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Old 11-01-2008, 07:53 PM
 
Location: Tennessee
22,339 posts, read 17,198,696 times
Reputation: 31531
Default Bird Camera Help

I've had ultra-zooms for over a year now. I call them tweener cameras as they have more manual controls than a point and shoot but they're not DSLRs. The one I currently use is 18x optical zoom that I can get 23x optical zoom if I settle for 5MP instead of 8MP. I'm addicted to image stabilization. But the camera is not doing it for me with my bird photos. I don't take birds at feeder photos. I take birds in tops of trees photos/birds on the roof, well you get the picture, I'm nowhere near my subjects, they're tiny birds and they don't pose or wait for me to set up. Almost all of my photos are maxed out on zoom. Right now I'm relying on my computer to give me the larger subject I want in the image but I'm not happy about that. I've resisted buying a good digital camera because I didn't want to lug around a lot of stuff but I need a new camera and I want a powerful zoom lens so I think I'm ready to take the plunge. I have to use a viewfinder, not an LCD screen, due to an eyesight problem and light weight would be a plus. I don't want a used camera.

Can anyone suggest a good first time digital SLR camera and a compatible zoom lens for a person who mostly photographs small birds in the treetops and animals in the distance? Even when I photograph people, which I seldom do, I usually do so at a distance, preferring not to pose them. Can I get image stabilization? If you give me a few camera/zoom lens suggestions, I'll do the research. I just need to be pointed in some direction. Thanks.

P.S. Is there a certain time of the year when more new models are introduced?
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Old 11-02-2008, 07:21 AM
 
Location: San Jose, CA
6,328 posts, read 10,315,911 times
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Hi Laura,

High-end bird photography is probably one of the most difficult and expensive niches in photography. In order to photograph small birds in tree tops, the experts will use 500mm and 600mm lenses which cost in the neighborhood of $5,000 to $10,000. Even then, they're adding tele-extenders to increase magnification by 50% to 100%, giving an effective focal ranges in the 1000mm vicinity. (These are "prime" lenses with fixed focal lengths, not zooms.) Then you're looking at $1200 for a rock-solid tripod that can handle a setup like this. The camera body is actually the least important link in the chain, but you might as well get a good one after spending all that money on everything else. I'm guessing you're not anywhere's ready to drop that kind of dough for a birding setup, so expectations need to be scaled.

The next step down is getting a quality lens in the 300 to 400mm range, either a prime lens, or a zoom. That bumps you down to the $1,000 to $2,000 range for the lens (and an equal amount additional for a decent body). A set up like this will give great results for birds at the feeder, or on tree branches, say half-way up a not-too-distant tree. I use a setup like this, and I can assure you it does not give the best results for small birds on tree tops. It will suffice for large birds (e.g., eagles and hawks) on tree tops, although just barely. Lenses to consider in this range are the Canon 300mm F4 L IS (IS = Image Stabilization), Canon 100-400mm L IS zoom, or possibily the Canon 400mm, which does not have image stabilization. Sigma makes a 50-500mm zoom in this range as well that some folks get exceptional results with (but not everybody does). My pick is the Canon 100-400mm zoom. Bear in mind this lens weighs a few pounds and can get tiring to hold. These are all professional quality lenses, btw.

The next step down are the 70-300mm zooms. The Canon 70-300 IS costs $500. It will give mediocre results for feeder birds, but is versatile for other purposes. This is a consumer lens, and in my opinion, does nothing particularly well. There are some excellent professional quality 70-200 offerings in the $1,000 vicinity, however 200mm is too short for birds, even at the feeder, IMO.

My own choice is the Canon 100-400 L IS. It's a professional quality zoom, image-stabilized. It gives good results for small birds at the feeder, or on low to mid branches on the long end. On the short end, it gives fabulous results for candid shots, portraits, and even long-range landscapes. You can take a mean moon shot with it as well. It runs around $1400. For a body, get either a Digital Rebel ($600), or a Canon 40D or 50D ($1500). You can buy a used DSLR body and save probably 50%. Used lenses hold their value incredibly well, and so you don't save much money by buying one.

Nikon of course is the other way to go for wildlife photography. However, their long lenses are significantly more expensive than Canon.

Here's a blue bird taken with the 100-400, on a low branch, at maybe 30'.


Mr and Mrs Goldfinch, taken at feeder distance


Bald Eagle, probably 100 yards away. This is a heavy-crop. Looks good at web-size, although you could not make a good print from it.


Too much information? Sorry I guess I got carried away. Wildlife photography is a passion of mine, a very expensive one. If you're really interested in it, I suggest joining a nature forum where you can see tons of examples of shots taken with all manners of equipment and discuss techniques with others. That'll help you decide how crazy you want to go with this stuff.

