Pet photography equipment recommendations from experts in the field of pet portraiture. J.B. Shepard, best camera for dog action shots master pet photographer and founder of Puptrait Studio, talks about the fundamentals of camera bodies and lenses (and when to use them), as well as specific equipment recommendations.
Learning to take serious pet photography classes has never been more accessible or affordable. However, deciding on which equipment, to begin with, can be a difficult decision. For those who are interested in becoming pet photographers, we’ve put together a quick walkthrough equipment guide.
In this article, we will discuss various camera and lens types, as well as a few example images demonstrating the various tools in use, as well as recommendations for specific camera bodies and lenses that we recommend in each of the categories.
Existing full-frame DSLR owners looking for the best lens for pet photography should look no further. Make sure to read J.B.’s lens guide for pet photographers before getting started.
Photographing Pets Presents Unique Challenges
Photographing dogs and other pets can be a challenging endeavor. Be sure to take into consideration the capabilities of your subject (primarily their age, mobility, temperament, and level of training) as well as what it is that you are attempting to capture before deciding on what equipment you will use to capture it. Some dogs will sit and hold a stay until they are released on their initiative.
Others will sit on command but will get up to follow you as soon as you move away from the command position. Some dogs, on the other hand, are more stubborn and require a little more flexibility when working with them.
Best Camera for Dog Photography
What Are You Trying To Photograph?
When selecting the equipment you will use, it is critical to consider how you intend to work before making a final decision. The distance from which you intend to shoot your pet is an important factor to think about before you begin. It is also important to indicate where you intend to post or print your photographs. In comparison to having your photos published in a magazine or displayed on a billboard, you will require far less resolution if you only intend to post your photos to social media.
It is critical to understand the fundamental types of cameras and lenses before you begin shopping for equipment, regardless of the subject matter you are shooting.
How Much Do Pet Photographers Actually Make?
A lot of new pet photographers go overboard when it comes to purchasing equipment. There has been a grave error! To the extent that I would go so far as to say that “overspending on equipment” is the number one reason that most newer pet photography studios fail, I would agree. Why? It’s a straightforward process. As a general rule, being a professional pet photographer is not a financially rewarding profession.
It can be extremely difficult to establish a successful pet photography studio, and the vast majority of pet photographers lose money in their first year of operation. Consequently, taking out a large loan or carrying a large credit card balance that you may find difficult to pay off makes little sense.
If you want your studio to succeed, it is essential that you only invest in equipment that you are certain you will need, that you will use regularly, and that will pay for itself quickly.
Please keep this in mind when reviewing our camera recommendations, which are listed further down this page.
Best Point & Shoot Cameras for Pet Photography
Cameras with a point-and-shoot design were extremely popular in the late 1990s and early to mid-2000s because they offered a wide range of camera functionality, durability, and image quality at an affordable price. Point and shoot cameras were typically priced between $100 and $1,000.
These digital cameras are available in a variety of body styles and display types, but their popularity has waned in recent years as a result of recent improvements in SmartPhone image quality and the shrinking size of DSLR and mirrorless cameras bodies.
Photographed with a point-and-shoot camera in Fells Point, Maryland, United States. A point-and-shoot camera is not quite as simple to use as a smartphone, and it lacks the flexibility of a DSLR’s detachable lens system, to name a couple of disadvantages.
Even so, point and shoot systems continue to be a great choice for photographers looking for a dedicated photography device that is small and affordable while also capable of zooming in and out of shots while traveling.
- Easy to use
- Won’t drain phone battery
- Small footprint
- Limited flash support
- Limited lens selection
- Poor lens quality
- Limited exposure control
- Limited optical zoom
Puptrait’s Pick: Best VALUE Point & Shoot / Travel Camera for Pet Photography
Canon PowerShot SX740 Digital Camera
To be successful as a professional pet photographer, you should avoid using a point-and-shoot camera as your primary camera.
If you want a camera that can bridge the gap between the limited image quality of your smartphone and the bulk and fragility of a DSLR or mirrorless camera, consider a point and shoot. While factors such as sensor size, low-light performance, and lens sharpness are unquestionably important, they should only be considered as secondary considerations when deciding which point and shoot camera to purchase.
There are only three factors that should be considered when making a decision:
cost, convenience, and user-friendliness. If you consider the above factors, you will be hard-pressed to find a better camera.
With a great optical zoom, optical image stabilization, subject tracking autofocus AND zoom, a super flexible preview screen, a built-in flash, and Wifi, NFC, and Bluetooth connectivity, this camera is a great choice.
It will automatically download photos to your Android or iOS device, and it even allows you to use your smartphone as a remote trigger for taking photos.
From left to right, we have: Wide-angle lens, 40x optical zoom, maximum optical zoom, and 8x digital zoom are available.
The best part is that the camera’s built-in zoom lens has a minimum focus distance of less than half an inch, which is extremely small. As a result, the on-paper specifications of this point-and-shoot camera surpass those of my $3,000 full-frame DSLR and my go-to $2,500 L series lens — which is particularly impressive considering that this camera costs less than $400.
Additionally, I believe it’s important to mention that the camera’s body design is quite attractive. It is available in two color options: black and silver (as seen here).
And, if I were a more fashion-conscious photographer, I would have no qualms about bringing this along with me when traveling or on the go.
That is, after all, the whole point of going out for a pint and a shoot in the first place.
