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Recomended Camera for Fossil Research

Hello, i'm new to these forums. I am an avocational (volunteer) paleontologist who is wading into the dynamic world of research. I am also looking to be an author. I have always been an avid picture taker but being an ameteur i have always used consumer grade point-and-shoot camers. But for my new undertakings i will need some much more heavy duty and i don't know anywhere near as much as you guys do. I came here to ask the community what they would recomend for photographing fossils. Most (if not all) would be photographed indoors. Most, save for the eally big specimens, would be shot in a studio setting with lighting and a backdrop. The main attributes the camera needs to have are high resolution and clear focus (i have known and used cameras that will focus on part, leaving the rest of the subject out of focus). It also needs to have good micro and macro capabilities, as i wil be photographing everything from rodent jaws less than half an inch long to skeletons of marine mammals and dinosaurs. I am looking at something between $1k and $2k, but if the ideal camera would cost more than that i can always beg, borrow, and steal. So what would you fine folks recommend? I appreciate any help you can provide. Thank you for your time!

Posts: 11,985
Registered: ‎08-13-2015

Re: Recomended Camera for Fossil Research

You probably want a professional grade camera body, or at least near professional grade.  Any Canon camera body between $1000 and $2000 can do the job quite well: 80D, 7D2, 6D, 6D2.  But, unlike a point and shoot, the camera body is only half of the picture. The other half is a quality lens, or lenses.  


DSLRs use interchangeable lenses so that you can capture what you want, the way you want.  It sounds like you may want a macro lens, which is a lens that has a closer than normal minimum focusing distance.  It is the type of lens that is used to focus on small things, or get really close up on things.  It is called macro photography.

One word about taking a photo and only having part of the image in focus.  That is not unusual.  Some lenses are designed to achieve that exact effect.  In fact, it is the norm when it comes to photographing at macro distances.  This is overcome by taking multiple images and “stacking” them into one composite, fully focused image.


"Doctor told me to get out and walk, so I bought a Canon."
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Posts: 3,854
Registered: ‎06-11-2013

Re: Recomended Camera for Fossil Research

Since you’re subjects aren’t moving (hopefully), you don’t need advanced focus systems and high continuous frame speeds, etc.


In your price range... an 80D comes to mind as does the 6D II.  


You’ll need a couple of good lenses and you’ll need good lighting.


You’ll want a macro lens for close-up shots and a standard zoom would be good for everything else ... a “standard zoom” is a lens that offers a bit of wide angle and a bit of narrow angle ... nothing too extreme.  Usually the “kit” lens included with a camera body + lens kit is sufficient.


On the “advanced” side of things... wide angle lenses stretch the sense of depth and narrow angle lenses compress the sense of depth and this can tend to distort reality.  If you want to avoid the distortion, then shoot using a focal length close to the camera’s “normal” focal length...  when the focal length of the lens is equal to the diagonal measure of the imaging sensor (for a full frame camera that’s about 44mm ... for an APS-C sensor size it’s about 27mm).  


You will want to be familiar with how to control lighting ... the book “Light Science & Magic” would be a good read to pickup.


Tim Campbell
5D III, 5D IV, 60Da
Respected Contributor
Posts: 1,861
Registered: ‎12-02-2012

Re: Recomended Camera for Fossil Research

If a camera is giving images where only part of the object is in focus, that is because your lens is being set at a large aperture.  A large aperture (the size of the opening in the lens) gives a shallow depth of field in focus.   Conversely a small aperture (a small opening in the lens) makes a lot more depth of field in focus (hopefully your entire fossil at least).


Since your fossils aren't moving you can stop down to a small aperture (f/16, f/22, etc.) and then use a tripod to take a long exposure so you still get enough light into the camera (due to the long time the shutter is open) to make a properly exposed image even though you've pinched the opening in the lens down to a pinhole size. 


Canon 5d mk 4, Canon 6D, EF 70-200mm L f/2.8 IS mk2; EF 16-35 f/2.8 L mk. III; Sigma 35mm f/1.4 "Art" EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro; EF 85mm f/1.8; EF 1.4x extender mk. 3; EF 24-105 f/4 L; EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS; 3x Phottix Mitros+ speedlites

Why do so many people say "FER-tographer"? Do they take "fertographs"?
Respected Contributor
Posts: 1,026
Registered: ‎10-18-2016

Re: Recomended Camera for Fossil Research

The big question that occurs to me is how much you want to spend on such a camera.


As has been mentioned lighting is important to allow you to use narrower apertures to get a greater depth of field - i.e. more in focus.  This conventionally suggests a flash.   In that respect there may be times when you want little or no shadowing, in which case a ring flash (one that has lights surrounding the lens) is a good choice, but at other times you may want to accentuate testure and tone, in which case a flash set to one side (an off-camera flash) could be handy.


So without breaking the bank I would suggest considering the EOS M5 - this is a mirrorless camera with interchangeable lenses, in may respects similar to a DSLR.  However it is smaller, and lighter, but has roughly the same performance as the pro-sumer EOS 80D DSLR.


One of the reasons I suggest this body is that you can get a macro lens for this unit with a ring flash.


For shadowing the camera has its own built-in flash but can support most Canon Flashes either through the built-in hotshoe, or using a remote trigger.  You can get several good prime lenses, and some of the zoom lenses are reasonable too.  The zooms are not super fast - i.e. don't have wide apertures, but if you want lots of things in focus you don't need a wide aperture.


I would strongly recommend getting an appropriate tripod that is able to support close-up work.  Because this camera is very light, your tripod does not have to be heavy and bulky.


It might be worth investigating.



cheers Trevor

"All the beauty of life is made up of light and shadow", Leo Tolstoy;
"Skill in photography is acquired by practice and not by purchase" Percy W. Harris
"A good swordsman is more important than a good sword" Amit Kalantri

Technique will always Outlast Tech - Me
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Posts: 14,418
Registered: ‎12-07-2012

Re: Recomended Camera for Fossil Research

"The main attributes the camera needs to have are high resolution and clear focus (i have known and used cameras that will focus on part, leaving the rest of the subject out of focus). It also needs to have good micro and macro capabilities, as i wil be photographing everything from rodent jaws less than half an inch long to skeletons of marine mammals and dinosaurs. "


This issue first.  This is the territory of the lens not the camera.  What you are asking isn't possible with one lens either.  You are going to need several. The Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM Lens might be a good choice to start with. I would add the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens.  These two lenses will cover most of what you require.


"... the camera needs to have are high resolution..."


Now this part.  I would go for one of the 5 series. The Canon EOS 5DS DSLR Camera is the highest resolution camera Canon has.  The 5D Mk IV is the most versatile model.


" I am looking at something between $1k and $2k, ..."


This is not possible !   You need to do some heavy duty fund raising, ASAP.  In addition, you need to add a super duty tripod and some lights to your bag also.  And lastly, you will need Photoshop. My guess you need around six grand for this top of the mark bag.


Last point the cameras mentioned are amateur cameras.  They are constructed like amateurs cameras.  The 5 series are full on pro level models.  Can you get by with one of the amateur models, probably.  IMHO, I wouldn't even try to. The ball is in your court.

EOS 1DX and 1D Mk IV and several lenses!
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