Capturing amazingly sharp photos of birds in the wild is the goal of many birders. There are different ways to do this, but the most organic is using extremely long telephoto lenses for digital or film SLR cameras or mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras. Not only useful for photography, modern digital cameras also can record video and sound to capture the flight of a bird and its song. The telephoto lens and camera may be your standard observing optic in the field and, not only that, the clarity and crispness of modern optics can help identify a rare species and then capture it photographically as proof of its location, or for further analysis and sharing.
In this third segment of a four-part series, we will discuss what to look for if you are looking to observe and capture birds with a camera, as opposed to straight optical viewing.
Call it a hobby. Call it a pastime. Call it a sport. According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), in 2011, more than 47,000,000 Americans are “birders.” Birding ranks as the 15th most popular outdoor recreational activity in the US. Chances are that you either know a “birder” or you see one when you look in the mirror. B&H Photo is a great place for stocking up on the best birding optics available, or for shopping for your favorite birder.
The traditional birding optic is the binocular. Spotting scopes are also popular for closer views of birds in the wild. However, the popularity of bird photography, enhanced by the accessibility of digital photography, has led a new generation of birders (and converted more than a few veteran birders) to the possibilities presented by birding through a long telephoto lens. Bill Stewart, Director of Conservation and Community at the American Birding Association, says that the new generation of birders has really taken to the idea of long-lens birding and that many youngsters are showing up for nature walks “without optics; just cameras.” He has seen the trend explode in the past two to three years and says that the number of cameras on a given birding outing is always on the rise.
Eric Lind, the Audubon Constitution Marsh Center & Sanctuary’s Center Director in Garrison, New York, is quick to emphasize the social aspects of birding. Birding brings friends and family together, as everyone can observe and enjoy the beauty of nature through birding. Of course, you can hand your binoculars to the person standing next to you to observe a distant bird, or you can use a long telephoto lens and camera, take a photo of that bird, and then share it with the entire Internet-connected world on social media websites. Birding through cameras, and the ability to easily share captured images and video, has given a completely new and exciting dimension to birding.
What Magnification Power Is That Telephoto Lens?
Binoculars and spotting-scope magnification are presented in simple numbers. For instance, a pair of 8x40 binoculars has a magnification of 8x and a 40mm objective. An 80mm spotting scope has an 80mm objective and may come with a zoom eyepiece with a magnification of 20-60x.
Camera lenses are measured in focal length, not magnification. Focal length is the distance from the lens’s rear nodal point to the image plane inside the camera body. The greater the focal length, the greater the magnification of the lens will be. For example, a popular telephoto lens is the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 300mm f/4E PF ED VR lens. The 300mm represents the focal length, not the objective diameter.
On the B&H Photo website, you will see magnification listed as a specification for camera lenses (the NIKKOR 300mm f/4 mentioned above has a magnification of 0.24x). This number is NOT the magnification we use to compare the camera lens to the birding binocular or scope—it is the reproduction magnification and is an important specification for close-focusing macro lenses.
Luckily for birders, it is very easy to convert the focal length of a camera lens into a binocular/scope-like magnification factor with simple math.
On a full-frame digital or 35mm film camera, 1x magnification is achieved by using a 50mm lens. Therefore, a 100mm lens is 2x, 200mm lens is 4x, etc. To get the optics magnification factor, simply divide the focal length of the lens by 50.
So, using the formula, we now know we need a 400mm lens to approximate the magnification of an 8x binocular and a 500mm lens to approximate a 10x binocular. And, if you are familiar with camera lenses, you probably know that lenses of those focal lengths are most definitely not inexpensive.
Even more extreme, if you want to simulate the magnification of a 20-60x spotting scope zoom eyepiece with your camera, you need a 1000mm lens for the “short” end and a 3000mm lens for the long end!
Camera lenses are not only measured by their focal length; the other primary specification is their maximum aperture. The aperture number is displayed as an f-stop and the number itself is a ratio of the diameter of the effective aperture to the focal length of the lens. Because we are dealing with a ratio, the smaller the number, the more light the lens allows in. In photography, light is everything. With a larger aperture, the lens will allow the photographer to take photos at faster shutter speeds, freezing the motion of a bird in flight, and the light-gathering capabilities of the larger lens will also allow the birder to photograph in less than ideal lighting conditions.