Canon PowerShot SX740 specs:
- 20.3 megapixel CMOS sensor
- 4k video and timelapse video
- Slim design (Approx. 2.5″ x 4.3″ x 2.5″)
- Lightweight (Approx. 10.5 oz)
- 3″ LCD screen (can be tilted up 180 degrees for selfies)
- Built in Wifi, NFC & Bluetooth connectivity
- iOS and Android compatibility
- Remote shooting and playback
- Auto transfer files to mobile and desktop
- 40x optical zoom (4.3 – 172mm)
- Zoom framing assist
- Dual sensing optical image stabilization (IS)
- On camera flash
- Minimum focus distance of 2 inches (.4 inches for Macro photography)
- Maximum aperture of f/3.3 (wide) – f/6.9 (tele)
Read Also: Best Camera For Music Videos – New 2021 Guide
Puptrait’s Pick: Best QUALITY Point & Shoot / Travel Camera for Pet Photography
Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II – Best pet camera for dogs
We don’t typically recommend that beginning pet photographers learn their craft with a point-and-shoot camera. The G7 X Mark II, on the other hand, is a rare exception to the rule — primarily for the following eight reasons…
- It’s cheapest (It costs less than most comparable DSLR lenses).
- It is support manual exposure control (rare for a point and shoot).
- The builts in f1.8 – f2.8 lens is exceptionally fast and amazing sharp.
- The built in lens able to the perfect zoom range (24-100mm) for pet portraits.
- The minimal focus distance of the lens is only 2 inches.
- It can shoot RAW files.
- waterproof in depths up to 40 meters (when paired with a WP-DC55 waterproof case).
- Able to remote triggered, can be mounted to a tripod.
Is the G7 X Mark II a substitute for a full frame or cropped sensor DSLR?
We don’t believe so — at least not in our opinion.
With no hot shoe mount or PC cable port, the G7 X Mark II does not provide as much flexibility in flash support as most DSLR camera bodies, and it does not support detachable lenses. In addition, while the 1 inch CMOS sensor is large for a point and shoot, it is still only about half the size of an APS-C type sensor (such as those found in Canon’s PowerShot G1 X Mark III and Rebel DSLRs), which is a significant advantage.
To be sure, while the PowerShot G1 X Mark III may have a larger and more detailed sensor (as well as an optical viewfinder), its built-in lens is significantly slower than the G7 X Mark II’s (f2.8 to F5.6 as opposed to f1.8 to F2.8) and its zoom range is significantly less (24 – 72mm as opposed to 24–100m). Moreover, when you consider that the G1 X Mark III sells for approximately 50% more ($549 vs $999), the G7 X Mark II becomes the obvious choice when it comes to selecting a high-performance point and shoot camera with excellent image quality.
However, if you want to get serious about photographing pet portraits and you’re working on a tight budget, the G7 X Mark II is a camera that you should seriously consider purchasing. Truthfully, when it comes to value for money, this camera outperforms nearly every other camera in its price range.
Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II specs:
- Large 1.0 inch 20.1 megapixel CMOS sensor,
- Manual exposure control (unique for a point and sho,ot),
- Shutter speeds as fast as 1/2,000 of a second.
- ISO 125 – 12800.
- Manual focus control, auto focus tracking and panning shooting assist.
- Super fast lens with a maximum aperture of f/1.8 (wide) – f/2.8 (tele).
- Enhanced dual sensing image stabilization (IS) and IS equipped lens.
- 4.2x optical zoom (24–100mm)..
- Superb minimal focal distance of only 2.0 inches.
- Full HD capabilities.
- Up to 8 fps continuous shooting (DIGIC 7 Image Processor).
- Capable of shooting in RAW, JPEG, & RAW + JPEG (with in-camera RAW conversion).
- 3″ LCD touch screen (can be tilted up 180 degrees for selfies).
- Popup on-camera flash.
- Time-laps movie mode (1 – 30 second intervals).
- Built in Wifi / NFC connectivity and wireless control.
- iOS and Android compatibility.
- Battery is removable, but still supports in-camera charging via USB..
- Slim design (Approx. 4.15″ x 2.4″ x 1.65″).
- Lightweight (Approx. 10.4 oz).
- Tripod support.
- Compatible with Canon’s WP-DC55 waterproof case (waterproof up to 130ft or 40m).
Shop for Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II online
DSLR Cameras for Pet Photography – best camera for dogs at home
DSLR (Digital Single-Lens Reflex) is an abbreviation that stands for digital single-lens reflex. The mirror that allows light to bounce from the lens to the viewfinder is referred to as the “viewfinder mirror.” After pressing the shutter button, the reflex mirror lowers, allowing light to pass directly into the camera’s sensor instead of through the lens. Shot in the studio with a Canon 5D III (a full-frame DSLR) and a high-speed moonlight, this image was created with a Canon 5D III. These are a very popular camera body type, and it is the one that you are most likely to associate with most forms of professional photography.
They are frequently used by wedding photographers, pet photographers, and most forms of consumer-oriented portrait photography, to name a few applications.
The primary reason that these cameras are so popular across a wide range of photography niches is that they provide an unprecedented level of creative control and freedom.
DSLR is the default camera body for most pet photography pros
In the case of a DSLR, a trained photographer has complete control over the way their camera operates, being able to quickly switch between multiple programmed exposure modes or manually set their exposure, controlling the exact ISO (sensor sensitivity), shutter speed, and aperture width with their camera.
DSLR cameras also provide pet photographers with the flexibility to swap lenses and work with a wide range of light sources, including flashes, strobes, monolights, and other types of triggered or high-speed synced light sources. DSLR cameras are available in a wide range of price ranges, with prices ranging from as little as $500 or less to as much as $5,000 for the base model, with lenses ranging from $99 to as much as $15,000 for specialty, cinematic, and super-telephoto zoom lenses.
best affordable camera for pet photography
Many Older DSLR Models Still Perform Great!
