Choose the right camera
Things to consider when taking nature photos
What to look for
Nature photography offers almost limitless options for being creative, encompassing everything from landscapes to wildlife. It can be shots of static scenery and placid cattle, or the violent eruptions of volcanoes, geysers and crashing waves. Finding a camera to take all of this in its stride is no small task.
The lens is key
Successful nature photography relies on buying a compact with a flexible lens, or a selection of swappable lenses to go with a dSLR or compact interchangeable. The mantra here is 'the wider, the better'.
At the broadest end of the scale, nature's most spectacular vistas will look their best when you use a wide-angle lens or zoom right out on your compact. Look for a lens equivalent to 28mm or wider in traditional 35mm terms (see the landscape section for more on working out how yours compares). Most dSLR kit lenses, which kick off at 18mm on entry-level models, achieve this. But several compacts can actually do better, with lenses that shave a good 4mm off that metric.
If you can afford a full-frame dSLR such as the Canon EOS 5D Mark III or forthcoming EOS 6D, or Nikon's D600 or D800, you'll do well as each of these cameras will enjoy an even wider angle of view than a cheaper entry-level device, which would be based on an APS-C-sized sensor.
A long zoom is often less important here unless you want to capture wildlife (see our section on pets and animals), so in the first instance, you might be better served by spending your money on a camera with a larger sensor and an entry-level lens.
Control depth of field
When shooting objects closer at hand, it's not always necessary to fill the frame with your subject as you might want to do when shooting macros (see the macro/close-up section for more on this). However, you will want to make sure that your subject remains pin sharp while those elements around it are gently de-focussed to draw the viewer's eye to the focal point of the photo.
In this instance, choose a camera that gives you control over the lens aperture, and one on which the aperture is as wide as possible at any given zoom level, as a wider aperture creates a shallower depth of field.
If you want to position your subject so that objects both before and after it within the frame are defocused, then invest in a model that makes it easy to manually control the focal point. Again, a dSLR or compact with a manual interchangeable lens will often serve you best here, as the point of focus will be managed by turning the lens and you won't have to grapple with menus and on-screen controls.
Don't forget that while we may rarely see it, the vast majority of the nature on our planet is covered by water. For total coverage, and to allow you to explore the depths, look for a model for which the manufacturer has designed a waterproof housing, or which has been waterproofed.
Canon, Samsung and Panasonic all produce compacts for use under water, and Pentax has produced a waterproof dSLR. None of these require a supplementary case.
Nature shooting wish list
- Wide-angle lens
- Easy manual focus
- Aperture priority mode
- Waterproof housing for underwater photography