In this guide, I cover the most important specs to consider when purchasing a DSLR for Wildlife photography.
Mirrorless or DSLR?
Over the last few years we have seen mirrorless cameras come along way, and while the gap between mirrorless and DLSRs is closing, DSLR Cameras remains the best choice for wildlife photography. DSLRs are still able to offer better overall Auto Focus performance, faster continuous shooting with larger buffers, better ISO capabilities and increasing availability of long telephoto lenses. All these benefits help with capturing wildlife in action.
Full Frame or Crop Sensor (APS-C)?
Full Frame cameras offer the benefit that they tend to offer better ISO performance in low light, as the larger sensor allows the camera to receive more light. As a lot of wildlife photography is carried out during dusk or dawn when lighting might be limited, good ISO performance is one of the most important things to consider.
Another important factor in wildlife photography is telephoto length, allowing you to photograph subjects that are in the distance. APS-C cameras have a smaller sensor that gives a crop factor, which is normally around 1.5x your lenses focal length; thus extending your equivalent focal length. For example, a 300mm lens on a 1.5x APS-C camera offers the equivalent focal length of 450mm. This extended telephoto reach can help increase the chances of photographing animals in the distance. However, full frame cameras with a higher megapixel count allow for the user to crop the images later, or enable a crop mode within the camera to offer an extended reach.
Crop sensor cameras are normally cheaper than full frame cameras, which allows the photographer to invest more money in higher quality lenses.
Auto Focus Performance
Your cameras autofocus importance is extremely important when it comes to wildlife photography. A good autofocus system will be able to quickly and accurately track moving animals while coping with bushes or branches that come between the subject and the camera.
When you are checking a cameras autofocus system there are a few things to look at. Firstly, the number of autofocus points. These cross-type points allow the camera to focus on different areas, and the higher number of AF points available, the more accurate the focusing system tends to be. The type of autofocus methods available is also important, newer AF systems with less AF points will outperform an older AF system with more AF points. New AF technologies such as 3D tracking may offer you more accurate methods of tracking animals in motion.
Good autofocus systems can be found in both full frame and crop sensor DSLRs.
Lenses also play an important factor in determining your cameras focusing ability. Cheap telephoto lenses tend to suffer from poor AF, with slow turning motors and inaccurate focusing. Whereas more expensive professional telephoto lenses, offer fast AF motors, and smarter AF algorithms that let the lens focus faster. These more expensive lenses also feature better quality optics, that produce sharper photographs.
Continuous Shutter Speed – Frames per second and buffer
When photographing wildlife you will find it best to use a continuous shooting mode, to rapidly fire off your cameras shutter button so that you can take a series of photographs.
The higher the frames per second, the higher chance you have at photographing animals in action. Another important factor is the buffer, which is the number of frames your camera can store before it needs to process them. Larger files, such as RAWs or high megapixel files can cause the buffer to fill up more quickly. However, you can increase your cameras buffer size by using memory cards that offer a faster read and write speed.
As mentioned, the cameras ISO performance plays a huge part in wildlife. The higher the ISO, the more noise produced on the sensor. Full frame cameras normally create better ISO results, however with the recent advances in ISO technology some ASP-C cameras such as the Nikon D500 are also capable of achieving higher ISOs with minimal noise.
Before purchasing a camera, make sure to check its noise performance so that you can make sure you will be purchasing a camera suitable for low light performance.
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