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Camera/lens recommendations for BIF in low light

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Old Monday 12th March 2018, 13:36   #1
ialarmedalien
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Camera/lens recommendations for BIF in low light

I'm looking for recommendations for a camera+lens set up that I can use to get some decent shots of birds in low light situations, specifically barn owls hunting towards the end of the day, and harriers coming in to roost. I currently use a Panasonic FZ330 (bridge camera) with 1.5x TC, which gives me ~900mm of reach and performs well in good light, but it gets noisy at about 800 ISO. Even though there's still plenty of light around when I want to photograph these specific BIFs, the combination of the high shutter speed, small camera sensor size, birds at a distance (the harriers are photographed from a hide), shooting handheld, etc., means that the interesting part of the image is usually small and lacking in detail or noisy.

Given that low light BIF shots usually require expensive equipment, and a bridge camera serves my needs most of the time (most of my photos are taken whilst out dog walking or hiking, usually in good light), I think my best, most financially sensible option is to rent some gear for this purpose. I'd ideally like something that isn't too heavy, as my experience has all been with the lightweight bridge camera plus TC combo and a heavier set up would probably mean more likelihood of camera shake and difficulties in BIF tracking.

ETA: Here are a couple of photos to demonstrate the kind of lighting conditions and noise; I've converted them to jpg and cropped them for the forum (they were originally 4000x3000), but otherwise they're untouched.

Your suggestions, please!
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Old Monday 12th March 2018, 14:07   #2
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You need a camera with a larger sensor to improve low light performance but also consider AF performance. A Nikon D500 (APS-C) will be clearly better than your FZ300. A Nikon d7200 or D7500 (APS-C) might be good enough. A Nikon D4s (FF) will be great. To get the full benefit of a larger sensor get a f2.8 lens, but a f4 lens might be ok. Depends on your quality demands, budget and light level. You would have to weigh low light performance vs price and AF coverage/speed. For your applications the D500 probably is the best choice. Even with a f/8 lens it will AF down to -3EV (center point -4EV). D7500 and D7200 does not have as good AF but price is a bit more reasonable though.

Noise performance comparison:

https://www.dpreview.com/reviews/ima...01122090576015

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Old Monday 12th March 2018, 14:08   #3
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The Sony RX10 IV should have plenty of appeal for you in a not dissimilar form factor, but much better (DSLR-like) performance.

You might also like to try the obsolete Nikon V3 with the PF 300mm f4 via adapter.

Beyond that you are into MFT setups (Olympus OMD EM1 MkII etc), APS-C DSLR's such as the Nikon D500, or Canon 7D MkII ..... but by then weight and/or cost is creeping up a fair bit.

I use a Nikon D7200 + Tamron 150-600 f6.3 combo, but the max aperture at the long end will be too slow for what you want. Just for reference the rig weighs 6lbs and I manage it handheld and carry it around on a sling.

Did you have a budget in mind?



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Old Monday 12th March 2018, 14:40   #4
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Originally Posted by Chosun Juan View Post
The Sony RX10 IV should have plenty of appeal for you in a not dissimilar form factor, but much better (DSLR-like) performance.

You might also like to try the obsolete Nikon V3 with the PF 300mm f4 via adapter.

Beyond that you are into MFT setups (Olympus OMD EM1 MkII etc), APS-C DSLR's such as the Nikon D500, or Canon 7D MkII ..... but by then weight and/or cost is creeping up a fair bit.

I use a Nikon D7200 + Tamron 150-600 f6.3 combo, but the max aperture at the long end will be too slow for what you want. Just for reference the rig weighs 6lbs and I manage it handheld and carry it around on a sling.

Did you have a budget in mind?


Chosun
Have in mind that the FZ300 is f2.8 at the long end (600mm eqv). A 1'' inch sensor at f4 will not give much of an improvement. Above ISO 800 they start too look like ant war more or less. RX10 series I would question for the AF performance in low light.

TS talks about renting, which seems wise to start with, so a D500 + 300/2.8 or even a D4s + 400/2.8 is probably not unrealistic at all.

Last edited by Vespobuteo : Monday 12th March 2018 at 14:46.
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Old Monday 12th March 2018, 15:12   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Vespobuteo View Post
Have in mind that the FZ300 is f2.8 at the long end (600mm eqv). A 1'' inch sensor at f4 will not give much of an improvement. Above ISO 800 they start too look like ant war more or less. RX10 series I would question for the AF performance in low light.