The Canon 5D EOS Mark III camera that I use at the Portrait Studio is a Canon 5D Mark III. Because Canon has since released a few newer camera bodies and mounts, it is difficult to find them in new condition.
However, if you can find an older 5D Mark III in good condition with a low shutter count, it will still perform admirably, especially considering its age. With good quality used bodies available for as little as $1,127, you really couldn’t do much worse when shopping for full-frame DSLRs.
Because a 5D Mark II and a 5D Mark IV both use the same lenses and batteries, one has to wonder what exactly you’re getting for your money when you upgrade to the latest model.
If you’re like me and don’t require longer shutter bursts, high ISO settings, or more advanced autofocus settings, an older and more affordable camera body such as the 5D Mark III may be a better fit for your needs.
Pros of DSLR cameras:
- More creative control
- Great image quality
- Great lens selection
- Full focus control
- Full exposure control (including ISO, shutter speed and aperture)
- Multiple programmed modes
- Capable of shooting HD video
- Great flash and strobe support
- Can be mounted on a tripod
- Wired and wireless remote support
Cons of DSLR cameras:
- Moderate learning curve
- Larger file size
- Camera bodies and lenses be fairly pricey
Shop for the Canon 5D Mark III online
Puptrait’s Pick: Best DSLR Camera for Pet Product Photography
Read Also: The Ultimate Guide To Pet Photography (87 Best Tips!)
Canon EOS 5DS R with Low-Pass Filter Effect Cancellation
Editor’s Note (Updated July 2019) – To be clear, this is not an entry-level camera. If you are just getting started as a pet photographer, you may want to instead consider a lower-priced DLSR (either a cropped sensor, older model, or refurbished/used body) or the moderately more future-proof Canon EOS R.
That being said, the 5DS is a fantastic camera that checks a lot of boxes for pet photographers who want to shoot larger portrait art and commercial pet product photography in a professional setting.
This is especially true for photographers who already have a sizable collection of Canon’s professional-grade L series lenses and are looking for an upgrade in image quality (as well as file size), but aren’t quite ready to leap to a medium format camera system just yet. Canon’s professional-grade L series lenses are designed for photographers who want to shoot at a higher resolution than their digital SLR camera can provide.
Canon EOS 5DS specs:
- 50.6 megapixel CMOS sensor (highest resolution sensor in EOS history).
- “R” version of camera body able to Low Pass Filter (LPF) cancellation, improving clarity and sharpness, in exchange for an increased risk of moiré and color artifacts.
- New feature “Fine Detail Mode”, that emphasizes fine edges, patterns and textures.
- Include new Mirror Vibration Control system Feature and user-selectable shutter release time lag to help combat camera shake that would otherwise be triggered by a traditional spring controlled reflex mirror (such as those found in most other DSLR camera bodies).
- Built in time lapse movie function.
- Perfect for showing the moving clouds across the sky, the growth of a plant, changes in scenery, or the flow of dogs walking by.
- Low reflection LCD monitor, great for working in a variety of locations, including outside.
- USB 3.0 for speedy file transfer.
- Wifi and WFT-E7 capable.
best camera for photographing dogs
Full Frame vs Crop Sensors for Pet Photography
DSLR camera bodies are based on the 35mm SLR camera bodies, which functioned very similarly to their digital successors except for the fact that a digital sensor was used in place of the traditional film shutter window. A full-frame DSLR has a shuttered window that is roughly the same size as that of a 35mm SLR, which is very convenient when shooting with a full-frame DSLR.
In comparison to a 35mm camera, a cropped sensor DSLR has a slightly smaller aperture window; the amount of difference between the two cameras is measured by a number known as the crop factor.
It is a number that indicates how much of a difference there is between the two cameras in terms of their cropping abilities. Photographed with a Canon t3i camera during a personal portrait session in the comfort of one’s residence (cropped sensor DSLR).
There is absolutely nothing wrong with a sensor that has been cropped, to be clear. The use of a cropped sensor has been a source of contention for many beginning photographers, but in all honesty, the size of their sensor is rarely the root cause of their poor photographic quality in general.
There is only a slight difference in depth of field between cropped sensors and full-frame sensors, with most smaller lenses cropping around 10 percent of an image’s extreme edge when compared to full-frame sensors.
Before this, I used a cropped-sensor DSLR to photograph both weddings and portraits. I continue to use this technique. They may be a good fit for someone who desires extensive creative freedom without having to spend a lot of money on it. While keeping the aforementioned considerations in mind, it is critical to understand the cropped factor when selecting images if you are using a camera with a cropped sensor.
This is because different lens focal lengths will perform slightly differently when subjected to various crop factors or focal length multipliers (FLM).
Puptrait’s Pick: Best Entry Level / Cropped Sensor DSLR Camera for Pet Photography
best camera for dog photography 2021
Canon Rebel SL3
A vari-angle touchscreen, eye detection, Bluetooth connectivity, wifi capability, 4k video, and 4k time-lapse are just a few of the features included in the most recent update to the Rebel product line, which comes at an absurdly low price. Other features include a vari-angle touchscreen, eye detection, Bluetooth connectivity, wifi capability, 4k video, and 4k time-lapse
All in all, this is a superb camera for having to learn on and would make an excellent gift for anyone who is thinking about pursuing a career in animal photography (especially given the heavily discounted camera and lens bundles available from Canon).
For more than a decade, the Canon Rebel series has been my go-to recommendation for first-time photographers, and it has never failed me (or any of my photography students) in the field. For the vast majority of photography students and hobbyists, it will be difficult to find a better camera system for them to learn on that is less expensive than their current system.
