Ancient iPhone6 that cannot do anything but email, clock, Inaturalist, and Ebird
Most of my observations are underwater and for that I mostly use the Olympus TG6. I have just bought an Olympus OMD EM5 mk1 which I’m still getting used to.
On land I use the TG6 or a Panasonic GH4 that I got for a really good deal. With the GH4 and a couple of lenses I could finally take pictures of birds and things that until now I had to hold my TG6 up to a binocular lens…with not great results.
I usually have a camera with me but if I don’t my crappy phone camera gets put to use to make the observation.
Bottom line, I love the TG6 and I think it’d be a great investment. It’s rugged, good price point, intuitive and has a good range even without additional lenses. It’s macro capabilites are awesome with the in-built microscope mode. If you want to take pictures of anything further afield though (like birds) this isn’t the camera for you. For fungi, bugs, spiders, plants etc I recommend it.
I also use the same TG-6+P900 combo. Absolutely great.
FYI, regarding to the colour of the TG-6; you can always adjust it. The default is a bit cold indeed, but you can change the white balance (shown like sunny, cloudy, shaded, underwater etc) setting to get the colour you want. Also you can adjust it very accurately by increasing or decreasing the colour warmth (shown like 5200k- higher the kelvin, warmer it is)
I recommend always putting FD-1 diffuser when using flash.
Used to use my phone and you can tell a few of my early observations were with it. Then upgraded to a D3400, but after getting annoyed at a few limitations of it i got a Nikon Z7II and a Tamron 150-600 for the bulk of the distant ones and a Nikon Z 105mm macro for up close stuff.
I’m a macro photography enthusiast, long-term DSLR user and WAY TOO obsessed with quality, but as the years go by, I also find that sometimes lugging heavy cameras and lenses around is just too much… so I invested in a TG-6. Honestly I wasn’t hoping for much, but I’ve been really surprised by the excellent quality, particularly for macro. I’d agree though that for photos of distant birds and such like, it’s not the best bet.
Big fan of phone photography since I always have it on me and can keep a few simple tools in my bag at all times: a 10x clip on macro lens and a pair of binoculars with a phone mount attachment. Of course, not always professional grade photos but they are pretty good and get the job done with identifiable pics for iNaturalist! Lightweight and far more rain and bump resistant than an expensive camera + lenses.
For super small, taking photos with a phone through a microscope works just as well as through binoculars. They also make some good plug-in handheld digital microscopes for good prices. We use the Carson zPix 300 at work.
I currently have an iPhone 12 with an attachable macro lens for the small stuff. I use the moment 10x lens specifically.
I found myself in a similar position a few months ago: after exclusively using a cell phone plus a couple of clip-on lenses for all my iNatting for about a year, I decided it just wasn’t meeting my needs anymore and I wanted something that would enable me to take better bee photos. Also I was tired of the futility of trying to photograph anything further than about 5 meters away.
Initially I was convinced that what I wanted was a compact travel zoom – my habit has been to go out looking for weeds and insects on my way home from work or between errands, so “as small and light as possible” was very high on my list of criteria. I also had some idea that a raw beginner like myself who just wanted something with a bit more power/resolution and had no idea about things like apertures and ISO and focal length and so forth had no business purchasing anything other than a glorified point-and-shoot because all the functionality of a more complex camera would be completely wasted on me.
Well … after several weeks of intensive research, I ended up with something rather different than I had planned: a mid-range mirrorless camera which no longer qualifies as “pocketable” but is still quite portable. I’ve adjusted my daily handbag configuration so that I have it with me most days, though for photographing random insects on house walls I still prefer to rely on my cell phone as being less conspicuous and thus less potentially suspicious.
I adore it. I still probably haven’t used half its functions and I’ve found I have to relearn some of my photography approach because I was so used to working with the limitations of my cell phone, but the interchangable lenses offer more flexibility and room for growth as a photographer than I would have had with the models I was originally looking at. (I also ended up paying more than I had originally planned, but I decided that the expense was worth it.)
