Looking to upgrade my nature photography camera

Hey everyone! I’ve been primarily using a Canon PowerShot SX410 IS bridge camera ever since I began using iNaturalist back in 2016, and late this year I’m considering getting an upgrade. One thing I’ve loved about my current camera is its 40x optical zoom, but its limits with getting close shots of close objects, frequent inability to focus on the right thing, and its tendency to dull colors are major drawbacks.

One thing that has worried me about the idea of getting a DSLR or other camera with removable lenses is the haste and spontaneity needed when doing nature photography, and I’ve struggled to find out how big of an issue getting the right lens and focusing it manually before the specimen flees can be, but I figured you guys would know for sure! Really the only other preferences I would have would be for the camera to be practical to carry around in a shoulder bag, and for it to be preferably under $1,000.

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How about considering a point and shoot camera? Eg. Olympus TG-5 or Olympus TG-6.

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I’d recommend the canon 60d which you can buy used on eBay for under $200, and then you could choose your lens(s). I like my 70-300 f4-5.6 usm, it’s very versatile and great for insects and birds and anything inbetween.

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Lots of really good reviews for TG-series here:

Note: Not an owner, but have seen some of my area’s prominent naturalists using/recommending them. One of the more interesting features it has for macro photography is focus stacking, where multiple photos with different focus are taken an merged together.

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For closeup and need for fast focusing I would not recommend a DSLR but rather the recently announced EOS R10 (or the more expensive R7). This is available for under USD1000. There are other mirrorless cameras from Sony etc. Lenses from the DSLR like the very good EF lenses can be bought second hand which fit the EF-R adapter. The advantages of the recent mirrorless cameras are that they are fast focusing and has a fast frame rate (with AF) compared with DSLR’s. They are also relatively light and smaller than the comparative DSLR.

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I find that often enough I don’t have much time to capture a photo, even without taking time to change lenses. I have two cameras, an Olympus TG-6, which fits easily into a pocket, for insects etc., and a Panasonic for birds and other more distant things requiring some zoom. I wish I could just use a little camera like the TG-6 to do everything, but the TG-6 only has about 4X zoom.

In addition to the threads linked above, don’t overlook smartphones. I have an iPhone 11. For example:




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Yep 60D is pretty good (although I use it for macro) it may be 10 years old but does a good job.
Possibly also of interest: What camera do you use for nature photography? .

Some “sample” images Second-hand EOS 60D & 105mm Macro.


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I focus just about everything manually (the auto focus on my lens is slower and less accurate) and although you will need to practice and get used to it it shouldn’t be a problem.

It depends on what you want to photograph, where you take photographs and what your budget is, but some things to think about:

Weight: if you’re shooting one-handed often a mirrorless or compact camera might be more comfortable

Type of photography: nature + people, street, macro vs zoom, plants vs fast moving targets. Here you need to think about either multiple lenses, single ‘jack-of-all-trades’ lenses, multiple cameras or things like focusing speed and video

Conditions: shooting in dark areas a lot or at night? full frame might be preferred or at least lenses with large apertures. Shooting nature in the rain or dust etc, perhaps a weatherproof camera/lens setup is beneficial

Other considerations are the general things like image quality, speed, lens support, manufacturer support, second hand options, etc…

You can get good all-round lenses (e.g. 24-300mm) that will give great flexibility, but they’ll always sacrifice some image quality in doing so. You also probably won’t get the same zoom as your bridge camera in a DSLR/Mirrorless without a rather large price tag…

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Birds and Blooms magazine ran an article last year on nature photograpy with a smartphone and spotting scope, and your comment reminded me of it.

@jfox16, I think that I can scare up the article from their site, if you’re interested.

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I use a wide range of cameras (fixed lens and otherwise), and a lot of different lenses on my DSLRs and mirrorless. Nikon D600 (recently given away), GoPro, Canon 6D MkII, Olympus Tough series, Insta350 GO, Sony A7iii, Sony A6500, and more.

