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Photographing birds - where do I start? (1 Viewer)

bonxie2003

Going for the One
Supporter
United Kingdom
As simple as that. I have put here, rather than in the equipment sections as I’m just wanting suggesting about whether or not this is worth it or indeed feasible.

I am used to be ridiculed on this forum, so I certainly don’t mind putting my head above the parapet again.

I am not an expert. In the field I find other birders comments about plumage bewildering and am not experienced enough to recognise the less green tones of the primary coverts to make a scarce warbler become a rare one.

I know this probably isn’t the answer, but I would like to photograph the birds I see. Skuas, waders, warblers and use my photographs to help me identify and become more familiar with all species.

But where do I start. Is there a one camera and lens that fits all of the above, do I still need a telescope, do I need to go on a course, will it actually help me, or should I stick to scope and binos?

In answering the above, bear in mind that I am newly retired so have time on my hand (and a little spare cash). I currently have a Nikon p500, which is great for taking photos of birds on my feeder and my mum.

Bonxie
 
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Hauksen

Forum member
Hi Bonxie,

As simple as that. I have put here, rather than in the equipment sections as I’m just wanting suggesting about whether or not this is worth it or indeed feasible.

Totally. In my opinion, from the specifications, even the Nikon P500 you already have should be good.

I bought a Panasonic FZ30 in 2006 and used it for identification shots for some 10 years , and it worked great despite having all-around inferior specs to the Nikon P500.

A scope is an entirely different affair ... a very useful tool, but depending on your mode of transport, the bulk and weight might be limiting. It also depends on where you're birding ... if the birds are mainly stationary and usually very far away, as it's often the case with shorebirds, a scope will be great.

However, for typical binocular distances, I'd expect the P500 to work fairly well. Just try it out, you'll learn something in the process and probably be able to make a better decision on what kind of modern camera you'd actually prefer. Often it's not just technology, but the "format" - bulk, size, handling - that makes a camera the right choice for you, specifically. There's no "one size fits all" in this field! :)

Regards,

Henning
 

delia todd

If I said the wrong thing it was a Senior Moment
Staff member
Opus Editor
Supporter
Scotland
Hi Bonxie I think, for the types of birds you want you will need to get a better zoom reach. And as you're used to the Nikon menus, perhaps look for a second hand one, such as the P900 or P950.

Then just practise!!

If you're going to extend the zoom you will need to provide some support. I've managed pretty well leaning against a tree or wall, or use the car roof, top of a dyke etc, anything that helps stop the wobble LOL.

With birds in flight, it can be quite difficult to lock the focus, so what I used to do was hopefully find a distant tree, lock the focus on that then try to re-find the bird in the sky. With the acquisition of the P900 I've not had to do that and got some pretty decent results (with soaring birds mostly, rather than quick fly-pasts, though have been lucky with some).

Practise.

Did I mention practise....? Try different settings. Though I'm lazy and have mine set on Birdwatching mode with continuous shooting (it fires off about 7 images while you keep the shutter depressed) great for quick moving birds as you've a chance of one of them being pretty sharp.
 

dantheman

Bah humbug
Are you talking about a 'proper' camera with expensive lenses, or a superzoom digital camera.

Is it for birdwatching too? (you talk of getting rid of your scope).

What is your budget?
 

bonxie2003

Going for the One
Supporter
United Kingdom
Thanks for the advice so far

I currently have Binos; opticron verano 8x42. Scope; Nikon edg with fep 20-60x zoom. Camera, Nikon p500.

Main problems encountered so far. Tried digiscoping. I find it only really works with fairly stationary subjects. And secondly the viewfinder or monitor on the p500 is very dark and I find it very difficult to follow the subject. I’ve tried brightening it, but still very dark.

My telescope is great, but very heavy. If I decide not to lug round my scope I need a camera to take its place. I guess

And as for practice, that is my task for the winter while I’m not panicking so much about my year list.

This is purely for birding. I don’t aim for my photos to win prizes but to be used for identification
 
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delia todd

If I said the wrong thing it was a Senior Moment
Staff member
Opus Editor
Supporter
Scotland
I've got a heavy Leica scope and arthritis means I can no longer carry it around with me, so unless I'm staying with the car or going into a hide where I can use my hide clamp, I don't use it very much now.

You'll find a superzoom (bridge camera) will be much easier, especially trudging the Cairn o' Mount hills;) Bins are still very useful so I'd still take them.

If you can see there's a distant bird in your bins, the camera zoom should get you an id'able image.
 

Euan Buchan

The Edinburgh Birdwatcher
Supporter
Scotland
Didgiscoping is fun too i.e. Putting mobile phone through your telescope, I do it when I take pictures of birds in my garden.
 

