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Best approach for record shots? (1 Viewer)

I'm getting into birding more seriously, and I want to be able to take ID record shots (as opposed to high-quality photos).

Which approach do most people use for this? 1) DSLR + telephoto? 2) Superzoom camera? 3) Digiscoping with DSLR or compact? 4) Phonescoping? 5) Other?

Some context. I'm in the UK. I do a lot of woodland birdwatching (so there's often not much time to find the bird with scope, then fit camera or phone, then ensure focus/exposure). I have a full-frame DSLR with 300mm lens, but really can't afford 500mm plus teleconverter. I have a very old scope which works pretty well at 15 or 20x, goes up to 45x but pushing it; I use a fairly heavy tripod. Phonescoping seems a great idea; but because of the challenge of finding birds quickly in treetops/bushes with scope, perhaps better DSLR with 300mm handheld and high ISO, leave scope in car when I'm in woodland? Save phonescoping for wetland birds etc? [Evidently 300mm image will then need to be blown up, generally won't be anything near full-frame].

Thanks in advance for any tips and opinions!
 

Essex Tern

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Supporter
Europe
I tried digiscoping a good few years back, but I believe a camera on it’s own is more versatile and will give more consistent results. This is true especially with moving subjects and when time is of the essence as you describe.

I class myself as someone who mainly wants record shots rather than award winning shots, and my criteria is good reach, compact setup and good enough quality.

I started my camera journey with a Canon SX1 IS when they came out, and since then I have been using micro four thirds - I started with a 100-300mm lens on a Panasonic G6, which with it’s sensor being a quarter the size of full frame, but bigger than that of phones and compact cameras is a nice compromise, and allows cropping. The smaller sensor (1/4 of full frame) gives you a crop factor of 2x so the field of view of the 300mm becomes 600mm in full frame equivalency. Not sure what crop factor you are using, if any, with your current DSLR.

Having worked through a G7 and G80 I now use a Panasonic G9 with a 100-400mm lens, i.e. 800mm equivalent reach.

I am happy with the setup for my uses, and of course always crave more reach with birds but that is distance from subject rather than shortcomings of gear, but for a record shot setup I would add m43 to the shortlist if I were you.

If you want to go all out I think the Canon R5 looks a formidable camera with a lot of choices in good lenses - I may go that way one day, but not for a good while unless I have a sudden windfall. The decent number of pixels looks handy for cropping, and the focussing looks brilliant for moving birds. With static birds m43 isn’t found wanting at all, birds in flight are more than possible, just not so easy as the R5 looks.

I think you just have to weigh up your list of compromises and see what fits, there is no right or wrong answer, and we all have slightly different requirements.
 

opisska

Jan Ebr
Poland
I carry DSLR + 400 mm lens - the Canon 400/5.6 is as expensive (and as heavy) as some "ultrazooms" and it will always at least match them in recorded detail when viewing 1:1. I have shown this to a birder friend ... then some time later, I have met his group and everyone had the same lens :)

I have seen situations where people doing phonescoping got better documentation than I did though, but these were universally open landscapes over large distances, where the birds were observed from a fixed point - and also usually expensive scopes. But this also applies only when conditions are good - once heat haze comes, the scope quickly stops making any difference. So I am sometimes regretting not having a good digi/phone-scoping setup for these rare occasions, but considering my approach to things, this will probably not change any time soon.
 

Farnboro John

Well-known member
I have a 500 f4 (Mk 1) that I used to carry everywhere on a tripod. I thought I was into action quickly but since not wanting the weight I have changed to a 100-400 Mk2 handheld, which from a shoulder-sling is into action a lot quicker and not being on a tripod allows for much quicker adjustment of position for twigs, leaves, bird moving fast and so on.

I'm certain my percentage record shot achievement is through the roof compared to the previous set-up, and the drop from 500 fixed to 400 zoom has made little difference to quality that I can discern.

