Spring is here and Tax returns are on their way in! Many of you horse enthusiasts may be contemplating a new camera to capture your favorite horse, or upcoming equestrian show! Whatever your subject matter will be, a camera with features that suit your needs will give you the best results. I have owned a total of 30 different cameras in my pro photography life. I LOVE cameras, all different kinds. The right camera will not be the same for everyone and like me, you may want to own more than one because they are good for different things! Here is a breakdown of the most common features and some tips to help you make the right choice for your needs. Read on!
Pro or Hobby?
I guess this would be my first question for you to ask yourself. Do you want to possibly start shooting horse shows for profit? Or maybe you want to create equine art to sell at art shows and festivals? Maybe your daughter is a competitor and you want to get some really great shots and print them for the house. If one or more of the above examples fit you, I would point you towards a “semi Pro” camera. Something with a good FPS rate which is camera speak for “frames per second”, a medium to large sensor (determines file output size) and a fast autofocus for those jumps and canters you want to capture in the fullest detail possible!
How much do you want to carry? Are you going to be standing with your camera around your neck all day? Are you holding the hand of a toddler while photographing? You probably want something light and compact. Even if you have a serious interest in learning photography, a DSLR has many lenses and accessories and is not a -go light- set up. You can start with something smaller and lighter with some creative control. More on that below.
There are many great cameras out there today, and for point and shoot styles you can’t go wrong with Nikon, Canon, Panasonic, Sony or Minolta. There are even super fancy little Leica’s with fancy glass (Zeiss lenses). Fun! Your purchase should be more about the features you want, than the brand. Nikon & Canon still rule the DSLR world though Sony is definitely one to watch!
They are mostly overdone today as manufacturers are always trying to compete to sell more cameras. Most point and shoots will have features you will never use. What you do want is fast autofocus, great color,and at least 8 megapixels(you will probably buy 10-12). You may also want video. If you are trying to learn more about photography, you will want a camera with a manual mode and be able to change lenses.
Know Camera Type!
If you are going to be buying your camera in person, know the type of camera you want before entering the camera shop. Beware, the Salesmen may steer you to a camera that works better for their commision than it does for your photography!
Consumer reports & Camera Reviews
This is a great way to get unbiased info on the different cameras out there.They are great for comparing all kinds of products including cameras. Start there for some easy free research! I read all the reviews when I am considering a new camera or lens. I read both the manufacturers review, for me it would be the Nikon review. I also read private camera reviewers (they can and will be biased-and that’s ok!) and then weigh all the info out, look for consistantices and then make my buying decision. I do like to put an eyeball on the camera in person, maybe even rent it for a weekend before I fully commit! These are definitely options in the Pro and semi pro DSLR choices.
Online vs camera store
Shopping online, one of the advantages is the prices are usually lower and that’s always a good thing! One of the biggest cons to buying online is that there are many scams! For instance, cameras may seem priced really low, but when you go to purchase, you find that they are missing a key element …like the battery! Then they up- charge you more to include it. This happened to a friend of mine and she fell for it! There are all kinds of scams online and I would only recommend buying online from a reputable company like B&H Photo & Video, Adorama, KEH camera or Amazon.
A nice way to buy if you have the option and the time, is to use a local camera shop where you can talk in person to someone and look at and try the cameras. Even better is to develop a relationship with your local camera shop salesmen. This is usually best done in a pro shop where the knowledge and expertise is great, compared to the teen working a summer job at Best Buy or the like.
Types of Cameras…
Point and Shoot
The easiest most carefree camera to use with LOTS of features and choices. The name says it all. Yet it can have many high tech features like WiFi and GPS. This ain’t your Mama’s point and shoot! Still, not a lot of creative control, even with all the bells and whistles. For the person who just loves to take pictures, no fuss!
This stands for Digital Single Lens Reflex Camera. If you are serious about taking your photography to the next level, this is the way to go. Be prepared to spend between $700 and $1200 for a good consumer body that you can grow with. If you have already been shooting for a while and are ready to move up, a pro or semi pro body is the next step for you. Plan on $1800 and UP for the body alone! IF you are buying top of the line PRo, plan on shelling out $5000 plus for the body only. Make absolutely sure you need and want all the features a $5K body gets you before you buy, that money can buy many lenses and accessories!
