What do y'all use to take pictures for observations?

I’ve been really considering getting some kind of camera lately to take photos of wildlife for the purpose of making observations and such. I use an iPhone XR to take all my pictures, and in my experience, it’s been great for getting pictures of things from six inches away or further, but it goes wildly out of focus when trying to get close-up shots (while trying to get pictures of plant pores/hairs, for example), and the photo quality drops significantly the more you zoom in on something. Otherwise, this phone camera has been amazing for me! But, I guess I’d say it lacks in the regard of trying to get good species-identifying photos.

So, what kind of camera/lens do you use when you’re taking photos for your observations, or just when capturing wildlife in general? I think most iNaturalist users out there use their phone camera like I do, but I’d love to invest in an upgrade.

I’ve been thinking about buying a Olympus TG-6 camera lately because it appears to be relatively compact and easy to take around with me as I wander around outside getting photos. However, my only concern is the fact that it only has one lens, which I’ve been warned might not provide great value for the price. Do any of y’all use an Olympus TG-6 as well? If so, how’s your experience with it?

I’m open to any recommendations of cameras that are convenient to carry around and have good plant/animal/fungi observation photo potential! Thanks for reading.


I either use my phone camera or my dslr; I have a Nikon D5100 with a few different lenses, though unfortunately my good telephoto lens has been in the shop for the last two months so I’ve been living off a 1970s manual zoom 70-200mm telephoto.

That’s probably approximately zero help XD

EDIT: Shop lens (if I ever get it back) is a 70-300mm nikkor lens


Phone cameras are too good these days not to use for little things…
Canon T7 with a 75-300mm lens mainly for birds and animals and other fine close up pics, and iPhone for most plants - unless its something special like an orchid!


I use my phone for casual observations but I use a Pentax K-70 for work. When I’m working, I sometimes shoot 1000+ photos in a day and my phone just doesn’t have the memory or battery capacity for that. I use georeferenced photos from the Pentax to map rare plant populations. I also have 50 mm and 105 mm macro lenses for the Pentax to get good close-up shots of plants and insects.

I have tried the clip-on macro lenses for my phone and they’re ok but they tend to be very blurry at the edges of the photo and have a super shallow depth of field so it’s hard to get the right things in focus.


The Olympus TG-6 is a super tough waterproof camera which does fantastic macro. I have not used it personally but have two friends who use it and they really like it.

If you want an interchangable lens system, recently bought a OLYMPUS OM-D E-M1 Mark II with a 60mm macro and it’s supposed to be one of the most powerful macro systems on the market and I’m very impressed with it.

My worry was also that I didn’t want to be locked into a fixed lens system (and also generally like carrying long lens) which is why I didn’t get the TG-6. The only thing the TG-6 does better than the em-1 is that it has GPS.


95% or so of my observations are made with my phone, which mostly consist of plants, but occasionally I take photos of animals as well. Because of my past/current hobbies I’ve accumulated all manner of photography equipment, so here are my thoughts;

It all depends on what you want out of an observation. For me, the convenience of always having my phone without needing to bring anything along outweighs my desire for beautiful photos and perhaps missing some flying bird/insect. I rarely carry a pack, but always have binoculars and a loupe. Phone itself is good for things I can get close to. If I need macro I put my loupe in front of it, and for far away things like birds or distant skittish bugs I hold it to my binoculars. They also sell cheap macro lenses for phones if holding it to a loupe is too difficult. My phone also stores GPS into the photos I take which makes it easier when uploading observations, and I really like the iNat Android app interface when uploading (much prefer it vs web uploader).

DSLR/superzoom point and shoots are nice but can be clunky and are another thing to carry and make sure batteries and such are charged. It’s really not that much more but I usually don’t carry a pack and with binoculars it can be a lot to manage dangling off your body. I’ll bring my superzoom out kayaking since it is small but can capture distant things, and the DSLR (with either macro or telephoto lens) I’ll bring out when I want nice photos of things.

Regarding the TG-06, it is an absolute beast. Takes fantastic macro photos and makes it very easy so there are way more keepers versus my experience with a DSLR. Obviously the quality isn’t as good but uncropped the photos look pretty nice. I also use it for snorkeling where it does an equally great job. It also is capable of storing GPS data within photos making uploading to iNat that much easier. I love the little thing. I would say that if using a loupe/macro lens with your phone isn’t satisfactory for you, you’ll likely be happy with this as an alternative. The only thing I can’t speak to well is for distant things. I think it’s OK for some distant things with 4x optical zoom, but I really haven’t tested it and that range won’t be enough for things like songbirds.


iPhone 11 (no clip-on lens) and Nikon D300 with 105mm macro lens and ring flash

Phone insect example: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/158469316
Camera insect example: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/157447337


I recently bought an Olympus TG-6 because it’s both waterproof (I recently got a basic diving certification and am hoping to take pictures of wildlife down there eventually) and quite competent at macro photography - at this point I feel like it has capabilities beyond my meagre skills as a photographer, so I still have room to learn and grow with it. A few observations I’ve made with mine include this bristle millipede, this springtail (the first image used the camera’s focus stacking mode to get a greater depth of field, though I accidentally had the LED off at the time so it’s rather dark), and this spider on the underside of a lichen agaric mushroom. I’d say all these animals were 3mm in size or smaller.

