Wildlife Photography Gear: Starting With Wildlife Photography

Are you struggling to understand the wildlife photography gear you need? Do you want to know the types of gear that wildlife photographers use?

Don’t worry.

Because this article is all about gear for wildlife photography. You’ll discover the importance of different cameras, different lenses, and more. And you’ll come away knowing the gear you’ll need to become a wildlife photographer.

Wildlife Photography Gear: Starting With Wildlife Photography

You see, photographers often claim that it’s not the photography gear that matters; it’s the skill of photographers.

And this is generally true.

But when it comes to wildlife photography…

Gear really is a big deal. Without the right gear, you won’t be able to snag sharp photos of distant wildlife. You won’t be able to grab gorgeous action shots, nor will you be able to get close enough for frame-filling bird photos.

Essential Wildlife Photography Gear

Are you ready to learn all about gear?

Let’s get started.

1. Camera for Wildlife Photography

Mirrorless cameras and DSLRs.

Traditionally, DSLRs have been the go-to camera models for wildlife photographers. While mirrorless systems have threatened to knock DSLRs off their throne, wildlife photography still leans heavily toward DSLRs–because DSLRs offer a few key features that mirrorless cameras struggle to match.

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV Full Frame Digital SLR Camera with EF 24-105mm f/4L is II USM Lens Kit Black
Canon 5D Mark IV - one of the most popular DSLRs for wildlife photography

First, DSLRs offer optical viewfinders. This means that you’ll be able to track moving wildlife through the lens, which is often easier than using an electronic viewfinder (EVF), especially if that electronic viewfinder involves lag. If you do decide to go for a mirrorless camera, make sure that the EVF is of very high quality.

Second, DSLRs offer more lenses to choose from than mirrorless cameras, especially in the wildlife photography area. And while some mirrorless systems do give you access to high-quality, wildlife-focused lenses, they’re generally prohibitively expensive.

Whichever type of camera you choose, it’s important that you pay attention to a few specifications. You’re going to want a camera with a good number of autofocus points (and make sure as many are cross-type as possible).

You should also aim to get a wildlife photography camera with high-speed continuous shooting. At least five frames per second is decent for wildlife photography (though 7 or 8 would be better, and 10-15 is superb).

Fujifilm X-T3 Mirrorless Digital Camera (Body Only) - Silver
Fujifilm X-T3 - very capable mirroless APS-C camera for wildlife photography

Finally, many wildlife photographers prefer to use crop-sensor (APS-C) cameras, because the corresponding crop-factor gives them more reach.

While full-frame cameras tend to perform better in low light (which is a common situation for wildlife photographers), the additional reach is beneficial in all sorts of situations.

Wildlife Photography Gear: Starting With Wildlife Photography 1

2. Lenses for Wildlife Photography

Choosing a wildlife photography lens is one of the most difficult tasks a beginner can undertake.

Because there aren’t many options, all things considered, and pretty much every option is expensive.

Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L is USM II Super Telephoto Lens for Canon EOS SLR Cameras
Canon EF 300mm f/2.8 - one of the best high end lenses for wildlife photography

You’ll probably be tempted to go with a telephoto zoom, one that extends to 300mm. But the truth is that 300mm is pretty difficult to use for wildlife; it’s just too short. If you’re using a crop-sensor camera, then you should aim for at least 400mm (where 300mm is an absolute last resort). A 500mm lens is often better, but it’s hard to find 500mm lenses with low prices and good optics rolled into one.

Note that you’ll want a lens with fast autofocus capabilities (for tracking wildlife), as well as sharp glass.

A wide maximum aperture (of at least f/4) won’t go amiss, either. And you may want to think about size and weight. If you’ll often be traveling, it may make sense to use a shorter focal length and sacrifice the extra reach for size. On the other hand, if you don’t mind using a tripod on some occasions, a bigger lens will do just fine.

Fujifilm XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR
Fujifilm XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 - becomes 600mm lens on APS-C camera

Wildlife Photography Gear: Starting With Wildlife Photography 2

3. Tripod for Wildlife Photography

But it is very helpful.

Wildlife photography is often done with big lenses in variable lighting conditions, and the light is often poor. Even if you’re shooting during a nice evening, you’ll still end up with somewhat low light–and wish that you had a way to stabilize your setup.

That’s where a tripod comes in.

I’d recommend getting a tripod that can get down low, so that you can shoot on a level with your subject. You’ll also want something lightweight (so carbon fiber legs are the way to go), and decently stable. But note that a wildlife photography tripod doesn’t have to be rock-solid. It’s stabilizing your equipment, not letting you take long exposures.

Sirui w-2204 Waterproof Carbon Fiber Tripod, Black & Polished (6435)
Sirui W-2204 Waterproof Carbon Fiber Tripod

If you don’t like tripods and would prefer to go without one, you can make sure that your lens includes some form of image stabilization. This will compensate for much of the camera shake introduced by the lens size.

Wildlife Photography Gear: Starting With Wildlife Photography 3

4. Teleconverter for Wildlife Photography

A teleconverter allows you to extend your lens’s focal length beyond its native options.

For instance, a 2x teleconverter doubles your focal length, so a 400mm lens would become an 800mm lens.

Canon EF 2.0X III Telephoto Extender for Canon Super Telephoto Lenses
Canon EF 2.0X Teleconverter

This is great for wildlife, except that you lose light when using a teleconverter, so you have to balance the loss of light against the value of the extra reach.

Teleconverters also have quality issues; slapping on a teleconverter degrades image sharpness, and so you should be careful. If your lens is ultra-sharp to begin with, you can often get away with a 1.4x or a 2x teleconverter. But poor-performing lenses will rarely do well with teleconverters.

Not to mention that plenty of lenses won’t actually autofocus with teleconverters, so you’ll need to do a bit of research before buying. Lenses with a maximum aperture of f/2.8 or f/4 are a good bet, but if your lens includes a variable aperture (e.g., f/4.5-5.6) then the teleconverter probably won’t work.

Here’s the bottom line:

Teleconverters can be useful, especially on shorter lenses. But there are plenty of wildlife photographers who don’t use teleconverters, so don’t feel obligated to buy one.

Wildlife Photography Gear: Starting With Wildlife Photography 4


Hopefully, you now have a sense of the wildlife photography gear you need–and how to choose from among your many options.

So I recommend you grab the gear and get started shooting as soon as possible. Wildlife photography is thrilling, and there’s nothing to be gained by waiting!

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by Jaymes Dempsey
Jaymes Dempsey is a photographer from Ann Arbor, Michigan. He’s obsessed with nature, and loves teaching people new photography tips and tricks. To see more of Jaymes’s work, check out his portfolio website (https://www.jaymesdempsey.com/) or his photography tutorial blog (https://www.jaymesdempsey.com/blog/).

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