These have been all the rage for the last few years and GoPro and Sony have the market right now on those. They are fixed lenses (* you can change with tools) that shoot stills or video and have many mounts for skiing, kayaking, skydiving etc, and can mount from your head or chest while you are riding a horse. They seem like a fun camera to have but they are very limited and in my opinion, should be an additional camera, but not the main camera in your gear bag.
This is the new weight saver that Sony has made their way into the tight Nikon/Canon pro market with. They offer mirrorless cameras in both point and shoot and DSLR size. In a nutshell, the pros of going mirrorless are: less weight, faster capture- (great for Horse action shooters) and quieter (good for horse shows, weddings etc.). The con’s, the point and shoots won’t be as good in low light and their sensor size is usually smaller (not the case in the DSLRs) so you will lose some image quality there in the mirrorless point and shoot. On the plus side, saving weight is huge for an Equine photographer, especially if you have back problems or other physical issues. The DSLR around your neck gets heavier and heavier as the show goes on.
The Pro DSLR mirrorless cameras are becoming very desirable but with the $4500.00 price tag for just the body, they may be cost prohibitive for many. I personally love the idea of 20 FPS for shooting fast moving and galloping horses! Maybe one day I’ll splurge for one!
This has become one of the biggest camera buzzwords in recent years, and major selling point for all cameras. What you need to understand is how the megapixel size affects you and your camera. You can make a clean sharp 4×6 print with a 4 megapixel file. With an 8 megapixel camera, you can print 8×10’s all day long as long as your image is up to par! You need to ask yourself, are you planning on blowing up a 24×30 sized print from each of your horse show pics? Ok so you want to have the option of printing larger than 4×6. A 12 megapixel file shot in raw has an output of 24 megabytes- give or take. I have wall portraits on metal from my old 12 megapixel camera. Now my newer dslr has 24 megapixels, and I didn’t opt for the similar camera with 32 megapixels. Why? Because I just didn’t feel like I needed more megapixels to do what I do and fill up my hard drive!
So don’t fall prey to the megapixel game. Know what you need so you don’t over buy.
I must caution you on the megapixel boasting from iPhones and the like. *Don’t be fooled… a 24 megapixel point & shoot or phone camera will not have the same quality output as a 24 megapixel DSLR camera! Quality of image depends on a couple of things, first being the sensor size, then there are the megapixels, the lens glass quality, and of course your camera settings and steady hands or tripod. The point is, don’t get caught up in the competitive world of megapixels unless you are a pro or semi pro shooter, they shouldn’t be the #1 decision on your camera buying list.
This should be fast when you try it in the store. Try it with the lens you plan on using it with. Point it around and see if it grabs quickly. The salesmen may tell you to go outside in the bright light with it, but be sure and also use it inside the shop, in the lower light and see how it performs. If it’s sluggish and slow to grab with a full battery, pass on that one!
Image stabilization or VR
This will be another buzz word you may read about when researching cameras. It’s a great feature to have, and is helpful to steady your shots in low light when your shutter speed is slower. The digital zooms that come in the point and shoots are very shaky and hard to hand hold. The stabilization features may help with that. They also make lenses with VR, vibration reduction. This is a must have feature for lenses longer than 120mm. On a wide angle lens like 35mm or under, you just don’t need it and at that point, it’s just a useless selling feature.
FPS = frames per second. This is an important feature for the equestrian show shooter but for the casual horse scenic or portrait, 4-5 fps is plenty!
This is a fun mode most common in point and shoots. It allows you to take 3 images- left to right in a wide scene and then stitch them together. This can be done in any camera without this mode in the post process, but it’s a fun little feature if you like panoramic images made easy!
This stands for Liquid Crystal Display. This is the screen you view your images on, usually located on the back of the camera now days. Some are higher quality than others. Newer cameras sometimes have an LCD screen that you can move to adjust position which can help with viewing in difficult outdoor lighting conditions.
Many point and shoots and DSLR’s have fancy video features. HD stands for High Definition and you can create some serious high quality movies with this feature. You will need to look at the video resolution output to see if it’s a worthy feature. You will need a larger memory card to shoot video with, FYI!
As most of you know, traditionally we look through the viewfinder to see our subject. The camera’s mirror reflects the scene as we look through. Mirrorless cameras use the LCD screen on the back to show you your image (even shows the adjustments in exposure) or it uses an electronic viewfinder to show you your image as you look through the camera. You need to ask yourself, do you want to look through a traditional viewfinder or hold the camera more like a phone camera to get your shot. Personal preference here. I like holding to my eye as I use my cheekbones to brace the camera from movement, especially when photographing horses in action. You are likely to get more motion blur without the traditional viewfinder. Something to think about when considering mirrorless cameras.