TS talks about renting, which seems wise to start with, so a D500 + 300/2.8 or even a D4s + 400/2.8 is probably not unrealistic at all.
The Sony RX10 IV is meant to be a quantum leap over other bridge cameras in terms of AF and BIF. Even though only a 1" sensor, have a look at the Ken Rockwell review - some of those high ISO shots look remarkable.

With DSLR's, Nikon are currently top of the heap in bodies (D7200, D500, D850, D4s, D5), though apart from their 400f2.8, and 5 and 600 f4's they can't match Canon overall for lesser lens.

Canon have the excellent lightweight DO 400 f4 IS II which readily takes a 1.4xTC, and I know from experience with a friend's 300f2.8 IS II that it takes a 2XTC incredibly well too. Both arriving at ~ 600mm f5.6 with very manageable weight.

I wonder how far off the Canon 7D MKIII could be ? Otherwise it's the 7D MkII for now to trial as a rental ......



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Old Monday 12th March 2018, 15:15   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Vespobuteo View Post
Have in mind that the FZ300 is f2.8 at the long end (600mm eqv). A 1'' inch sensor at f4 will not give much of an improvement. Above ISO 800 they start too look like ant war more or less. RX10 series I would question for the AF performance in low light.

TS talks about renting, which seems wise to start with, so a D500 + 300/2.8 or even a D4s + 400/2.8 is probably not unrealistic at all.
Just remember that birds looked small in the frame with 900 mm reach. A 400/2.8 will have reach like 540 mm. It might be necessary to rent something larger (and dearer).

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Old Monday 12th March 2018, 15:29   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chosun Juan View Post
The Sony RX10 IV is meant to be a quantum leap over other bridge cameras in terms of AF and BIF. Even though only a 1" sensor, have a look at the Ken Rockwell review - some of those high ISO shots look remarkable.
I've been reading a lot about the RX10 IV and thinking about it as a possible successor to the FZ330 as something that I can carry out and about with me. I suppose I could rent one and try it out for these shots. Particularly for photos taken from a hide, so much is dependent on luck, and whether or not the birds fly close enough to be more than a silhouette in the viewfinder!
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Old Monday 12th March 2018, 16:19   #8
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Just remember that birds looked small in the frame with 900 mm reach. A 400/2.8 will have reach like 540 mm. It might be necessary to rent something larger (and dearer).

Niels
A good 400/2.8 will work just fine with a 2xTC to get 800mm/5.6.
D4s is usable up to ISO 25600.
Or mount a D500 for 600-800mm reach depending on crop.

But it's always a balance between getting short enough shutter speed, AF performance and ISO settings.
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Old Monday 12th March 2018, 16:40   #9
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Originally Posted by Chosun Juan View Post
The Sony RX10 IV is meant to be a quantum leap over other bridge cameras in terms of AF and BIF. Even though only a 1" sensor, have a look at the Ken Rockwell review - some of those high ISO shots look remarkable.

With DSLR's, Nikon are currently top of the heap in bodies (D7200, D500, D850, D4s, D5), though apart from their 400f2.8, and 5 and 600 f4's they can't match Canon overall for lesser lens.

Canon have the excellent lightweight DO 400 f4 IS II which readily takes a 1.4xTC, and I know from experience with a friend's 300f2.8 IS II that it takes a 2XTC incredibly well too. Both arriving at ~ 600mm f5.6 with very manageable weight.

I wonder how far off the Canon 7D MKIII could be ? Otherwise it's the 7D MkII for now to trial as a rental ......

Chosun
Quantum leap? Considering the f4 vs f2.8 aperture at full zoom, the IQ gain is very slight moving from the FZ300 to the RX10IV:

https://www.dpreview.com/reviews/ima...05033308660253

Canon 7d something?! Probably noise, not, I mean.

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Old Monday 12th March 2018, 17:04   #10
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Originally Posted by ialarmedalien View Post
I've been reading a lot about the RX10 IV and thinking about it as a possible successor to the FZ330 as something that I can carry out and about with me. I suppose I could rent one and try it out for these shots. Particularly for photos taken from a hide, so much is dependent on luck, and whether or not the birds fly close enough to be more than a silhouette in the viewfinder!
The Barn Owl is shot at ISO1600 and 1/100 of a second according to Exif info.

Freezing the action at 1/500 sec or even 1/1000 means that you need to crank up ISO to 6400 or 12800.

