Good cameras for nature shots

i take photos of all sorts of nature, but usually plants and arthropods since that’s usually what’s most plentiful in my area.

i usually shoot with a 10-year-old camera that has 18x zoom, 10MP, built-in flash (good to ~2m), manual focus ability, macro mode that allows me to shoot things even just a few mm from the lens. it also can shoot RAW, but i almost never use that (too time consuming). i can do all my framing and shooting (other than taking off the lens cap) with one hand, and it’s light enough that i can hold it all day my hand without any issues or strap it to my back and not even know it’s there. i upgraded the battery years ago when the original went dead, and it lasts pretty much a whole day from sunrise to sunset.

i’m thinking about upgrading to a camera that will allow me to take better shots in low light and can take 4K video (from which i can strip good photos). if i could get longer usuable zoom, I’d probably take more bird photos. i’d like to spend <$500 if possible and definitely less than $1000. there’s no rush, and i might wait until i see some good sales.

does anyone have some suggestions for some cameras that would be a good upgrade?

back in the day, the old OK Trends blog (Christian Rudder maybe) did an interesting analysis of cameras that produced the most attractive photos for online dating purposes (see https://theblog.okcupid.com/dont-be-ugly-by-accident-b378f261dea4). i wonder if there’s any sort of similar analysis for recent nature photo cameras?

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Low light plus long zoom equals big money in most cases, but the stabilizers now allow decent low light shots from small sensor cameras. Because phone cameras are so good right now, to me it only makes sense to get a camera that can do something phones can’t - like either an expensive full-frame sensor intercahangeable-lens camera or a high-magnification camera. My personal preference sounds similar to what you may have been using for the last 10 years - a bridge or superzoom camera. I like Nikon sensors (the resolution seems better) and am using a Coolpix B700, but Panasonic Lumix, are amazing at both supermacro and superzoom - the FZ80 gets you to 60x and shoots 4k for about $300. You can get great photos and videos of birds and bugs with this camera, so it would make a great iNat camera in my book.

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My father-in-law has gotten some really nice pictures of various wildlife small big close & far with the nikon coolpix, and I’m told there are many useful auto-settings such as a special setting for taking pictures of the moon! Also, like my old Canon Powershot zoom cameras, it has an articulated viewscreen. That’s so useful if you’re bending around places taking pictures of bugs for example. I wish I had an articulated view screen on my dslr. I have an “entry level” NIKON D3400 and I got a separate zoom and a regular view lens. It takes good pictures and it was reasonably priced. But I still think Canon has better colour. And, the downside for me with the dslr is having to change out the lens.
I often just grab my canon powershot zoom to catch a photo of a special bird.
But then my photos of birds & bugs and stuff is sort of as a birding journal interest. I like to get things identified, and have like a log for myself, or maybe to make a drawing or painting from it, so pictures are a cool way to do that. And if I get some nice quality photos sometimes, fantastic side effect.

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I only use the iPhone camera (or sometimes android). Every once in a while I consider getting something better. But as others have said the iPhone camera really isn’t bad. For something with zoom and gps and things like that, it would be more than I really want to spend. Plus I’m really fast with the app and like to tag natural community type in the field as I use it for mapping. So I will probably just stick with the phone.

Note that my primary interest is plants. I miss out on some birds but so many other people get bird observations so I don’t care too much.

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I use a Nikon AW130 and I get amazing clarity. I understand that they don’t make that anymore. The Nikon W300 is the next version. I think it costs under $400. It’s great for very closeup images and can even be used under water. I took this image of a snowflake a couple weeks ago.

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+1 on bridge/superzoom cameras for general “nature” photography. I’m a generalist interested in everything from small insects and lichen to birds in flight, and I’m usually hiking or biking around so I don’t want to be lugging a huge bag full of photo gear. I’ve found that these bridge/superzoom cameras are quite versatile and handle everything from decent macros to far-off birds. Not National Geograhic covers certainly, but decent enough for sharing with family, friends, web posting, and of course sites like this. I just moved up from the Nikon Coolpix P900 to the Sony RX10IV. The Sony is a superior camera in every way EXCEPT for no on-board GPS; you can “add” it by syncing with a phone app, but it’s an unreliable solution compared to cameras with built-in GPS…obviously useful for photos destined for iNaturalist. The P900 is available relatively cheap these days since Nikon just upgraded the line to the P1000. I’ve heard good things about the Canon superzooms as well.