My recommendation for a casual user looking to upgrade, but not looking to go into serious hobbyist phase, or into semi-pro territory would be something like a Sony A6600 (has the newer high capacity battery) or the A6500 (has the older battery). Both have in-camera stabilization, so it works with any lens, both are small form factor, both are APS-C (this means you get the crop-zoom effect - which is a plus or minus depending on your preference), they have excellent low-light performance, and there are a lot of high quality lenses both from Sony and 3rd party manufacturers some surprisingly inexpensive for the quality you get.

These use the same e-mount system as other Sony cameras, so if you do decide to upgrade the camera later the lenses transfer over just fine (I buy full frame lenses rather than APS-C lenses specifically for this reason as my main camera is a Sony A7iii and I can use the same lenses for both cameras, as well as the older Sony cameras I have - a5100 and A7ii if I decide to revive them).

Many of the lenses have excellent autofocus, and most are focu-by-wire so you can override the autofocus manually without having to switch or change anything. I find it’s best to set the cameras up (whatever company’s cameras you use) with a back-focus button, that is, a switching the focus to a button on the rear that you use with your thumb, and setting the shutter button to only take photos, not focus. This allows for much faster, much more reliable, and much more repeatable photo taking.

The great thing about using an interchangeable lens system (SLR, DSLR, or mirrorless) is that if you want to take different types of photos (eg. macro vs long-distance bird photos vs landscape photos) you don’t have to by a new camera to suit that need, it’s just a lens away and you effectively have an entirely different camera.

If you don’t want to change lenses there are some very good zoom options.

The a6500 is the older camera and you can find new kits (with a basic lens) for around $1000 if you hunt around, or get good used ones in the $600 range (sometimes lower), which is nice as that frees up some money for an extra lens.

The a6600 is newer and is a good bit more money, but if you look in the used market you can find one around $1000.

Honestly, the main difference is in the battery, so if you don’t mind carrying around a couple of extra batteries (they’re pretty small, so it’s not like they take up a lot of space or weight), then go with the older option.

EDIT:

If you want really nice colors, the Sigma Art lenses are fantastic. I use the 70mm 2.8 macro Art lens all the time and it’s one of my favorite lenses. It gives great color and clarity.

Beetle

Snake

Some spiders

They make a 105mm .8 Art macro now too.

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Oh wow, I had been using that camera (Canon Powershot SX410) for several years as well! It was pretty good although I ended up with dropping it while chasing a flying bird (lol)
I would recommend Olympus TG-6, and definitely with FD-1 flash diffuser (and LG-1 LED diffuser- which is less versetile but sometimes more helpful than FD-1).

TG-6 (and probably its older versions) is extremely useful to photograph objects between 1-300 mm very clearly, especially superb for small insects and anything underwater since it is waterproof. It has just one weak point: it is awful when photographing anything in distance, especially birds.
I’d suggest using both TG and your current camera so then you will be able to photograph almost everything in good quality.

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I was using a Canon Rebel XSI that I bought used for 200 bucks and for a lens I spent 600 bucks on this Tamron https://cameracraftinc.com/shop/tamron-18-400mm-f3-5-6-3-di-ii-vc-hld-model-b028-canon/c88aa940-38b8-0135-1b16-00163e9110c0?variation=1770330
It is an extremely versatile lens that I use for birds to sweat bees, two complaints about it: the auto-focus is not the fastest or the smartest, and vibration control button is very easy to accidentally switch off (why did they make it so big?) So not something that you’re going to when awards with, but also not that expensive and can be used in a wide variety of scenarios.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/103336770
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/82111670
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/86936100

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I also carry both a TG-6, and a bridge camera with good zoom. The combination is less bulky than a DSLR with lenses.

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+1 to reply posted by @earthknight

A word about autofocusing: I use a Sony mirrorless full-frame camera with the appropriate lens for the given situation myself. When using a telephoto lens to photograph fauna in vegetation (as opposed to unobstructed fauna sitting/flying/swimming out in the open), the autofocus mechanism may lock onto the vegetation (and the bird or whatever may be out of focus), or, the focus may be on a part of the subject’s body that’s not what you’re after (I often focus in on the eyes, although coloration and feather patterns on birds are very often important to focus in on: but that depends on how your depth-of-field is set on your camera for that shot).

