Lifechanging Upgrades?

Prior to about a month ago my flash setup was a very large, cheap speedlite external flash with a big flash diffuser. My camera’s (Sony a6300) built-in flash is almost useless and doesn’t work with most of my lenses. This external flash had zero communication with the camera besides being triggered by the shutter button, so there was no auto WB or auto exposure. You obviously have to use a very low ISO to get the exposure right at night with a flash - since I’m on a mirrorless camera, this results in the viewfinder image appearing totally dark and autofocus being 100% necessary. As such, I would only use this flash at night (basically solely for road cruising for snakes), and it didn’t work very well. Manual focus or fill flash was essentially out of the question.

I recently bought a somewhat nicer flash with TTL/Auto-exposure and it is an absolute game changer. I can now take decent photos of insects. I can now manual focus on snakes or frogs at night. I can now use fill flash to take wide angle plant or herp photos in the day time that look 10x better. The flash I picked up (Godox 350s) is also about half the size of the old one, so I can now get much closer to subjects on my 30mm lens and still have decent lighting. The size means I can also just leave it on for everything except bird photography, and I have no issues hiking with it on (something I would never do with the giant old flash).

TLDR, don’t skimp on your external flash. This is literally the best camera upgrade I’ve made in at least a year and it didn’t even cost that much compared to most camera gear.


I think most, if not all smart phones/ iphones have GPS now. I have an ancient android that has GPS. I had to make sure my settings were on. When uploading my observations I manually check & adjust, if needed, EVERY SINGLE TIME.


Ok - Looking for phone recommendations.
I HAVE to get a new phone by end of year. The ONLY thing I really need is a good built in camera & consistently accurate GPS - for iNat observations of course! Other than that, I am really low tech. I have been considering Google Pixel Pro/Plus. A camera isn’t an option for me at this time. What works for you? I prefer android, btw.


I’m curious, why not? If your two sole needs are good camera and accurate GPS as you said … you can go the extreme route and buy a prepaid Android phone for $50 and have the leftover >$800 you saved by not buying the flagship Pixel Pro, which could be used to buy some SERIOUS camera gear. That’s enough money to do a mirrorless camera, kit lens, macro lens, and maybe even a cheap used telephoto for birds, allowing you to photograph basically anything you want instead of being limited to lower res wide angle shots from a phone. GPS is going to be similar on most phones these days, and even the flagship cameras aren’t going to stand up to a cheap DSLR/mirrorless for anything other than wide angle shots (and not even that if you want higher resolution and are willing to learn a little bit of raw editing).

That’s always my pitch when people ask about a good phone for iNat - buy the cheapest phone you’re ok with performance-wise and spend the rest of the money on a dedicated camera. But, if you really don’t want a standalone camera, the Pixel 4a/5a and iPhone SE are both solid midrange phones. I have the latter and it’s a perfectly fine phone and should only run around $400. I used to have the Pixel 3a which had an even better camera and only replaced it because of a design flaw that killed the camera focus about 2 years into owning the phone… my irritation with that flaw not being covered under warranty was what led me to switch to iOS rather than buying the next budget Pixel model. But, both phones are really solid overall. I would really never recommend buying a flagship phone with how much they cost for such minor gains over the midrange models.


We buy Xiomi, not always new models have the best cameras, but if it’s one with it, it’s the same quality as much more expensive iphones or samsungs, etc. Now I have Xiaomi 11 Lite, but honestly liked camera in MI 9 more (but battery is smaller in it, which is a thing you need to go full day with gps on), though edit app on new phone is better and it’s like it shoots in RAW-like mode.


oh sorry; i get used to people who are online have amazon/the internet to order!

Regardless; lots of small light manufacturers make great lights! looking for those three basics in your local shops will mean you’re getting a great light for photography!:

  • 4x AA (or 18650 type cell)
  • Current regulation
  • High CRI (this is based on the actual emitter used - if you know which the manufacture used can be looked up :) but usually the maker will know!)

yeh one who can bear you, right?? hehehe


One thing I never had but always use now is gaiters. They stop ticks from crawling into/onto my socks and even after walking through a swamp meadow or on a bridle trail my socks and ends of my pants will be clean afterwards :)

Of course boots and hiking pants work even better - but somehow I never have them with me when I need them. The gaiters usually manage to stay on the back seat of my car and so when I drive somewhere in street clothes and decide I have to walk through the mud and forest for an hour - at least I have some protection…


I’m learning, reading this thread, that coming from being a caver, and wilderness/cliff/high angle/ rough terrain search & rescue teams…I already have and hence automatically use all these lifechanging upgrades xD