John
 
Really interesting and valuable responses from Essex Tern, Opisska and Farnboro John, thank you! In response to Nutcracker: it's not so much about weight (within reason), it's more about quick access. With binoculars round neck, I don't mind carrying scope+tripod on shoulder strap, plus rucksack with camera. But for rapid photography, I think better either a) to have camera or phone already attached to scope, or b) to leave scope+tripod behind, and to carry camera over my shoulder. Nobody has yet suggested (a) for quick response in woodland and similar mobile-bird habitats, so perhaps (b). Though I'm a bit sceptical that full-frame camera + 300mm will have sufficient reach for small birds, even after cropping. I guess I need to experiment, in typical conditions of irritatingly low light with irritatingly small bird moving irritatingly fast behind irritating twigs at an irritating distance of 20 or 30 m. Oh dear, that's five irritations, I think I need gin :rolleyes:
 

Essex Tern

πŸ¦†πŸ₯‹πŸƒπŸ»β€β™‚οΈπŸ“·πŸŽΉπŸŽΈ
Supporter
Europe
Forgot to say I carry my camera in a holster, cross shoulder style. I always have binoculars round my neck, and either a mulepack or backpack with my telescope and tripod combos. I find the holster option a good compromise as I don’t want to be holding the camera all the time, but of course for best response that would be the ideal - personally would rather have hands free so I can decide between bins and camera.
 

stuartvine

Well-known member
For record shots I prefer an SLR and a zoom lens. (Canon 7D II and 100-400mm) just on a shoulder strap. I find it easier to pick up the bird with the wider field of view at low zoom, then zoom in for a shot. For marsh, open water, etc, a 150-500mm lens and a cross-body harness to distribute with the weight.
 

dragnil

Home Rule for Yorkshire
Supporter
I find that anything through the scope is too slow (probably just me!) and the tripod etc is just too much to carry unless there's a really good reason. I tried Micro four-thirds with an Olympus E-1 and Leica 100-400 and liked the light weight and got some good results. However, when Nikon released the 500mm PF lightweight lens that soon became my favourite. I'm getting shots now that I would have nver had a chance with before and coming back to Nutty's question, I think that weight has, for me, become the over riding priority. I'm selling my 200-400mm lump and have no regrets, it was twice the weight of the new kit.
 

opisska

Jan Ebr
Poland
I don't know with the zooms. Most birds I try to get record shots of are barely visible in the viewfinder at 400 mms. It's probably good for getting nice pictures of birds that are close and the view through the 400 mm end is confusing, but for distant birds, I am not sure if the added weight is worth it.
 

kevinsl06

Well-known member
If you want something that has along zoom, and don't care if you get great photos I would recamend looking into Nikon P900, or P1000.
 

MKinHK

Mike Kilburn
Hong Kong
Agree with kevinsI06 about the superzoom bridge cameras - I have also tried digiscoping in woodland and missed far too much and switched over a few years ago.

As I bird by public transport and walk everywhere weight is an important consideration, and while the instant focus of the DSLR plus zoom lens will get you more shots there is a significant tradeoff in terms of the weight you need to carry.

My current superzoom is the Sony RX10iii which I carry on a diagonal Blackrapid sling and holstered in a Lowepro waist bag that also carries my water, lunch and batteries. The RX10iii only weighs a kilo and has a larger sensor than the Nikon superzooms. The RX10iii (and the even more popular RX10iv - which reportedly has outstanding autofocus) is built around a fabulous Zeiss 28-600 optical zoom lens with the option for doubling that reach through the digital zoom, although image quality drops off at that range.

Even lighter, but also more basic, is the Canon SX60 or 70. They are only half a kilo but have a similar small sensor. I had a sx50 and upgraded the the Sony in search of better quality - a decision that has proven to be fully justified.

Cheers
Mike
 

Chosun Juan

Given to Fly
Australia - Aboriginal
Really interesting and valuable responses from Essex Tern, Opisska and Farnboro John, thank you! In response to Nutcracker: it's not so much about weight (within reason), it's more about quick access. With binoculars round neck, I don't mind carrying scope+tripod on shoulder strap, plus rucksack with camera. But for rapid photography, I think better either a) to have camera or phone already attached to scope, or b) to leave scope+tripod behind, and to carry camera over my shoulder. Nobody has yet suggested (a) for quick response in woodland and similar mobile-bird habitats, so perhaps (b). Though I'm a bit sceptical that full-frame camera + 300mm will have sufficient reach for small birds, even after cropping. I guess I need to experiment, in typical conditions of irritatingly low light with irritatingly small bird moving irritatingly fast behind irritating twigs at an irritating distance of 20 or 30 m. Oh dear, that's five irritations, I think I need gin :rolleyes:
I think you need to consider weight and budget mostly.

The way I photograph might fit in with what you are looking for as I like to walk around.

