This page is dedicated to what can be seen as the basic tools of every photographer: your camera bodies. Wildlife photography requests some specific qualities to the camera of your choice and – as so often – there’s a lot to think about before spending loads of money on professional equipement.
When considering to get yourself a camera body to have more fun and less frustration with, there’s quite a few things I recommend to bear in mind. And I will go through them shortly – usually our local specialised photoshop is better in providing substantiated advice.
Basically there are two (main) types of sensor sizes: APS-C and full-frame. While many of the high-end professional camera come with a full-frame sensor, APS-C is still worth to think about.
First of all, let’s talk about the sensor size. Full-frame sensors are bigger than APS-C sensors and that already brings some differences onto the table. With a bigger sensor, you may have more megapixels or, even better, bigger pixels, what will increase noise reduction a lot! Animals are often most active during dawn and dusk, and there’s usually not much light available and you are forced to shoot with higher ISO. Better dealing with noise is definitely something we want! In other words you could say full-frame sensors produce less noise at the same ISO range than APS-C cameras do, so their low-light performance is much better.
More megapixels are required for fine art prints or if you intend to print your image onto a truck for example…
Certainly image quality is better with full-frame sensors, too. They provide a wider dynamic range and bigger depth of color.
Additionally, the depth of field is also better with a full-frame sensor, and that is something we use in wildlife photography to isolate objects such as animals from the background.
As these are mostly criteria supporting a decision for a full-frame sensor, let’s also look at some details in the favour of APS-C sensors. They surely are lighter, therefore not so heavy to carry, smaller, which helps at packing and, if your trip requires air travel, space is always limited. Additionally, cameras with APS-C sensors are cheaper, what might be a key criteria if wildlife photography is just a hobby to you – like it is to me!
Another key character of APS-C sensors is the crop factor (x1,6), that brings you closer to the objects. That means, e.g. a 300mm lens appears to be 480mm, so that you can cover more distance and need less cropping afterwards and sohave less loss in image quality during the editing process.
Both the 7Dm2 and the 5Dm3 have CMOS sensors, but while the APS-C sensor comes at 22,4x15mm, the full-frame has 36x24mm!
As already mentionned earlier, more megapixels (MP) are good fot the final (print) outcome of your image and less quality loss while cropping, but this comes at the expense of frame rate, low-light performance and dynamic range.
Therefore, my recommendation for wildlife photography is a camera body that has around 20MP. Both of my bodies fulfill this requirement (7Dm2: 20,2MP / 5Dm3: 22,3MP).
Let’s get even more into detail now. When shooting animals we usually have to deal with objects that almost never stay still but move very fast and their movement is quite unpredictable. Therefore we need cameras that are capable to keep up. What we want is a reliable autofocus that tracks fast and accurately. Additionally we want as much autofocus (AF) points as possible to choose from. The smaller and the more, the better! Focussing even in low-light is another criteria.
Canon treats the 7Dm2 to 65 cross-type (yeah!) AF points and allows fast-tracking.
The 5Dm3 comes with 61 AF points, whereof 41 are cross-type points. Certainly the full-frame body is capable of fast-tracking as well.
When trying to get razor-sharp images of moving animals or birds in flight, we don’t just need a fast autofocus engine, but also fast continuous capture rates and writing speed of the body itself. This is measured in images per second and usually depends not only on the body, but on the combination of camera and lense. What we seek for is a rate of approx. 10 images per second.
The 7Dm2 reaches this level, while the 5Dm3’s limit is around 6 images per second.
However, you will need a fast memory card so that writing speed does not get an obstacle, especially when shooting in RAW instead of JPEG. I recommend to read my further post on additional gear I use with my cameras and lenses.
I’ve explained earlier that many animals are most active in early monring or late afternoon, where we usually are exposed to low-light situations. To enable ourselves to capture sharp images with less light availabe, a high ISO range is absolutely recommended. The 7Dm2 has a range up to ISO 16.000, however it is capable of extending to ISO 51.000. The 5Dm3 reaches up to ISO 25.600 and can increase up to ISO 102.400, so I still get the chance to capture usable images with less light available.
More to consider
If that isn’t alreaday enough to take into account when deciding what is the right body for you, here are some more criteria.
Ergonomics! While weight and size may be key for you when you need to undertake long walks in the field to find your desired motive, you may want to save weight that needs to be carried. Size is also key when your trip includes air travel, where space is always limited (see my travel and packing advice here). As most of my trips to the African bush require to stay in and shoot from inside a car or safari vehicle, I don’t think too much about weight, however I always sweat when airline staff checks my carry-on baggage…
Build quality and weather sealing are also key as wildlife photographers seek to capture animals in their natural habitat, which is usually dirty, wet or dusty. It certainly is not hard to understand that those are mainly qualities of professional bodies.
One more thing to think about is the lense availability. As far as I know not every camera with APS-C sensor is capable of working with prime lenses, but anyway the field of available lenses is much bigger. Well, to be honest, over the years I’ve extended my lenses to the Canon L-series where that doesn’t really matter for me, but it surely did as a beginner!
After taking into account every feature I’ve listed above I decided that I couldn’t decide, as I wanted to combine all the advantages of both worlds. And anyway I always carry at least two bodies with me, just in case something unforeseen occurs and I know I could never forgive myself to probably have missed the shot of my life just because of only having one camera with me, so I finally came to the conclusion that I wanted to have a full-frame and an APS-C body at the same time for maximum flexibility.
If you want to know what my preferred safari combination is, I recommend to read this post.
What cameras do you use? Did I miss something in this article? Drop me a message or leave a comment and let’s discuss!