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12-29-2017, 01:10 AM   #1
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Beginner wildlife shooter start-up gear

I can predict I'm going to receive the following question soon from a neighbour, as I'm a local 'expert'

She wants to buy her 11 year old a camera - that much I know ! I know he's become very interested in spotting badgers, spending dark evenings crawling around the local woods and grave yard. As a sloooow landscape photographer, I'm a little on shaky ground here...

First off I don't know the budget, so I appreciate this is not helpful, but it's the essence of what I need to consider for advising him. Maybe what follows should be aimed at twilight use as dark locations are not possible with basic kit eg, no flash, at this stage, I'd guess.

I appreciate this is a Pentax forum, and as a 100% Pentax user, I'd like to think he considers Pentax when he chooses, but I know some folk here go on about Pentax's, supposedly, poorer AF than other brands, so please have this in mind with any responses.

My first thoughts at the lower end were a used K-5 and a 55-300. The K-5 was good in low light, but this combo may not be that fast focusing, though he could use a snap-in-focus or pre-focused arrangement for the badgers.

The K-3s had better AF in my experience, but low light usage was not as good as K-5. He will, of course want to use it for other usage than just badgers. So if budget is higher a K-70 or KP, though I've not used these ...

The HD Pentax-DA 55-300mm f/4-5.8 ED WR may not be the best choice as it's not an especially fast lens, but as a youngster a fast prime would not probably be a good starter lens.

So then it's other brands, and importantly, other aspects we might want to consider.

Thanks for any advice.

12-29-2017, 01:43 AM   #2
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for wildlife, Pentax is not a good choice. Lake of fast AF, and lake of long telephoto lenses for that practice.
12-29-2017, 01:44 AM   #3
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I think given the excellent low light performance of the K5 / K5 iis then one of those would be my recommendation, overall performance is also pretty good or a K3ii potentially. A friend of mine's recently purchased one of these again on my recommendation and trying out my K5iis last year and was impressed with the handling and feel compared to his Canon and the low light performance is much better than he had previously experienced.

---------- Post added 29-12-17 at 02:49 ----------

I've shot loads of wildlife on Pentax camera's and their well suited, maybe not as fast focussing as a Canikon, from in the field comparisons IMO Pentax's low light / fast ISO performance is better and given the OP's unlikely to be in a position to spend thousands on white glass, Pentax is a good choice. Lenses up to 450mm so effectively 675mm with the crop factor are available but will still be in the 2k price bracket.
12-29-2017, 02:07 AM - 1 Like   #4
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QuoteOriginally posted by BarryE Quote
She wants to buy her 11 year old a camera - that much I know ! I know he's become very interested in spotting badgers, spending dark evenings crawling around the local woods and grave yard.

First off I don't know the budget, so I appreciate this is not helpful, but it's the essence of what I need to consider for advising him. Maybe what follows should be aimed at twilight use as dark locations are not possible with basic kit eg, no flash, at this stage, I'd guess.
Badgers being smart, wild, and nocturnal (and being mostly black with white stripes).....plus 11 year old beginner. My best advice would be that he builds an infrared camera trap.

Building an Active Infrared DSLR Camera Trap for Wildlife Photography: 9 Steps (with Pictures)

But unless this 11 year old is a genius, I think a specialized trail camera for camera traps with either infrared or flash is going to get the badger:
What's The Best Trail Camera? - (Reviews & Guide 2017)

Otherwise, there are GoPro or Theta solutions with remote triggers with underwater casings to protect the camera outside for extended periods.

12-29-2017, 02:31 AM - 1 Like   #5
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The K-3 with a 55-300mm PLM would be a killer "set it and forget it" combo, if its within budget.

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12-29-2017, 02:37 AM   #6
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trail cameras are wonderful but not nearly as much fun as "hunting" with a camera

the 55-300 on several bodies have taken a number of my successful wildlife shots (from the k2000 through to the k3s)

any of the WR lens and body combinations would be a great starting point with the benefit of being affordable
12-29-2017, 02:51 AM   #7
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Just realised there are two 55-330 mm lenses at similar prices:

55-300mm f4-5.8 ED WR DA and 55-300mm f4-5.8 ED WR DA

In the context of this thread, are there differences I need to understand ? I note Adam referred to the PLM version, so I'm thinking this maybe the better version. Thanks.
12-29-2017, 02:54 AM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by BarryE Quote
Just realised there are two 55-330 mm lenses at similar prices:

55-300mm f4-5.8 ED WR DA and 55-300mm f4-5.8 ED WR DA

In the context of this thread, are there differences I need to understand ? I note Adam referred to the PLM version, so I'm thinking this maybe the better version. Thanks.
Yes, the PLM has faster AF and is quieter.