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Sounds like you have an FZ28?

For the desires you mention there are some pretty good setups you could manage within the micro4/3 system, like a used EM-5 with one of the inexpensive telephoto lenses. These won’t quite get you the same zoom factor on paper, but with much sharper optics and better resolving and cleaner image sensor you can crop the image and still end up with a similar or better result. Unfortunately the tradeoff with that larger sensor is the need for multiple different lenses to cover all those situations including macro, etc. But most interchangeable-lens cameras operate much faster than small-sensor single-lens cameras, and of course can be larger- but with mirrorless systems now sometimes you actually end up with something smaller and lighter than a superzoom. Prices can actually be very attractive for interchangeable lens systems if you’re willing to buy used. I’ve bought all my cameras used.

All of my observations in 2018 were made with Nikon 1 system cameras and lenses, which are very small and very fast in operation, and have a cheap gps attachment. The long telephoto lens for that system is really very good, and I think some of the later camera bodies do record 4K video (and have very good autofocus in video). I moved down to something pocketable recently but do miss the speed of those cameras for some situations.

Until recently I was motivated to restrict my cameras to those with built in GPS or a GPS attached option for similar and believed, like colincroft mentions, that using a phone for the GPS and syncing the photos was unreliable. The apps that sync GPS from phone directly to the camera wirelessly are unreliable because you phone location services can be laggy and jump to the nearest cell tower before re-resolving and doing other annoying things like that. However I’ve discovered that using a dedicated GPS logging app (I like GPXlogger) keeps things in line and yields a very accurate gps track, which can then be synced with all the photos based on their timestamps automatically (I use lightroom for this, but free software like EasyGPS will do it just as well). Figuring this out has been really freeing, now I can use any camera without having to spend time dropping observations on a map over a slow internet connection.

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do any iNaturalist power users know if there’s a predefined way to query for photos based on photo metadata fields? and also preferably tied to ID? for example, i’d like to see bird shots taken by camera X vs camera Y, and i’d also like to see spider shots taken by camera, and i’d also like to see dragonfly shots taken by camera. i think once i have a potential shopping list, such a query might help me to judge real-world output for different kinds of subjects. actually, i bet such a comparison tool could be monetized somehow. people spend a lot of money on cameras.

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+1 for camera identification skills

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I’m sort of cheating on that camera ID, I’ve been going over specs recently while thinking of snagging one off ebay since they go around $50 now, to accompany the LX3 I picked up for pocket duty. After using a whole lot of different cameras, it turns out that I really like the way those 2008-ish CCD sensors render images, compared to the faster and cleaner CMOS sensors that took over the market in the decade since. My smartphone is highly rated for photographs but these refined compacts from back then are still miles ahead if you use them right. Modern versions of software like Lightroom can also get a lot more quality out of their RAW files than you could back when they were new, if you’re into that kind of thing.

A couple years ago I was using top-line current DSLR gear and it was nice, but it was heavy to carry around and the files were great but really slowed down my computer. I’ve been “downgrading” ever since, paring down to just basic needs.

I have also wondered about searching photos by camera metadata for similar reasons. You can do so on flickr, and with flickr and iNat connected I suppose you might be able to figure out a way to do that on all iNat-linked flickr photos. In the meantime, just using flickr that way could fill your needs- for example, if you were thinking about the Panasonic LX100, you can find its page in “camera finder” (under the Explore dropdown) and search photos taken with that model in terms like “birds” or “macro,” or you could find one of the dedicated user groups for that model and search the photos in that group similarly.

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Sorting by camera type is an interesting and useful idea. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find any camera information in the exported data or within the metadata. It seems that iNat strips the camera’s metadata when uploaded :slightly_frowning_face:. As er1kksen mentioned, Flickr is a great resource for comparing image quality.

I also use a GPS logger (GeotagPhotos) and it has been wonderful for iNaturalist but also for organizing my photo library. I can often remember where a photo was taken but not necessarily why I took it. Being able to see all my photos on a map has been a huge win and I recommend it to all photographers.

In addition to using a bridge camera, I have recently purchased a high-quality macro lens for my phone. I always prefer to use the iNaturalist app when I can and this has helped a lot to create more diagnostic photos. Highly recommended when paired with the battery case.

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Thanks for the suggestions! I just ordered a “bridge” camera that I hope will take usable spider pictures from half a meter away. We’ll see!