The drawbacks of the large-aperture telephoto lenses are weight and cost: bigger lenses are heavier and make your wallet lighter.
You do not need a large f/2.8 aperture super-telephoto lens to capture great photos of birds. There are other options. Many manufacturers make two versions of their super-telephoto lenses—one with a large f/2.8 aperture and one with a smaller f/4 or f/5.6 aperture. Depending on the focal length, the smaller-aperture versions can still be pricey, but they certainly cost less than their big brothers, and they are often considerably lighter, while providing optical quality similar to the larger lens, albeit with less light-gathering capabilities. Birding photographer Arthur Morris has virtually retired his binoculars and spotting scopes and now views birds almost exclusively through a DSLR coupled to a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens.
Deputy Director of Audubon North Carolina Walker Golder uses the discontinued Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4G ED VR lens on his Nikon DSLR to capture images of birds. This large lens, when coupled with the DX-format sensor, gives him the optical equivalent of an 18x binocular.
Also, many of today’s DSLR cameras come with kit lenses that extend out to 300mm (6x power). This is a great focal length for birding, but they usually have smaller apertures and will not give excellent performance in low light. But, for the size, weight, and cost, they are unbeatable.
Another value lens is the telephoto mirror lens. It works similarly to a mirrored reflecting telescope and packs extreme magnification into a relatively small and lightweight package. The disadvantages are that the optical quality may not be exemplary; the maximum aperture is usually several stops less than a traditional lens at that focal length, and the mirrors produce distinctive doughnut-shaped, out-of-focus highlights that not everyone enjoys, aesthetically. You can find mirror lenses for different cameras at B&H Photo with focal lengths ranging from 300mm to 800mm.
Depending on the focal length of the lens with which you are birding, it may be critical to bring a camera support into the field with you. A tripod will give you maximum stability, but, for portability, weight savings, speed, and flexibility, a monopod might be your best choice for birding.
Spotting scopes nearly always require a tripod because of their extreme magnification capabilities, but long lenses are more akin to the magnification seen in binoculars and, therefore, can be used with a bit less stability.
Also, with the weight of a large telephoto lens, having a method to remove that load from your shoulders or back, as well as to stabilize the lens for extended viewing, a support, no matter how many legs it has, might be your new best friend in the field.
The Camera and Lens Can Help
If you are immersed in the digital photography world, you have undoubtedly heard banter debating the advantages and disadvantages of full-frame versus smaller-sensor cameras. Cameras with sensors smaller than that of a 35mm film frame have what is known as a “crop factor,” due to the fact that they are only capturing a part of the projected image circle.
On a camera with a smaller sensor, the birder gets to enjoy all of the benefits of the crop factor. With APS-C sized sensors, the lens focal length is effectively multiplied by 1.5x (1.6x with Canon). Therefore, a 300mm f/4 lens on an APS-C camera gives you the full-frame equivalent of a 450mm f/4 lens. In optical magnification terms, the image is similar to a 9x binocular instead of a 6x—quite a big difference, especially considering you are using the same lens. Arthur Morris’s Canon 100-400mm lens is effectively a 160-640mm lens on a Canon APS-C digital camera, a 3x-13x optics magnification versus a 2x-8x on a full-frame camera.
Walker Golder’s 600mm NIKKOR is, effectively, a 900mm f/4 lens on his Nikon APS-C DLSR and he sometimes uses a 1.4x Nikon AF-S Teleconverter TC-14E III to get out to an equivalent 1260mm on the DX camera. Working around Cape Hatteras, he is often observing and documenting nesting shore birds and migrating terns on their way to Arctic breeding grounds. He says, “It is nice to have that extra reach because shore birds and water birds are very sensitive to disturbances, sometimes with fatal consequences.” Migrating shore birds, he says, could be on a feeding stopover in the middle of an extremely long journey and disturbing them is counterproductive to birding and nature conservation efforts.
Just like with binoculars, the more magnification the lens provides the birder, the more the image is susceptible to vibration and image shake that will cause blurring of your photographs. The longer the focal length, the more difficult it is to steady the lens. Today, many telephoto lenses come with image stabilization systems that help counteract this movement. For birding, this feature will come in very handy, especially at greater focal lengths/magnifications. Some image stabilization systems must be shut down when the lens is tripod mounted, so check your owner’s manual before you mount such a lens.