You will need something better than the RX10 IV when it comes to noise in a scenario like that. Especially as the lens is 1 stop slower (f4 vs f2.8) than the FZ300.

A D500 will give good results at ISO6400 or even 12800 with a f/2.8-4 lens if you don't do huge prints.

On the other hand, it's scenarios like this (action in low light) that make cameras like the D4s/D5 worth the extra money.

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Old Monday 12th March 2018, 18:09   #11
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Hi Niels,

Quote:
Originally Posted by njlarsen View Post
Just remember that birds looked small in the frame with 900 mm reach. A 400/2.8 will have reach like 540 mm.
Hm, how do you calculate that?

My vague idea is that what really matters is "projected pixel size" ... like: If I take a photo of something at 1 km distance, how big is the area that will be captured by one pixel?

35 mm film equivalent focal length doesn't really tell me much as it fails to take the sensor into account.

Of course, the picture also has to be sharp and free of noise, but it would be nice to be able to easily compare a camera A with focal length X and a Y megapixel sensor to a camera B with focal length R and a U megapixel sensor.

Regards,

Henning
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Old Monday 12th March 2018, 18:10   #12
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A sweet spot in my opinion might be looking to one of the current generations of 20-24MP APS-C sensor...and get a reasonably fast lens at least in the F4 range...this will give you significantly better overall performance, focus speed, and image quality when it comes to low light - even shooting at ISO 6,400 and post-processing to bring up the shadows another 2 stops would yield better results with more detail retention than what you're getting now. A full frame sensor has obvious advantages, but the disadvantages including size, loss of crop factor, price, etc all have to be factored in. 1" sensor compacts will be a nice step up in image quality compared to the tiny sensor superzooms, but still lacking a bit in reach and still several stops below an APS-C's sensor ability.
Whether DSLR or mirrorless, there are quite a few cameras you can find with those 20-24MP APS-C sensors...entry-level and mid-level DSLRs are not too dear price wise, and the same goes for mirrorless cameras with APS-C sensors.
I shoot a lot of low light birds as well - both still and in flight...I've shot with DSLRs, P&S, 1" sensors, and mirrorless - I still have 3 of those types of cameras in my current arsenal. My current favorite and the one that gets the vast majority of my use is a mirrorless APS-C 24MP sensor camera paired with a 100-400mm F4-5.6 lens. I can shoot comfortably up to ISO 6,400 without needing to post process, shooting in JPG only, no raw processing. Detail retention is quite good, noise is reasonably low...and color reproduction stays faithful. I can get 600mm equivalent reach, and the ability to crop fairly significantly while still maintaining good detail, with the 24MP sensor delivering a 6,000x4,000 frame...you can crop as much as 2x and still have printable/postable results...so you can get something like an equivalent 1,000mm reach after cropping - and the larger sensor paired with a high quality lens will maintain good detail.

Here are some examples of shots taken with an APS-C 24MP sensor, shot in JPG, at ISO 6,400 in lower light conditions - BIFs taken at dusk, after sunset, and birds hiding deep in forests and down in the shade.
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Old Monday 12th March 2018, 18:10   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ialarmedalien View Post
I've been reading a lot about the RX10 IV and thinking about it as a possible successor to the FZ330 as something that I can carry out and about with me. I suppose I could rent one and try it out for these shots. Particularly for photos taken from a hide, so much is dependent on luck, and whether or not the birds fly close enough to be more than a silhouette in the viewfinder!
If they are small at 900mm (equivalent), they are going to be even smaller at the max 600mm reach of the RX10iv, which means you will be cropping more, which will negate the already relatively small low light advantage of the slightly larger 1 inch sensor.

Frankly, I don't think the camera you want exists. There is no lightweight camera that will give you good results for distant birds in flight in low light. Best I can think of would Olympus EM-1 mk.ii, whose sensor gets far better low light scores than the RX10iv or other bridge cameras, and the Oly 300mm plus 1.4x teleconverter, which has an effective reach of c. 840mm at f5.6. That's only about 3.5 lbs, which will be much lighter than DSLR setups mentioned. Here's one of my shots with the EM-1 II at ISO 4000:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/357164...7688330205860/
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Old Monday 12th March 2018, 18:36   #14
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Hi Niels,



Hm, how do you calculate that?

My vague idea is that what really matters is "projected pixel size" ... like: If I take a photo of something at 1 km distance, how big is the area that will be captured by one pixel?

35 mm film equivalent focal length doesn't really tell me much as it fails to take the sensor into account.