If you are a Social Media junkie, and have to update your status immediately after any activity, this is a good feature for you. You can upload images right from your camera’s internal wifi.
More than just a driving tool, this helps you “Geotag” each image allowing you to remember and pull up details of every shot. Could be handy if you are traveling to many countries, photographing horses of the world!
I would start with a short wide angle zoom if you can only buy one lens. Something like 24-120mm. This will give you portrait and scenic horse image options. If you are planning on doing horse shows, a 70-200mm VR is a must.
DSLR Camera Kits
These are great money savers as they come with a camera body and lens. But you may be getting a free lens that you will never use. Research the lenses you want and then see if you can find a kit that fits the bill. Otherwise though more expensive, it’s better to buy the camera body and then separately, the lens you WANT.
You will have to buy more than just a camera. At the minimum, you will need memory cards, a camera bag, wraps, extra battery, lens cleaner etc …. Budget those items in when figuring out your price point.
Not all memory cards are created equal. Faster recording (for RAW action shooting) will cost you! Don’t skimp here if you plan on shooting fast horse action! if you shoot action, it will be worth it! (read more about memory cards on our camera resources page)
Remember, all the megapixels and bells & whistles in your camera can’t help you make a good image if you are not thinking about composition, holding the camera steady and possess a basic understanding of light and shadow. I know a great little ebook for beginner photographers called: Ebook: How to Take Awesome Pictures with Your DSLR Camera!
Start Learning on the camera you HAVE
You can learn a lot with your camera phone. Your smartphone can be a great teaching tool that you can begin to learn some of the most important elements of photography, like composition and lighting, before delving into the technical exposure aspects and expense of a DSLR. You can take great images with your camera phone, you just need to understand its limitations especially with action horse photography.
What lens for what?
For horses in action and shows, the sporty 70-200mm VR is highly recommended (vibration reduction) for you DSLR users. If you are mostly going to be photographing horses in the field or backyard, portraits of horses with your kids etc, the 24-120mm is my favorite lens for all around photography. There are many great lenses in between and of course the big glass lenses in fixed focal lengths of 400, 500, 600 and 800mm are great for getting close to far away subjects, but not great for action and I wouldn’t generally recommend them for equestrian photography.
There are a few newer “tweener” lenses by both Tamron and Sigma. Both lens manufacturers have created similar 150-600mm lightweight VR lenses, light enough to hand hold. This could be a helpful lens to have if you were shooting a Cross Country event as the jumps and water features etc can be so spread out. This could give you both the pull back and reach needed for this hard to cover horse event. The Nikon 200-500mm is another option for hard to shoot shows and wild horses as well, and is on my wish list for just that reason. ***I have not yet tested it, but it is getting great reviews. check it out here: Nikon 200-500mm VR, hand hold!
For all the smaller DSLR consumer cameras, the larger VR lenses will be too heavy for those smaller lighter cameras. Really consider those points when choosing your camera body, know what kinds of lenses you are interested in owning and make sure the camera body is compatible and that the weight will work.
Let’s recap and simplify just a little, to help you decide what KIND of camera is best for you…
Point and Shoot, easy to use, some have HD video, lightweight. Low -medium creative control. fixed lens.
Action Cam, easy- medium to use, great HD video capabilities, lightweight but needs some accessories, low-medium creative control. fixed lens you can change with tools.
DSLR, has modes for easy, medium and complex use. Can have amazing HD video capabilities. Has the most creative control…sky is the limit! Requires bag and accessories. Medium – Heavy weight. Lots of lens choices!
What do do next?
Hopefully now you have a better idea of what’s out there, what choices you will have and what features you have to choose from. Take your time, do some research, read a variety of reviews. Go to your local camera store. Look at the cameras, feel the weight, the ergonomics. Point it around the store. How fast does the autofocus grab…take some shots. Try out a few different brands and styles and see what you like! Remember when you are camera shopping, always ask questions on the features, durability, and ease of use. Do you want that HD video or GPS option…it will cost you! Colors? I like color too, but don’t buy a camera solely for it’s cute color! Lastly, don’t rush! Write down your favorites then go home and do a little more research. Then in a few days make your purchase and buy your perfect camera or TWO!
For a list and links to all of our equipment we use on a daily basis, go to our resources pages: http://www.betterhorsephotography.com/cameras-lenses-accessories/