Last edited by kdog; 11-02-2008 at 08:06 AM..
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Old 11-02-2008, 11:13 AM
 
Location: Tennessee
22,339 posts, read 17,198,696 times
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[quote=kdog;5966746]Hi Laura,

High-end bird photography is probably one of the most difficult and expensive niches in photography.


That figures. I was wondering why I don't see a lot of songbird photos not at feeders.

In order to photograph small birds in tree tops, the experts will use 500mm and 600mm lenses which cost in the neighborhood of $5,000 to $10,000. Even then, they're adding tele-extenders to increase magnification by 50% to 100%, giving an effective focal ranges in the 1000mm vicinity. (These are "prime" lenses with fixed focal lengths, not zooms.) Then you're looking at $1200 for a rock-solid tripod that can handle a setup like this. The camera body is actually the least important link in the chain, but you might as well get a good one after spending all that money on everything else. I'm guessing you're not anywhere's ready to drop that kind of dough for a birding setup, so expectations need to be scaled.

Uh, no.

The next step down is getting a quality lens in the 300 to 400mm range, either a prime lens, or a zoom. That bumps you down to the $1,000 to $2,000 range for the lens (and an equal amount additional for a decent body). A set up like this will give great results for birds at the feeder, or on tree branches, say half-way up a not-too-distant tree. I use a setup like this, and I can assure you it does not give the best results for small birds on tree tops. It will suffice for large birds (e.g., eagles and hawks) on tree tops, although just barely. Lenses to consider in this range are the Canon 300mm F4 L IS (IS = Image Stabilization), Canon 100-400mm L IS zoom, or possibily the Canon 400mm, which does not have image stabilization. Sigma makes a 50-500mm zoom in this range as well that some folks get exceptional results with (but not everybody does). My pick is the Canon 100-400mm zoom. Bear in mind this lens weighs a few pounds and can get tiring to hold. These are all professional quality lenses, btw.

This sounds doable and the bluebird looks great. My cheapo Panasonic FZ18 does okay with large birds that don't flit around.



But when I go to smaller birds, and this one on a barn roof isn't that small, I have to hack away at it on the computer to make the bird bigger and usually the quality diminishes.





My treetop woodpeckers and tufted titmice are like dots. In looking at photos over the past year, I've noticed I do better with small birds on the ground like this dark eyed junco and because of that I have a lot of birds on the ground photos. But this one was also cropped and enlarged on the computer to make the bird look larger than the way it came out of the camera. My tree photos (because of the distance) are more noisy after enlargement.




The next step down are the 70-300mm zooms. The Canon 70-300 IS costs $500. It will give mediocre results for feeder birds, but is versatile for other purposes. This is a consumer lens, and in my opinion, does nothing particularly well. There are some excellent professional quality 70-200 offerings in the $1,000 vicinity, however 200mm is too short for birds, even at the feeder, IMO.


My own choice is the Canon 100-400 L IS. It's a professional quality zoom, image-stabilized. It gives good results for small birds at the feeder, or on low to mid branches on the long end. On the short end, it gives fabulous results for candid shots, portraits, and even long-range landscapes. You can take a mean moon shot with it as well. It runs around $1400. For a body, get either a Digital Rebel ($600), or a Canon 40D or 50D ($1500). You can buy a used DSLR body and save probably 50%. Used lenses hold their value incredibly well, and so you don't save much money by buying one.

I think I'm going to look into this. I really appreciate your advice. Thank you.

Here's a blue bird taken with the 100-400, on a low branch, at maybe 30'.


This looks pretty good to me.


Too much information? Sorry I guess I got carried away. Wildlife photography is a passion of mine, a very expensive one. If you're really interested in it, I suggest joining a nature forum where you can see tons of examples of shots taken with all manners of equipment and discuss techniques with others. That'll help you decide how crazy you want to go with this stuff.

Again, I really appreciate your advice.
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Old 11-02-2008, 12:42 PM
 
Location: San Jose, CA
6,328 posts, read 10,315,911 times
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Wow, you got some great shots there with the Panasonic, Laura! The exposure on the Heron is especially good. Careful, it's an addicting hobby.
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Old 11-02-2008, 01:00 PM
 
Location: Somewhere in Oklahoma...
420 posts, read 601,472 times
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These are great. So clear! It's as if you could reach out and touch them.
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Old 11-02-2008, 01:05 PM
 
Location: Where Trolls get BBQ'd
131,636 posts, read 42,778,166 times
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I totally agree with kdog. I don't have the needs and it will come a piece at the time for me. It's been a desire for a long long time.
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Old 11-02-2008, 01:20 PM
 
Location: Tennessee
22,339 posts, read 17,198,696 times
Reputation: 31531
Quote:
Originally Posted by kdog View Post
Wow, you got some great shots there with the Panasonic, Laura! The exposure on the Heron is especially good. Careful, it's an addicting hobby.
I know but the good part is I can tell my doctor I was walking around in the fresh air.
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