In these cases where vegetation may be a problem, the ability to switch to manual focus is critical. On my telephoto lens, I can depress a button that takes switches the camera to a manual focus mode without taking my eyes off the camera’s viewfinder. So, I generally let the camera’s autofocus get the scene focused in the general vicinity of the subject, then focus in manually to finetune the focus, making sure I get the image I want.

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I know you’re looking for a new camera, but thought maybe some other tips may be useful as well. I have a Canon PowerShot, too, and find the Raynox snap-on macro lenses to be my most useful accessory for close-up shots. The DCR-150 is easier to work with but has less magnifying power than the DCR-250. Focusing with these can be tricky so often I end up taking lots of pictures with the focus locked and moving the camera back and forth slightly in hopes to hit the “sweet spot” and delete the out-of-focus ones or do a focus stack in post-processing if I end up with a suitable series of pictures.

I noticed a tendency to dull colors, too, if the camera is used on auto settings. I do pretty much all my shots in “vivid” color mode and that helps a lot with that. Typically the colors look good with that straight out of camera. You could check for that setting on yours and give it a try.

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@robotpie The Canon PowerShots are point-and-shoot cameras.

I’ve been a faithful user of the Canon point-and-hope cameras for over a decade. I currently carry a PowerShot SX740 HS for daytime photography (especially that 40X zoom) and an SX620 HS for moth photography. My only gripe is that the flash functionality on the SX740 is such that I can’t find a setting which doesn’t wash out any close subject, day or night, so I’ve retained the SX620 for the latter.

I am in total agreement about the need for portability and spontaneity in nature photography. While my images may never be “magazine cover quality”, they seem to me very sufficient for documenting most of the array of nature I encounter, from birds to bugs to plants.

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I often caution against using the “vivid” settings on point-and-shoot cameras because that often distorts the true colors to an unwanted degree. This is especially true for groups I work with like birds and moths where subtle color differences can be important.

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I am very glad you posted this. I have recently been looking to upgrade from an inexpensive Sony point and shoot camera. I have the same problems you have encountered. But, I can recommend some things to help with your current camera before you move on/up to something else.

The past three years, I have been trying to find dragonflies/damselflies. I have run into problems with my camera being unable to focus on some tiny subjects. One solution that I have used is to find an object about the same distance away, focus on it, hold the shutter button and move the view back to the original subject. Granted, this doesn’t work all the time because dragonflies/damselflies…well, they fly. See diagram below.

Getting the right color: You have to either do two things to compensate for various lighting conditions. Cloudy days, summer harsh noontime sun and winter days result in a blueish tone on a photo. You can choose a different setting on your camera to get the right color. I won’t go into that because settings vary between cameras. And, changing setting can take time which you don’t always have with a living, potentially moving subject. But, you can practice this when you have time with an unimportant subject. Practice is very important. You need to learn how your camera’s settings work before you go into the field. For example, my camera has a setting where I can choose a florescent lighting situation. If choose this, the camera will “warm up” the image. Using settings like this can be helpful. But, I find that the camera often doesn’t get it right (like gcwarbler mentioned). I prefer the next method.

I also adjust my photos in a computer paint program. For example, the blueish light can be compensated for using a simulated warming tone (yellow/orange wash) on an image. (Note: Always work on a copy of your original file.) You can often find something in a photo like a green leaf that can help you adjust the color of an image to get it right. Sometimes, just adjusting the brightness and contrast can fix an image. Never over saturate an image. That looks really bad. For me, focus is the most important thing in an image. Focus/sharpness is the most important thing. The brightness/contrast and colors can often be adjusted on a computer. But, something out of focus is very difficult to save on a computer. So., if you have the time, try to get the original image correct in all these aspects. Take as many photos as you can with a subject adjusting settings as you shoot. I have experimented with a monopod lately.

I have an iNaturalist account; so, you can go look at my images. I think I get some successful images that can help with an identification.

Now, I am going to read the responses and search eBay for something.

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