Wildlife Photography on a Budget – A Fact or a Myth

Hello Everyone

Wildlife Photography on a Budget, is it possible? Doesn’t sound like it is, right? Believe it or not, it is 100% possible. This is a very common misconception that wildlife photography is cut out only for the wealthiest of the lot. Often wildlife photographers are seen with telephoto lenses, multiple camera bodies, and all the other paraphernalia, so it’s quite likely that it creates a false impression. Although wildlife photography isn’t cheap, not even by a long shot, you can certainly get started within a budget.

Try to think of it this way, even the professional photographers on Nat Geo or Animal Planet started with the basics and then moved up the ladder slowly. Being a beginner, that’s what you should be concerned about – THE BASICS. Well, stick around because I am gonna tell you how to get started in wildlife photography on a budget!

Budget ? – What does it Mean?

When I say photography on a budget, it doesn’t mean that you can do it without investing in any equipment. You have to fulfill the basic requirements, that is, you must possess a camera (doesn’t matter even if it’s an entry level on or a glorified point and shoot), next come the lenses which I’ll discuss in detail shortly and the tripod. There is a wide range of tripods available in the market and you don’t necessarily have to choose the most expensive one. Also, it wouldn’t hurt if you are able to afford a good camera bag, it will help you in the longer run. Check out some great bags here.

At any given point of time, a professional wildlife photographer carries gear which costs thousands of dollars, but you can start even with a fraction of it. The reason why I am saying this is that most people generally don’t realize that better gear does not necessarily mean better pictures. You must possess the right skills and must know the right techniques to make good pictures.

Well, let’s get back to the topic – Since, you are a beginner, you must try to save every penny you got. Now you can do this in a few different ways.

1. Don’t Buy, Rent Renting lenses and camera bodies can save you a lot of money. As you will be traveling for a week or so in the wild, you can always rent lenses for that period. They will ship them off to you after finishing a few formalities. There are a lot of online portals like BorrowLenses , LensRentals and LensProToGo.

2. Invest in Traveling – Once, you have acquired the basic equipment, the next step is to explore as much as you can. Invest the majority of your budget in traveling, going on safaris and doing workshops rather than just buying new stuff.

3. Plan in Advance – Always book your travel in advance because that’s when you will get the cheapest prices on lodges, hostels and safaris. Since, national parks and wildlife sanctuaries allow you to book online, you can easily do so. Many websites offer discounts on group travels and some even have the option of pooling. It works just like car pooling except you book a seat or two in the safari van.

I am quite sure that these tips will help you in saving a lot of money. Let’s look at some good cameras and lenses which aren’t the best in the world but surely the best in the beginner’s lineup.

Camera Body

Once upon a time, I was given a very valuable advice by a very reputed photographer. He told me that one should never spend more than 30% of his budget on camera bodies. Instead, spend the rest on buying quality lenses. I didn’t believe it at first but to my surprise, a good quality lens can do wonders even with a simple beginner DSLR. For example, look at this image, it was shot with a Nikon D3200. This doesn’t mean that you should totally ignore the camera.

There is no doubt that a good camera can improve the quality of your shots so it is imperative that we focus on it. These are my top recommendations for someone looking for a good but affordable camera body.

1. CANON Rebel T7i or 800D
All the canon lovers, this is the best entry-level Canon DSLR your money could buy. It features a 24.2MP CMOS APS-C type sensor powered by the latest Digic 7 image processor which allows shooting upto 6fps (good for wildlife). This camera packs a powerful Phase processing AF unit which is better than the contrast detection system found in most of the cameras in this price range. The T7i has the capability to record full 1920p full HD video at 60 fps, so it is ideal for both photo and video. SPECIFICATIONS
1. Sensor
– 24.2 CMOS APS-C
2. 
ISO – 100-25600
3. Screen – Vari-angle Touchscreen 3″
4. Focus – 45 Focus Point (All Cross), Phase Detection
5. Bluetooth, WiFi, and NFC
6. Dimensions – 5.16 x 3.93 x 3.00 in. (131.0 x 99.9 x 76.2mm)
7. Weight – 8.77 oz. / 532g
For a full list of specifications, click here!
It has a good user interface, excellent LiveView performance, and a very fast processor. In India, the T7i is marketed under the name of EOS 800D and is available with almost all the major online retail stores.

2. NIKON D5600
This one is for all the Nikon guys out there, the latest addition to their 5000 series is the D5600. The D5600 again has a 24.2MP CMOS APS-C sensor which is more than enough along with 39 autofocus points. The articulating touch screen is just like its canon counterpart but the touch seems a bit more responsive. The camera takes 5fps and runs out of juice after 800 shots.

