are similar to what is out there for Canon.

Check out what our 2004 Buyer's Guide says about the best in the SRL and digital camera realm.

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