Canon EOS SL3 specs:
- 24.1 megapixel CMOS sensor.
- Dual pixel autofocus and eye detection autofocus.
- 3 inch LCD touchscreen.
- Android and iOS compatible.
- Bluetooth and Wifi capable.
- Lightest and smallest EOS DSLR camera currently available.
- On camera flash and hot shoe flash mount.
Shop for the Canon EOS SL3 online
Mirrorless Cameras for Pet Photography
Mirrorless cameras are widely considered to be the wave of the future in consumer and professional photography. The format is visually similar to a DSLR, but it functions more like a hybrid of DSLR and point-and-shoot body styles, according to the manufacturer.
Mirrorless cameras provide many of the advantages of DSLRs, including large interchangeable lenses, but they are housed in bodies that have a significantly smaller footprint than DSLR bodies. Because they contain no moving parts, they also produce less camera shake and noise when the shutter is released.
Canon recently announced the availability of their new EOS R lens mount, which is causing quite a stir among those involved in the photography industry.
- All the Pros of DSLR
- Lighter than DSLR
- Less camera shake than DSLR
- Less lens aberration
- Limited lens selection for newer mounts
- Moderate learning curve
- Larger file size
- Can be fairly pricey
- Newer, resulting in less used and refurbished inventory available
Puptrait’s Pick: Best Mirrorless Camera for Pet Portrait Photography
Canon EOS R – action dog photography
Note from the editor (updated in July 2021) – As a long-time Canon DSLR user, I am head over heels in love with this camera body, as well as with Canon’s new R lens system in general. Most manufacturers are simply repurposing their DSLR camera bodies (which were in essence clones of decades-old 35mm film SLR bodies), whereas the Canon EOS R is a completely redesigned camera from the bottom up.
Many of the new bells and whistles that we have come to expect from modern imaging devices are included in the new system (improved low light capabilities, wireless connectivity, touchscreens, and advanced AI autofocusing that allows for face and eye-tracking).
The 54mm diameter lens mount on this new camera system, however, is the most impressive feature of this new camera system. When used in conjunction with the mirrorless design, this new mount enables the rear element of the lens to be placed much closer to the sensor, resulting in an extremely compact design, dramatically improved image clarity, and a noticeable reduction in lens aberration (see image below).
In all honesty, following the release of the Canon EOS R, it has become increasingly difficult to continue to recommend that aspiring pet photographers purchase a DSLR as their first digital camera. In my opinion, Canon’s RF lens series is likely to become the company’s flagship lens line in the future. About EF (including L series) lens compatibility, there isn’t much of a reason to cling to the old platform, especially given how well the EOS R handles the task.
Canon EOS R specs:
- Full frame 30.3 megapixel CMOS sensor.
- Vari-angle LCD touch screen – allows for touch based manual autofocusing points, as well as extreme high and low angle shooting.
- Focus peaking – highlights area of the frame in focus in live view mode.
- Short Back Focus – due to mirrorless design and an ultra wide 54mm diameter mount, the lens’s rear element is located much closer to the sensor, resulting in a much more compact design and improved image quality.
- Lighter & Smaller than full frame DSLR cameras.
- Capable of 4k 20p, Full HD 60p, and HD 120p, video.
- Autofocusing speed up to 0.05 second (fastest among 35mm full frame equivalent bodies).
- (Human) face and eye tracking autofocusing.
- Audio input (microphone) and output (headphone jack).
- Compatible with EF/EF-S lenses (with adapter).
- Durable – magnesium alloy body, also dust and water resistant sealing.
- USB charge compatible.
- Wifi and Bluetooth capable.
Shop for the Canon EOS R online
What Lenses Should a Beginner Photographer Have?
Using a digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) or mirrorless camera has several advantages, one of which is its compatibility with a wide variety of lens types. There are a plethora of lens options available, making it difficult to determine which loadout is best for your specific budget.
Cover Your Bases — But Don’t Buy Anything You Can’t Easily Afford
I prefer to use a single wide-normal zoom lens (24-70mm) and a single long zoom lens (70mm – 200mm) rather than a variety of lenses. However, this is not a hard and fast rule to follow. Many photographers only use prime lenses, while others shoot with a variety of zoom lenses. Sometimes this is due to creative or workflow differences, and other times it is because photographers are constrained by their financial resources (high-quality glass is not inexpensive).
As with camera bodies, we’ve found that the best way to approach lenses is to think about what it is exactly that you are trying to capture and what the best (read: easiest and cheapest) way to achieve that specific goal or image is to start with that.
When In Doubt, Buy Lenses From Your Camera Manufacturer
Typically, the mounting systems for these lenses are only available from the camera body manufacturer themselves. The fact that there are conversion mounts and third-party lens options available for most mounting platforms – including Canon, Nikon, and Sony – is important to remember as well. All other things being equal, regardless of who makes the lens, all lenses fall into a handful of basic categories.
Prime vs Zoom Lenses for Pet Photography
Prime lenses have a focal length that is fixed. Zoom lenses, on the other hand, are convenient because they can cover a wide range of focal lengths. A good rule of thumb to follow when shopping for lenses is that prime lenses are more affordable, weigh less, and have greater aperture capabilities than their zoom counterparts of comparable quality.
In this regard, it is important to note that variable apertures, or in other words, maximum apertures that vary at each end of the zoom range, are not uncommon in lower-priced and longer-than-usual zoom lenses. Fixed aperture zoom lenses, on the other hand, provide consistent maximum apertures throughout the zoom range, though they are typically a little more expensive. When comparing different zoom and prime lenses, the maximum aperture is an important factor to consider because a narrower aperture will require more light to be used and will result in a more limited depth of field, which is undesirable.