You can see the camera type used in any individual photo on the photo page. For example see this page stating I used a Sony “ILCE-6300.” So if you are curious what camera someone uses it is easy.

I have never seen a way to search this data on iNaturalist. It would be neat to get something like what is on Flickr to see the most used camera models.

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i was thinking more about whether there was a way to find photos based on camera model rather than vice versa.

One that you can operate single handed, so that you can photograph the spiders as they crawl over the other hand ? :grin: :spider:

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Well, those are the best kind of spider photos. :sweat_smile:

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‘Just re-read the original post and the replies, and I think rcurtis’ reply/suggestions are on target. I was very impressed with the Lumix cameras, particularly considering their price. I’ve tried the FZ300…only 24x zoom which may or may not be enough, but F2.8 throughout that zoom range (better than average for lower light), with a nice bright viewfinder.

Unfortunately the FZ300 DOESN’T have built-in GPS, which once you’ve used it (e.g. on Nikons) is really hard to give up if you’re someone for whom the location of your photos matters. If you think dealing with RAW images is “too time consuming” (original post) then trust me, you aren’t going to enjoy the steps involved in logging and then adding that logged GPS data to your photos. If you’re an enthusiastic photographer regularly using something like Lightroom regularly anyway, then doing/adding the logging isn’t a big deal. But you simply can’t beat the no-brainer “grab and go” functionality of a camera with its own GPS, where you never have to think about anything other than taking your pics and having that GPS data already there on your images without additional steps/post-processing. And while that GPS will certainly drain the battery faster than without it, I’m not sure by how much; my current Sony RX10 (no GPS) goes through batteries faster than my Nikon P900 (with GPS). And even if so, I’m carrying inexpensive backup camera batteries anyway, which are much easier to change out than my PHONE battery which will be drained more quickly using an app-based location logger.

I certainly don’t mean any disrespect/criticism for those successfully using loggers. It obviously works great, and of course is your only option for using a camera without its own GPS. I’m just saying that for the “nature” photographer wanting the ease of posting to sites like INat, looking in the price range of the OP, I’d sure be looking for a camera with built-in GPS if possible…it will make your nature photography much easier and more enjoyable. This Wiki has many of the models with onboard GPS, although it looks like it is missing some models…

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cameras_which_provide_geotagging

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Colin, I appreciate your perspective and hope that you can similarly find mine respectful and noncritical, because a few months ago I would have written the exact same paragraph about the advantages of a built-in GPS.

Since then, what I’ve actually found is that syncing a .gpx tracklog from another device to the day’s photos (Geosetter is probably the best free software option) takes just a few clicks for the whole batch and is a lot less hassle than the actual process of uploading photos to iNaturalist. I went out of my way to buy cameras with gps for years even when they didn’t have the other features I really wanted in the field, because I assumed syncing geotags would be a hassle and my computer is pretty slow as it is, but I have since found it to be the opposite.

Using an external logger also means no more waiting for the camera’s gps to get a lock after I turn the camera back on, as the phone app is always tracking, and battery drain is minimal on the phone. A lot of compact cameras with gps in particular, especially early generations, had poor implementation and accuracy. Newer ones like the P900 have gotten a lot better. My phone is getting old and its battery doesn’t hold a charge like it used to, but running the tracker for hours doesn’t seem to have much impact (checking facebook for five minutes on the other hand can drop the battery 10%).

Within my current budget, there are really very few cameras on the market with good GPS capabilities along with the other features I want in the field, so as I said making this change has been freeing. That’s why I feel strongly that as an option syncing with a logger should be considered equally alongside a camera with built-in GPS. Most of us already have a smartphone that can log with high accuracy with free apps. Assumptions about adding a hassle should be scrutinized; I’ve been kicking myself for spending a couple years subscribing to that assumption.

To summarize, in-camera gps is great (at least on most models), but syncing with an external gps is surprisingly easy and adds a lot of versatility, so no one should be discouraged from considering it as a way to broaden their options beyond cameras that offer that feature.

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If you are using a camera, you’re submitting observations via the iNaturalist website. I plan to take a geotagged cellphone photo at the same time as the camera shot, send it to computer (I seldom submit from the app) upload both at once, and merge the camera shot into the geotagged observation, voila. If I don’t like having the cell photo as the default, I can switch them using Edit, but that’s not crucial.

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Janet, for a while I had one camera that had GPS but couldn’t take closeups as well as the other camera I had that didn’t have GPS, so I would do the same thing you’re talking about. It gets the job done.