Of course, the picture also has to be sharp and free of noise, but it would be nice to be able to easily compare a camera A with focal length X and a Y megapixel sensor to a camera B with focal length R and a U megapixel sensor.

Regards,

Henning
Henning, the equivalent focal length gives a proxy for the angle of view. At the same time, both APC and superzoom cameras usually use 16-24 mpix sensors, so the per sensor pixel coverage does not deviate that much. With FF cameras, I am not sure what the relationship is. That also shows a weakness of my statement: I omitted to say that my calculation was for an APC size sensor.

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Old Monday 12th March 2018, 18:42   #15
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Justin wrote:
Quote:
I shoot a lot of low light birds as well - both still and in flight...I've shot with DSLRs, P&S, 1" sensors, and mirrorless - I still have 3 of those types of cameras in my current arsenal. My current favorite and the one that gets the vast majority of my use is a mirrorless APS-C 24MP sensor camera paired with a 100-400mm F4-5.6 lens. I can shoot comfortably up to ISO 6,400 without needing to post process, shooting in JPG only, no raw processing. Detail retention is quite good, noise is reasonably low...and color reproduction stays faithful. I can get 600mm equivalent reach, and the ability to crop fairly significantly while still maintaining good detail, with the 24MP sensor delivering a 6,000x4,000 frame...you can crop as much as 2x and still have printable/postable results...so you can get something like an equivalent 1,000mm reach after cropping - and the larger sensor paired with a high quality lens will maintain good detail.
Here is a couple of recent iso 6400 images shot with a m4/3 (Pana G85 w PL100-400):
https://www.birdforum.net/gallery/sh...2/limit/recent
https://www.birdforum.net/gallery/sh...1/limit/recent

The problem in what is written here and with my images compared to what the OP wants is that these were close and did not need crop, and they were also not BIF.

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Old Monday 12th March 2018, 20:55   #16
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Originally Posted by Hauksen View Post
My vague idea is that what really matters is "projected pixel size" ... like: If I take a photo of something at 1 km distance, how big is the area that will be captured by one pixel?

35 mm film equivalent focal length doesn't really tell me much as it fails to take the sensor into account.

Of course, the picture also has to be sharp and free of noise, but it would be nice to be able to easily compare a camera A with focal length X and a Y megapixel sensor to a camera B with focal length R and a U megapixel sensor.
You're right about the 35mm EFL figures being fairly unhelpful. The FZ300 has a maximum output image size of 12MP, so although I have an EFL of up to 900mm with the FZ330 + TC, a bird that fills the centre third (horizontally and vertically) of the viewfinder will only be 1333x1000 pixels, which would yield a printed image of 4.33x3.33 inches at 300 dpi. So much for that seemingly impressive 900mm! :\
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Old Tuesday 13th March 2018, 04:34   #17
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Just a couple of high iso shots to show how sensor size can help, Cormorant with the D750 full frame @ iso 11400,the greylag m4/3 @ 6400.
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Old Tuesday 13th March 2018, 07:12   #18
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Thank you all for the suggestions, discussion, and the image samples, which are really helpful. The PL100-400mm combined with a m4/3 body looks like a promising option for BIF, and it is available to rent from several places here in the UK. Any thoughts on Panasonic vs Olympus bodies, and particular models?
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Old Tuesday 13th March 2018, 07:55   #19
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Pana G9 or Oly EM1.2
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Old Tuesday 13th March 2018, 12:51   #20
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Pana G9 or Oly EM1.2
Those are likely the best focusing m4/3 cameras - I have experience with neither, I have the cheaper G85 (which in the UK is sold as G80 I think).

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Old Thursday 22nd March 2018, 12:51   #21
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For the record, I found this article on the best mirrorless cameras for wildlife photography very useful and interesting, as well as the dpreview photo comparison that Vespobuteo linked to.

Thanks to everyone for their advice!
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Old Sunday 15th April 2018, 14:38   #22
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Originally Posted by ialarmedalien View Post
For the record, I found this article on the best mirrorless cameras for wildlife photography very useful and interesting, as well as the dpreview photo comparison that Vespobuteo linked to.