When It Comes to Lenses, Clarity Almost Always Trumps Speed
However, the aperture is not the only factor to take into consideration. If you have a limited budget, you may want to prioritize focal lengths and clarity over lens speed. This is because you can always add more light to a scene, but there is nothing you can do to make a lens sharper once it has been purchased.
Sony Alpha a6400
Best sony camera for pet photography
There are several reasons why the Sony Alpha A6400 deserves to be included on this list of the best cameras for pet photography.
Because Sony claims that its autofocus system is the fastest in the world, and because it locks focus in 0.02 seconds, you can capture images at lightning speed. As previously stated, having a steady hand is always advantageous when photographing unpredictable pets! Although the continuous shooting rate of 11 frames per second is not the fastest available, it is more than sufficient for capturing most pets in action.
This version includes the 18-135mm kit lens as standard equipment. Wide-angle to close-up shots are all covered by this focal range, which is ideal for almost any shooting situation. The precise AF subject tracking system is excellent for following pets on the move, and you can choose which subject to track using the touch screen, which is a convenient feature. If your pet is playing in a group, you can use this to ensure that your pet is always the one who is the center of attention.
A real-time Eye AF option is also available, which will track either the left eye, right eye, or Auto to ensure that the eyes are sharp and clear in the images taken with the camera. As previously stated, this is ideal for photographing pets that move around suddenly and rapidly.
This camera will appeal to professional pet photographers because it includes all of the features they require. Beginners will find the a6400 to be simple to operate as well. Manual control is provided by the P, A, S, and M shooting modes, as well as Auto, Scene Modes, Panoramic Shooting, Slow & Quick video recording. It also has a built-in flash.
There aren’t many drawbacks to the a6400. The menu system, on the other hand, is extremely long and full of options, and it can be confusing and frustrating to use until you become familiar with the camera.
The camera body itself is one of the smallest APS-C mirrorless cameras available, and it fits comfortably in the palm of your hand. It’s a sturdy and well-built camera that has been weather-sealed for protection. It should therefore be able to withstand the stresses of shooting in wet or dusty conditions when used in conjunction with an appropriately weather-sealed lens. This means that you can take the a6400 on a shoot with dogs or horses to the beach or river without having to worry about a few splashes of water or sand ruining your camera’s electronics.
Puptrait’s Pick: Best Zoom Lens for Pet Photography
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Standard Zoom Lens
Editor’s Note (Updated September 2019) –
If you decided to buy this just one lens and only one lens, this is the lens you need.
To say that other lenses do not have advantages or that you cannot take excellent photographs with them is not to say that they do not. Nonetheless, when it comes to working with dogs, this lens will get the job done (and do a fantastic job while doing it) in the vast majority of shooting situations.
I use this exact lens in 99 percent of my pet portrait sessions, whether they are in my studio, at home, or on location. The zoom range encompasses the vast majority of the focal lengths that you will encounter while photographing pets.
The only time I don’t use this lens indeed is when I’m photographing smaller pet products or working with animals on location and I need to prominently feature background elements or track them from a distance (great for action shots). Those are the situations in which I use a 70-200mm f/4L telephoto zoom lens.
And, yes, I do only have two lenses in my camera bag at all times. If you are also interested in wildlife, architectural, macro, or dog show/event photography, you may require a more extensive collection of lenses. However, if you are only interested in photographing dogs, odds are that a 24-200mm lens with a maximum aperture of f4 will be more than adequate in all but the most extreme shooting environments.
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II specs:
- 24-70mm focal length, allows photographers to get close enough to handle both smaller and larger breed dogs.
- f2.8 constant aperture through the entire focal length range.
- Ring-type ultrasonic AF motor with full time manual focusing.
- Rotating zoom system.
- 1.25 feet closest focusing distance.
- 82 mm filter size.
Shop for the 24-70mm f/2.8L II Zoom Lens online
Ordinary lenses have focal lengths equal to the diagonal of the digital sensor or film format, which is called the focal length of a normal lens. Ordinarily speaking, a normal lens appears to have the same perspective as the human eye, capturing what we consider to be “normal” vision.
Because of the importance of understanding why your camera is either full-frame or cropped, it is important to understand why your camera is either full-frame or cropped because your crop factor will determine what is considered normal for your camera body. The normal focal length of a full-frame DSLR or 35mm film camera is 50mm, which is common for both digital and film cameras.
Wide Angle Lenses
Wide-angle lenses are exactly what they sound like: they provide a wide view. Because they have a focal length that is significantly shorter than the diagonal of the sensor size, they have a greater viewing angle. Wide-angle lenses, in practice, enlarge the distances between foreground and background objects while also allowing for a greater depth of field.
When photographing dogs, I prefer to use wide-angle lenses whenever possible because they provide a more natural perspective. When working with less predictable or still subjects, wide-angle lenses tend to be more forgiving when it comes to capturing acceptable focal planes due to their greater depth of field (like dogs). But perhaps most importantly, wide-angle lenses allow photographers to get much closer to their subjects, which can be particularly useful when interacting with or feeding a canine subject.
best camera for animal photography
My favorite lens for most studio sessions is the Canon 24-70mm L f2.8 II, which I use almost exclusively. The lens provides excellent image clarity and a consistently wide aperture across the range of focal lengths that I find myself shooting with the most. Even though it is not the most affordable lens (it sells for around $1.9k), this lens has taken the place of the 20mm ($500), 35mm ($550), 50mm ($400), and 85mm ($500) primes that I used to have in my kit previously.
