So you’re intrigued by this field. Or maybe you just want to dabble in it, as a hobby. What do you need beyond a camera?
Minimal gear list:
- Alarm clock (had to throw that one in)
- Tripods – yes, plural.
- Comfy camera strap – I like the Black Rapid strap because you can easily bring the camera up to your eye without fussing at the strap.
- SD cards
- Wireless remote release
- Two lens
- Lens hoods – you didn’t toss yours out, right? They help with glare.
- UV filters – they’re cheap and help protect your lens’ glass.
- Trail guides
Why do I recommend two tripods? The best tripod, really, is yourself. You can pan faster and keep up with the animal activity. But there will be times when you encounter low light environment and need that extra stability. Or maybe you’re not quite ready to try creep up on a predator animal, like bears, but know where they like to hang out – ie a water hole – and can set the camera up in advance. And that’s where a wireless remote comes in handy.
A good, heavy duty one and a Joby Gorillapod are good places to start. The Slik tripod in the link is the one I own. It’s budget-friendly, sturdy despite being aluminum, has a nice heft, and bonus: it’s extra tall – terrific news for those of you over 5’6″. It can also be flipped upside down if you want a close-to-the-ground shot. A very versatile beast. If you decide you don’t like the head or want to upgrade to a ball head, it can be swapped out.
I also suggest a smaller tripod – it doesn’t have to be the Gorillapod, but the ability to set it up on a fence post or tree is nice. The smaller size is a plus if you don’t have a backpack or don’t want to carry the extra weight of a large tripod. The downside is if you have a heavy lens, this tripod might not be able to support the camera. The particular one I linked, which I don’t own, is supposed to be okay with larger lens though.
When I go hiking, I usually toss both in the car and decide which to take when I figure out which trail I’m taking.
Speaking of – get a good, detailed trail book that has high-quality topography maps for each trail. Worth its weight in gold. Xerox the pages you need, and stick them in a ziplock bag. Animals generally avoid high-traffic trails; you likely will need to venture off trail to find them. The terrain information and the map will save your butt if you get lost. Be sure you know how to read the topo!
Lens – two lens are usually sufficient when you’re just first starting out. Any more is excessive and just added weight. They do not need to be “fast” unless you’ll be shooting in low light quite a bit. My recommendation is to start with a zoom that goes up to at least 300mm. Look in the range of 75-300mm or 100-300mm. The other lens: a wide lens (excellent for landscapes) starting at 18mm or so.
I do not recommend a lens that’s got a huge range – 20-200mm. It might sound like a good deal, but those are usually low quality, and 200mm is not enough for you to photograph wildlife at a distance very well.
If you can swing a 400-600mm, go for it! It will set you back a pretty penny though.