So to add something I have not seen mentioned at all…

I really like my Gaia ap on my phone, you can predownload areas so it works as an offline gps, without needing to buy extra gear. I actually still use it even though everyone else on our team uses Garamin, because litterally I get more detail on Gaia than Garamin offers for prime dollars. For the US in particular, the pro subscription has property boundaries which has been so key in the field to know I’m not crossing lines which in back country appalachia will often get a shotgun to the face. I have lost track of the number of times IC tells me to clear an area, and I pull up the boundaries, and ask “do we have so and so’s permission, do they know we are here?” obviously the police can get permission, but as the searcher, I do not wish to scare anyone, and often they don’t know there’s a house right there in clear site of where they want searched! It really keeps everyone safe - and also helps locate local places someone may be hiding. For nature stuff, I can easily find who owns the land, and can find the correct house to ring the doorbell to get permission to walk around. So it works for both. Also having hundreds of basemap options, I can run USGS topo or various satellites or even LiDAR imagry, all which are useful in different ways. I have used it quite successfully in Spain and UK as well - obviously not all the maps are available, but there are plenty of maps and sometimes even property lines depending on the area.

Rather than worry about 'what if my phone dies it’s all on that" - I carry a little backup battery I can charge my phone about 4x with, with a cord that will run to it’s location in the pack and plug into my phone in my pack’s hip pocket where I carry the phone, so I can still seamlessly use it should I run out of battery in the field. In reality, this has never occurred because I airplane mode it so battery lasts days. (iPhone 12 mini, before that, iPhone 7). But this setup still weighs less and takes less space than carrying a phone and a garmin!

Everything else I use daily has already been mentioned (permithrin clothes or clothes made with the insect sheild; gaiters, merino wool socks & shirts - dry off well, do not smell, keep warmth in AND allow heat escape in summers literally the perfect fabric, camera with macro ability, a good LED headlamp, camelbak)

Oh I guess I havn’t seen much about first aid / safety kit - you should esp be carrying something like an Israeli Bandage and know how to use it, because gushing blood needs stopped in field instantly for any chance of survival - a lot of people bog down with huge first aid kits but the reality is you need: meds you like to use regularly (asprin, benadryl, etc), toilet paper (let’s face it, sometimes emergencies lol), large contractors type trash bag (perfect to stop hypothermia - poke hole for your head and sit encased underneath it, or it can serves as emergency poncho), whistle (because you’ll go hoarse hollering for help - I always tell folks if you hear a noise, reply with a noise!), water purification method, ways to light a fire, electrolyte replenisher, ways to stop massive blood loss, and ways to splint. Beyond that is whatever local issues you may have, but those things will keep ya alive for mostpart especially if you left a callout (where you parked - easy to check for a vehicle then, where you went, intended route, and when you will be back, with a trusted responsible person so when you should be back, they call for help fi they haven’t heard from ya). Having confidence that you’ll survive a problem is so helpful! In the US, if these simple things are done, you are basically guaranteed to be found within 24 hours. It may not be a comfy 24 hours, but it will be a perfectly survivable 24 hours.


I’ve never heard about that before - after some quick research, it seems like a great thing! Not that I do much that would necessitate one…


Rule No.1 of iNat - Assume people mean no harm. I assume you mean no harm, but the person was only trying to help out.


I have been in the " Less is more - go light" camp forever… So just the phone is my preference. For now. I am always afraid that once I start using a camera, I’ll keep getting more & more stuff.


It appears Xiomi is not readily available in the US.
: (


Well, if I could go around wearing those without trousers, I wouldn’t mind if they came in a cargo version.

I also invest in the mid range androids, and am in general agreement that a dedicated camera is better than a flagship smartphone. Unfortnately even the flagship phones have only a slightly longer planned obsolescence when compared to the mid range phones. While decent cameras can last a much longer time. Additionally the controls on cameras are way better.


I prefer phone for plant photography, just much faster to do and no spending time on editing, of course it is for iNat and not for aesthetic shots, but still, often insect photos can be done okayish too.

@klyle161 wow, that’s unfortunate.


There’s a complicated political history why Xiaomi doesn’t market phones in US, partly having to do with US and Chinese relations and the banning of Huawei and ZTE equipment, two other notable smartphone manufacturers.

1 Like

Good point.
Want to also say that I use my phone very regularly for observations, while the camera comes out when I am on a trip or when something needs a higher quality picture.


After my current Xiaomi runs out I don’t plan on getting a similar company mainly because of privacy concerns.

1 Like

Just a note. I’ve had the same camera for some time now. I bought macro extensions (which I rarely use) and a 55 x 250 lens which I use all the time. Nothing else. I have only recently gotten an iPhone, but have never used it for images (or really much else!), so cannot compare the two.