A word of caution regarding wide-angle lenses! Whenever you are working with a wider lens, make sure that you are using a hood. An increased number of opportunities for light to leak into your frame from peripheral sources will result from a wider viewing angle.
- Wider viewing angle
- Wider depth of field
- Wider acceptable focal range
- Allows photographers to get closer to subjects
- Makes rooms and spaces look larger
- No bokeh
- More susceptible to lens flare
- Perspective distortion
Telephoto lenses are the polar opposite of wide-angle lenses in terms of focal length. They can provide focal lengths that are significantly longer than the diagonal of the sensor’s image sensor. Because these lenses narrow the perspective field, they compress the distances and depth of field seen in the photograph. If you see a photograph in which the subject’s focus is rapidly lost, the photograph was likely taken with a longer lens and a wide-open aperture.
Practically speaking, telephoto lenses necessitate the photographer’s position being further away from their subject matter. We don’t use them very often when photographing dogs in the studio because they require us to be too far away from our subjects to interact with them properly (or keep them from running to us when called).
Longer Lenses Allow For More Creative Control When Shooting Environmental Pet Portraits
Having said that, we do employ them frequently when working outside and photographing environmental portraits. The reason for this is their ability to compress backgrounds to a significant degree. Buildings, mountains, statues, trees, and other landmarks will appear larger and closer to our foreground subject when we use telephoto lenses to photograph them.
This may run counter to traditional photography advice that many beginning photographers may have heard from their mentors or teachers. Many reputable photographers believe that wide lenses should be used for landscape photography (because they capture more of the scene) and those telephoto lenses should be used for portrait photography (because they capture more of the subject) (as wider lenses tend to distort faces).
When Photographing Pets Outside, Shoot Long AND Feature the Landscape
However, while we will not say that the information is necessarily incorrect, it is important to note that pet photography is not a common application. It is more important to understand why you are using a lens than it is to understand what lens you are supposed to use when taking photographs.
My favorite lens for most environmental portraits is the Canon 70-200mm f2.8L II, which I use almost exclusively. This lens provides clarity comparable to my wider lens, has excellent bokeh at longer focal lengths, is relatively light, and at 70mm, picks up exactly where my wider lens leaves off. It is also relatively inexpensive.
Please keep in mind that I do not use a lens with Image Stabilization (IS). Isochronous shooting (IS) is a fantastic feature and technology that has advanced significantly since it was first introduced, but because I prefer to shoot exclusively from tripods, it adds additional cost and weight that I do not want to bear.
- Narrow depth of field
- Great bokeh
- Background and distance compression
- Can capture subjects at a distance
- Makes it difficult to interact with dogs
- Requires tight framing of closer subjects
- More susceptible to camera shake
- Tend to be heavier
- More expensive than most wider lenses
- Longer minimal focal distance
Puptrait’s Pick: Best (Cheap) Telephoto Lens for Pet Photography
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM Zoom Lens
Note from the editor (updated in July 2019) – There are several different telephoto zoom lenses available on the market. When compared to the other options available, this particular lens does not have the most up-to-date coatings, the longest focal length, image stabilization (IS), or the fastest aperture, among other things. But…
This lens is absolutely solid, is surprisingly compact and lightweight, and is ridiculously affordable when compared to anything comparable from Canon (it costs a third to a twentieth of the price of a comparable Canon lens).
If you plan on shooting events (such as dog shows) or wildlife from a distance — AND you have $10k to burn — you might want to consider the longer and faster variant with integrated stabilization.
Save your money and pick up the 1st generation 70-200mm f/4L instead if you’re simply looking for a longer lens to photograph dog portraits that happen to pick up where Canon’s EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II falls short. You’ll be prepared for nearly anything your pet portrait clients throw at you if you pair it with a good tripod, ball head, lens extender, and an all-in-one moonlight (all of which you’ll probably want anyway).
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L specs:
- 70mm – 200mm focal length
- SUPER affordable (last generation model with minimum specs)
- Sharp image quality and contrast due to Fluorite element and 2 UD-glass elements
- Front element does NOT rotate, makes it easier to use polarizing filters (67mm filter size)
- Surprisingly lightweight for an L series lens
- Compact for a telephoto zoom lens (only 6.8 inches long)
- Compatible with 1.4x and 2x EF Extenders
- Ultra close 3.9 foot minimum focus distance at 200mm
Shop for the 70-200mm f/4L Zoom Lens online
Super Telephoto Lenses
Super telephoto lenses are exactly what they sound like: magnified versions of telephoto lenses that can reach focal lengths of up to 800mm without the use of extenders. They are available in focal lengths ranging from 400mm to 800mm without the use of extenders.
When it comes to sports and wildlife photography, super-telephoto lenses are typically reserved for situations in which it is difficult or impossible to safely get close enough to use other lens types.
- Very narrow depth of field
- Superior bokeh
- Extreme background and distance compression
- Can capture subjects at extreme distances
- Makes it very difficult to interact with dogs
- Very susceptible to camera shake (IS and tripods are a must!)
- Very heavy
- Very expensive
Puptrait’s Pick: Best (Cheap) Super Telephoto Lens Option for Pet Photography
Canon EF 2.0X III Telephoto Extender
Note from the editor (updated in July 2019) – When it comes down to it, if you are only shooting pet portraits, you are unlikely to ever require a super-telephoto lens.