Thanks to everyone for their advice!
Reading through that article, reinforces a bit that (like the rest of us ! :) you are looking for the holy grail, and once weight and cost become factors, I tend to agree with Jim - "Frankly, I don't think the camera you want exists"

I think you have several options for better performance based on how much you want to carry and how much you want to spend.

i) 1" sensor Sony RX-10 MKIV . This has an in-camera crop to give you 900mm equivalent at about 10(12?) MP. Importantly the max aperture at the long end is f4, the BSI-CMOS 1" sensor is cutting edge, and so is the AF for a bridge camera - being the first with phase detect.
It will give you an improvement over your current camera though more incremental. Weight is ~ 2&1/4 lbs. Cost ~ $1500.

ii) m43 sensor Olympus OM-D EM-1 MkII + 300mm f4 PRO + 1.4x TX . This is currently state of the art in m43 and will give you 20MP of 840mm at f5.6 The sensor in this camera performs very well for its size and is near APS-C performance, as it is for AF.
It should give you better improvement over your current camera. Weight is ~ 4&1/2 lbs. Cost ~ a bit over $4500.

iii) APS-C sensor Nikon D7200 + 300mm f4 PF + 1.4x TC. High resolution 24MP sensor which you would best use on centre point continuous AF. 630mm f5.6 , or use the 1.3x in-camera crop for 15.4 MP of 840mm at f5.6.
It should give a quite good improvement over your current camera. Weight is ~ 4lbs. Cost ~ a bit over $3000.

iv) APS-C sensor Nikon D500 + 200-500mm f5.6. Pro level AF, with the larger sensor providing much better high ISO image quality. You can either shoot at full res 20MP of 750mm at f5.6, or use the 1.3x in-camera crop for ~12MP of 1000mm at f5.6
This should give you noticeable improvement over your current camera. Weight is ~7lbs. Cost ~ a bit less than $3500.

v) FF sensor. Here you are looking at the Canon 1DX MkII , Nikon D5 , or the Sony A9 , and (5/)600mm f4 + TC's .
You will see the best performance available and a huge step up over your current camera. Weight will be ~ 11 or 12lbs , you will probably want a tripod or rest or something, and there won't be much change from 20 grand !

As you can see, you rapidly move up in size, weight, and cost from bridge camera levels. Probably the best bang for the buck is option iv) , and probably the best bang for the size is option iii) .
Where you lob will be up to you !
I have no real idea what each of these rigs would cost to rent in your location, but assume that the rates would be somewhat proportional to the buying cost.


Chosun

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Old Saturday 19th May 2018, 12:16   #23
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Originally Posted by Chosun Juan View Post
iv) APS-C sensor Nikon D500 + 200-500mm f5.6. Pro level AF, [...]
The stellar AF performance of the Nikon D500 is useful in almost every case, but in certain low-light situations it may be an idea to shoot with focus locked. Prefocusing at a distance where you hope the bird will appear, and then rely more on high fps. Maybe even shooting at 1/100 seconds, as in the OP with the first owl shot, and panning. Plus lots of work editing the RAW files...
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Old Tuesday 22nd May 2018, 17:31   #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by HermitIbis View Post
The stellar AF performance of the Nikon D500 is useful in almost every case, but in certain low-light situations it may be an idea to shoot with focus locked. Prefocusing at a distance where you hope the bird will appear, and then rely more on high fps. Maybe even shooting at 1/100 seconds, as in the OP with the first owl shot, and panning. Plus lots of work editing the RAW files...
Edit: Apologies for killing a lively thread with my off-topic remark.
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Old Wednesday 23rd May 2018, 06:27   #25
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To reinvigorate the thread, I ended up buying a mirrorless system. There was just too much choice from Canon and Nikon, and because I didn't have a preference for either, I found myself overwhelmed by the options for both camera bodies and lenses. As someone who does a lot of research to find the best prices (eBay, used from camera shops, etc.), there were too many possible combinations and I was exhausted trying to work out the best combination of features, IQ, reach, and cost. I realised pretty early on that the Sony RX10 IV wouldn't be a worthwhile investment; it has been extremely effectively hyped, but it's very expensive for a camera that can't be customised or extended beyond 600mm @ f/4.

After perusing the article on mirrorless systems, I researched the combinations mentioned there in more depth. I wasn't happy with the low light performance from Olympus or Panasonic, and Sony was out of my budget, even secondhand. I'm now using a Fujifilm X-T2 + XF 100-400, which I'm very happy with; it has customisable continuous autofocus settings, the image quality and sharpness are excellent, SOOC JPGs look great, and I can put together an astro time-lapse movie without any effort. Best of all, I feel as though I got a good deal on my gear, which, even if I am fooling myself, makes me feel better about spending a load of money on something that's just a hobby!
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