The most common question photographers get asked is "What type of camera system do you have?". The truth is any modern-day camera system can produce great images, and I believe the best photographs come from personal vision, dedication, composition, patience, and a passion for what you are doing. The equipment is important, but it’s a distant second to your own artistic approach to photography. Having said that, I do try to keep up with the latest and greatest technology within reason. Since some people seem genuinely interested in what I own, I decided to write a blog and list all my current equipment.
So what is the best nature photography camera? There is no clear cut answer, and it depends on what you shoot. Wildlife shooters will have a different set of criteria than landscape shooters. Nearly all shooting professionals these days fall into either the Nikon, Sony, or Canon crowd. For the record, I'm a Nikon guy. I've always owned Nikon camera bodies and Nikkor lenses and see no reason to change. But instead of simply providing a list of my equipment, I thought it might be more beneficial to describe why I own these products and when I use them.
This is my primary camera body. I’ve always used full-frame Nikon bodies, and when this whopping 45.7MP camera was made available, I jumped all over it. The thing that really sold me on this camera was the sensor, which has very little noise even at high ISO settings. For astrophotographers, this was a game changer. The other improvements I really enjoy are in-camera focus stacking and mobile viewfinder.
Backup camera body. This was my go-to camera body for several years prior to the D850. It’s a great camera but has been relegated to my backup since I upgraded to take advantage of the improved sensor and extra pixels the D850 gives me.
My go-to Lens Set
What are the best lenses for nature photography? Ninety percent of all my images are taken with the following four Nikkor lenses. This is what you will find in my camera bag on most outings, which gives me a combined focal range of 14-400mm. Every lens is tack sharp.
Nikkor AF-S 14-24mm F2.8
This is my astrophotography lens. The edge to edge sharpness is incredible and the F2.8 aperture lets in plenty of light for those milky way scenes. I don’t use it much during daylight hours since there isn’t a polarizing filter that can be used with it.
Nikkor AF-S 17-35mm F2.8
My wide-angle lens for daylight hours. It supports standard 77mm filters, so I use it in daylight rather than the 14-24. It’s also a little lighter than the 14-24, and every ounce counts on those long day hikes. I have taken more landscape shots with this lens than any other I own.
Nikkor AF-S 24-70 F2.8
Another beautiful lens that can be used for both landscape and portraits. It just might be my sharpest lens. If you need that extra focal length, this comes out of the bag.
Nikkor AF-S VR 80-400 F4.5-5.6
Used primarily for wildlife, but I’ve also used this lens to compress landscape images or narrow down compositions to specific subjects. This is by far my most versatile lens, and it is a bit on the heavy side. It’s not quite as sharp when extended to 400mm as I would like, but I consider it an essential tool. It’s always with me on photography outings in case I happen to encounter something that requires that extra reach.
Nikkor Micro 105mm F2.8
This was my first macro lens and I used it extensively when I started shooting macro over a decade ago. I must admit I haven’t shot macro subjects for a while, but I should. I think it makes for great photography. This lens is also a superb portrait lens.
Nikkor Micro 200mm F4
The only shortcoming with the 105 Micro was that I found myself wanting more distance between myself and some subjects like butterflies, hummingbirds, and insects. If you get too close, they usually take off. The 200mm Micro was the answer. It focuses at 1:1 and allows you to maintain a reasonable distance between you and the subject. I also like the narrow view of field better.
Nikkor 300mm F4
This lens has a special place in my heart even though I don’t use it anymore. It was my first “long” professional lens. I used it back in the mid-1990s on several wildlife photography excursions to places like Alaska and Yellowstone. My best-selling wildlife image ever was some grizzly cubs at Katmai National Park taken with this lens. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it lacks the newer technology, and since my 80-400 covers that range, this old favorite now sits on the shelf.
Nikkor 500mm F4
My longest lens, end of story. It’s big and heavy and only used for wildlife. I’ve had this lens for about 20 years, so it also lacks some technology. However, it’s an absolute must have when I am photographing wildlife, especially birds. It’s probably considered a “short” lens for some professional bird photographers.
Nikkor AF-S Fisheye 8-15mm F3.4-4.5
Let’s just call this my fun lens. I rarely use it, but sometimes a scene is just calling for a fisheye view. This can be especially true of general travel photography. I’ve used it with good results on churches, buildings, etc.
Nikkor AF-S 24-120 F4
My wife and I travelled to the Mediterranean in 2018, and packing light was a priority. I didn’t want to lug around several heavy lenses, but I was adamant about taking my DSLR and returning with some high-quality images. I purchased the 24-120 to take the place of three of my other lenses, and it was a godsend. It’s very light and has a focal length that I use most of the time for general travel photography. This lens is not quite as sharp or fast as my F2.8 lenses, but perfect when convenience and weight are paramount.
Gitzo Carbon 6X Tripod (GT3540LS)
A tripod is essential for obvious reasons. I purchased this Gitzo tripod in 1992 and wonder if I will ever need to purchase another. Probably not, unless I lose it somehow. The most important feature to look for is lightweight carbon fiber, legs that can lay flat on the ground or can extend above your head, and one that does not have a center column. Center columns just add instability, so stay away from those.
Really Right Stuff Quick Release System
There is so much more equipment and gadgets needed for professional landscape photography, it’s ridiculous. Perhaps the most important tool is the quick release system needed to hold the camera body in place on a tripod. The quick release system by Really Right Stuff is my choice. Not cheap by any means, the plates allow for quick and easy exchanges of camera bodies and lenses. Seconds matter when photographing wildlife or fast-changing light. When a lens swap is required in the field, the last thing I want is a struggle to get the shot because of fiddling with the quick release system. I’m a huge believe in the Really Right Stuff products and especially their quick release system.
Filters, Tubes, Teleconverters
Anyone remember the days when you could buy color filters for shooting slide film? Well, those days are long gone, but filters still certainly have their place. Polarizers, graduated neutral density filters, and light density filters are used extensively.
Nikon 77mm Circular Polarizers
One needed for every lens. Swapping lenses in the field is trouble enough. You really can’t afford to waste additional time swapping a polarizing filter each time you change lenses. I use these all the time. There really isn’t anything that can be done in post-processing that substitutes for not having them.
Sing-Ray Graduated Neutral Density Polarizers
I have two graduated neutral density filters with different density settings. These are flat pieces of glass that I hand-hold in front of the lens to decrease exposure in the sky. I don’t use them much anymore since they require an extra hand. I still need neutral density filters, but I intend to replace these with the Lee filter system described below.
Lee Filter System
The Lee Filter System uses a set of holders that are attached to your lens and a variety of high-quality filters that can be slid onto the holder and then rotated. It’s a very convenient system that can be used for all your lenses. The two filters I currently own are the Big Stopper and Little Stopper. The Big Stopper reduces light by an amazing 10 stops. The Little Stopper by 6 stops of light. I intend to switch completely to the Lee Filter system this year by adding Lee neutral density filters.
Extension Tubes & Teleconverters
Teleconverters allow you to extend the focal range of a lens by placing it between the camera body and lens. Extension tubes allow you to focus closer in the same manner. Here is my list.
Nikon TC-17E Teleconverter
Cannon 77mm 500 Closeup Lens
Nikon PK-12 (14mm) Extension Tube
Nikon PK-13 (27.5) Extension Tube