Another thing a digital camera can help with is ISO. ISO is, basically, the sensitivity of the sensor to light. With film, you would buy a roll of film designated for a fixed ISO or ASA: 200, 400, 800, etc. With digital cameras, you can increase the digital equivalent of ISO to make your sensor more sensitive to light. This allows you to use a smaller-aperture telephoto lens, or shoot in darker conditions, while still maintaining sufficient shutter speed to counteract camera shake or motion blur and freeze motion from a bird in flight across your frame.
An easy way to give your lens an extended reach while birding is by using a teleconverter. The teleconverter is a device that is mounted between the camera and lens that optically provides a specific factor of magnification for the lens. The most common teleconverters come in 1.4x and 2x magnifications. There are other magnifications to be found, including 1.7x and 3x. Also, unlike the crop factor gained from using smaller sensors, teleconverters will reduce the lens’s maximum available aperture—1 stop of light for a 1.4x teleconverter and 2 stops for a 2x teleconverter.
As an example, if you use a 2x teleconverter on a 300mm f/4 lens, the lens effectively becomes a 600mm f/8 lens. When compared to optics, the lens goes from 6x to 12x magnification, a nice gain, but less light will reach the sensor or film due to the smaller effective aperture. A 1.4x teleconverter on the same lens gives you a 420mm f/5.6 equivalent lens at an optical magnification of 8.4x.
There are additional drawbacks. The teleconverter adds optics to the light path between the camera and lens; therefore there is usually degradation in image quality due to the fact that the light is passing through more glass. Depending on the camera you are using, you may lose autofocus capabilities, even if the teleconverter supports autofocus functionality, due to the reduced aperture preventing enough light to allow the autofocus sensors to work properly. It is important to note that teleconverters are made by many lens companies and third-party manufacturers, span a broad price range, and have various options pertaining to electronic connectivity between the lens and the camera. Before buying a teleconverter, be sure to verify your lens’s compatibility with whichever device you are considering.
There is an alternative to the potent combination of a large lens and SLR camera: the “superzoom” point-and-shoot camera. Over the past few years, many camera companies have been producing point-and-shoot cameras with previously unheard-of telephoto capabilities. For example, the Nikon P1000 features an optical zoom lens that extends from 24mm to 3000mm. At the far end of the telephoto range, that is the equivalent of a 60x magnification spotting scope.
Patrick Comins, Director of Bird Conservation at the Audubon Society’s Connecticut office and President of the Friends of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, has used cameras from the Canon SX series—today, the Canon SX70 HS. These days, armed with his superzooms, he admits that when on a walk, his “first instinct is to go for the camera” instead of his trusty binoculars. He says that, “If you want to shoot a [birding] magazine cover, you need a DLSR and telephoto lens,” but, when it comes to easy image sharing and observing, the superzoom has a great advantage. Just the other day, Comins spotted a Prothonotary Warbler in Connecticut, on a migratory overshoot. It is rare that they venture so far north. He immediately grabbed his SX60 for observing and imaging and never viewed the bird through is binoculars.
Do you have any tips for bird photography with long lenses? Share them with us in the Comments section.
Hello I use the super zoom canon sx70 hs! I also use a Fuji finepix s1, also superzoom. I have a problem with the auto focus focusing on a branch when I really want to focus on the Bird which is behind the branch. I have assumed that I need to focus manually in such cases, but is there a product that will focus automatically on something that I specify somehow in the viewfinder? Thank you.
If you are looking for a point-and-shoot super zoom camera with improved autofocus performance, I would recommend the Panasonic Lumix DC-FZ80 Digital Camera, B&H # PADCFZ80B, for your usage needs. The Canon PowerShot SX70 HS has a total of nine (9) autofocus points to select from, whereas the Panasonic Lumix DC-FZ80 Digital Camera has 49 focus points to select from. This should give you more options on where to focus on the scene you wish to photograph. Do note that the camera may not know what you may consider is the subject in the frame. As such, it would be best to select your focus point manually before having the camera focus to capture on your chosen image. Cameras typically try to focus on the subject that is closest to the camera while on a focusing point. If the branch was closer to the compared to the bird, then I understand why the Canon PowerShot SX70 HS Digital Camera. The above tips and the Panasonic camera may give you better performance. Also note that using a tripod while at long zoom ranges will help stabilize your camera and assist you in picking the focus point you wish to use for your image.
