If you are reading this blog post I’m guessing you either have recently decided to join one of Backcountry Journey’s world-class tours, or you are considering doing so. Perhaps you’ve joined me on a prior expedition and the residual euphoria has you bumping around the website looking for what is next. Any which way – we certainly thank you!
While finding the best tour option may be step one, it is only the beginning of your pre-trip planning journey. Have you heard the saying, “The best camera is the one you have with you?”
While this may be true (you can own the most expensive DSLR in the world, but it is useless if packed away back home while the mountain in front of you glows purple and orange in winter’s dusk), it is important while shopping for a camera to pay close attention to the following details in order to achieve your best work while in the field shooting wildlife and landscapes:
• Telephoto reach is more than likely the most important requirement for wildlife photography because it brings you closer to subjects without disturbing them. The last time I asked a polar bear if it would be OK for me to get a few yards closer so that she’d be perfectly framed didn’t work out so well for me. Don’t ask. In most photography and all tele-scopy, where the subject is essentially infinitely far away, longer focal length (lower optical power) leads to higher magnification and a narrower angle of view; conversely, shorter focal length or higher optical power is associated with a wider angle of view. As mentioned above, photographic reach (or telephoto reach) is often defined in terms of the focal length of the lens being used on the camera. For example, an effective way of gaining additional photographic reach is to use a “longer” telephoto lens. Another way of increasing photographic reach is to use a camera that has a higher number of megapixels and then later do some cropping in post-process.
• Autofocus Performance: For wildlife action, AF speed and accuracy are important considerations. Definitive numerical ratings aren’t available for AF performance, but higher-end DSLRs typically deliver better AF performance than entry-level bodies, and newer models with the most up-to-date AF technology improve upon earlier models. More AF points are potentially an advantage, but evaluate the entire AF system. Cross-type points provide additional information to the AF processor and, therefore, improved accuracy. Algorithms and processor capabilities also play a major role—newer AF systems with fewer AF points and more powerful processors will potentially outperform older systems with more AF points. Multi-point AF is most useful when your subject is in front of a relatively uncluttered background.
• Frames Per Second and Max Burst While fast continuous capture rates aren’t critical for most wildlife photography, they’re definitely helpful. More frames per second increase your chances of recording that Katmai brown bear landing a fish in mid-air, the perfect expression of a Costa Rican monkey, or wing position of an Alaskan bald eagle as it lifts off an icy lake with its prey. In addition to frames per second, the number of frames that can be stored in a single burst is also important. The larger the file, the faster your camera’s buffer will fill, so if large bursts of images are desired, shoot JPEG instead of RAW, as you’ll be able to capture significantly more images per burst.
• ISO Equivalence For best image quality, it’s always preferable to set lower ISOs, but wildlife and landscape photography often means shooting in low-light conditions near dawn and dusk when higher ISOs are needed. Considering the minimum aperture requirements of AF systems, plus the creative flexibility of selecting the right aperture for your desired depth of field, cameras that offer wider ISO ranges provide a significant advantage. Though noise increases at higher ISOs, it’s better to compromise with noise than with sharpness or not getting the shot at all. More light translates to less noise, and larger sensors collect more light due to their increased surface area.
Visit the Backcountry Journey’s blog soon for recommendations on specific cameras and camera packs!
We hope these tips will help when looking to select that perfect camera, and that we see you behind the lens out in the wild, soon!
Russ Nordstrand is a professional landscape and wildlife photographer specializing in photography as fine artwork. His Fine Art Prints are hanging in homes, offices and private collections across the U.S and Canada and in many other countries throughout the world. Russ leads on average about 20 Photography Tours & Workshops each year to incredible destinations such as Yellowstone, Alaska, Glacier, Yosemite, Utah, Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, the Great Smoky Mountains and more. He also frequently writes articles on this blog on various photographic techniques, the art of composition, environmental concerns, photography and travel news as well as documenting recent adventures. Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Russ has lived in the greater Rocky Mountain West since 1999 and currently resides in beautiful Flagstaff, Arizona.