Three camera body recommendations when buying for wildlife photography.

Greetings once again, friends… It is truly great to have you back for more photography tips here at Backcountry Journeys.

We realize it is a very busy time of year for many folks, and certainly thank you all for taking time to stop by.

If you are here for the continuation of last week’s conversation on what to look for when buying a camera for your upcoming Backcountry Journeys trip, thanks for coming back, we’ll get to our recommendations soon.

If you are joining us for the first time, or missed last week’s post, click here to head back for that.

Just don’t forget to come back!

Before the list, why not a quick word on full-frame versus crop sensor? A pertinent topic whether it is a source of contention for you while considering a new camera, or if this is the first you’ve heard the terminology. While I shoot with a full frame Canon 5dsr, full frame options are admittedly pricey and are by no means mandatory as you can achieve wonderful work with either option.

So, what are the differences, advantages and disadvantages to full frame vs. crop sensor?

The most visible difference between full frame and crop sensor is field of view. The smaller sensor’s field of view is a crop of the full frame. This means that if a full frame and a crop-sensor take the same photo from the same distance, with the same lens and point of view, the crop-sensor will capture a tighter field of view than the full frame.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each sensor size. Generally, a full frame sensor can provide a broader dynamic range and better low light/high ISO performance yielding a higher quality image than a crop sensor. Full frame DSLR will have a shallower depth of field than a crop sensor, which can be a beneficial aesthetic. When shooting at the same focal length, using the same aperture settings and from the same angle and distance to the subject, the full frame camera will have a shallower depth of field than the crop sensor camera. The larger the sensor, the longer the focal length required to create the same field of view, hence a shallower depth of field is created due to the additional focal length.

On the other side, while a crop sensor doesn’t provide the same level of image quality as a full frame, it does offers major advantages when it comes to cost. It can also be very effective for telephoto photography for the extra reach gained from the crop sensor multiplier. This can be wonderful when shooting wildlife.

So, to wrap up this (supposed to have been quick) conversation, a full frame sensor and a crop sensor have their own advantages and disadvantages. While a full frame DSLR provides a bit better overall quality, the crop sensor will be very effective and much kinder on your budget.

I must admit, I do shoot with a full frame (currently Canon 5DSR), but I won’t go so far as to tell you all to rush out and spend Jr.’s college fund on a new, top of the line full frame DSLR. I’ll also not try to stop you, either. You’ll have a wonderful piece of equipment in your hands.

Lets focus (purposeful pun)!

You’ll recall that in order to shoot wildlife well, you’ll find that you’ll appreciate a camera with fast and accurate auto-focus, good telephoto reach, solid capability in low light conditions as well as a quick burst rate.

So, let’s take a look at three solid options:

Nikon D5
The current flagship model for Nikon, the D5 is a speedy, precise machine for professional photographers. Are you a professional? Perhaps not, but if you are looking at our trip options you’re probably looking for professional quality work. We’ll help you with whatever you have. If you want the best, this camera is certainly one of them!

Revolving around a full-frame, FX-format 20.8MP CMOS sensor and EXPEED 5 image processor, this workhorse touts an impressive 12 fps continuous shooting rate with full-time AF and AE, an expandable sensitivity range that goes up to ISO 3,280,000.

The Nikon D5 is also characterized by its redeveloped Multi-CAM 20K 153-point AF system, which incorporates 99 cross-type sensors for refined precision when tracking moving subjects or working in difficult lighting conditions. This camera can keep up with the swiftest subjects (think Katmai bears catching fish), and handle the more difficult working conditions that you’ll inevitably be in while sitting in a rainstorm stalking a Resplendent Quetzal in Costa Rica.

Official specs:
Sensor: 20.8 MP Full Frame
AF Points: 153
Max Frame Rates: 14 fps
Max Burst 200 RAW
ISO Range: 100-102, 400
Expanded ISO: up to 3,280,000

Ok, maybe we all don’t need the best, top-of-the-line professional camera. Maybe something that is great, but more at a more justifiable mid-level range?

Nikon D500
This camera seems to have been designed specifically for wildlife photography. Check out that 153 point AF system! The D500 offers a superior buffer for more continuous shooting, excellent image quality and nice low light performance.

Official specs:
Sensor: 20.9 MP APS-C
AF Points: 153
Max Frame Rates: 10 fps
Max Burst: 200 RAW
ISO Range: 100-51,200
Expanded ISO: up to 1,638,400

Maybe the Nikon D500 is still above your budget/willingness to spend. You’re new to this, think you love it and want to have nice equipment but aren’t sold that you need THAT much camera, yet. Perhaps you’ve heard about this mirrorless trend and wonder what the heck that is all about?

Mirrorless is a digital camera that accepts different lenses. The body is thinner than a DSLR because it does not use a mechanical mirror to switch the scene between the optical viewfinder and image sensor. Introduced in 2008, mirrorless cameras became popular around 2011 and are becoming the answer for photographers who want to step up from point-and-shoot. As these hybrids continue to increase sensor size and add high-end features as well as offer a wide variety of lenses, maybe one day they could give the bulkier DSLRs a run for their money, but they aren’t quite caught up to DSLRs just yet.


Sony Alpha a6300 Mirrorless

Official specs:
Sensor: 24.2 MP APS-C
AF Points: 24.5
Max Frame Rates: 11 fps
Max Burst: 24 RAW
ISO Range: 100-25,600
Expanded ISO: 51,200

Remember, no matter what camera you bring with you on your next Backcountry Journey’s adventure, we’ll be there to offer guidance, tips, techniques and to make sure we’re in just the right spot at just the right time to afford us the best chance at some “frame/wall calibre” photography.

Please leave any questions in the comments section, and we’ll be sure to get back to you. Visit the Backcountry Journey’s blog again for recommendations on camera packs and tripods! We hope these tips will help, and that we see you behind the lens out in the wild, soon!

Kenton Krueger







Kenton Krueger has spent the past several years guiding guiding backpackers, hikers and photographers into the wild places of the American West such as Havasu Falls, Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Parks as well as in the Grand Staircase Escalante in southern Utah. In addition to backpacking and camping, his adventures include rock climbing, exploring the slot canyons of southern Utah, mountain biking, and bagging 14ers in Colorado’s San Juan Mountain Mountain Range. Kenton is a trail runner, former pilot, newspaper photographer and writer. Kenton looks forward to utilizing his years of guiding experience, combined with his passion and experience behind the lens to provide memorable and unforgettable experiences at the wild places we will visit together.

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