Outdoor photography requires a lot of camera gear and it can get very expensive! You need wide angle lenses for landscapes, super telephotos for wildlife, and every other focal length in between. You may also like to take macro shots. Since wildlife is most active at dawn and dusk, you’ll need fast lenses and a sensor that can handle high ISO’s. You’ll especially need a full frame camera if you’re interested in getting into astrophotography to capture the Milky Way or Aurora Borealis! And since many landscape and astrophotography shots require long exposures, you’ll need a sturdy tripod. And of course gear bags to store and haul all of that stuff (plus your filters, flashes, cards, batteries, food, water, clothing, etc).
Here is a list of some of the camera gear I use (or is on my wishlist) and recommend for outdoor photography:
I’m a Canon shooter and have been for more than 30 years, so that’s what I’m going to recommend without apology 🙂 I currently shoot primarily with a Canon 5D Mk III full frame for as much stuff as I can, though I also have a crop sensor Canon 70D that gives me a little extra reach for shots that require the “Tamzooka” 150-600 to get tighter crops. I’ve demoed the Canon 7D Mk II and it’s currently considered Canon’s flagship crop sensor camera, but no crop sensor camera compares to full frame when it comes to noise at higher ISO’s. It. Just. Doesn’t. I also like the articulating screen on the 70D (which I actually do use at times), so I feel no reason to upgrade my crop sensor at this point.
I’ve got every single lens on this list in my bag except one, and I have had an opportunity to shoot that particular lens too. My biggest dilemma when purchasing lenses was the cost vs quality vs how often do I use this focal length. Lenses typically last nearly forever with proper care, so try to get the best glass you can afford. On the other hand, some third party brands produce images that are almost as good as the Canon brand for significantly less cost and sometimes have a much better warranty or extras (such as lens case and hood included in the price). If you find yourself on the fence (like I did), try to rent or demo all of the lenses you are considering and compare for yourself. Buying used from a trusted source can also save you a bit of hard earned cash, but the warranty is typically very limited or non-existent.
Tripods & Heads
Here is another area where you’ll save money in the long run if you just pony up and buy the best tripod you can get and be done with it. My carbon fiber Induro is my “go to” tripod and I’m so glad I plunked down the cash for that model rather than going a cheaper route and having to do it all over again. The Induro CT-313 is a 3 section (more stable than 4 sections) carbon fiber beast that is light as a feather so that I can actually haul it around through the woods, over tree roots and rocks fairly easily. I also have the Manfrotto in an aluminum model, which I more typically use only when I need two tripods (ie shooting video indoors in the gym for my personal training business). It’s also a fine tripod and significantly less expensive than any carbon fiber model. Either of these tripods will accept most any head, which leaves you with another decision to make. Pan vs ball vs gimbal. See which quick release system you like best and go from there. I actually have the Induro BHL heads (a bit different from the BHD models listed) and the Induro plates are a little more futzy than some other quick release systems.
For outdoor photography, you’re going to need a good quality circular polarizer and will probably also want to invest in some neutral density filters. Good quality is key since you’re going to be putting it on the front of your lens 😉 After buying the same screw in filters in several different sizes (at significant expense) to accommodate all of my different lenses, I recently invested in the 100mm Vu drop in pro filter system (see a review by pro photographer John Gregor here). The main filter holder comes with 77mm and 82mm adapter rings, so I can use the same filters with every lens rather than needing separate filters for each size (other adapter sizes can be purchased separately). Singh-Ray 100×150 filters also fit perfectly in the Vu filter holder. The coolest thing about the Vu system is the way the thin polarizer fits into the holder so that you can use it easily with up to three other drop in filters all at the same time. I have three Vu solid ND filters in 3, 4 and 10 stops, two Vu hard grads in 2 and 3 stops, two Vu soft grads in 2 and 3 stops, and two Singh-Ray reverse grads in 2 and 3 stops. Which ND filters would be best for you depends on what you shoot. Bryan Hansel is a pro photographer who shoots lots of seascapes on Lake Superior – here’s his advice about ND filters.
I don’t use flash a lot, but when I do I want a reliable unit. I’ve heard of third party brands that are a fraction of the cost of the Canon equivalent and are supposed to work well with Canon cameras, but I’ve also heard horror stories of photographers missing crucial shots because the unit didn’t fire when it was supposed to (I’m so glad I don’t shoot weddings).
Camera Gear Bags
With all this camera gear, you need a way to store it and haul it around. I’ve got a huge Ruggard backpack that still doesn’t hold all of my gear. I also have two smaller shoulder bags as well as several different lens cases and filter pouches and I still haven’t found the perfect system. The Mind Shift backpacks are a cool idea in that you can rotate part of the bag around from back to front without having to take off the pack.
Camera Gear For Just Getting Started
If you’re just getting started in outdoor photography and seem overwhelmed by all the gear, here are a few suggestions for getting started. I highly recommend getting a full frame camera body because of the high noise at ISO’s over 400 that come with crop sensor cameras. The Canon 6D is a very economical option, especially for landscapes or still subjects that don’t require shooting servo at fast frame per second rates or require fast autofocus needed for sports or moving subjects like wildlife. If that’s still out of reach, the entry level crop sensor Rebels are a place to get your feet wet (and come with a pop up flash). If you get the camera with a kit lens that covers a wider focal range (wide angle to slightly telephoto), you’ll be able to experiment with a wider variety of subjects. Get a good quality circular polarizer and perhaps consider the Cokin drop in filter system (Z size) to experiment with neutral density graduated filters at relatively low cost. Get a good quality tripod so you don’t have to keep buying better ones (and spending more money in the long run). Learn to shoot with whatever you’ve got and have fun!!