It’s surely not as good as you could get with a professional-level camera with interchangeable lenses. But it costs significantly less than cameras with interchangeable lenses (and less than many of the macro lenses for those cameras!), so as someone with limited photography skills or knowledge, who has a smaller budget, and who’s mainly interested in quickly getting a lot of identifiable images of small or underwater things, rather than getting truly beautiful shots, I feel happy with the purchase.

It’s not great at long-range photography, of course. I have a Pixel 7 Pro and the telephoto lens built into that phone feels like it’s noticeably better than what the Olympus can do at the same range. I tend to have both with me at once, using my phone for GPS tracking as well, so for far-off things or if it’s moving and I happen to have my phone in hand, I go for the phone; otherwise I go for the Olympus.


The Olympus TGs are amazing for giving you a truly pocketable macro system. I mean, the stack focusing, 4K video? It’s what really launched me into more serious macro than my phone. I still carry it with me almost anywhere I go.

But, there’s also a lot of larger life outside of the standard macro range. And much of it way too shy to get close enough with a TG to get an ID shot. That’s why I decided to go for a zoom bridge camera and a few months later, a macro extension lens for that.

I started with a cheap, used Canon Powershot (SX540) which has a 50x zoom so I did mange to get some decent bird shots, etc. With the Raynox-250 macro extender on it, I can zoom into a frame width of about 5.5mm. The TG-5 I have can get to 7.5 but you have to practically be on top of the subject. The camera/Raynox combo is more like a 4 inch gap between lens and subject. Also, the 50x zoom allowed me to catch larger macro stuff like butterflies and dragonflies at a much more usable distance of say 10 or 12 feet. Here’s a simple sample macro gallery I made using the SX540/Raynox-250 to give you an idea.

Enter the superzoom quest. I started to wonder how far the Raynox would go with some of the newer higher zoom bridge cameras and I came across a great deal on a used Nikon P950. This camera not only had RAW, it had 4K video, which the old Canon did not. Plus it has an 80x zoom (35mm of 2000) and a whole other bunch of features that the little Canon lacked. Best of all, the Raynox-250 worked! Not quite as well, in that as it has a much wider final lens, the smaller Raynox lens gives a lot of silhouetting which was hardly a factor with the Canon. Still, I can now zoom in as close as to just a tad over a 2mm frame width. Same 16mm resolution (the little ‘peashooter’ sensor as most bridge cams) but another whole integer of magnification.

And just recently, I’ve added another great trick for macro work: I use the 950’s 4K video mode to pull a short focus-field clip of a subject, and use a stacking software pack to put this together. Here’s an example:

So now, I just pack the Nikon 950 around the neck, the Raynox in my coat pocket, a few spare batteries – and I’m good for quite a lot of observing power in a very small, very light field package. (Okay, I still pocket my TG-5 as a backup, I admit. Mostly out of habit.)

But I’m loving it and I can’t wait for more things to come and crawl into shooting range to have more fun. One small system, and if you can find a superzoom bridge used (I’m sure that this can work with the other makes) you too can enjoy going from this:

to this

with a very manageable (size, weight), and relatively affordable, camera gear investment.

Unless it’s raining. Then I just stick my Olympus TG in my pocket and feel good that I don’t have to cancel all my observing plans.


I always shoot with my phone and binoculars for everything. I dont have a camera and sometimes it really is difficult to get things on focus especially super small insects like this one.
When using binoculars I can get photos like this or this.

I’ve ordered clip-on lenses:
but I haven’t tried them yet.


The Olympus TG6 you’re considering is a super solid choice, I’ve seen so many great macro photos on here using that camera plus it’s waterproof. I rented one for a few days once to use snorkeling and it’s great, especially if you don’t want to commit to a full mirrorless/DSLR system.


I’m using a Nikon D7500, mostly with a Tamron 150-600 G1 lens. When I can be bothered to switch lenses (almost never), I also use extension tubes with either an old Sigma 70-300 lens or a fast-ish Nikkor 50mm.

I’m considering buying a TG6 myself for close-up/macro work, since in the end it’s cheaper than some of the macro lenses I’m considering, it’s less of a hassle to carry and switch between telephoto and macro.

One tip from experience: don’t fall into the birding trap. It’s not worth it, you end up with ridiculously bulky and expensive lenses that somehow still aren’t enough. And even then half the time you’re thinking “I wish I had my tripod with me”, even though you’re already walking for hours with a heavy bag.


I use a Canon PowerShot SX30 IS for medium- and long-distance photos, and a Sandmarc macro lens phone attachment for close-ups of small things.

Others on this thread have pointed out that getting the phone attachment lenses to focus can be tricky, and often the edges of the photo come out blurry. Personally, I’m fine with that — my main goal is to capture enough detail on the organism to aid with identification, not necessarily to produce an aesthetically pleasing photo.

