What's a good affordable camera for insect observations?

What’s a good proper camera for making observations that’s relatively affordable? I’ve been using my iphone 7’s cracked camera for years now, and it’s less than ideal, it makes it really hard to ID rare observations I make, and I’m completely unable to photograph exceptionally small insects.


I am less knowlegeable on cameras, but do you have a macro lens? They make ones that can clip onto a phone. A macro lens alone could improve your photos of small organisms.


You could try a second-hand DSLR camera from ebay or some other outlet that has second-hand camera gear. I recently bought one myself from ebay. The Canon DSLR camera body and two kit lenses with a charger cost $280AU and it’s practically brand new. I think the previous owner used it twice. For your macro photography like insects etc, you could pair something like that up with a normal lens and extension tubes for about $15-$20. If you’re serious, stay with a relatively cheap camera body but buy a dedicated macro lens, and for that it’s about $1000 onwards.


For the past 15 years or so, I have been using the Canon PowerShot point-and-shoot (“point-and-hope”) cameras. I have been very pleased with the results for insects. I currently have an SX620 (several years old; starts at about $300) which is excellent for moths, small bugs, etc. I also use an SX740 (newer; about $450) for most daytime photography. The latter camera has a 40X zoom which can be useful for butterflies at 10 to 30 ft away or birds up to 50 to 100+ ft away. Here are links to some of my recent insect images and bird images:
Insects: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?d1=2023-06-09&d2=2023-06-15&place_id=any&taxon_id=47158&user_id=gcwarbler&verifiable=any
Birds: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?d1=2023-06-09&d2=2023-08-03&photos&place_id=any&taxon_id=3&user_id=gcwarbler&verifiable=any
Note: I do a lot of serious cropping to focus on the subject insect or bird; in the original images, the critters are usually much smaller than what you see in my upolads.


I use a Canon EOS 60D and old sigma 105mm macro lens that + a kit zoom and uv filter (came with the camera) cost me about $700 AU - all second hand.

Note: I mostly photograph plants and the autofocus on most old equipment is useless so you will need to get used to manual focus (not as hard or slow as it sounds).

Example of the photos I get out of it.


Lovely shots.

When choosing your camera body, I’d strongly advise taking a look at the price and availability of used lenses in your country. My first body was a Nikon D90 I got for dirt cheap with something like a 13k shutter count, and while it’ll always have a special place in my heart, if I had to do it all over again I would go Canon just for lens availability. I got a used Laowa 100mm which is absolutely fantastic, but would have been 150€ cheaper and much more readily available in Canon EF mount. Same deal when I got my 150-600mm birding lens.

Also, keep in mind that to get decent photos, especially of smaller stuff, you’re going to want an external flash and a diffuser (you can probably get both for around 60€ total). Using the embedded flash is technically possible (that’s what I’ve been doing thus far) but it’s less than ideal. That goes for both dedicated macro lens and doubly so for extension tubes.


The most important part of macro photography is the lighting by flash, and how you diffuse the light is the most important.

I’ve been doing macro photography with compact cameras, smartphone cameras, USB cameras, mirrorless and DSLR for about 10 years altogether, mainly for molluscs and insects.
Since I am a macro photography equipment nerd with no bias towards any manufactures, you can ask me if you need further advice.

This is a list of what you need, to take professional level insect images (costs around $500-$1000 usd)

1. Any used mirrorless or DSLR that is weather sealed, manufactured within recent 12 years- preferably those with more than 15 million pixels. $100 onwards
I recommend Olympus E-M1 or Pentax K-5 as they are nicely weather sealed and are cheap.

NOTE: Newer cameras have better image quality when using high isos. However when you use flash for macro it does not matter that much and old cameras perform nearly as good.

Cheap used cameras from Canon or Nikon are mostly not weather sealed or only weakly sealed, so dusts etc easily get in. Not the best for field use.

2. Any used 1:1 macro lens. $100 onwards.. For Olympus, M.Zuiko 60mm F2.8 macro is the best for the cost (I use it). For Pentax you have quite a few options such as Tamron or Pentax 90mm f2.8 macro.
You can buy Raynox DCR250 for about $70 and attach it in front of a macro lens for more magnification.

**3. Any speedlite/flash to put on the hotshoe of the camera. $160 onwards **
Godox V350 is very good and it is compatible is pretty much all the camera manufactures (make sure to get the one that is compatible with the camera you decided)
You can get very cheap other ones too, but many of them aren’t powerful enough.

A very common mistake is to use continuous lighting like LED. I wasted years of time trying to get good pictures with those. While they are useful in some limited situations, I absolutely recommend just using flash.

4. Any good diffuser. $0 onwards ←Most important
You can make your own diffuser, even just from a piece of A4 paper. There are a lot of methods online.
If you want to buy one, you can get something like this[https://www.amazon.com/Lumpna-Speedlight-Accessories-Photography-Lightweight/dp/B07W3S6GJW/ref=sr_1_15?crid=3HV023ZFBEU2&keywords=flash+diffuser&qid=1692411272&sprefix=flashdiffuser%2Caps%2C275&sr=8-15] or you can get AK diffuser or Cygnustech Diffuser for around $100 usd.


This really depends on:

  • your budget (what is “affordable” to one person may be “expensive” to someone else)

  • what equipment you want to carry around / how much processing of the photos you want to do

  • what you want to photograph (how small, how far away, what else you will be using the camera for besides small insects)

  • whether you want to take “nicer”/more professional photos or just ones that capture details needed for ID.

For some uses/needs, a clip-on macro lens for your phone or a hand lens may be sufficient. For others, you may want a proper camera and a macro lens and other equipment to go along with it (flash, tripod, software or in-camera function for focus stacking, etc.). And there are all sorts of gradations in between (newer phone camera, point and shoot camera, bridge camera…)

Some previous threads on photo equipment:

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It helps if you define ‘affordable’. Also, what kind of insects? If you’re after the sub 1 cm range, it’s a different path than say, odonata and most moths and butterflies.

Here’s a sample page of my low-end (around 200 USD) system I put together using a used, old Canon bridge with a Raynox.

Before this, I started with an even cheaper (150) used Olympus TG5 – which I still shoot with as it’s so portable and weatherproof.

If I’m shooting sub-1 cm stuff now, my first ‘fair weather’ choice is a more expensive solution, an old (used, 300 USD) Sony Alpha 6000 with a manual (used, 200 USD) Laowa 2x 100mm lens.

The dedicated macro gives me the ability to focus from max mag up to infinity so I can easily find and creep in slowly for a close shot. The extra pixels of a DSLR (vs a bridge camera)makes things a lot easier too for the smaller stuff.

Tripod or monopod? They’re too bulky and slow to set up, and I’m too lazy.

Same with flash. I prefer relying on great RAW processing software with high ISO settings. Though now I also carry a pocket
-sized LED work light for dusk and darker shooting.

Or, if you carry a phone, create a small photo gallery of solid fills (warm to cool whites) as images for a pocket flood lamp). Especially if you’ve got high ISO RAW in your workflow.

If you go the bridge cam/Raynox clip lens route, try to find a camera model with RAW shooting support. That’s where the high ISO low noise post-shoot processing option really, well… shines.

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