....for South Wales Dragonfly Enthusiasts

Photography                         New Photo Gallery Page

Photographing dragonflies and damselflies takes practice, patience and fieldcraft skills, choice of camera equipment can mean the difference between getting a good photograph worth keeping or a mere snap. Let us consider here what are the best cameras and equipment to use to get a photo you can be proud of.

Modern digicams can capture quite reasonable images of dragonflies and with some luck and experience you can get some good photographs, but they are simply not the ideal cameras for achieving the best results, so which ones are?

Let me stress here that Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) cameras are without doubt the very best choice if you want to obtain the very best quality photographs of dragonflies. Traditional film cameras in either 35mm or Medium Format can be used but the cost of film and processing can prove truly prohibitive, especially when you need to take dozens of shots just to be able to keep a handful of the best, so for this reason, I shall be dealing just with digital cameras and the associated equipment.
Invest into a quality brand system such as Nikon, Canon or Sony and you can hardly go wrong. The Nikon D3200, the Canon EOS 1200D or the Sony Alpha A58 all come with kit lenses and are all currently priced at under £300.

Without further ado let me direct you to a website that will give you the very latest best price on most cameras, from the most inexpensive digicam to the best DSLR and lenses that money can buy, check out:- Camera Price Buster.

You may however rather choose a different make, such as Panasonic, Olympus, Pentax or Samsung etc, my advice is always the same, do your homework by reading camera reviews on such well respected websites as Imaging Resource or the equally good DPReview these are just two of the countless digital photography websites out there.
So what is the BIG advantage that a DSLR has that a more compact Digicam doesn't have, the short answer is simple - a real viewfinder! Dragonflies are often difficult to approach and trying to take a close-up photograph using only the LCD or even a hybrid viewfinder with a Digicam can be a very hit and miss business (often a miss!). Once you use a DSLR's viewfinder you realise the shortcomings of Digicams. The possible exception to this is a Bridge Camera that also has a reasonable hybrid viewfinder and vari-angled LCD screen that can help make low or high shots far more obtainable, there is also the advantage of less weight and the cost is considerably less than buying a DSLR and a Macro lens. Very often it comes down to budget, but the good news is...there's a camera to suit everyone's budget!
So you decide to purchase a DSLR and it comes bundled as a kit with the standard 18-55 short telezoom that has a 'macro' mode, and yes, of course you can take 'macro' shots with it and they may well prove adequate, but their simply not real MACRO shots...puzzled...well real MACRO means actual lifesize, one to one, not just quarter lifesize 'macro' such as the short telephoto lens calls 'macro', this is simply a rather gimmicky sales ploy used by the camera manufacturing companies to sell you more gear...so don't be duped...real 'MACRO' is one to one.

Quality Digicams and Bridge Cameras have macro or close up modes included as part of the built in lens on the camera, unlike the genuine MACRO lens that is a rather expensive extra specialist lens purchase for a DSLR.
Genuine MACRO lenses are prime lenses, starting at 50mm and then onto 60mm, 90mm, 100 or 105mm and finally there are the longer reaching 150mm, 180mm and 200mm, the price increases with the size, and usually the big name manufacturers such as Nikon and Canon are more expensive if you compare like for like with third party manufacturers such as Sigma or Tamron.

Your choice of lens is as important as your choice of DSLR, that kit lens may well suffice, however if you aspire to getting the very best photograph you can then it makes sense to go that little bit further and invest in a true MACRO lens. If you can afford it, consider as your first choice the lenses made by your DSLR manufacturer, if not then purchase those made by Sigma or Tamron, either Sigma's 105mm VR or the new Tamron VC  90mm MACRO's are optically excellent alternatives and come with very good user recommendations.
Nikon 105mm Micro VR £599
The Nikon 105mm Micro VR (Vibration Reduction) lens illustrated on the left is currently selling for about £600. The addition of VR is a great asset for any kind of close up photography but has also meant that the lens manufacturers have increased the prices over their non VR models significantly.

Note: Nikon have always used the term Micro to describe their MACRO lenses...rather confusingly!!!