SPECIFICATIONS
1. Sensor – 24.2 CMOS APS-C 
2. ISO – 100-25600
3. Screen – Vari-angle Touchscreen 3.2″
4. Focus – 39 Focus Point (9-Cross Type)
5. Bluetooth, WiFi, and NFC
6. Dimensions – 124 x 97 x 70 mm ( 4.9 x 3.9 x 2.8 in.)
7. Weight – 465 gm

For full spec sheet of the D5600, click here

The features of both the T7i and the D5600 are comparable baring a few notable differences. I really liked the grip on the D5600, it just feels better in the hands. I wouldn’t advocate one over the other, both are excellent cameras. Even though spec wise canon seems to be in lead but then it’s little pricier. Check out the detailed comparison of the two cameras here.

3. NIKON COOLPIX B600If these SLRs aren’t in your budget or if you don’t wanna go through the hassle of buying multiple lenses, I would suggest you get one of these for yourselves. I iconic feature of this camera is its optical zoom. It offers a massive 60x optical zoom which is more than enough for your needs in the wild. It has a 16mp 1/2.3 inch processor and has a fairly good image quality. 
Check out the full specs here

Lens

1. NIKKOR 55-200 f/4-f5.6 DXThis is definitely an underrated piece of glass. Most people buy it along with the camera body and kit lens because then you have an entire range from 18mm all the way to 200mm. As I said, most people don’t realize that this lens is very good. Because it is a budget lens, sure it does come with a few disadvantages like a small aperture (f/4 is min.) and slower autofocus but once it is locked it, the photos are crisp and very striking. The VR (Vibration Reduction) in this lens will help you in reducing the blur which tends to show up more at large focal lengths. The range of 55-200 is just enough to capture some good shots in the wild.

2. Canon 70-300/ NIKKOR 70-300mm
Now if you can spend a little more and you already have the kit lens, go for the 70-300mm lens. The Canon version goes by the name EF 70–300mm f/4–5.6 IS II USM and the Nikon one is AF-P NIKKOR 70-300MM F/4.5-5.6E ED VR. Both of these lenses are fantastic pieces of glass and the image quality is excellent. The focus is very fast and accurate with entry-level cameras too. The build quality is very good and they are perfect for both APS-C type and full-frame cameras. There is one added advantage to these lenses. Since they are constructed from full-frame sensors, you get a 1.5x times magnification for the entire range, i.e instead of 70-300mm, you have a 105-450mm lens! I highly recommend these lenses if you can afford them.

3. Sigma 150-600mm
The Sigma 150-600mm f/5-f/6.3 is one huge lens. It is a semi-professional lens by Sigma and thus comes at a very affordable price. The super-telephoto zoom is tailored to the needs of a wildlife photographer. The tripod mount is detachable and the lens becomes easy to carry and shoot handheld pictures and videos. It weighs around 1.8kgs which is normal for lenses like these and boasts a solid metal construction throughout. If you are using an APS-C camera, you get the benefit of that crop sensor (1.5x) zoom. Of all the three lenses, the sigma has the option to add a teleconverter. 

Teleconverters
Teleconverters are extensions to a telephoto lens. They can multiply the entire focal length of your length by a given factor. There are 1.4x, 1.8x and 2x teleconverters. You might think that buying a cheap lens and putting it on a teleconverter can give you the results of a professional 600mm lens but you are wrong. If this was the case, then there wouldn’t be any need of the big bazookas. Teleconverters have a big disadvantage – it reduces the aperture by the same magnification factor. This means that if you have a Sigma 150-600mm f/5-f/6.3 on a 2x teleconverter then you get 300-1200mm f/10-f/12.6 lens! That’s a huge downside but at the same time, they cost just a fraction of what an actual 600mm or an 800mm will.

Tripods and Backpacks

After selecting the lens and camera, next comes the tripod. A good tripod can help you a lot in wildlife photography. There are times when you have to wait for hours to get that perfect shot and a tripod comes really handy. Now I am not gonna list expensive carbon fiber tripods because this is a budget guide, but if you want you can check them out here. Aluminum tripods are good to start with and I recommend getting a heavy and a sturdy one. Here are my top recommendations.

1. Zomei Q555
The Zomei Q555 is one of the best options available for all kinds for budding photographers. If offers many premium features but don’t go too hard on it while using. The central column can be inverted for those low angle shots or it can be converted into a full-sized monopod. The flip locks are fairly good and it has three leg locking positions which are more than what you can expect at this price.

Specifications
Product: Zomei Q555
Max Height: 62.5″ (works even if you are in a safari van)
Collapsed Height: 17.5″
Weight: 2.9 lbs (1.3kg)
Leg Sections: 4
Payload: 17.6 lbs (8kg)
Warranty: 1 year

Check Price on Amazon (US)  Buy Digitek 520BH

The maximum 8kg load capacity is more than enough to handle a decent lens but don’t push its limits. Also, if possible change the ball head and get a more reliable one. Click here to know more about ball heads.

