Photo equipment buying patterns for Nature Photography !

Copyrights Ganesh H. Shankar

After seeing so many beautiful nature and wildlife images one day you decide to persue nature photography as a hobby. Probably you start like what I did with a point-and-shoot kind of camera. Soon you realize an SLR is better. Since your spouse didn't like you spending lots of money on camera you mostly end up spending some money on a low end SLR camera and probably couple of lenses and a bag to go with it. I am sure you would have debated a lot in deciding whether to go with Nikon or Canon before making a buying decision.

Here you start your wildlife photography with probably a 70-300mmf5.6 lens or some lens in that range. You roam around parks and wild places and start making images. We will be very happy with images of this kind above (barbet) initially since we have made them !

Soon, you will find your lens is not fast enough to capture some action - at least you needed about 3.5 fps with good auto focus speed ! You need a slightly better/newer body. Without much search you will find what you need. Without telling your spouse you trade your earlier body to a newer one and later convice your spouse that I got a very good price on your earlier body and the new one did not cost you much money -:)

Soon you become quality conscious. You start worring about sharpness, color contrast, distortion - barrel, pin-cushion, MTF charts, stability etc. You fairly well master the physics behind a lens construction. After a little bit of browsing you realize you needed a prime lens and sturdy tripod and ball head to go with it to shoot like a pro. What a discovery! Since you didn't want to spend lots of money on un-important tripod/head you settle down on some brand tripod and relatively in-expensive ball head. Then follows another round of purchase.

You are now happy with your tripod and ball head. Your friend tells you that "edge sharpness" in your relatively inexpensive 70-300f5.6 lens not as good and advices you to switch either to a quality zoon in 80/100-400 f5.6 range or a 300mm F4 lens plus 1.4x TC or a fixed 400mm tele lens or a Sigma/Tamron in the similar price/focal length range. After much debate you end up buying one of them !

Now you have more equipment - you end up buying a good Lowepro bag too. While buying these you think with the increased reach number of images you make will also increase - so you decide to buy that 8/12GB card and also a portable storage device to back up while on a trip.

You now think that you are armed with all that you needed for producing sharp quality images. After some months of shooting you reallize your current tripod is not "sturdy" enough and your ball head is either completely loose or completely locked. After some searching and asking folks around you realize you wanted Arca-Swiss or Kirk or some such, and for tripod you wanted to go with Gitzo or something similar which people say is very sturdy. Another round of upgrade follows !

You are now very happy - while your spouse gives up on advicing you (good right ?!). Being a weekend warrior you roam around National Parks, local parks and are making as many images. Yes, you get kudos from your friends while your spouse silently appreciates your work but does not openly express his/her views - and you too know that and hence you are ok ! Mean while a few of your friends complain about contrast and brightness difference in your images as seen on their calibrated displays. You solve this problem easily by buying a hardware monitor calibration device - after all it costs about $200 only - which is nothing compared to cost of the rest of the equipment you have by now.

Only worry now you have is though you liked that beautiful bird, you don't have a frame filling sharp image of it. You ended up cropping which you didn't quite like. Also, you thought your image didn't have that beautifully blurred background compared to the similar image your friend made using his 500mm F4 lens ! Also, though you bought a hide recently to approach those shy birds you are not very succesful in using it always. You have made some excellent portrait of some birds from close range - but those are only a few. Now you routinely want to make that "nice image of a bird on a beautiful perch".

You start convincing your spouse that you have to buy a longer tele-lens and you know she/he don't agree to it at all since longer teles does not come cheap. You don't give up and keep pestering your spouse. One day she/he didnot say any thing - Ah, you took it as "yes" ! After quickly browsing and debating whether you want 300mm F2.8 plus TCs or 500mm F4 or 200-400f4 or 600mm f4 you end up with a lens you could afford and you know for sure your marriage will still be intact!

And we did not talk about all those "miscellaneous purchases" in between like - flashes, remote triggering device, various filters, a macro lens, Nature/Photo trekker bag upgrades, quick release plates, camera plates, image processing softwares like Adobe Photoshop, Neat Image, computer upgrades to process those 15/20MB raw files, scanner/scanning service to scan your old slides, ccd cleaning kit,.... !! You can't help it - they indeed are "needed" !

Ok, while you are really enjoying your long tele lens and close-up images of your favourite birds where in you can count threads within birds' feathers, your friend sends you a link to an image which won first prize in Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. You are stunned to see the emotion, feeling the photographer of that image created. The only thing you didn't like about that image was the fact that the photographer used that very 70-300mm f5.6 lens which you owned long back when you started photography to create that award winning image -:(

Ok, I think I have conveyed what I wanted to! As a closing note, I think every one of us will go through a more or less similar buying cycle in this facinating hobby. What is surprising to me is we (me included) spend very little time beyond "scientific" aspects of photography. Look at typical web forums dedicated to Nature Photography - most of the discussion are around "science" behind photography - It all revolves around sharpness, prime lens, Velvia 50, quality zoom, focal length, distortion, bokeh, 8 frames per second, 12 mega pixels, noise performance at 800iso, and this list goes on ....

Good luck for your next purchase !

- Ganesh H Shankar

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