Some years ago I part exchanged my old (and well used) Sigma 105mm Macro for the Nikon 105mm Micro with VR, my reasons were due to annoying camera shake problems, I'm happy to report the upgrade has proved a great success with a noticeably better image quality. Yet since my upgrade Sigma have released their own 105mm Macro lens with Optical Stabiliser for just under £340 and it is much praised.
Canon user's also have the excellent 100mm IS (Image Stabilised) Macro which is currently on offer at a tad under £700, and although the investment in a good MACRO lens is a serious one considering the high prices, you will be rewarded with top quality images and derive great pleasure from using top quality glass long after the price has been forgotten!!!
Canon 100mm IS Macro Lens £599
Sigma 105mm OS Macro Lens £340
If you want even more distance to subject photography then you will need to dig deeper into your pocket and invest in either the 150mm or 180mm lenses, both sizes are available from Sigma at £650 for the 150mm and a whopping £1185 for the 180mm. Canon produce a 180mm Macro without IS and Nikon currently have a 200mm Micro without VR for a little under £1200.

Hot Tip:  Also consider buying mint quality second hand from a reputable dealer, providing they give a sensible warranty, you can save up to 33% or even more on new prices. If buying new, at all costs avoid the 'grey market' no matter what the savings are, warranties are invalidated and rarely honoured in the UK if something goes wrong.
Sigma 150mm OS Macro £649
Panasonic Lumix FZ200 £260
If there is one segment of the digital camera market that has improved performance more than any other over recent years it has to be that of the Bridge Camera. Every major manufacturer offers a range of models to suit the budgets of everyone. These 'cover all situation' cameras go from wide angle 25mm up to a mind boggling 1000mm, these cameras also have excellent macro/close up modes, especially on the top of the range models, you therefore have a lightweight alternative to the DSLR with a Macro built in mode at a fairly reasonable price.

Check out such top of the range models as the Panasonic Lumix FZ200 (illustrated opposite) which has a Leica Vario -Elmarit lens. Canon, Nikon, Sony and Fuji all produce great Bridge Cameras that are worth serious consideration.

Bridge Camera's

I've met many enthusiastic wildlife photographers that have decided to leave their heavyweight DSLR and lens combo at home and now travel light using Bridge Cameras, having seen some excellent images taken with these cameras I decided to take the plunge and give them a try. After much reading of the reviews available in photo mags and online I decided to purchase a Panasonic Lumix FZ150 (which was Panasonic's top of the range model at the time). The results have lived up to my expectations and I've captured some really nice images of both dragonflies and butterflies. Check out the hastily taken 'snap' of a Female Broad-bodied Chaser below and see what you think...
Female Broad-bodied Chaser
This chaser was almost four feet away from me on a rather steep bank, I knew the effort to get closer would disturb the insect, I decided to stay where I was and use the vari-angle LCD by holding the FZ150 above my head, the built in anti-camera shake mechanism also helped and I managed four shots before the insect flew off to hunt for it's evening meal!!!

Considering I'd only had the camera a short while and was still getting acquainted with it the result is more than acceptable. I'm going to see what kind of results can be obtained with the FZ150 on a tripod in the near future.
There are many features to like about Bridge Cameras, and the simple freedom from carrying a DSLR with a hefty MACRO lens can often be a deciding factor, however the overiding fact remains, a DSLR and quality MACRO lens when used with a tripod and cable release will always provide the better image. The Bridge Camera is simply a great alternative and in the right hands with correct techniques applied can produce excellent results that most enthusiasts will be more than happy with.

Above you will see a selection of the current top of the range models from the major manufacturers, hover your cursor over each image to compare prices. I must point out that there are much cheaper alternatives to be had from many other manufacturers, so do lots of homework before you part with your hard earned cash.

Fieldcraft - Getting the Photograph.

There are a few Golden Rules to follow when attempting to get good photographs of dragonflies or damselflies, I outline them as follows:-                            
Search your choosen location thoroughly
Keep low and slowly 'stalk' your potential subject
Approach in a straight line if at all possible
Avoid casting your shadow over the subject
Be patient and make no sudden movements
Check your camera settings before attempting your shot
Compose your shot keeping the camera back parallel to the subject
Use natural light - not flash unless essential owing to poor light
Dragonflies are 'multi dimensional' insects and it appears almost impossible to get a sharp photograph with every part of the creatures anatomy clearly defined, there is often a compromise to be made, for example the abdomen may be clearly seen yet the wings appear out of focus or vice-versa. The only solution is to try to take as many shots as possible from as many different angles as time and insect allows. Now may be a good time to learn a little about basic dragonfly anatomy, by knowing your subject you can go a long way to improving your technique and consequently obtain much better quality images. Please take a little time to study the illustration below.
Basic Dragonfly Anatomy

Which are the easiest species to photograph?