Two points - First, I don't think you emphasized the importance of accurate & fast focus. Anything that moves will be very difficult to capture without really good autofocus. Secondly, I have found Micro 4/3 to be an excellent compromise. Yes, there are trade-offs, but the cost & weight of full-frame telephotos are a problem. I can carry my Olympus kit all day - the Nikon, not so much.
Great points here! I guess I assumed it goes without saying that auto focus accuracy and speed is critical...and you said it for me!
Size and weight and telephoto reach are indeed superb selling points for Micro Four Thirds systems for birding and other adventure photography. I totally agree with you there!
Thanks for reading!
Whatever camera you have, whatever lens you use your best friend might just be your tripod. Yes one more thing to lug with you but once you set it up and drop your camera onto it you can relax. Scan around and find a good spot in your viewfinder, lock it in, then grab your binocs for another scan. Go back to your viewfinder and see if anything has shown up. It's still focused on the same exact spot it was when you picked up your binocs. That stability might even tempt you to try the video mode.
Great advice! I am a huge proponent of the tripod for almost any type of photography. While a monopod might be great for capturing birds on the move, the tripod lets you step away from your gear, use your binos, and enjoy the scene while not resting your camera and lens(es) on the ground.
Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment!
Fantastic...but ...a litle out of date!
The RS 800 with the Canon R6 is my choice! I also use the Canon Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens with my CanonDVII MarkII ou mesmo a M5 MarkII. All of them are fantastic!
But...walking some milles... the R6+RS 800 are mutch more ...usable...
Thanks for the kind words and the note! We do try to keep these articles updated, but sometimes technology moves faster than we do! :)
Thanks for reading and sharing your experience and tips!
As always, great article, Todd. Also, enjoyed reading your responses
Thank you for the kind words, David!
I appreciate it!
Thanks for reading Explora!
This article has some good information and also some very basic factual errors that B&H ought to have gotten correct. Please review the definition of the f/number and correct it.
"Camera lenses are not only measured by their focal length, the other primary specification is their maximum aperture. The aperture number is displayed as an f-stop and the number itself is a ratio of the maximum opening of the aperture diaphragm to the circumference of the entrance pupil of the lens."
The maximum aperture is a ratio, but it's the entrance pupil divided by the focal length.
Yikes! Thank you, Doug. No excuse for the brain short circuit, but, thankfully, I did have it correct when I wrote the article on aperture!
"The formula used to assign a number to the lens opening is: f/stop = focal length / diameter of effective aperture (entrance pupil) of the lens."
This series is great. Even for someone who has an established set up and been taking photos for a while, there is something to learn from these articles/videos. One thing which hasn't been covered is how to minimize weight carried for such pursuits.
Weight is definitely an issue for birders of all photographic skill sets. If you have some weight-saving tips, feel free to share them!
I have also caught the birding bug. I've never owned a nice camera. I got a Nikon D3400 with the two lense kit I'm thinking of getting 200mm 500mm lense so I can reach out and get some good shots of birds that might be out a ways. I'm trying to figure out if I'm wasting my money putting that lense on my Nikon D3400 camera?
In my opinion you are NOT wasting your money.
Ha! Easy for me to say as I work at B&H, right? But, here is the deal...
The D3400 is a fine camera capable of getting great photos. That lens gets great reviews. They will work well together. Also, lenses are more of a sound investment than cameras. You will be using that lens well after your D3400 has taken its last shot—the lens will happily be mounted on your future Nikon cameras and will continue to perform well.
If it is in your budget, start upgrading your glass before you upgrade your camera body.
Good luck! Let me know if you have more questions.
I have been following your online articles for a number of years and consider you to be a premier source of information. It is my understanding that you also teach photography classes; living on the West Coast precludes attendance, otherwise I would be seated in the front row.