Here’s the thing, though: any of the cameras I had been considering would have been a major improvement on my previous set-up. Unless you have a new high-end cell phone, this is likely to be the case for you as well.
So I want to second this comment:
One thing I definitely recommend if you have an opportunity is to visit a camera or electronics store and handle some of the models that you are considering. I did a lot of reading reviews and comparing specifications but all of that is rather abstract – it isn’t the same as being able to take the camera in hand and get a sense of the ergonomics, how much (or little) heft it has, what the user interface is like, etc. It doesn’t matter how many megapixels a camera has or how much telephoto capacity if it isn’t something that you find enjoyable to use and carry around with you.
If you click on the “i” icon on a photo at the website, the metadata shown will usually contain the device model used to take the photo. You can choose photos you like of things you like and check the metadata to see how they were taken. If you photograph birds and insects you will need two different lenses so your choice depends also on what you are planning to photograph.
Oh, since you’re a professional diver using the TG-6, could I ask you about its waterproof depth performance? I’ve just got my open water certification and am also looking to observe wildlife underwater with my TG-6. I know it’s rated to 15m/50ft underwater, but I also know you can buy an underwater casing for it, so I assume at some depth it’s probably better to get the case just to be safe. Do you use any extra waterproofing accessories for the TG-6 on deeper dives and how do those impact image quality, if at all? Or do you just not take it below a certain depth?
I’ve found that for most of my plant observations, my iPhone 13 works better than a proper camera, although I’m still a beginner with the camera so that could be why. The iPhone does have some quality issues so I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it. For observations of things I can’t photograph with my phone, like tiny and/or far-away animals, I have had some success with my mom’s Nikon camera and a telephoto lens, but it’s hard to use and doesn’t have GPS. I’m hoping to get my own camera that’s better suited to my needs eventually.
When I’m just going by my normal day, I just use the good old classic iPhone. Fantastic for plants and stationary organisms, good for insects and other small animals, while for birds it only really works if they’re fairly close or very recognizable. Honestly, I prefer using the phone to the camera when it comes to plants, just because I can easily get the important bits and I don’t really care to get pretty pics of them anyway.
However camera-wise, Nikon D5600 is the way to go with me, especially since it came in a kit of the starter lens (don’t use much today) and the AF-P DX NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3G ED VR, my beloved telephoto lens. It’s fantastic for getting nice presentable shots of birds on the feeder and gets IDable pics from a good 100ish metres, maybe 200m, away. (obviously not presentable for a portfolio tho.) Luckily the entire kit was around 600ish euros (give or take 100), meaning the lens was off like 60% or more!
Meanwhile, with macro, Sigma MACRO 105mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM is the one I went with, due to the price , and the specs being suitable for me. I must say, after using the kit lens for some macro photography, a dedicated macro lens was so fresh and crisp, and has fully replaced the kit lens, so much so I barely use it (apart from when my family request certain types of pics) when out and about. It gets fantastic shots of features needed for ID on certain insects (like my more recent Miridae pics) with optimum quality.
However, I still need that flash diffuser…
Since animals are my go to subjects, those are the lenses I prioritized. As well, I’m more of a “if I get the shot, I get the shot” kind of person. First and formost, I am out getting good quality ID shots, and if I happen to get a shot that I find nice, I’ll clean that up more and admire it. :)
My wife and I go out every day on a walk with the purpose of collecting photographs and observing nature, so we do make the most of it. I carry either a Nikon Z9 or Z7 II with the 500mm f/5.6 PF, Z 400mm f/4.5, Z 100-400 f/4.5-5.6, or Z 105mm macro. I’ve also used my iPhone for some close-up shots of plants when carrying one of the longer lenses (that 3 meter minimum distance on the 500mm isn’t great for small things!), but I’m rarely happy with the quality from it.
Definitely been thinking of the TG-6 for a more regular carry item, but I’m having a hard time justifying that when our focus is so often on more distant wildlife. Maybe the TG-7 will come out one day with more features to tempt me.
