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I have been doing some research on what camera I should use for travel photography of animals at a distance, such as on safari.

I am very limited on ability to use a 'hardcore' camera, but I have a very basic understanding of things like aperture, focal length, and shutter speed. But am willing to learn if that's what it takes to get decent quality photos of nature.

For close up pictures I think I am content to use my phone (Pixel 2), and I have a GoPro for Scuba diving. I am mostly looking for something to take good pictures at the ~30-80 yard range.

I am looking to spend under $600. So far, options I am considering are:

  1. A telephoto lens for my phone, would require the use of a tripod (included) but would only cost about $40

  2. I do have a Rebel T3i given to me; body only, no lens. I would have to purchase a telephoto lens and a battery + charger but am willing to spend up to $500 if I need to, however I was checking out some lenses around the $250 range, i think "Canon EF-S 55-250mm F4-5.6 is STM Lens with UV Protection Filter - 58 mm" was one of them. I wonder if the technology of this camera is too outdated to be worth using though.

  3. I saw an ad for a "EOS Rebel T6 EF-S 18-55 with EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 III Refurbished" that seems very reasonable at $280 including shipping.

  4. I read that a mirrorless camera would be a good choice as a cheaper, more lightweight, more user friendly version of what I am looking for, but cannot find a solution that would be under $1000.

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    Depends what you mean by “good”. I shoot wildlife with a 400 f/5.6 (~$900 used) and consistently wish I had just a bit more reach. So, what do you mean by “good”? Can you post an example? – Hueco Dec 7 '18 at 4:34
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    Firrst rule in wildlife photography: you never have enough reach – jhamon Dec 7 '18 at 13:12
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    "A telephoto lens for my phone" No, please don't , the picture quality of these lenses are horrible, I like the Tamron 70-300mm lens, it's an older lens but I was very happy with it. – Pascal Goldbach Dec 7 '18 at 15:16
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    @Alan If it won't take pictures you'll be remotely satisfied with it's not a deal. It's just wasted money that could have been used towards a more usable lens. – Michael C Dec 7 '18 at 20:18
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    @Alan, there should be an Add Comment option at the bottom of the comments for responding to people. Posting as answers requires a moderator to come in and convert them to comments since they aren't answers. – AJ Henderson Dec 9 '18 at 21:57
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If what you're wanting is National Geographic-like wildlife pics, then be prepared for a huge case of sticker shock, thousands of dollars just for a lens, and the complete lack of any thing close to being convenient for travel. (See Roger Cicala's lensrentals video on the Canon great white supertelephoto lenses).

You could get the Canon EF 75-300 III, but this is a very limited lens, and you will end up gaining technique to use it well or end up with a lot of blurry photos. The 70-300 IS or 55-250 IS models would be better, but are going to be more expensive. But you could also consider renting a 100-400L superzoom for the trip. But that is a $2000+ lens you'd have to haul about and keep track of.

Also, I use the Canon EF 400mm/5.6L lens (600mm equivalent on my APS-C dSLR) to shoot birds and deer in the back canyons here in Southern California and it's often not long enough. Just so you have a sense. With wildlife, your field craft actually counts for more in terms of how close you can get.

Just me, but I'd say consider getting a superzoom bridge camera, like a Panasonic FZ-series model. This is a fixed-lens camera with supertelephot equivalency on the superzoom lens it has because it uses a much smaller sensor (1"-format or 1/2.3"-format) vs. a dSLR or mirrorless camera would. The image quality may not be as high, but it should still be higher than what you can get with a smartphone and accessory lenses.

You will want to check in reviews on how fast the cameras shoot and autofocus, though. Wildlife tends to move fast. Shutter lag can be very frustrating.

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