Camera Options for iNaturalist Submissions

Being only a few days away from hitting 4,000 iNaturalist submissions, I have been thinking too much about my options for cameras to use for iNaturalist submissions. Here I am putting what I have learned in one place so when I have more money I can remember what my best options are.

Superzoom Cameras
Superzooms are probably the best cameras for making iNaturalist submissions. Large zooms in a relatively small package lets them get pictures that you would otherwise miss. Even if a DSLR is your main camera, a pocket size superzoom to carry everywhere makes a lot of sense as a second camera. If they had GPS, a few of the 1" sensor superzoom cameras might make this list since they take nicer photos. Without GPS though they are too unwieldy to make sense for iNaturalist submissions with so many other good options out there. The following are the best superzoom cameras I could find for the application:

  1. Nikon P900: For birds, reptiles and mammals, the 83X zoom on this camera makes it almost certainly the best camera out there. A telephoto lens with a DSLR can take better pictures, but only at the cost of really heavy lenses.
  2. Sony HX400V: This is the camera I have. It is probably the second best camera for birds, reptiles and mammals, but may be able to beat the P900 for insects.
  3. Sony HX90V: The previous cameras are too big. People look at you funny in certain social situations and I have even been known to attract police while taking pictures. The HX90V is able to do 70% of what the other two superzooms can do while remaining small enough to not stand out. Once again, the lack of GPS in some of the competition makes this the obvious choice of compact superzoom. 
  4. Nikon Coolpix S9900: A somewhat cheaper compact superzoom that shares most features with the HX90V

Tough Cameras:

Superzooms won't do much good if taking pictures in a rough environment. It is not even possible to buy a commercial underwater housing for one. If taking pictures in less than ideal conditions, these cameras should be considered:

  1. Olympus TG-4: Waterproof to 50 feet, amazing macro, and includes GPS. This is what I should have got instead of a Gopro as it is the best option for underwater photography at a reasonable price. It has little use for birds, reptiles, and mammals, but for insects and plants should do well enough.
  2. Nikon 1 AW1: A hardened version of a mirrorless camera, also the only mirrorless camera to include GPS. It claims to be waterproof, but every third review on Amazon seems to be someone complaining because it wasn't waterproof. 

Mirrorless Cameras:

While all are a step up from a cell phone, the previously mentioned cameras do not take particularly good photos.  If trying to create better images, while still keeping a small package mirrorless cameras might make sense. Unfortunately, the lack of GPS in any of these cameras means none are particularly great choices for iNaturalist submissions. One of these cameras might make sense if you want a high end underwater camera in a smaller package than a DSLR:

  1. A6000: One of the best cameras for underwater use, but lacks GPS.
  2. Olympus E-M1: One of the best cameras for underwater use, but lacks GPS.
  3. Olympus E-PL5: Generally good reviews for underwater use. The cheapest mirrorless systems for underwater use seem to be built around this camera. Again, lacks GPS.
  4. A7S: A very unusual camera, expensive and only 12 Megapixels. However its amazing low light capabilities would make for very good underwater use if willing to pay the steep prices for a housing. It is also likely to be a very good insect camera since in most conditions it can take photos with very fast shutter times without needing a flash. Again, lacks GPS.

DSLR Cameras:

If you want photos with top of the line image quality and don't mind the increased cost and size, a DSLR can't be beat. Unlike mirrorless cameras many have built in GPS, or easily purchased adapters making them a good choice for nature photography. Like mirrorless cameras, they may require lens changes if you are switching between telephoto and macro photos. This causes them to miss some opportunities which a superzoom could easily catch. If pricing one out, make sure to see what it will cost to get a telephoto and macro lens to go with it as the cost of lenses often exceeds the price of the camera:

  1. Canon EOS 7D Mark II: Mid range DSLR with GPS. Since it has a variety of options for underwater housings it is likely a good choice for underwater photography.
  2. Nikon 7200: Mid range DSLR with GPS modules readily available. Since it has a variety of options for
    underwater housings it is likely a good choice for underwater

  3. Sony A99V: Mid range DSLR with GPS. Lacks good options for underwater
    photography but would likely be fine for any photography on land.

  4. Pentax K-3II: Mid range DSLR with GPS. Lacks good options for underwater
    photography but would likely be fine for any photography on land.

  5. Canon EOS 1DX: High end DSLR, known as the best wildlife camera in the Canon line.
  6. Nikon D4S: High end DSLR. If you are not sure whether you want to buy a car or a camera this is probably the one for you.
Publicado el agosto 29, 2015 10:03 TARDE por glmory glmory


Thanks for the summary - very useful. I will certainly refer to it next year.
Btw, I think only the Canon 7D Mark II has GPS.

Publicado por lynnwatson hace más de 8 años

Now that you mention it, I linked the Canon 7D Mark II but neglected it here.

Looking at the Amazon page for the older 7D, it lists GPS as Optional. I think that means an external GPS can easily be made to work with it, but it might mean that you can order it with or without built in GPS.

Publicado por glmory hace más de 8 años

This is a great list! Thank you for sharing. Exciting about your upcoming iNaturalist milestone :-)

Publicado por carrieseltzer hace más de 8 años

I agree -- thank you so much for this great journal post! The past year or so, I've been using a Nikon coolpix p530, as it was the only camera I could really afford (about 400 bucks). But now that I've saved up a bit, I'm thinking of going to something a little better, although, I've become so comfortable with my current camera!

So, my question is this: when do you sacrifice 'comfort-ability' for your current camera to a risk of a 'updated' camera? :)

Publicado por sambiology hace más de 8 años

Whenever I can afford it? Really, once you learn one camera learning a second one will come much faster. This is particularly true if you stick with the same manufacturer.

Using a P530 isn't bad for iNaturalist submissions though. I doubt there are a lot of submissions you are missing because of your camera, it is more likely that you could end up with slightly better pictures with a better camera. Occasionally with hard to ID species that would mean the difference between getting an ID and not, but most the time it doesn't matter much.

To get an idea of what a new camera would mean, the Flickr camera's page is great: I like to compare similar pictures such as of dragonflies on different cameras. For example, here are photos of dragonflies taken on a Nikon P530, to a P900 and a D7200:

The more expensive cameras clearly are giving better images, but the quality out of the p530 is still quite a step up from the cell phones many people here are using and really isn't bad.

One thing that would be really nice upgrading from the p530 is GPS. I can't imagine going back to manually entering location data. I suppose a GPS logging app might make that relatively painless but built in GPS is just so easy.

Publicado por glmory hace más de 8 años

I also use an HX400V and the 50x zoom is awesome for wildlife portraits from a safe distance. Macro is pretty awesome, too. GPS was one of my main must-have features and it works well. First time out for the day, it may take a few minutes to get GPS, but once it's primed, it typically has GPS available in under 10 sec.

With the Sony PlayMemories Mobile app on my iPhone, it's pretty easy and fast to get images from the camera to the phone for iNat upload. IIRC, you select images on the camera, use phone's WiFi setting to connect to the camera, start the upload on the camera, switch to the Sony app. Images appear in your Camera Roll, as well as a folder called PlayMemories Mobile. In the iNat app, when you go to select images to upload with your observations, you can select the PlayMemories folder (or Camera Roll).

In case it's not obvious to someone stumbling across this post - not necessarily a camera junkie (;-) - IMHO a camera like the HX400V will increase your shooting capabilities vs. your phone by orders of magnitude - instead of a little speck, you can get so much closer. (:-)

Publicado por doug_grinbergs hace alrededor de 7 años

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