The first camera

Engsiong Tan
6 min readSep 18, 2023

Or why I cannot tell you what is the best first camera

When I started my photography journey a decade ago, I made the mistake of asking people about what a good camera was. I ended up with a pile of contradicting information. Today I have a good idea what I want in a camera. However, if I had time machine and gave my current favourite camera to my younger self, that camera would be promptly sold off.

So what is the problem? I did not know why the camera is good for even if it was handed to me by future self. I would have complained about the weight. I would also complain that there is a shortage of wildlife in the city. I would have an issue carrying something expensive outdoors.

I need to add one point. More information does not help. Is three kilograms heavy or light for a camera? Is a bird at hundred meters too far or within range? Should one shoot in raw or jpeg?

The best camera is the one that you have you.

This is one saying that I kept in mind when I started my photography journey. I knew that if a camera was too heavy, I will never want to bring it outdoors. My wildlife shots started with a smartphone. It was Samsung Zoom which had an optical zoom. It was also fatter than the contemporary smartphone.

Samsung Zoom

To be fair to Samsung, they never claim that the smartphone was suitable for shooting wildlife. I did capture a few photos.

Plantain Squirrrel. Most common wildlife encountered. Photo by Author
Long tailed macaque. Most common troublemaker. Photo by Author.

I do have some good photos of animals with Samsung Zoom but they were all in a zoo. At this point, I realized that I had a better chance in spotting wildlife than I had estimated. So it was time to upgrade to the next camera.

Canon Powershot

This is when I did some research for compact cameras for wildlife. That was the one that got good reviews. Once I had the camera, I started enjoying seeing animals close up.

The first raptor that could be used for identification purpose. You will need to identify the bird because people sharing the image will ask you. Today, you can ask google image search. When I first use google image search, its recommendation was always bird.

Crested goshawk. Photo by Author.

The shot of what the bird is having for lunch. I have not been able to capture any bird in the act of catching the prey but I do have a few shots of what its meal is before it is swallowed.

White Throat Kingfisher. Photo by Author.

Nikon P900

This was when the camera allowed me to see further than what I could see than what my eye could make out. The nightjar was outside my bedroom window for more than a few decades and I never spotted it.

Savanna Nightjar. Photo by Author.

It also allowed me to look into the eye of the target. I was lucky as the bird landed outside my bedroom window.

Oriental honey buzzard. Photo by Author.

Finally, it brought small things into focus. The real life version of Angry Bird.

Red avadavat. Photo by Author.

Bird at work

Baya Weaver Bird. Photo by Author.

There was still a problem. Although my ability to spot targets further, some targets still tried to stay out of range.

Common waxbill. Note sure about the other bird. Photo by Author.

Even when the target was in range, sometime, you wanted some more zoom.

Common Flameback (Male). Photo by Author.

Nikon P1000

My first remark about this camera was that it is even heavier than its fat brother. The advantage of this camera was that it could see what the animal was having for dinner.

Osprey. Photo by Author.
Blue tailed bee eater with a wasp. Photo by Author.
Brown shrike with spider. Photo by Author.
Blue tailed bee eater with a bee. Photo by Author.

Raptor corner

White Bellied Sea Eagle. Photo by Author.
Chinese sparrowhawk. Photo by Author.
Jerdon’s Baza. Photo by Author.
Osprey. Photo by Author.
Created Goshawk. Photo by Author.
Chinese sparrowhawk. Photo by Author.
Created Honey Buzzard. Photo by Author
Grey Headed Fish Eagle. Photo by Author.
Changeable hawk-eagle. Photo by Author.
Spotted Wood Owl. Photo by Author.
Brahminy Kite. Photo by Author.
Brahminy Kite. Photo by Author.

For every good shot, you have to content with rainy days, poor light or just an unwilling subject.

Black Baza. Photo by Author.
Peregrine falcon. Photo by Author.

Raspberry award

If anybody tells you about the joys of digiscoping for wildlife pictures, run. The idea is that you just connect a scope to your smartphone and you will be able to take perfect shots. Firstly, the problem is with the scope. If you can clip it on, you will have to spend a minute or two to ensure proper placement.

Naturally, you can buy the scope with the smartphone case. Or you can buy a clamp. Then you need to adjust the focus on the scope. If the wildlife has been patiently waiting, you can now take a picture. I hope you brought the tripod and set your camera on a timer as you need time for the vibration to stop.

At this point, you would have either given up or thrown the scope at the wildlife.

Conclusion

My suggestion for a first camera for wildlife is a pocket size compact camera. You might be tempted to try new technology like trail cameras or infrared cameras but my suggestion would be to use the compact camera with the best zoom. It should set you back for a few hundred dollars. Remember that you are ignorant so you do not want to pay dearly for education. Cameras and their accessories are expensive lessons.

By the time you have gone out with the camera for twenty successful outings, you can then make a decision. You know if you want to continue the photography journey and invest in better equipment. You have a better idea how to evaluate the weight of the camera. You can estimate the range. You have a point of reference.

Alternatively, you may want to want to dump the camera and pursue other hobbies. At the very least you will not have an expensive camera gathering dust on your shelf.

Photo by Chris Haws on Unsplash

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