Relating to this thread, I have a friend who asked me for advice relating to the purchase of a camera for his wife. My recommendation was to invest in a relatively higher priced lens and a relatively modest camera body while considering his budget. A good lens stays with one for a long, long time. The initial camera body will be less complex, easier to learn and allow her to concentrate on photography. Plus, it will become a backup on future international trips they will be taking.
Again, thanks for your illuminating articles. They are a big help.
Thank you, so much, for the compliment! And, I teach virtually, so there are plenty of seats available in the front row—regardless of where you log in from!
Your advice is sound for your friend. A good lens on a consumer camera is likely to help get better photos than a sub-par lens on a good body.
You are very welcome for the articles. Thanks for reading Explora and Happy New Year!
My rule of thumb is always buy the best glass you can afford. With Nikon, my lenses have largely moved with me from body to body as that technology changes. My old Nikon 70-210 f4 followed me from film (Nikon FM - which I still have) through a number of digital bodies (D70, D80, 7100) until the newer lenses had much more to offer (vibration reduction and much better auto focus). I upgraded to a 70-200 f2.8 to fill the gap I was feeling after retiring the older Nikon lens (it DID finally reach a point where it wasn't keeping up, but it was still a good lens and still worked on my D500 body, though without some of the functionality the newer lenses were offering.)
I can't speak for Canon, but I know that even moving from the older film platform (AE1) to a later film technology, all of my wife's lenses would have been incompatible. She had lenses she loved that were familiar and produced great results which would have been costly to replace one for one. I don't know if we had replaced her lenses whether they would have been compatible when we eventually switched to digital as it was growing.
After the Canon AE1, I switched her to Nikon (N60 film) and then evolved into Nikon digital, and she is now using a Nikon mirrorless (Z6ii) which has a converter so she has been able to keep using the 300mm Nikon F-mount lens she likes while she taps into new Z mount technology. She enjoys the smaller form and lighter weight of the mirrorless body and the Z-mount lenses she has. But, we're keeping and using the F-mount lenses she and I like. My wife went through the Nikon D80, 7000, and D500 before the Z6ii, and we were able to keep using and sharing many of the lenses for years. That experience guided my decision to pick up the 70-200 f2.8 over the lower-priced 70-200 f4. It was an investment in a lens I'd like better and that I would take with me from the D500 forward at least a couple more body upgrades before I hang up my cameras for good.
That is a good rule of thumb!
I always admired Nikon's engineers for sticking with the F-mount for decades. It is so cool to use "vintage" Nikon glass on modern cameras. The mirrorless/adapter world has certainly breathed new life into old lenses and I think that is a great thing for photography as a whole.
Both Nikon and Canon were very smart to include SLR-mirrorless adapters with their new mirrorless bodies, but I am sure there are a lot who were invested, many years ago, in great Canon FD glass when EOS arrived. Today, if your wife still has her old Canon glass, she can use those lenses on almost any mirrorless body!
And, since we are sharing stories, I, too had the 70-200 f/2.8 (first version) but never loved it. Years later it broke and was stolen from the repair shop in Oakland that had it (kind of ironically stolen by the 99% protestors who looted the store). I replaced it with the older Nikon 80-200 f/2.8 and LOVED that lens...so much that I still have it and shoot it manually on my FUJIFILM cameras.
Thanks for reading!
I have just recently caught the birding bug. Our group shares a few scopes and recently I began to bring along my fuji x-t10 w my fx 18-135mm and for now, f I want close ups, I crop. I have a chance to get my hands on a very good copy on a Canon FD 300mm f/4 L lens and was thinking of coupling it with my fuji and a tripod (as I'll have no image stability with the lens). Is this a practical idea for birding?
It is practical...and cool! However, you will be in manual focus mode only. It is something to be aware of, but fairly easy to do accurately with the X-T10's focus peaking. It is actually pretty fun!
I shoot my Nikon 300mm f/4 on my X-T2 regularly and photographed the eclipse with it!
Let us know how it turns out when you do it!
Thanks for the reply. I actually ended up getting the Canon FD 400mm 4.5. The extra length helps with birding. It works great on a tripod but it is heavy so I haven't tried anytging hand held yet. Shots are nice and clean and focus peaking really does the job for getting things sharp! Fuji is a great system for legacy glass.
