We spent this past winter in Florida as we finally decided to do the smart Full-Time RVer thing and become Floridians. I’ll be writing about this change including a ‘how to’ in an upcoming post (stay tuned). The short version is, no income tax, inexpensive vehicle registration, RV-friendly, no vehicle inspections – it was well past time for us to make the change!
Of course that means that we still love this lifestyle and plan to travel into the foreseeable future. 🙂
We chose Florida vs. Texas or South Dakota as we love warm temperatures and wildlife and we spend a good chunk of most winters there. Of all the places we’ve traveled Florida has the most abundant and eclectic collection of easily-viewable birds and animals in the United States, and you can view these creatures at any of 510 parks and preserves along the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail.
We’ve seen everything from Alligators to Armadillos, but up until now our photographs of these magnificent creatures have been sub-par.
I used to own a Canon SLR with a few lenses and considered myself a photography hobbiest. We’d go out on weekends to places like Joshua Tree NP and Death Valley just to take pictures of nature and wildlife. Of course that helped to fuel our enjoyment of hiking and the outdoors, and we traveled a lot and had great fun.
When we decided to sell everything, buy an RV, and hit the road, I made the conscious decision to sell my camera and lenses. The camera was bulky and relatively low megapixel compared to newer equipment that was available — with even better cameras being developed. Plus the money I made from it was helpful in buying a new, smaller camera. I purchased a decent point and click that fit easily in my pocket (a Canon S9) with the intention of upgrading at a later date.
That later date has finally arrived!
After reading many (many) reviews, and looking at thousands of pictures I chose the Sony A6000 as my new camera. I’ll go into more detail below, but the short version is that the A6000 is mirrorless and very compact, cost less than $800 with two kit lenses, is 24.3MP so produces large, high-res prints, and most importantly it takes amazing photos.
All photos below were taken with our Sony A6000 (except the one of me holding it), so I’ll let them do the talking. These are sized for the web, but I assure you the full-sized high-res images are also outstanding.
Black Point Wildlife Drive
Black Point Wildlife Drive is the best and easiest place to see wildlife on Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge (just north of Cape Canaveral). The drive is a one-way 7-mile auto tour along a series of dike’s and shallow marshes, which makes it an excellent place to see wading birds, alligators, and other wildlife in a short span of time.
While the website lists driving time as approximately 40 minutes, we’d recommend giving yourself a good 2 hours to complete the loop. There are several pull-offs and parking areas along the drive so that you can explore on foot and have time to take photographs of the birds and other wildlife. There are also viewing towers that give you better perspective of the marshes.
It was very dry while we were there. The first mile or two had almost no water and very few birds. Once we reached more water we were inundated with wading birds. We saw Great Blue Herons, Reddish Egrets, Great Egrets, Tri-Colored Herons, Ibis, Turkey Vultures, alligators, and more… all in a matter of a couple of hours.
It’s a great place to see Florida birds and wildlife from the comfort of your car – and it’s a short drive from Kennedy Space Center and Coco beach. Entrance is only $10 and if you have a park pass it’s free. Well worth it!
Note – I took all the photos in this article with a Sony A-6000 Camera using the kit 55-210mm lens (315mm effective on the A-6000).
Circle B Bar Reserve
Circle B Bar Reserve is a wonderful park in Lakeland, FL (about an hour from either Tampa or Orlando) that’s open every day except for Monday, and it’s free to park and explore. The reserve is full of all kinds of birds, insects, butterflies, flowering plants and reptiles and you can view (and photograph) everything from the very convenient walking and biking trails throughout the park.
I was told about Circle B Bar Reserve by one of our followers on Facebook, and I’m really glad she mentioned it to me. I saw more wildlife on the Reserve than I have anywhere except for Shark Valley in Everglades National Park.
The trails are relatively short and circular, so you’re rarely more than a mile from the parking area. If you visit, make sure to bring water, sunscreen and bug spray!
It was relatively quiet while I was there, which is to say that I was by myself most of the time. I passed a few other photographers and saw maybe 2 families on bikes, but that was about it. Most of the wildlife is a ways away, so a good zoom lens is a must for best results.
Why the Sony A6000?
Sony has been developing top-of-the line mirrorless cameras for several years. Mirrorless cameras forgo the traditional mirror used in Single Lens Reflex (SLR) cameras, which makes the camera itself much smaller and lighter. This is perfect for me, as I like to hike and don’t want to ‘lug’ a camera and gear. My Sony A6000 with a lens weighs very little compared to my old Canon Camera, and I can barely tell I have it with me at times.
Camera size is also important as everything we buy must fit into our RV. The larger the equipment, the more space it takes up. My old Canon required a good-sized camera bag and large lenses and accessories. The Sony A6000 takes up half the space across the board. It’s really a perfect camera for full-time RVers, as it’s light and easy to bring wherever you go – and stores in a small bin when you’re back in the RV.
Of course, the performance of the camera is the most important thing. For my purpose – taking wildlife and nature photos – the A6000 is perfect. It allows me to shoot in RAW format (all picture information), shows me what the picture will look like before I take it (an advantage of mirrorless cameras), and shoots in 24.3 megapixel, so my photos can be printed out huge (poster size or bigger)j.
It has many available lenses and excellent low-light performance. You can use either the viewfinder or the screen on the back of the camera to take photos. It will shoot as fast as you can take pictures – and includes a burst mode. You can also transfer pictures to your smartphone or computer wirelessly. It even shoots video in Ultra-High Def 4K!
In other words, it does everything you’d expect a modern camera to do and then some – and most importantly it allowed me to take all the pictures on this page.
The only drawbacks I’ve found are that mirrorless cameras don’t focus as quickly as SLRs – especially in low light. This matters if you take pictures at sports events. It can also make a ‘bird taking off’ or ‘bird flying’ type photos more difficult to capture at times. I haven’t really had any issues with bird pics – and I don’t take pictures of sports.
Recommended Camera Gear:
After doing lots of research, here’s the camera gear I’ve purchased (so far) with a brief explanation for each.
- Sony A6000 on Amazon.com →
I got a kit with both lenses, 4x 32GB memory cards and extra batteries.
- Sony LCSU21 Camera Case →
The A6000 fits perfectly along with a couple lenses and extra batteries
- Sony A6000 Screen Protector →
Easy to install, works great. Protects the camera.
- Sandisk 32GB Cards →
Perfect size, great price. I have a bunch. These hold around 1000 RAW photos each.
- MeFOTO Backpacker Travel TriPod →
A Tri-pod is a must – especially for good selfies. This is a good one.
Last thing: in my opinion photography is the ideal full-time RVer hobby. We travel around the country and see places that most people will never visit. Why not take great photos of those places to document your travels? Even better – with the advent of digital photography, photography take up almost no space. A hard drive can hold hundreds of thousands of photos, and even a $10 memory card can hold around 1000 high-res photos.
Of course just ‘taking pictures’ doesn’t make you a great photographer, but with a little time, practice, and planning this lifestyle does put us in position to take great photos.
Also – as a web designer I use Photoshop and (more importantly) Lightroom daily. I strongly recommend Lightroom to everyone as it makes it easy to organize, post-produce, and edit your photos while also keeping the originals and all changes.
Photoshop and Lightroom are now available by subscription – $9.99/month, and if you love photography they’re worth every penny.
I hope you enjoyed my photos! If you love birding photography and nature as much as I do, then I strongly recommend spending part – or all – of a winter in Florida. The Great Florida Birding trail has hundreds of stops where you can hike, enjoy nature and wildlife, and practice taking great pictures. Until next time, happy trekking!