Some dragonflies are easier to get photographs of than others, however we still need to make allowances for the ambient temperature and general weather conditions even once we've located our insect, let me explain further; the hotter it becomes the more active the insect becomes, the windier it gets the less active the dragonflies become, there are differing conditions that can have a big say in your dragonfly photography, active insects are frustratingly difficult to photograph as are those in windy conditions, so make allowance for these factors and adjust for the weather conditions accordingly. If your travelling any distance do check out the weather forecast, British summers are fickle even at the best of times.

So making allowance for some of the above factors that can make photographing any species easy or hard. I've provided below a list as a general guide to the 'difficulty factor' for each species, however my findings could be at odds with other experienced dragonfly enthusiasts, but here goes anyway!!!
      Beautiful & Banded Demoiselle
                   Migrant Hawker
                 Hairy Dragonfly
                Emerald Damselfly
            Golden-ringed Dragonfly
        Common & Southern Hawker
              Large Red Damselfly
               Four-spotted Chaser
                   Brown Hawker
    Azure & Common Blue Damselfly
              Broad-bodied Chaser
               Emperor Dragonfly
Blue-tailed & Scarce Blue-tailed D'fly
              Black-tailed Skimmer
               Common Club-tail
     Black, Common & Ruddy Darter
                  Keeled Skimmer
                 Downy Emerald
It stands to reason that the scarcity of some species make them much harder to find than actually photograph, but the point I wish to emphasise is not the finding but the 'difficulty factor' in photographing them once they are found. Many damselflies may be easy to find, however they are still quite difficult to get a good photograph of owing to the depth of field problems they pose.

Finally, never under estimate luck or that serendipity moment when you stumble upon a beautiful hawker perched up in the most photogenic pose with no brambles to scratch and no nettles to sting...now that's how it should be eh!!!

Close-up on Insects  A Photographer's Guide  -   Robert Thompson

Close-up on Insects (A Photographers Guide) Robert Thompson
I can heartily recommend this beautifully illustrated book to anyone interested in insect photography. Written by Robert Thompson a very well respected author and photographer who not only knows his dragonflies but also knows how to take excellent images of them.

This book is the result of many years of fieldwork with Britain and Ireland's odonata and other insects. Robert Thompson is a key contributor to the Dragonfly Ireland website.

All the photographs in this book were taken on a Medium Format film camera, but all the same skills apply and can be used with digital cameras.

There are 204 pages of superb full colour images of not just dragonflies but moths, butterflies and other insects. There are lots of photographic tips and techniques, plus personal anecdotes of his photo experiences when getting the images.
There's little doubt that books such as Close-up on Insects can not only improve your photographic skills but also help with your fieldcraft skills. Robert Thompson knows his stuff and this book is full of useful information.

Although this is an excellent book the 'as new' price has shot up over recent years and when I checked for prices on Amazon UK even good condition used books (imported from the USA) cost over £20 with P&P, so I'm afraid your going to have to search around book dealers shelves for unsold stock that still retains the original price. I recently saw a copy in Hay-on Wye (Wales world reknowned Town of Books) for under £10, so bargains are out there!!!

Binoculars - the indispensible item?

If you come from a 'Birders' background you have probably already got a good pair of binoculars - (...or several!!!) - but the question to ask is...'are they really suitable for studying 'the birdwatchers insect'...dragonflies?

Now lets get straight down to business, if they cannot focus down to 2 metres or less, they are not suitable. You quite simply have to get in close with your 'bins' to study and identify dragonflies. I well remember the frustrations of trying to get the kind of close focus needed with my old birding bins, a quality pair of Bausch & Lomb 7x42's that had given me sterling service for more than a decade, the 3 metre limitation may not sound much of a problem, but in reality - in the field - that extra metre or so is considerable. I decided to invest in new binoculars, they would have to be good 'all rounders', they would be used for all my natural history pursuits. After reading many reviews and speaking to other naturalists I decided that my needs could be served by the Nikon High Grade 8x32's which have a super wide field of view for general scanning and a wonderful close focus at a little less than 2 metres, just perfect for dragonflies and also my other natural history interests.
The most important thing to do before purchasing a good pair of binoculars is to try them out first, what may suit one person doesn't necessary suit another, go to a good dealer or to a company that has 'field days' at nature reserves such as the Llanelli Wetlands & Wildfowl Trust, here you can try out and compare different models in similar field conditions as you might find in the places listed in the locations guide.

