The holiday season is almost upon us, and I'm sure now is the time your significant other, family, or friends are scratching their heads on what to buy you. Perhaps, you are also looking for something new to put in your camera bag. In this article, I choose 5 items ideal for wildlife photographers.
My first choice when it comes to lenses for wildlife photography is the Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3, this is a lens I have owned for a couple of years now and I love it! The throw range from 200 - 600mm is very quick with just a quarter turn, and this allows you to find your subject quickly and compose your image.
Another massive plus for this lens, is the barrel does not extend at all. This is a great feature especially when your camera is mounted on a gimbal head, because of no extension, you do not need to adjust the gimbal to rebalance it. When handholding, this feature is also beneficial as the lens does not get too front-heavy as it extends. These two features alone helped me to pick this lens over its closest rivals, which are the Tamron 150-500mm f/5-6.7 and the Sigma 150-600mm f5-6.3.
The Tamron and Sigma are cheaper options, but the native quality of the lens, and those other plus points made it a no-brainer for me out in the field. Now, if Sony wants to reach out and let me have the 400mm f/2.8 or the 600mm f/4.0, I would not complain!
The one feature I do not like about the Sony FE 200-600mm lens, is the included lens foot. It is not Arca Swiss compatible. You can, of course, attach a suitable plate to the bottom of the foot to fit on the tripod, or the other option is you can buy third-party feet for this lens, which may be your better option.
Being out in the field, I often wish for more reach and the Sony FE 1.4x Teleconverter is one option to get there. Depending on which model camera you have, you may just prefer to crop, but in wildlife photography, sometimes the cropping can be very heavy so in my opinion, it is best to get as close as possible to the subject in the field. A teleconverter is a great option to get that extra reach, which also means you can still keep a nice distance away from your wildlife subject.
The 1.4x teleconverter would turn the 200-600mm lens into a 280-840mm lens. The downside is the aperture range drops to f/8.0 - f/9.0. If you choose the 2x Teleconverter, the focal range becomes 400-1200mm at f/11.0 - f/13.0.
One other downside to Teleconverters, is you may lose sharpness. From my own tests and from research, the 1.4x suffers a lot less with the drop in sharpness, as opposed to the 2x which makes sense.
The sacrifice in loss of aperture and loss of sharpness is a worrying prospect, but if you are lucky to be photographing your subjects in great light most of the time, it should not really be a problem and I still highly recommend this for your camera bag. It is nice and compact, and can even fit in your pocket.
Tripods are a great purchase for wildlife photographers, and the choices available are crazy! I spent 2 months searching through the online stores looking for a new tripod. The costs can really climb depending on what you are looking for, such as do you prefer carbon fiber or aluminium, video head or ball head, and even center column or no centre column. The choices are abundant, and depending on what choice you make, the costs reflect on those decisions.
When I was searching for a new wildlife tripod, I wanted a few things: video head, carbon fibre, lightweight, and can take the weight of my gear. I eventually decided to try out the Benro Tortoise Carbon Fibre 3 Series Tripod System with S4Pro Video Head.
When I received this tripod, I was impressed with the packaging and the nice carry bag it comes with, it felt more luxurious than other carry bags I have had with tripods. The tripod and video head itself, are nice quality, very sturdy which is the most important part, and easy/quick to set up.
I have used the tripod a few times out in the field now, and for the price of around $400, I am impressed.
A camera bag for wildlife photographers is a big deal. You want a camera bag that can fit in the often very large lenses plus any other gear you may own. For my kit, I opted to buy the Vanguard VEO Adaptor R48 backpack, which for the price, I am very happy with. My Sony 200-600mm lens fits in there perfectly, even when attached to my Sony A7 IV camera body. I also have room for a few of my smaller lenses, plus plenty of pocket space for spare cards, SSDs, filters, and spare batteries.
The backpack opens up at the back so you do not need to worry about the extra weight opening the bag up by itself (that happened with my older bag and my gear fell out onto the road). Opening up at the back is also a great security feature.
The bag comes with a waterproof cover, which is always very handy and for this bag in particular, you also have connections inside, which you can plug in a power bank to use for on-the-go charging. The backpack is nice and comfortable to wear, even with heavy gear inside. I'm not sure it would be suitable for the larger 400mm or 600mm primes, but for the larger zooms, it certainly works.
This is an item, I tend to keep in the car. Whilst the majority of the time I am photographing wildlife, I am out and about, lying down in fields, sitting in a hide, or walking around beaches etc., there are other times, that I use my car as a hide.
Many species of wildlife have become accustomed to cars driving by, but still get scared at the sight of people, so if I find a safe place to park and I know my target species comes close to that spot, I can pop a beanbag on the window and shoot from inside of the car. The beanbag offers great support for your lens, and will eliminate camera shake if you were hand holding the large lens.
Beanbags are very lightweight, so you do not have to leave it in the car, you can certainly take it out and about with you, especially if you want to be more stealthy without setting up a tripod.
It is a humble piece of gear and a valuable piece in my collection.
These are my five gift ideas for wildlife photographers. Whether you are a beginner to wildlife photography or experienced, I hope this gives you great food for thought.
Options are aplenty in this field, there are so many lenses, tripods, bags etc. all available to look at but this should narrow down and give you an idea of what I use, and helps me out in the field to get the results I want.
What items would you buy? Are there any items you would put on the list? Let us know in the comments below.