A couple more comments
All cameras, including the ones built into cell phones, have a minimum focus distance – too close and it can’t focus at all. So getting closer won’t necessarily always allow you to get more detail. One solution for this, as mentioned by other participants in this thread, is to use clip-on macro lenses. These essentially work like a magnifying glass, but often mean you have to get very close indeed in order to focus (fine for plants, can be tricky for many insects).
Unless you have optical zoom (i.e., a mechanism that physically changes the way the light falls on the sensor), zooming in will generally mean a loss in image quality, because digital zoom essentially means that the camera is cropping a section of the full size image and enlarging it – it doesn’t allow the camera to capture more detail of that section.
There are some previous threads on this topic and the TG-6 seems to always be a popular point of discussion in them :)
Officially it’s rated to 15m without a housing. Depending on the housing that could be extended down to 60m…
Personally, I never take it in the water without a housing. I know it is waterproof and will work without one but I’d rather not expose it to saltwater unnecessarily. I would recommend getting a housing for it since 15m is a pretty shallow dive depth and would restrict your diving activities significantly. The Olympus housing is a popular choice. I opted for the Ikelite housing since it’s rated for deeper but in the end I found that while it kept my camera protected at its maximum depth the buttons seized past 40m making it unusable. I stick to the Ikelite because it what I’m used to now but both are good options.
Another good thing about the TG series is that since they’re waterproof without the housing, if there is ever a leak or housing issue underwater the camera will most likely survive it and live for another day.
I have seen people take them below 15m without a housing…and I’ve seen some of those people have no problems and some of them return with a broken camera. So I wouldn’t risk it!
Apart from the housing there’s no extra waterproofing accessories you need underwater. The housing will allow you to attached a tray/video light/strobes as well when you’re ready for that stuff.
Congratulations on your new dive certification btw! Feel free to shoot me a message if you have any diving/underwater equipment or photography questions in the future.
At this point Olympus should just start paying me a sales commission… I’d make a decent living that’s for sure!
I essentially have a scaled-down version of this set-up, minus the flash: a Sony 6400 with the Laowa 65 macro, which at the moment has been staying on my camera most of the time, unless I plan to be going somewhere there are likely to be distant birds (gulls/water birds/raptors) I want to photograph, in which case I will take the 18-135 kit lens which has a bit more reach. In either combination, it weighs in at ca. 750g, which I find quite manageable for carrying around all day.
But I’m mostly posting here because I want to rave about what an absolute gem the Laowa is – beautifully sharp, surprisingly compact, and quite reasonably priced for a macro lens. I love the 2x macro and the fact that it isn’t limited to exclusive macro use; it takes perfectly good pictures of more distant subjects as well. Overall, it’s a good allrounder for most of my usual iNatting needs (primarily plants and arthropods), though it isn’t much use for things like birds in flight.
It definitely is a more demanding lens in terms of the skill needed to use it effectively, and the lack of autofocus can be frustrating when trying to photograph fast-moving bees. However, the kit lens is also rather hit-and-miss under such circumstances even with autofocus, so I’m not sure my overall failure rate is necessarily all that much higher with the manual lens.
I use one of 3 point and shoot cameras. I have an iPhone 11 but I really don’t like using it for photos and thus I seldom do so. Because, wherever I go, I always have one of my cameras with me. And binos. I have no trouble with these items on me.
I use older cameras b/c I got them long ago and they work so I keep using them.
Nikon P510 (I have not found a need for a zoom beyond about 50x; this one is 42x).
Canon SX50 (so zooms to 50x but I seldom do; image quality begins to decline at about 40x).
Panasonic Lumix fz1000 - awesome lens and a 20MP sensor (the others are 12MP).
I got all of these used from eBay over the years. I mostly carry the fz1000 now. It can zoom to about 32x. My day job is ornithology although either collections or ringing (banding here in the US) and I don’t care to photograph birds, in general. I use the zooming function mostly for arthropods that won’t sit still. Insects are currently my favorite photo subject.
Phone only. I like to go light. I was talking to a fellow iNater about getting a camera and he said it would slow me way down once I started using it. My current phone is a Google Pixel 6 and I love the photo quality. I plan on getting a clip on macro lens to get better close up shots.