Hauksen

Forum member
Hi Bonxie,

Main problems encountered so far. Tried digiscoping. I find it only really works with fairly stationary subjects. And secondly the viewfinder or monitor on the p500 is very dark and I find it very difficult to follow the subject. I’ve tried brightening it, but still very dark.

Since the Nikon P900 has been suggested to you: Many birders are quite happy with that camera, but I think the P900 is best under conditions of generious lighting with stationary subjects.

If warblers in the forest are your thing, I'm not sure this would be the right camera for you. Personally, I use the Panasonic DMC FZ1000 for general birding, which has a large sensor and a very quick autofocus, so it's good for moving subjects even when there's no ample light. However, it won't "magnify" the birds as much as the P900 ... that's not by accident, but the result of an inevitable trade-off in camera design.

So, the above considerations are also valid for a wide range of other brands and camera models. To be happy with a camera, you have to decide what trade-off suits your needs, which makes recommendations a bit difficult ...

Regards,

Henning
 

Chosun Juan

Given to Fly
Australia - Aboriginal
Hi Bonxie,



Since the Nikon P900 has been suggested to you: Many birders are quite happy with that camera, but I think the P900 is best under conditions of generious lighting with stationary subjects.

If warblers in the forest are your thing, I'm not sure this would be the right camera for you. Personally, I use the Panasonic DMC FZ1000 for general birding, which has a large sensor and a very quick autofocus, so it's good for moving subjects even when there's no ample light. However, it won't "magnify" the birds as much as the P900 ... that's not by accident, but the result of an inevitable trade-off in camera design.

So, the above considerations are also valid for a wide range of other brands and camera models. To be happy with a camera, you have to decide what trade-off suits your needs, which makes recommendations a bit difficult ...

Regards,

Henning

Good advice :t:





Chosun :gh:
 

peter.jones

Former supporter. No longer active.
Supporter
Interesting, I looked at the FZ1000, my p900 is old now, and I'd look to change.

400mm is a lot less than 2000mm (?) for the p900 though.
I'd go with the bigger zoom, poorer camera in this case, or you are going to be flushing a lot more in pursuit of shots. P900, they don't know you are there. Video is good too, even if you just end up grabbing a still of the frame that has the bird.
A lot of practise needed to get familiar though, with whatever camera,
 

delia todd

If I said the wrong thing it was a Senior Moment
Staff member
Opus Editor
Supporter
Scotland
A lot of practise needed to get familiar though, with whatever camera,

You're right there Peter. One thing that was driving me bats in my first week with it, was the camera would suddenly zoom right out then back in!! I couldn't work out why, so couldn't work out how to stop it happening.

Ummm.... the camera shop explained what I'd been doing. I'd been catching a little button on the LHS. Now this is a very useful feature and I deliberately use it quite a bit now.

If you lose track of a moving bird, press that button and the camera will zoom out, hunt for (not sure if it's a bird shape, or movement) and will then zoom back in on that area. But I know now to keep my fingers away from that button otherwise.
 

peter.jones

Former supporter. No longer active.
Supporter
Yes, lots of buttons! I think I'm a "worse" photographer now, with a p900. I get many more average / reasonable photos these days, and use it more for identifying plants etc.
Back in my DSLR days I got the occasional really nice pic. But I don't think my part of the busy south coast is geared up for that kind of creeping up on birds etc. There is always a fence in the way, plus I'm getting a bit old for crawling around!

"Lazy" is the word I'm looking for. The p900 makes for a lazy bird photographer! Which isn't always a bad thing.
 
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dantheman

Bah humbug
I bought a secondhand Canon sx50 a year or so back for c£100. Great and straightforward, think the main downside from more modern superzooms would be the poorer flight shot capability?

If scope is heavy and unused go for eg the Nikon ED50 scope or similar instead. If below budget invest in other equipment/books/moth trap/nocmigging equipment.
 

Essex Tern

🦆🥋🏃🏻‍♂️📷🎹🎸
Supporter
England
I carry a micro 4/3 G9 with a 100-400mm (equiv 200-800mm) in a holster crossbody style with the strap, as well as say a backpack or mulepack, and always my bins round my neck. Having the camera in holster on my side ready to take out works well for me, and the function whereby I can hit a button to use the camera as a makeshift scope is very useful on occasion whereby I can often tell whether it is worth getting the scope out or not just using the extra magnification of the camera setup. Could be a useful setup for you too.
 

temmie

Well-known member
Hi,

advice from a birder who uses a camera for ID:
I almost never take the scope (only for twitches or seawatching). I take my binoculars and a canon 7D II with 300mm F4 and 1.4 extender. I walk around a lot. I try to get close enought to the birds. Without a scope, you are mobile, quick in both your movements and in raising your bins or camera if a bird is in view.

My suggestion would be to buy an easy-focusing combo that can be handheld, like the one I have, or e.g. Olympus + 300mm F4, a light Sony, or the Nikon 300F4 PF (or even the 500 PF if you are strong enough).
Some of those combinations aren't cheap, but they are very rewarding, for ID (you won't miss your scope that much), but also when there are some really good photo opportunities.