It uses the latest KAF4 mount which is compatible with firmware updated K5IIs and K-50 or newer models.


Last edited by Alex645; 12-29-2017 at 03:00 AM.
12-29-2017, 05:57 AM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by BarryE Quote
In the context of this thread, are there differences I need to understand ? I note Adam referred to the PLM version, so I'm thinking this maybe the better version. Thanks.
Hi Barry, here is a list of compatible cameras with the new 55-300 PLM KAF4 mount. The information below is from the In-depth review. Good luck.


**Because the aperture is controlled electronically, this lens can only stop down when used with compatible cameras. The Pentax K-50, K-S1, K-S2, K-3, K-3 II, and K-1 are supported via a camera firmware update; the Pentax K-70, Pentax KP and all 2017 or newer bodies will work out of the box. The aperture diaphragm will always remain wide-open on unsupported bodies.

Read more at: HD Pentax-DA 55-300mm F4.5-6.3 PLM WR RE Review - Specifications | PentaxForums.com Reviews
12-29-2017, 06:15 AM   #10
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The budget would help. It's hard to tell anything without knowing the price limit.
12-29-2017, 06:38 AM   #11
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If the boy is 11, weight might be an important aspect, too. So I can only second the 55-300 idea (442 g).

Sigma 150-500 (let's say a used one) would provide more reach, but its weight is already almost 2 kgs.
12-29-2017, 07:08 AM - 1 Like   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by Adam Quote
The K-3 with a 55-300mm PLM would be a killer "set it and forget it" combo, if its within budget.
Right On the money ! I would include all versions of the 55-300 for the beginner and budget restricted . Any shots that go beyond 300 you can crop and still print a decent good sized inlargement. I use the HD DA WR version @ TAv f5.6 ISO max 1600 ;speed changes with light and trying to keep ISO to min. The 55-300 @ f5.6 deals with the cover Fore & Aft (bokeh & Fokeh ) that you will catch the critters in very nicely (includes my Grand Babies). I use back focus (spot) and set the camera at infinity when I'm in the Zone. And remember the gear is only a small part of the end product. See some examples in my gallery and Flickr.

Last edited by honey bo bo; 05-29-2018 at 10:06 AM.
12-29-2017, 07:37 AM - 2 Likes   #13
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What sort of expectations does he have for the photos of badgers? If the primary goal is finding and recording their existence, I'd agree with a trail cam. If he's hoping for glorious magazine-cover wildlife photos, it's a very different story... small, mostly nocturnally little beasties may need blinds, tripod, decent low light performance (for dusk) and/or remote flash(es) (for dusk or total darkness), a good telephoto and/or wide angle with remote triggering, and a huge chunk of desire for photographing them well.

I believe badgers are far more common in the UK than where I am (ours are listed as endangered), but I have photographed a few skunks. I lack a burning desire to do this well, but when the opportunity comes up, why not? This skunk was habituated to our bird feeders, but not people (we don't hang out in our yard too much after dark). Being a skunk, and provided I moved slowly and kept a respectful distance, it was willing to rely on its defenses to keep me at bay as opposed to fleeing. The most important components of this photo were the pair of remote off-camera flashes (about $80 worth will do the trick) and being willing to lie in the grass in just my underwear (less laundry if it decided to assail me with perfume):


12-29-2017, 07:56 AM - 1 Like   #14
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First, my condolences for being the "local expert". It can be a burden.

My Pentax suggestion: K-70 + 55-300 PLM

Other consideration: used Olympus body (E-M10, E-M5 Mk11, E-M1) plus either the Oly or Panasonic xx-300mm zoom lens. This will be a smaller, lighter solution, and a bit cheaper, too.

Different tack: Sony RX10 III, Panasonic FZ2500, FZ1000. 1" sensor cameras with zooms up to 600mm "equivalent". Might be easier for a young'un to handle these. Singular all-in-one solution. Used Panasonic FZ1000 is $500 or less.
12-29-2017, 08:17 AM   #15
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K3 is better, but K5 is great as well. That camera is very rugged, I can attest. The 55-300 is probably the best bet, as mentioned. Alternately, you could find a more superzoom type 18-270 which would probably be useful for a kid.

Some of my nieces were quite good with my cameras when I let them use it. They're careful, detail-sensitive and have a good eye.
Make sure they use the neck strap or get a sling strap for security.
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