Westminster fountain at sunset

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I live among the world's highest mountains and so I live in snow for 7 months a year. The amazing summer comes only for four months and brings millions of amazing birds, insects, plants, cascading water streams, water pools, fruits etc etc.

I want to do photography in the winter as well as in the summer. I did a lot of Google searching but due to the huge amount of information on the web, I can't decide what type of camera I need to buy. I am only interested in Nikon cameras, so please recommend a good camera that would be suitable for the conditions above.

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Unless you have extreme temps the environment won't matter to your camera. What do you like shooting? Mountains and birds have two drastically different sets of requirements. –  Paul Cezanne Feb 23 '13 at 13:22
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What is the reasoning for Nikon only? I would remove that requirement and buy a Pentax. –  dpollitt Feb 23 '13 at 16:19
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I think I would be looking Pentax as well if weather extremes is a concern. The K30 and K5 cameras are very well sealed, operate in low temperatures, and the weather resistant/sealed lenses are quite well priced. As an added bonus, they share the same sensor family as the Nikons you would be looking at, so the image quality is as good. –  John Cavan Feb 23 '13 at 16:22
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I think this is an overly constrained problem. $1500 is simply not enough of a budget to get a body that is weather protected and two good lenses suitable for macro and landscape work. Further restricting it to Nikon only further pushes this out of a realistic question. –  Pat Farrell Feb 24 '13 at 3:53

2 Answers 2

Limiting yourself to Nikon in these circumstances is not a great idea. They make absolutely superb cameras but you will have to take better care of them and work harder to keep them warm in your circumstances because Nikon does not make any high-end freezeproof cameras, only pocket ones.

If you have to go with them, then certainly a D4 with a few good lenses will do. Start with a 24-70mm F/2.8 for landscapes and a 200-400mm F/4 for birds and wildlife. I would add also a teleconverter to get better reach or get a longer prime lens.

Should you consider other brands, then you can get a Pentax K-30 which is freezeproof to -10C and has an excellent feature set. You should pair that with some weather-sealed lenses, like the DA* 16-50mm F/2.8 and a DA 560mm F/5.6 ED AW for shooting birds. If you prefer a zoom and work mostly in bright light, you can consider the Sigma 50-500mm F/4.5-6.3 instead since Pentax does not make very long zooms. This latter one is not weather-sealed, so you have to be more careful.

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Thanks for very precious suggestions. Yes the temperature here in winters drops upto -25 Celsius. –  Sarah Feb 23 '13 at 13:39
    
No problem. I also leave in the cold and some cameras stop working in minutes! Keep in mind that 0C or -10C is not a hard limit, all cameras work below the rated temperatures for a little while, so a -10C camera can last one or two hours at -20C (say) while one rated for 0C will do the same until around -10C. It works normally after warming up though, so it does not die. –  Itai Feb 23 '13 at 14:27
    
The D4 is very expensive. My budget is around. $1.5K –  Sarah Feb 23 '13 at 14:48
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@Sarah That barely covers a single lens! More demanding environment require tougher gear. The only maker to make DSLRs that are weather-sealed and freezeproof is Pentax which is one distinction they emphasize. The D4 is very expensive but its large battery lets it stand the cold much better. Otherwise, try a Nikon D7000 (or the D7100 which is scheduled to ship next month) that is the cheapest weather-sealed (but not freezeproof) DSLR Nikon makes. –  Itai Feb 23 '13 at 14:57
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@Sarah (Continued) You will need several extra batteries and have to keep them warm while you are out (slip one inside a glove and another in an interior pocket). When you get a low battery signal, swap the batter and warm up the one that is low. Once it warms up you can put it back in the camera again. Expect to do this swap every 20-30 mins when below -10C. On the other hand, a Pentax K-30 will be completely comfortable until -20C for one or two hours and that one goes for around $700 USD. –  Itai Feb 23 '13 at 15:00

First off, I would point out that limiting yourself to a single brand is likely to greatly limit your options, and force you to choose something extremely expensive when there are viable alternatives for much cheaper with other brands.

Second, I think people are greatly diminishing the weather sealing on modern "professional grade" cameras. One need not explicitly buy the top of the line Nikon or Canon cameras, or specifically a Pentax camera, to get good weather sealing. That is "the best" weather sealing, and if you suspect you'll be crawling through the mud in a rainforest during the wet season with the camera drenched 90% of the time on long days for weeks on end...then you probably want the best of the best. Good weather sealing can be found for much cheaper than the $6000 you would have to spend on the likes of the Nikon D4, or the Canon 1D X.