Very cool to shoot an older FD lens!
I agree about Fujifilm (and other mirrorless as well), Peter. I am glad it is working out well for you. Happy shooting!
I am in a quandary. I received the Canon 7D II with the 500L f/4 for a photo shoot and I was hooked! However I cannot afford it. Besides, I felt the fixed length lacks flexibility. Not to mention the weight and I am not getting any younger! So the 100-400 seems a nice option, but is it fast on the 7DII? How about the Nikon D500 with the 200-500? What Mirror less option compares to these? I love to shoot BIF and wildlife and I hate to use a tripod. I am an amateur and don't have the luxury of carrying a lot of stuff with me when I travel. Yes, I used the 500 without a tripod. Any recommendations? Can I get a decent system under 5K that is fairly comparable to the 500f4 with 7DII? Thanks!
Sure, buy used gear and save.
Find a used 100-400mm Mark II version and a used 7DII.
I have not used the Canon combo that you mention, but I do know some bird and wildlife photographers that swear by that 100-400 lens. I think you would not be disappointed.
I have also heard great things about the Nikon 200-500...check out the almost-all 4 and 5-star ratings on our site! It is rocking the reviews!
With mirrorless, I would try before you buy. With the exception of the new Sony a9, I think mirrorless still lags a bit behind in this genre of photography. If you know other birders shooting mirrorless, you can ask for their thoughts. If you are a mirrorless shooter reading this, please let us know your experience!
And, not bad advice from Larry here!
Let me know if you have any follow-ups.
I'm using the Sony a7rII and older manual focus lenses such as the Canon FD 500mm f/4.5 L and Leica 280mm f/4 APO for wildlife photography. Manual focus isn't for everyone but it's much more affordable and much more feasible with mirrorless than with most DSLR cameras. My website is [wildlightphoto dot com].
Thanks, Doug! Nothing wrong with shooting those old classics!
If you wanted to stay within your budget and have a camera/lens combo close to what a 7D Mark II with a 500mm f/4 lens would offer, I would go with the Nikon D500 with a Nikon AF-S 200-500mm f/5.6E VR. With that, you still have up to 10 frames per second in continuous shooting mode, a similarly sized image sensor, a higher ISO range and a much lighter lens with long range. On the other hand, you could also go mirrorless with the Sony A6500. This would offer 11 frames per second in continuous mode, 425 phase detection AF points and built in image stabilization. You may pair that with the Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary Lens for Canon EF and MC-11 Mount Converter/Lens Adapter for Sony E Kit B&H # SI100400EFK to stay within your budget.
I have the Canon Power Shot SX50 HS that I was taking pictures with. I received as a gift the Nikon D3400, with Lense 18-55 f/3.5-5.6gvr & the 70-300 f/4.5-6.3FED lense. I have to admit, I am not really savy with camera's. I just wanted to take a great picture that I could really zoom in and have the picture be clear. How can I zoom in on a picture as I did with the Canon, on the new Nikon camera? I have tried with the 70-300 lense, and I just can not figure out how to zoom in. I feel so stupid. Am I missing something? It doens't appear to zoom in anywhere near the distance that the canon does. I feel terrible, because I got this camera as a gift for taking pictures of birds and I am using my old camera because frankly it takes better pictures that I can zoom in on. Please, what am I doing wrong????? I have gone through the manual and try to find out where I can zoom in, besides just turning the lense, it still doens't go anywhere near the zoom that the canon does. The picture on the Nikon is very clear and crisp. When I push the plus botton, it zooms in for me to take the picture, but the actual picture is just as far back as I don't want it to be. and if I try to crop the picture, it looks blurry. ... I am so frustrated and dissappointed... Where on this Nikon camera can I zoom in????
Your Canon has a focal length equivalent of 24-1200mm. The D3400, with your two lenses has a focal length equivalent of 27-450mm. The Canon will zoom out approximately 2.7x as much as the Nikon.
The only way to simulate more zoom on the Nikon is to crop the photographs after you have taken it. Once the lens zoom ring stops, you are done zooming in or out.
Blur is usually a result of camera movement during the exposure. When zoomed out to 300mm (450mm-equivalent) the maximum aperture of the lens is f/6.3 You need bright sunlight to keep the shutter speed fast enough to avoid blur from camera shake. You can increase your ISO to get the shutter speeds faster in these situations.