Given how absurdly expensive a super-telephoto lens can be, it is almost certainly better to invest your money in an extender rather than a lens. When using an extender, keep in mind that it may cause your autofocus to move more slowly and that your exposure may be reduced by one or two stops.
However, for any reasonably skilled pet photographer, neither of these issues should pose a significant challenge. I never use autofocus when photographing pets (not even when photographing running dogs) and almost always use a reflector or artificial light source when photographing pet portraits as a professional portrait artist.
Canon EF 2.0X III Telephoto Extender specs:
- Doubles focal length
- Compatible with many Canon lenses, including the Canon 70-200mm f/4L
- Takes up minimal space in kit bag
The following are lens types that the majority of pet photographers do not require, but should be aware of.
We’ve covered the fundamental lens types that the vast majority of new pet portrait photographers will require. However, because deciding what equipment not to purchase is just as important as deciding what equipment to purchase, we thought we’d spend a little time talking about some of the more popular types of lenses that you will most likely not need to shoot with.
After all that has been said, if you have money to burn or have an excellent original idea for how to use these lenses creatively, by all means, go ahead and purchase them.
Fish Eye Lenses
Most new pet portrait photographers will require a few basic lens types, and we’ve covered those here. However, because deciding what equipment not to purchase is just as important as deciding what equipment to purchase, we thought we’d spend a little time talking about some of the more popular types of lenses that you will most likely not need to shoot with in the first place. After all that has been said, if you have money to burn or have an excellent original idea for how to use these lenses creatively, by all means, go ahead and purchase them.
Tilt Shift Lenses
Photographers working in the architectural and street photography fields primarily employ tilt-shift lenses to compensate for perspective distortion and the orientation of the plane of focus, respectively. They function by altering the orientation and/or position of the lens about the sensor, as described previously. In the same way, that fisheye lenses can make for interesting portraits by presenting viewers with an unfamiliar perspective, tilt-shift lenses are generally not used by pet portrait photographers to capture their subjects’ personalities.
To photograph fine details on close-up subjects, macro lenses are specifically designed for this purpose. In general, most camera lenses have a minimum focus range that ranges between 3′ and 6′ in distance from the camera body. Macro lenses, on the other hand, allow photographers to get much closer to their subjects, anywhere from.5′ to 1′ away from them. Even though they are not typically used for portraiture, macro lenses can capture details of pets that would otherwise go unnoticed, such as the blown-up texture of fur or the wrinkles that are unique to your dog’s paw or snout, that would otherwise go unnoticed.
Camera Types Most Pet Photographers Don’t Need, But Should Know About
We’ve covered the most important camera body types that the majority of new pet portrait photographers will need to know about. However, because deciding what equipment not to purchase is just as important as deciding what equipment to purchase, we thought we’d spend a little time discussing some of the more popular types of cameras that you will most likely not need to shoot with — at least not as a beginning pet photographer — in this article. However, as with anything else, if you have the money to burn or have a fantastic original idea for how to use these camera bodies creatively, by all means, go ahead and purchase them.
Adventure Cameras (GoPros, et.) for Pet Photography
Adventure cameras are available in several different shapes and sizes. The GoPro brand is the most well-known among consumers, even though there are numerous other manufacturers of these cameras. A GoPro Hero Session was used to capture the dog’s point of view at Hampden’s Hon Fest. ADVANCED CAMERAS are designed to be much smaller and more durable than traditional camera formats (often being both shock resistant and waterproof).
They are primarily intended to capture video in action settings, though many recent models can also capture still photographs. Given that these cameras are designed for shooting environments where they can be set and forget, they are frequently fixed focus, extremely wide-angle, and use smaller apertures to maximize focus fields.
Capture What Your Dog Sees
Adventure cameras have a small footprint and a wide variety of mounting options, which allows them to be put to a variety of innovative uses. The ability to capture angles and scenes that would be impossible to capture with other camera formats, such as nifty dog-mounted harnesses that allow photographers to capture a dog’s point of view or POV.
Durable & Affordable
Adventure cameras are one of the more affordable types of digital cameras available. High-end adventure cameras such as the GoPro Fusion, which is currently available for purchase for less than $1000, are becoming increasingly common (even after accounting for accessories such as SD cards and mounts).
However, because manufacturers are constantly releasing new models and updates to their product lines, photographers on a tight budget can often find older or refurbished cameras for even less from resellers who are willing to negotiate.
- Easy to use
- Extremely durable
- Built in Image Stabilization (IS)
- Can capture unusual angles
- Capable of HD video (up to 4k)
- Long battery life
- Fixed focus
- Fixed focal length
- Limited or no exposure control
- Limited or no optical zoom
Puptrait’s Pick: Best Adventure Camera for Pet Photography / Videography
The following is an editor’s note (updated July 20, 21): When it comes to keeping their product line up to date and reasonably priced, GoPro does a pretty good job of doing so. In difficult or dangerous situations, it performs admirably as a rugged fixed lens camera capable of capturing high-resolution video in high definition.
The video quality and durability are excellent for the price, and you wouldn’t want to use them to capture still photographs (unless you were in a hurry or were underwater).
GoPro HERO7 White specs:
- Waterproof up to 33 feet (10 meters)
- Swipe-able touch screen.
- Full HD 1080p 60fps video.
- 10 megapixel still photos.
- Built in photo timer.
- Understands 15 voice commands.
- 2x slow-mo.
Shop for the HERO7 White online
Medium & Large Format Camera for Pet Photography
Photographers who shoot for billboards or magazines will use digital medium format cameras or large format cameras that are based on the old slide film formats. Because these camera platforms are significantly larger than full-frame SLRs, they typically offer significantly higher resolution and a greater depth of field than their DSLR counterparts. Paper Hats is a series of art portraits by J.B. Shepard that includes studio dog photography.