Here are a few photos I got with the help of my 25mm macro lens phone attachment just so you can get an idea of the quality:
Pinhead spot snail, fungus gnat, glass snail(?)

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My Samsung A23 phone has a great macro function for plants, moths, spiders and other small relatively still things. It doesn’t do as great on larger or further away things but a lot of that is stability. I have an older Cannon DSLR type at work that is great for everything else but not so good at close ups (or at least I am not very good with the macro lens). Then I have a Kodak Pixpro digital that is a good travel camera that doesn’t do anything great (except maybe general scenery) but does everything ok and is affordable.

Honestly, it is really a combination of what you want to shoot, your budget, how big of a camera you want to deal with, and what level of quality you hope to achieve.


Wait … some of us like to be burdened by heavy telephoto camera gear. Except when you haven’t seen any birds or other animals to shoot after you’ve walked a few miles.


I currently use SONY a7r iii with Laowa 90mm f/2.8x macro and an HVL-F60RM2. I chose this setup because it is versatile in the macrophotography world, but could still be utilized for landscape and portrait. That being said, the setup is quite heavy after several hours of use, so if you (or anyone else) goes the SONY/Laowa route, I would suggest using the Laowa 85mm and a lighter speedlight (ie: Godox) as it would reduce the weight of the setup quite significantly and help with stabilization when doing hand-held.


The issue is that most people don’t realise the pipeline that exists between “I wish I could take better pictures of birds” and “I just walked 17km with my gear this afternoon for 8 observations, also if I ever fall I risk losing at least a full month of wages”. I’m of course exaggerating, I think it was only 16.8km today according to Google Maps.


If the 8 observations were good photos, it was worth it. The rest of the hike lugging heavy gear you can file under “physical conditioning.” (My telephoto camera gear is only 6-7 pounds so not that bad.)


I am a user of Olympus TG-6 and Nikon P900 and they work great when you know how to use it.
But, for TG, you almost always need the FD-1 flash diffuser or LD-1 led diffuser.
For iNat macro, FD-1 would be better because LED on TG is pretty weak.
Without FD-1, the flash will create big ugly shades and lots of ugly highlights.

Also, while TG-6 is a very good option for underwater and macro, the focal length (35mm equiv. 24-100mm) of it is absolutely not enough for distant objects like birds. Even if they come as close as pigeons in cities, you wouldn’t be able to get a good photo.
So, it would be best to have a bridge camera or an interchangable lens camera with a telephoto lens to support TG.

Regarding to bridge cameras. In my experience (and by reviews on internet), I don’t recommend Canon or Panasonic variants like SX70 or FZ300, because the quality of lens is not very good and it makes birds look like oil paintings at the maximum zoom.
I would recommend Nikon P900/P950/P1000, B700 (or older variants), or Sony RX10III.

Oh, but Not RX10iv. It’s the best bridge camera in terms of autofocus, but it’s so so expensive.
It will be just cheaper and better to get a interchangable lens camera+ telephoto lens e.g. 75-300mm, 100-400mm.

For iNat, P900 would probably be pretty good since it has one of the best optical zoom, very good vibration reduction and a pretty accurate GPS. I could take identifiable images of shore birds that were more than 200m away, and pretty images of kingfisher that was 20m away, both handheld. Unfortunately it’s autofocus isn’t very fast, so it’s not a good option if you want to take pictures of birds in flight.

But, keep in mind that most bridge cameras including p900 isn’t very good at taking good photos in bad condition (e.g. cloudy day) unless you use slower shutter speed which will reduce the keeper rate.

If you are gettting an interchangeable lens camera, combinations like olympus E-M1 Mark ii + 75-300mm lens (probably the most cost effective), or Canon eos R10+old 400mm f5.6L lens, or oldish dslr+ Sigma/Tamron 100-400 or 150-600mm lens might be cost effective, but there are heaps of other options too.
They all give much better quality than bridge cameras when you know how to use them, but they tend to be bigger.

FYI: recently I found out that Olympus TG-5 isn’t very different in terms of image quality but is pretty cheaper than TG-6 . If your budget is tight, TG-5 might be a good option too.


Hello milaturov. Ive been using an Olympus tg-6 for the last 2 years. Its been amazing at getting very close macro shots and I love it for that. Its also very robust, which makes it perfect to bring with me anywhere I go, especially at work (It fits in my cargo pants pocket).

The photo quality isnt that great, I feel like the color is always a bit to cold and very white if that makes any sense. But I would still recommend it if you like taking close up macro shots.

I also use it for underwater photography using the underwater case that I bought from their website.

For any other pictures that does not require macro shots, I use a Nikon Coolpix P900 which is absolutely fantastic. Im not a camera guy, so I cant talk about the specs and stuff. But believe me It does a great job for birding and getting insects from afar (Like a faraway butterfly on a flower).
Just use the zoom for any of these situations. It zooms up to x83. Best purchase ever.