Given your budget, I would actually recommend the Canon 7D. It rarely crops up in discussions of good weather-sealed cameras, but owning it myself, I can attest to this cameras resilience in an extremely broad range of rough weather, including extreme cold and blowing snow. I've used my 7D in temperatures ranging from 106°F to -19°F, in blistering sun, rain, sleet, snow, hail, even once up in the middle of a frozen lake at 11,000 feet in a blizzard driven by 60mph winds.

The 7D, as of yet, hasn't skipped a beat. It is a low-end professional-grade camera with good weather sealing, a great AF system, very rugged, durable body, highly customizable, and capable of working with a battery grip for extra power and battery life. The battery grip is probably a must-have for temperatures below 0°C, as battery life will be shortened by the cold. The cropped sensor and high end AF system will support your desire to photograph birds as it will extend the reach with long lenses. For a good beginner birding lens, you could pick up the 100-400mm L. For landscapes, you'll want to pick up the EF-S 10-22mm lens (equivalent to a 16-35mm on FF, a great range for landscapes).

The only real drawback of the 7D is the noise at very high ISO. IQ is great up through 1600. By 3200, it gets pretty noisy, and by 6400 it is kind of useless...at least for artistic usage where the images could be printed or published online. The 7D is not really a true "low light" camera, and at times this can limit your ability to photograph fast moving subjects (i.e. birds). At the moment, the 7D is kind of a unique camera in that it combines an excellent AF system and a high frame rate (8fps, essential for bird photography) with a high resolution crop factor in a high quality body. The only real alternative that can offer the same kind of AF performance would be the Canon 5D III or a top-tier body from either Canon or Nikon. The problem with full-frame cameras is you lose the reach, and need longer lenses. Not only would you need to spend $3500 on the camera body (for the 5D III), you would need to spend $8000-$14000 on even JUST ONE LENS! Given the cost chasm, I again feel the need to recommend the 7D. As a bird, wildlife, and landscape photographer myself, I have found it to be a superb camera.

Currently you can pick up the 7D for around $900-1000 on sales. The EF 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 lens can be found for $600-$700. That puts a starter landscape package right around your budget of $1500. If you want to pick up a longer lens for birds, you could grab the EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS for about $1500. It is a good lens, although a bit soft. For a better lens, you could pick up the 300mm f/4 L IS for about $1400, and with the EF 1.4x TC III ($450) you would have a great birders combo. The longer lenses just plain and simply aren't cheap, and for the full package, you are probably looking at about $3500.

You could pick up an off-brand super-zoom lens that goes from the wide or normal lengths to supertelephoto lengths. You might get such a lens for fairly cheap, however I wouldn't recommend it. For one, cheaper lenses usually don't have any kind of weather sealing, so they render the weather sealing of your body useless (every time I have used my 7D in extreme weather, I've used a sealed lens.) Second, cheaper lenses are also slower lenses. Winter tends to be a darker time of year, wrought with storms, so available light is limited. Faster lenses are better, which is why the EF 300mm f/4 L IS lens is probably the best option for birds. On the 7D it is the FOV equivalent of a 480mm lens on FF, and combined with the higher pixel density of the 7D's sensor, you get considerably greater reach.

Canon is rumored to be releasing the Canon EOS 7D Mark II this summer, around August. Its initial price is expected to fall around $2100, and when it hits, the original 7D is expected to drop a fair bit in price. If you are able to hold out that long, you could probably pick up the 7D for a steal, and save a little more money for lenses. If you can't really wait, I'd still say go for it. It is a great camera, and the high ISO noise issues become less and less of a problem as better and better NR tools are released.

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The 7D has unquestionably good weather sealing - I saw it refurbished directly from Canon recently for $800 as well, a steal. I would caution that the Canon 10-22mm is not weather sealed, I woudld say it is anything but. The front element pushes in and out and will suck up moisture, if you add a front filter it would help though. –  dpollitt Feb 26 '13 at 3:16
    
@dpollitt: Ah, good point about the 10-22. I forgot it was not an L-series lens (as it seems to produce L-grade IQ.) For a weather-sealed alternative, you could get the 16-35 f/2.8 L II, or maybe the 14 f/2.8 L. Both are weather sealed and nice wide-angle lenses. You will never get quite the ultra-wide FOV on an APS-C sensor with either of those, though. Personally, I have not had any real issues with my 16-35 L II...which is around a 24mm lens on APS-C. A lot of great landscape photography is done at 24mm. –  jrista Feb 26 '13 at 3:19

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