I sense your frustration and I realize my answers are fairly complex, so please feel free to follow up if you need me to explain things a bit differently!
I have been an avid Panasonic FZ300 user because it is great for bird id work, it does capture some good photos if ISO is low (lots of light) and distance is close and it is light weight. The weight is important because often I do long hikes and hand-hold for my photographs. I now want to step up in image quality, but I am doing mental gymnastics with weight and prices. Help!
I like the mirrorless sytems because they weigh less. I have tried mirrored system, a Canon 70D with a Tamron 150-600 G2 and that is way too heavy for hand holding and long hikes. I have kind of homed in on the Fujifilm XT-2 with the Fuji 100-400mm zoom. The weight is reasonable at about 4.2 LBS. Salespeople (biased?) have told me that the Sony A9 is far superior to the XT-2 w/r to autofocus and perhaps other features and with the upcoming Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS lens life will never be better for bird photographers. Is the Sony combo really worth the price difference? Is the quality difference that much more noticeable over the XT-2? The Sony combo w/o taxes is around $6996 and the XT-2 combo w/o taxes is around $3498, big difference. Again, is the quality worth the price difference? Is there a 3rd option of which I am not aware?
Thanks for writing in!
As an X-T2 shooter, and someone who just tried out the Sony a9 and 100-400 lens, I would say that the a9 would be the way to go for bird photography.
The X-T2 is no slouch and is an amazing camera in many many ways, but I was really impressed with the 20fps, no blackout, and sharpness of that camera/lens combo. Not having image blackout while tracking birds in flight will be a boon for bird photographers!
Is it worth the price difference? Only you can decide that!
3rd option? There are lots of 3rd options! Micro Four Thirds will save you size and weight and get you 2x crop factor. That might be an intriguing solution.
Biased salespeople? They probably don't work here at B&H Photo. None of our sales folks are on commission, so they just want you to get what is best for your needs.
Let me know if you have any follow-up questions!
I am looking for a light weight DSLR for bird photography.
The best solution considering cost, camera, lens, and weight appers to be a Nikon D7200 with a Nikon 300mm F/4e and the Nikon 1.4 TC III. Do you have any other suggestions?
300mm f4e PF is definitely the light lens to get and it combines well with the TC1.4 III. Consider though the slightly heavier D500 - the AF system is amazingly good, especially for BIF.
Pravin has some good advice here!
The D500 is a bit heavier than the D7200, but it is more rugged and has better innards...it is basically a D5 with an APS-C sensor.
Thanks for reading!
Being a beginner, this article was exactly what I needed.
enjoyed the article - thank you.
Thanks for reading, James!
Great article, thank you. So much good information.
Thanks for reading Explora!
Thank you for the nice article. The question I have relates to the merits (or lack thereof) of digiscopes paired to cameras (e.g. the Nikon EDG VR-85 paired to the FSA-L2 on a FX body). How do the images compare to super telephoto lenses in the 400-600mm category? What would I miss out on?
Thank you in advance for your input.
Thanks for stopping by!
I haven't used the Nikon EDG scopes outside of the store, but my impression is that optically they will rival or exceed the performance on a Nikkor super-telephoto camera lens.
What do you miss out on? Auto focus. What do you gain? Optical quality, relatively lighter and smaller package, and the ability to use it as a scope when not digiscoping. Also, on the EDG 85mm, you are going to go out to 1750mm...further than even the 600mm and a 2x converter.
Scopes are cooler than big lenses!
Thanks, Todd. Definitely sounds like an attractive alternative.
Let us know what you decide and how it works out for you!
On the superzooms, you forgot one important issue in the comparison to DSLR camera. There is a definate delay on each shot, that can dramictly effect gettng a good shot. If you do a lot of Birds in Flight shooting, get a DSLR, a superzoom don't cut it. I've use both several times, trust me on this.
Great point, and I do not disagree with you, but the good news is that point-and-shoot shutter lag has been getting better and better with every successive generation of PAS cameras. Birds in flight are likely still a challenge, but, eventually, there won't be any issues when it comes to shutter lag.
Thanks for stopping by!