It was about 12 months ago I thought to myself, hey I fancy getting back into photography. I had not purchased any camera gear in more years than I care to remember. Plus I had not taken into account things like inflation, so when I perused a few web sites and magazines, my jaw hit the floor. Seriously £12K for a lens, 3K + for a DSLR camera body!
After a quick check down the back of the sofa, it quickly dawned on me I was going to have to think about what was the absolute minimum of camera gear I could get away with. I had decided I wanted to marry my photography to my other passion, wildlife. So this was going to mean a telephoto or zoom lens, ideally at least 300mm focal length. As for a camera body, I decided to go for a DSLR cropped sensor. Again this was down to a mixture of affordability over full frame/mirrorless and the extra “reach” a cropped sensor offers.
Having decided on a cropped sensor or APS-C sensor, it was time to think about brand. Well, that’s down to personal choice. All the main stream manufacturers make excellent cameras and all have there pro’s and cons. All I can say is do your own research, try and handle one in a shop. My post about handy resources can help, especially the Nature TTL site. Here’s a link to their article on buying camera gear on a budget.
So, after much research – probably too much, I decided on a used Nikon D7100 camera body. It had good reviews and the sort of spec’ which would make it a good wildlife camera. Canon, Fuji, Sony etc also make superb cameras, I am not one to get into the Nikon is better than X,Y and Z, like the android or apple debate. Really life is to short for such pettiness. My other advice while on this point, is avoid forums. They tend to be full of people who seem more concerned about brand rather than functionality.
Where to buy it from?
The Nikon D7100 has since been replaced by the D7200 and the current version is the D7500, so it’s a few years old now. As a result there is a fair few of them around as people have upgraded to the newer models. One good thing about camera gear, is people tend to look after it, so you can usually find a good clean example. It now just comes down to where to buy from.
First off I had a look on Amazon, quite often they have a New and Used section under the main listing. Sure enough they did have some body only offers, but at £430 I felt I could do better. Next stop was that well known auction site – Ebay. To be honest I don’t buy much from here anymore. I find it is more of a place for companies based overseas to shift stuff out of warehouses on quiet industrial estates. The other thing I have noticed is, if you do find what you’re after, you can end up in a bidding war. This is great for the seller, but often bad news for the buyer. I’ll confess I have sold stuff on this site for more than it originally cost me!
Then of course, what if it’s faulty or damaged in transit. You could end up in a protracted negotiation trying to get your money back which could take weeks. I was not prepared to take the risk with my hard earned dosh. So where on earth could I find a realistically priced D7100 body, that if I could not see in person, offered me some form of money back guarantee?
Eureka – CEX
Right first to make it clear, I have NO affiliation to CEX and this is NOT a sponsored post (sadly). When most think of CEX, you tend to think of a store run by sub-thirty somethings selling games, dvd’s etc. But, I remembered they also did laptops, pc components, phones and camera gear. I popped onto their web site, typed in Nikon D7100 and hey presto! As luck would have it a choice of three to choose from. Two were body only and one was a kit with the standard 18-55mm lens. All were grade B, which, going by reviews was nothing to worry about. Add to the fact they offer a two year warranty and you could return your item to any of their shops if not happy with it, oh and free delivery. I took the plunge and ordered a body only example for £300.
Three days later and it arrived. I was not disappointed, the camera was in its original box with all leads, paperwork and cd-rom. The camera itself was in lovely condition, a quick upload to a shutter count site revealed only 5490 actuation’s. Most DSLR’s are good for at least 100,000, so no worries there. All in all I was pretty damned pleased with my purchase. Next I needed a lens……
A lens – the most vital piece of kit
It doesn’t matter how great your camera body is, if the bit of glass stuck on the front isn’t up to the job, has dust in it or worse fungal growth. Then you will just end up with poor results and nothing will deflate or frustrate you more. At worst you may even just give up on your new venture. As mentioned earlier premium telephotos were not an option due to their eye-watering price tags.
I had to be realistic. For wildlife the minimum focal length I wanted was 300mm. I also wanted a lens with vibration reduction, I tend to shoot without a tripod, as I like the freedom to roam. So it was back to research, do I opt for a 3rd party lens from Tamron or Sigma or go for a Nikon? The decision was kind of made for me. I stumbled across a site offering a Nikon AF-P DX NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3G ED VR (quite a mouthful) for the amazing price of £130 – brand new, delivered to my door with no extra “hidden” costs!
Sure enough, a week later after ordering it arrived. And if I’m honest for someone finding their way in this genre of photography it has been just the ticket.
Sure it has its limitations, which now I am starting to find a little frustrating – reach being one. But, I’d have been more frustrated if I’d splashed out more money than I felt comfortable with, only to discover wildlife photography wasn’t for me.
Next I purchased an 18-55mm standard “kit” lens. This I use this for the rare occasions I want to shoot landscapes (another art form to learn). On this occasion I did opt for second hand and bought one from CEX for around £40. Like the camera, it is in lovely condition with crystal clear optics. Plus if it was not up to scratch, I knew I could go to my local store for a refund or replacement. So I had peace of mind when buying.
So there you have it. A fairly descent basic kit for £470. For the amount of enjoyment it has given me and while finding my feet in a rewarding, but challenging field (no pun intended), it’s money well spent.
Whatever brand of camera you opt for, it’s worth looking at used older models. Sure they might not have the very latest sensor that can give you noise free images at ISO 50 million, or focus on and track a moving hoverfly. But, the bottom line is they get you out there engaging with nature and being in the fresh air. Plus you don’t have to try and explain where the family holiday fund went!
A final final thought, if you do opt for a Nikon. I strongly advise you to hop over to Steve Perry’s Back Country Gallery site. He is a Nikon user and has a wealth of videos on all menu settings he uses for his wildlife photography. Also check out back button focusing article, I love it and find it a real game changer.
Most of all have fun and enjoy 🙂