Your binoculars should be nitrogen filled and both fog and waterproof and come with a lifetime warranty (which all reputable makes have). Be aware that there are 'grey imports' in the binocular market, much the same as with cameras, always check the status of the warranty before you hand over your cash or card details. Be aware if you decide to buy online and the deal appears to be too good to be true - then it almost certainly is...do your homework before buying.
Check out Best Binoculars & Binocular Review Website which specialises in optics, they have in depth tests on a very wide range of binoculars, they promise an "unbiased and objective evaluation" which can prove very helpful when there is such a bewildering range of optics to chose from. I've only recently discovered this resource but my initial impression is very favourable. Yet another excellent source of information on all thing binoculars is Bird Forum here you can seek advice from other forum users as they offer their own experiences with just about any model or brand of binocular on the market.
Unfortunately, like most things in life you cannot get top quality optics without paying top prices, companies such as Nikon, Leica, Zeiss and Swarovski are the market leaders and if you decide to invest in any of these brands you cannot go far wrong, treat your purchase as an investment in pleasure, look after them and they will last you a lifetime.

If you feel that you cannot justify the expense of a major brand name, then let me assure you, there are still excellent value for money alternatives to be had. Most summers I attend the Bird Fair at Rutland Water, this is the one show held in August each year when all the major players in the optics world congregate to show off their latest and greatest models, I take full advantage of the opportunity to try out as many different binoculars as I can, this is where I can compare like against like under natural field conditions, and this is where I'm always impressed with brands such as Opticron, Pentax, Minox and many others that are producing superb value for money optics without it breaking the bank.

All of the models illustrated above are good choices as all rounders for dragonflies, butterflies, insects and birds. Move your cursor over each small image to check the model and price, then you can find out more about the one that interests you on one of the review websites available online.   
Pentax Papilio 8.5x21 £149
I'm often asked to recommend a pocketable binocular for dragonfly and  butterfly watching, the answer used to always be the same, buy yourself a proper pair! Now the binocular makers have realised there is quite a market for these small bins, especially among the ladies, and the optical quality and the neat designs seem to get better and better, so I've now adjusted my stance on the 'mini-bins' as I like to refer to them and would draw your attention to the following models.

The tiny Pentax Papilio (mean's butterfly in French) are 'real' 8.5x21 bins with a novel design, the real surprise though is the rather sharp image quality they give, they close focus to 1.6 ft and weigh in at just 10.2 ozs. The eye cups 'pop-up' and can be adjusted to suit the user, there is also a reasonable amount of eye relief for those that wear glasses. Pentax also do a 6x21 in this range, for the money they just could be the bins to keep in your daysack or pocket when you need to travel light.
Opticron Traveller 8x32 £239
Among the very best small roof prism binoculars available the Opticron Traveller range comes in three sizes 6x32, 8x32 and 10x32. They are just about perfect for carrying in a jacket pocket weighing just 380 grams in the 8x32 model, they are just (H W) 98x118mm. The low weight was made possible by using magnesium for the chassis, but you also have a rubber section on the middle body area that provides a reasonable grip. The Travellers must be one of the smallest mid-sized bins ever made, and can compare quite favourably with their larger competitors for quality of image. I've considered purchasing these at the Bird Fair on several occasions and can recommend them, but do try them out first.

The market seems positively awash with small pocket bins, so they obviously sell in good numbers, but having said that I've seen many consigned to the car boot or glovebox and rarely used once their optical limitations are realised.

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www.dragonfly-days.co.uk  ©  Bill Jones 2008 - 16

Please Note:  All prices you see on this website are provided as a general guide only, prices change from day to day and I strongly advise you to check the latest prices on Camera Price Buster I've yet to find a better online resource for up to date camera or binocular prices.
Canon 1200D with 18-55 Kit Lens
Nikon D3200 with 18-55 Kit Lens
Celestron Granite ED 9x33 £310
One of the most novel improvements available in terms of handling in modern binoculars has to be the 'open-bridge' design allowing the user to comfortably grip just one barrel of the binocular if needed, the design has also allowed manufactures to produce lighter models, much to the delight of the more discerning travelling naturalist.

The Celestron Granite ED 9x33 which are seen illustrated on the left are typical of the many quality brands utilising the design made available since Swarovski first offered the 'open-bridge' design several years ago.

Although there are budget buys available in the 'open-bridge' binocular market it may prove worthwhile in spending wisely and investing in models made by established company's such as Minox, Pentax etc - and the same important advice applies - try before you buy!