Medium Format Cameras Are Intended To Be Used By Professionals – And Are Priced Accordingly
It is possible to purchase a medium format camera system for more than $30,000, with medium format camera bodies costing upwards of $30,000 and lenses costing between $15,000 and $25,000 per piece. Considering these statistics, no one should be surprised that medium and large-format cameras are typically reserved for commercial applications and are not commonly used for most pet portrait photography or by many amateur photographers.
As a result of this, many medium format camera manufacturers are beginning to offer more affordable, but still high-performing, options to their customers. Furthermore, it is now possible to purchase a high-quality medium format camera from Pentax or Hasselblad for well under the $10,000 mark.
- Superior image quality
- Superior depth of field
- Super lens quality
- Increased dynamic range
- Huge image files
- Limited lens selection
- Heavier than most smaller cameras
Puptrait’s Pick: Best Medium Format Camera for Pet Photography
Hasselblad X1D 50c
Shop New: $8,495 (Originally $17k)
NOTE FROM THE EDITOR (UPDATED JULY 2021): This specific camera body has recently been phased out and will be replaced by the updated Hasselblad X1D II 50C in the not too distant future. The updated version is expected to retail for only $5,750 when it is released new, and it appears to be a significant upgrade in almost every aspect. If you have the luxury of time (as well as money), you may want to hold off until the newer model is released later in the year.
Having said that, the older model is still an excellent choice, outperforming nearly every other camera in its price range and utilizing the same Hasselblad X lens system as the more recent model. Even after the newer model is released, a decent quality used 1st generation Hasselblad X1D 50C is likely to be your best bet of any camera on this list in terms of value for money.
While the price may continue to drop, inventory for this camera is extremely limited, making it extremely unlikely that the price will decrease significantly in the future (assuming you can even reliably find one).
Hasselblad X1D 50c specs:
- Lightweight weighs half as much as a conventionals digital mediums format camera.
- 50 Megapixels sensor (43.8 x 32.9 mm).
- Built in Wifi.
- 3 inch TFT 24 bit color 920k pixel built-in back touchscreen display.
- Shoots 1.7 – 2.3 frames per second.
- 16 bit color.
- 14 stop dynamic range.
- Shutter speeds ranging from 1/2000s to 60 minutes.
- Duel SD card slots, Mini HDMI, audio input and output, and USB 3.0.
Shop for the Hasselblad X1D 50c online
Smart Phone Cameras for Pet Photography
You might be surprised to learn this from a professional pet photographer, but the majority of modern smartphones come equipped with excellent camera capabilities. According to popular pet accounts on social media, the vast majority of the photos posted by these dog celebrities were taken with smartphones, which is not surprising. Smartphone cameras typically have much smaller sensor sizes than the majority of other types of cameras.
They are also typically restricted to lenses with a wider focal range. When you consider how they are typically used — primarily for selfies and taking photos of things that are close to the photographer, such as groups of friends, landmarks, and rooms — this makes sense.
Portrait of my Boggle Beagle / Boxer Mix), George, taken with an iPhone 6 As the majority of readers will agree, modern smartphone cameras are generally easier to use and more flexible, allowing them to perform well in low and shifting light environments. Furthermore, because smartphones are networked by default, uploading photos to social media platforms is a relatively simple task.
Those dog owners who want to take photos of their pet from a close enough distance that they can easily interact with their dog will find that smartphones are a great tool to have on hand.
And, to be completely honest, most newer smartphones, including the most recent iPhone generations, have cameras built-in that provide higher resolution and crisper image quality than the majority of point and shoot cameras manufactured more than a decade earlier.
- Easy to use
- Great low light functionality
- Touch based focus
- Great for close up pet portraits
- Limited flash support
- Limited lens selection
- Limited range
- Limited exposure control
- Minimal depth of field
- No optical zoom
- Smaller sensor size susceptible to lens aberration
Puptrait’s Pick: Best Smartphone Camera for Pet Photography
Apple’s iPhone is one of my favorite electronic devices. But that’s only because I’m already using an iMac and I routinely go years without updating my devices. Since the last five years have passed, the chances are good that your smartphone’s camera is one of the best you’ve ever used. If your smartphone was manufactured by a major brand (Apple, Samsung, Vivo, LG, Lenovo, Nokia, Tecno, Huawei, etc.) in that time frame, the odds are even better.
To be clear, this does not imply that all smartphone cameras are created equal. However, in all honesty, the vast majority of modern smartphone cameras have more in common than they do not.
The majority of them shoot full HD video, have similar sensor sizes and optical ranges, and perform admirably in a wide range of lighting conditions.
Remember – Better Gear Will Not Make You a perfect Pet Photographer
The purchase of a new camera will not make you a better photographer unless your current camera is broken.
The same is true for lenses, hoods, and other photographic equipment. Rather than concentrating on what equipment you require, start thinking about what types of photography would be most effective with the equipment you already have.
When you achieve this state of mind, not only will the quality of your pet photography improve, but it will also become more obvious what kind of equipment you will require in the future.
But Specific Shots May Require Specific Gear
Remember that most cameras and lenses are capable of producing excellent photographs of dogs – provided they are used properly and in the proper setting. It is only when you want to take a specific type of photograph that you should consider purchasing a specific type of photographic equipment. If you have the money to spend on a mid-range DSLR and a high-quality zoom lens, go ahead and purchase it.
But don’t be concerned if you don’t get it. The ability to take excellent photos with your phone is within reach — all you need to do is keep shooting!