2. Vanguard Alta Pro 263AB

The Alta Pro is not a new tripod but it has become the top choice of photographers over a period. This is that it offers a lot of features at an affordable price. It ships with an SBH-100 ball head which can be replaced by better ones. It’s innovative Instant Swivel Stop-n-Lock (ISSL) system allows the central column to re-position almost in any direction quickly, even horizontally. There are a lot of factors which make it completely different like the anti shock ring, removable hook, hybrid feet, and a traveling case.

Specifications
Product: Vanguard Alta Pro 263AB
Max Height: 68.1″ / 173 cm
Collapsed Height: 28.1″ / 71.4 cm
Weight: 5.4 lb / 2.4 kg
Leg Sections: 3
Payload: 15.4 lb / 7 kg
Bubble Level: Yes
Lock Type: Flip
Personally, I feel that it offers the best value for money if you are looking for something solid and reasonable. Here’s a full review of the Alta Pro.

Check Price on Amazon (US)  Check Price on Amazon (IN)

A good backpack is a boon for wildlife photographers because they need to carry a lot on every trip. Good backpacks must have multiple pockets, solids construction and a lot of space. You will have to carry memory cards, lenses, camera bodies, and a lot of other stuff. So it might be a good idea, to invest in a quality camera bag. Read more about backpacks.

Conclusion

Wildlife photography is an expensive art form but as it is evident, one can get started without burning a hole in their pockets. Keep practicing and as you will grow, you will feel the urge to switch gear yourself. At that moment, trade-in your old gear and get yourself a new set. Maybe this sounds easier said than done but that’s how you ought to do it. Good quality gear at cheap prices is hard to come by, so keep checking for various deals and sales.

Well, I hope you enjoyed reading this article about wildlife photography on a budget. If you have any feedback/comments or queries, feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll be more than happy to answer you.

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12 Responses

  1. I always thought that wildlife photography was an expensive line of work to get into, whether as a hobby or for earning a living. The field has always fascinated me, however, and I would like to increase the amount of my free time in the hobby while trying to relax.

    Of course, my hesitation has always been the cost of getting the high-end equipment that will allow you to take shots that are breathtaking. Even with the best equipment, unless you know what you are doing the shots may not be as nice as you would like.

    This is why it was great to find this article to show us that you can get started with just a little investment and get amazing shots that will impress everybody, to include yourself! In looking through your suggested list of equipment, I see that I have most of it already on hand for other work that I am doing.

    I will give this a try and the only additional item I will pick up is a new bag that will work well for in the woods shoots that I may want to do. I need a bag that will carry everything but provide comfort too while wandering around in the wilderness. Great post and you have highlighted some good equipment. to consider. Thanks

  2. You worded it perfectly, sometimes better gears doesn’t mean that you will get a better picture if you do not have the skills and the experience for it. This makes a lot of sense that renting the lens is cheaper but doesn’t own the lens will be cheaper in a long term? I always assume that owning it must be cheaper but oh well what do I know? 

    Also, do you think it is better to practice taking photos at the near by zoo first or just go there and get the feet wet?

    Thanks for sharing all the items I will check them out.

    1. It would be better if you visit the national parks or sanctuaries because there you will the animals in their natural habitat. Cages work as distractions but the open areas in the zoo might render some good images.

  3. Excellent recommendations! I’ve been so tired of capturing blurry pictures on my phone, I really do want to have a good, reliable camera that captures the scenery well. I hike, kayak, and camp a lot in my new area. I think it’s about time I invest in a tripod so I can better share these experiences with my friends and family. Thank you!

  4. I had no idea that you could rent lenses!  Your point about not spending buckets of money on the camera body but focusing in on the lenses is a very good one.  I also take to heart your point about getting fancy equipment without having the technical skills to use them.  That would be a total waste of money.  Since going on a safari or something like that doesn’t happen every month, I really like the renting idea for lenses.  I can think of two trips in my life where I would have liked to have a better lens on my camera and they were both safaris but unless you work as a wildlife photographer, those opportunities don’t come along all that often.  Buying the less expensive equipment and ones that you can familiarize yourself with and become good at FIRST is my major take away from this.  Excellent suggestions!

  5. I really do love watching and photographing wildlife, but in my case it’s the local wildlife, birds, faxes badgers etc, I am old enough to remember when photographs had to be sent off by post to be developed, then we had to wait for the photographs to return to see how they had turned out, I really would like to able to take photographs of such high quality as yours, but in the past I have always thought it would be just too expensive however, after reading this very interesting and informative post, I now realise that I could actually afford to take up this very interesting hobby, though i may need to start with a low end cheap camera, but I’m sure the cameras you recommend here would give very good results, which camera and lens would you recommend for taking pictures of local wildlife, I would love to take some close up ones, thank you for sharing. 

  6. This is a really comprehensive and helpful review. I love wildlife photography and I have always wanted to invest everything in power to improve my skills and become better than I am now. Your recommendations are really amazing and I would really love to have one of those Nikon cameras soon. Thanks for giving this motivation,it is a true fact that making budget for wildlife photography is possible.

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