Thoughts about using the newer small-sensor cameras for wildlife

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John Gerlach
John Gerlach Regular Member • Posts: 337
Thoughts about using the newer small-sensor cameras for wildlife

Hi all!

Though I have full-size sensor cameras in the Canon 5D Mark IV and 1DX Mark II, I have been trying out the new Canon 90D for wildlife over the past few months and doing well with it. The 90D has a 1.6x crop factor sensor, so my Canon 600 f/4 III offers the field of view of a 960mm lens with that camera. I find that having even more working distance is helpful for many subjects, and even birds like the wintering ducks in Arizona photograph better from a further distance as you get a lower angle to work with. I know I could crop a large sensor image, but on most small-sensor cameras the photo sites are typically more dense so you have greater resolution unless you have a really loaded full size sensor camera. I am finding the autofocus works better for me when it is easy to put the active AF point on a portion of the bird - usually the face, rather that sort of on the bird overall when it is small in the frame.

I still tend to be in favor of my Canon 1DX Mark II, but for many the big lenses and top of the line cameras are too big and too expensive. If you can offer some other advantages to small-sensor cameras for wildlife photography, I would like to hear them as I now do think small sensor cameras like the Canon 90D are a worthwhile choice for those avoiding weight and expense. Since small-sensor cameras are rather knew to me, I would appreciate hearing any reasons to use them that have not come to me yet.

As with all of my camera/lens combos, I find that AF microadjusting is critical for sharp focus.  The 90D needed a -5 correction with my 100-400mm!  How I microadjust is described in an article on my blog on my web site at  I found a crucial part of the process is to use flash at a short flash duration to expose the focus target, thereby eliminating other factors that may cause some unsharpness as I want to test only how accurate is the autofocus, and so far, everything I have has needed some AF Microadjustment, but some have been really close like my Canon 1DX Mark ii with the new 600mm that only needed a -1 - and that isn't much.  I doubt I would have noticed the difference if I left the combo at the default setting from the factory.

So far I have:

1. less expensive and photo gear weights less

2. quicker to move into position

3. easier to handhold when needed

4. Easier to hit sharp autofocus

5. Less chance of scaring a subject by trying to approach closer with a full size sensor camera

6. A little more depth of field with the small sensor camera as the magnification is actually less

I did write an article about it that is now on my web site. Read it at

American wigeon at Freestone Park in Tempe with Canon 90D and 600mm lens

Green Heron with 90D at Freestone Park (by the way, the park is a gem for bird photographers

Snowy Egret with 90D at Freestone Park. I easily shot 2000 to 3000 shots in a morning at this park.

Bull moose in the Tetons with 90D camera

Muskrat with 600mm and 90D near Jackson, WY

Bighorn Sheep near Miller Butte outside of Jackson

Bull moose north of Kelly near Jackson

The 1.6x crop factor of the 90D on a Canon 100-400mm lens was just the ticket for this active Vermillion flycatcher in the Tempe, AZ area


John Gerlach (articles are posted here) (personal flickr page)

 John Gerlach's gear list:John Gerlach's gear list
Canon EOS 5D Mark III Canon EOS-1D X Mark II Canon EF 800mm f/5.6L IS USM Canon EF 16-35mm F2.8L USM Canon EF 180mm f/3.5L Macro USM +2 more
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