Next, you already have a binocular, but if you are committed to invest a lot of time being out there in the field, you look through your bins 90% of the time and 10% of the time through your viewfinder of the camera. So invest in a pair of good bins. I see too many photographers walking arond with heavy combinations on a tripod and a small cheap bin around their neck, and I believe their nature experience is much worse in the field than most birdwatchers with (good) bins only. Ofcourse, those guys can take that one good shot and stare at it in the evening behind their computer screen, but that wouldn't be my cup of tea.

The main thing is to have some gear you can carry around all the time, and spend a good part of your days in good places where you can expect some birds. In the end you will have close encounters, far-away-hard-to-ID birds you can photograph and everything in between + a good walk and happy memories scrolling through pics you have to pixel-peep in order to find the bird!
 

bhutjoe

Well-known member
Hi, two years ago I found myself pondering the same question re camera as you. Not being a photographer of any kind - below basic:) - I wanted a cheap, entry level DSLR with a zoom lenses. I ended up buying a Nikon B600 Coolpix, which is I think about a third of the price of the 900. Also, I am retired and the eyesight is not as good as it used to be, even when using my Swavorski binocs.

I have been very happy with the results overall. The photos have enabled me to id a number of birds that I would not have accurately id'ed in the field just using binocs.

Indeed, now if I see a bird beyond a certain distance I will take a photo or three before raising the binocs.

I have found that even my roughest photos can often be id'ed by someone on here. I should add that this forum has a number of participants who are extremely knowledgeable and very very generous with their time and sharing of their knowledge in helping others fix an id to a photo. It is truly wonderful that. If you look at some of the photos that I have posted on the Q & A board you will see examples of how the experts on here are able to id birds from my blurred or poorly lighted photos.

The downsides that I have noticed with my photos (whether me or the camera or a combo) are that they are seldom of the high quality - showing individual feathers etc - that many who post their photos on the gallery here are able to shoot. But they are, 90% of the time, good enough to tell the bird species which is all I really am asking of it. Again, I have posted a few shots on the gallery so you can see the best quality i have been able to get and compare that to others who are much more adept at photography.

The other downside is the LCD screen, which in certain light is almost "unseeable", and the difficulty I have in shooting flying birds with it.

To conclude, I am very pleased with the camera and the results have been even better than anticipated in terms of identifying bird species. All this with a very entry level camera.

happy birding
steve
 

Chosun Juan

Given to Fly
Australia - Aboriginal
Hi,

advice from a birder who uses a camera for ID:
I almost never take the scope (only for twitches or seawatching). I take my binoculars and a canon 7D II with 300mm F4 and 1.4 extender. I walk around a lot. I try to get close enought to the birds. Without a scope, you are mobile, quick in both your movements and in raising your bins or camera if a bird is in view.

My suggestion would be to buy an easy-focusing combo that can be handheld, like the one I have, or e.g. Olympus + 300mm F4, a light Sony, or the Nikon 300F4 PF (or even the 500 PF if you are strong enough).
Some of those combinations aren't cheap, but they are very rewarding, for ID (you won't miss your scope that much), but also when there are some really good photo opportunities.

Next, you already have a binocular, but if you are committed to invest a lot of time being out there in the field, you look through your bins 90% of the time and 10% of the time through your viewfinder of the camera. So invest in a pair of good bins. I see too many photographers walking arond with heavy combinations on a tripod and a small cheap bin around their neck, and I believe their nature experience is much worse in the field than most birdwatchers with (good) bins only.....

Just as a heads up for the OP - I have an APS-C DSLR setup (Nikon 24MP D7200) with a Tamron G2 150-600 on it. Not really advocating this rig as it is ~6lb (2.7kg) and even on a sling requires a dedicated effort. This camera has the added benefit of a built-in 1.3x crop, meaning that 600mm lens becomes 600*1.53*1.3 =~1200mm. Or equivalent to 24x binoculars or scope.

I don't even carry a scope, just 8x43 bins that weigh around 3/4kg. Ideally I could get a 1200mm eq camera setup (and @f5.6 too) of about 2kg or less, and full size 8x bins of ~600 grams. LOL - still waiting.

I mention all of this because there are times when I'm looking for perched birds a couple of hundred metres away, or in reeds, or whatever, and I just can't be certain of what is or isn't there with the 8x bins. So I take a photo of the area at 1200mm, and then I can zoom in a few hundred % on the LCD screen during playback, and this has helped to spot many birds, or determine numbers etc. Great !

Getting something that will have that reach, AF quickly, and not weigh a ton and be affordable is no easy task.

I can't even imagine using a scope and not being able to get even a record shot .....








Chosun :gh:
 

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