What camera should I buy?

Hello I take animal and plant photos regularly for Inaturalist and so far I have always used my phone. My phone camera is good and it works completely fine for most insect, plant, reptile and fungi photos (basically anything that is small and harmless that I can get up close and take photos of) but most mammals and birds quickly fly away or run away and I can’t get close to them so I end up with lots of blurry zoomed in photos that are terrible. I am looking for a cheap easy to use camera that is also small. Do you guys have any suggestions?
I am still fairly new to the inat forum and I am not sure if its okay to make this kind of post under the general tab or if its acceptable to post this here at all. Please let me know if its okay to post this here.


(I’ve moved this topic to ‘Nature Talk’ for you)

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I think there are quite a few threads about this and one frequently lauded model that has made me now really target my used camera searches is the Olympus TG-6 (or TG-5, very close). Small, waterproof, and even a ‘microscopic’ mode with built in image stacking. New, they’re a bit out of my $ range, but used (kinda rare) are pretty close (say 2-300).

I am finding that the bulk of my stuff is macro now and while my phone does pretty well, even with a good clip on, I’m not getting stuff like, say this:


depends on your budget.

Olympus TG is good for whatever your phone does, with better image quality and lighting. Older models like TG4 might well be worth considering, for much lower price.

if you are adding birds and other wildlife to your list then there isn’t a camera that will do both ends well without being expensive and bulky.

bridge cameras are fairly compact, can do tele end well, macro end adequately. DSLR and mirrorless cameras do both ends with appropriate lens, but that can get expensive quickly, and more bulky.

used gear on ebay is good budget option, on average half of what you’d paid for new gear depending on the year of release.

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I did a decent rundown of my thoughts on the Olympus TG-6 here…


Mammals and birds can be tricky to photograph without a way to maintain distance between yourself and the subject without the specimen fleeing after becoming aware of your presence. Obviously this isn’t the case with everything as I’ve literally almost ran into deer before, and stuff like pelicans, ducks, vultures are quite large compared to many birds and thus much easier to photograph.

Whatever system(s) you do incorporate, I insist you learn the limitations of your gear backwards and forwards by regularly reading the manual, familiarizing yourself with all internal functions on the camera and above all… practice.

I became miles better with my DSLR system after having specifically devoted time to practicing the exact functions (fast manual focusing, whilst constantly adjusting ISO and shutter speed to compensate for variable lighting).

That said, I use my underwater rig about 6 times a year, and while I know the system well, my resulting photos are can often be sub-par, mostly because I just don’t spend enough time using the system for this application to have the intuition to make on the fly adjustments correctly, especially when I’m struggling in the current or have other distractions in the water.


Thanks a lot

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Thank you every one for the replies I will definitely be checking out the Olympus TG models. I have also considered gopros but they seem to be made for filmography rather than photography but I might still check them out.


Thank you for your reply

Thanks for the links

I will definitely consider buying the Olympus TG models but they seem a little bit out of my price range.

The TG6 does not do distance shots well with only a 4X zoom. But I believe it is worth it for the macros and a variety of other features that seem to fit the avid iNaturalist user. I have only had it for a week and I am impressed. If I wanted more distant shots, I could bring my old barely functioning bridge camera (with 15X zoom), get my wife to shoot with her DSLR or get by with an audio recording or a digiscope image.

Small cameras won’t have good zoom, TG6 is not for anything at the distance, and unless you’re ready to spend on a mirrorless one, you will have bigger camera, check linked topics with suggestions for superzooms that will be smaller, lighter and easier to learn than DSLR, you can buy one later, for now something like Canon Powershot would be an amazing upgrade.

For compact cameras that offer a wide zoom ability; I am a fan of Panasonic Lumix line. There are a lot of compact cameras they offer that have great image quality and wonderful zoom ability - since it sounds like you need zoom for birds and such. A lot of them are quite small (meant to go in a pocket) and have 20-30x zoom (ie super telephoto, many go to 700mm which is reallllly zoomed in!) and are in the $200-$350 range depending on if you go used or new and what model in particular.

The Olympus TG series people mention is great for macro photography but not so great for the zoom photos it sounds like you want to take.

I wouldn’t super worry about jumping up to a DSLR or system camera unless that is a route you want to go, with interchanging lenses and all.

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I’ve got a Canon Rebel T5, with a 55-250 zoom. It has served my well for many years. Makes great shots which generally enlarge well.
Two things, unrelated to brand. Getting into DSLR photography can be complicated. Learning about ASA, f-stop and shutter speed and how they all work together. I started on film, so had a basis, but still can’t get light balance sorted out in different conditions.
Buy a UV filter and put it on the lens. Not so much for the filtering capability, but as a protection for the lens. Clear glass would work as well if you can find it. Cheaper to replace if it gets scratched than a lens!

Sony RX10 bridge camera without a shadow of a doubt - it has the ability to go from close ups of flowers out to distant birds etc with a 600mm zoom equivalent lens. Not the cheapest but worth every cent.


i think you’re describing the RX-10 III or IV. while they do take excellent photos near and far, they go for $1800 and $2200, respectively, and are somewhat chunky. not exactly:

I use the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ60. It is a bridge camera with good image stabilized telephoto (they say 9600x) and macro. Sometimes I have problems getting the focus sharp on macro, but part of that was learning / operator problems. I will probably go with their new model if this one fails.


I’m looking at a used FZ-80 as a nice small birding cam. I have a Sony Alpha with a 300 zoom but it’s hard to beat the reach for the buck of those FZs.

As I look closer at these FZ80s though, I’ve been coming across a few stories of focus problems (intermittent, very noisy), and quite a few stories of having the lenses replaced by Panasonic (under warranty, of course).

And I don’t get why the UK used prices for so many cameras are so much lower than used in North American.