For nature photographers (and those who want to join in), there has never been a better time to get started, or to make the switch to digital.
Why? First, the interest in nature photography is at an all-time high. A new, comprehensive exhibit of the work of Garry Winogrand started touring the country last year, and is accompanied by a helpful book which I highly recommend for anyone who is serious about nature shooting. A new feature film, Everybody’s Nature, featuring iconic nature photographers, was recently released. Even a documentary about Vivian Meier, the extreme nature photographer, was highly praised. Second, a new generation of affordable, nature-smart cameras has arrived that are faster and produce better image quality than ever. Gone, for all intents and purposes, are annoying lag times, and you no longer have to compromise between camera size, camera speed, and image quality (until recently, you could only choose one of the three). More new compact nature-friendly cameras now have eye-level viewfinders, which make them even more useful on location.
Until recently, my answer to the question “what’s the best camera for nature photography?” was, unequivicably, a Leica M-series rangefinder. While the Leica M, Leica M-E and Leica Monochrom M are all excellent tools (and if you’ve got the dough, bless you, and go for it) there is a new generation of legitimate alternatives that cost thousands less that will deliver equivalent performance and quality, albeit without some exclusive Leica features.
To the point: You can get a lightning-fast pocket-sized digital camera that will deliver DSLR-quality images for around $1,000-$2,000 (including the lens and viewfinder), something that was unthinkable two years ago.