I have my setup (Nikon D7200 + Tamron G2 150-600 f6.3) on a Black Rapid Sports sling. I put my binoculars on their strap around my neck under this. The camera ~2.7kg (6lbs) sits on around abouts my right hip - a hand or arm casually contacting it somewhere stops it from banging around.

If I need to view through the binoculars I just pull them up to my eyes and there's enough strap length there - ends up pivoting under the harness at chest height. That way it's a snap to view with either camera or binoculars. Sometimes I will have a small backpack on as well.

I don't carry a scope or tripod. I figure sometime in the near future I will get a new set of binoculars and phone, and a dedicated connector between the two. While it is by no means that speedy, you can get quite good IQ out of it.

So, to the camera rigs. I don't know what brand you are using, but I can highly recommend the Nikon 24MP D7200. It comes with a 1.3x in-camera crop mode, which ups the speed to 7fps. It also doubles the lens native focal length (on the APS-C sensor) - so the 150-600 becomes 300-1200 equivalent. I'm guessing this rig weighs around twice your DSLR set up currently.

For me, this is about as much weight as I would want to carry - and actually I'd prefer to be carrying 2/3 - 3/4 of it AND with increased IQ, speed, and performance. That's getting into the realms of big $ and/or stuff that's not made yet. Realistically it is the Nikon PF 500 f5.6 lens (jeez, I'd really prefer a PF 600 f5.6) , or the new Olympus 150-400 f4.5 on a E-M1 III or something.

If you want less weight than this, you'd be looking at the Nikon D7200 with 100-400 f6.3 Sigma or Tamron G2 which would still get you to 800mm in the 1.3x in camera crop mode .... expect to crop further from there. Or you could go with an MFT and 100-400 f6.3 lens, which would also be 800mm, though more expensive.

If that's still too much weight, you could get a slight reduction in the longer, better performing bridge cameras (with some attendant comprimises) , such as the Nikon P1000, P950, P900, or Sony RX-10 IV.

Whatever you go with, I highly recommend some sort of a sling system.



Chosun πŸ™…
 

nartreb

Speak softly and carry a long lens
I carried a super zoom on my recent round-the-world trip. Light and compact (easily fits in a carry on bag) , great zoom able reach (1000 mm equivalent), and the stabilization was miraculous. But zoom was slow and focus was unreliable. Very frustrating in wooded environment s.
 

Nutcracker

Stop Brexit!
I carried a super zoom on my recent round-the-world trip. Light and compact (easily fits in a carry on bag) , great zoom able reach (1000 mm equivalent), and the stabilization was miraculous. But zoom was slow and focus was unreliable. Very frustrating in wooded environment s.
Sounds just like mine!
 

stuartvine

Well-known member
After experimenting with various superzooms, I finally settled on a DSLR and zoom lens combo, Canon 7D(2) and the 100-400mm L series lens. Some people may find it a bit heavy, but it's gone all over the world in a small rucksack and I find it easy to use hand held. The water resistance of both units is reassuring too.
 

Andy Adcock

Well-known member
England
After experimenting with various superzooms, I finally settled on a DSLR and zoom lens combo, Canon 7D(2) and the 100-400mm L series lens. Some people may find it a bit heavy, but it's gone all over the world in a small rucksack and I find it easy to use hand held. The water resistance of both units is reassuring too.
My wife carries and I mean carries, a Nikon D810 with Sigma Sport lens, she dow now though, suffer carpal tunnel and often has to wear a brace on her wrist because of it.

She also tales a Macbook pro with us on holiday and will often sit at night in our hotel or B+B, editing pictures, deleting the bad ones and putting everything on a hard drive to free up camera memory. She is primarily a photographer though and carries no bins.
 

kb57

Well-known member
Europe
I find my Nikon D7200 and 300mm PF + 1.8TC on a Peak Design sling works well and is about as light as you can get for half-decent reach and DSLR image quality. It won't compete with wider aperture / longer focal length optics, but we are talking record shots here. My partner has a Panasonic G9 micro 4/3 with a 100-300mm zoom lens - the 100-400 would be better quality, but weigh more. The DSLR is undoubtedly 'better' insofar as it focusses quicker, gets more usable flight shots and has better image quality - but we carry the Panasonic much more frequently because it is more compact and lighter weight, especially if I'm taking the 'scope as well.
The only issue is I'm not sure the Panasonic would've survived getting bashed off a rock in the middle of a stream when I fell over last year - at that point I was glad I had the DSLR (not least because I'd have had some explaining to do...)
 

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