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Author Topic: System for bird photography  (Read 2625 times)

PeterAit

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System for bird photography
« on: December 28, 2018, 11:36:44 am »

My wife has become very interested in photographing birds, and with her current bridge camera (Lumix FZ-1000) has gotten a lot of very nice shots. In the pursuit of best IQ she is now considering upgrading to a full-frame system. But which one? I am not a bird photographer so cannot advise her. I use a Sony A7 so if she went with that we could share lenses. But maybe other systems are better for birds? Any advice will be welcome.
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Peter
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Dave Rosser

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Re: System for bird photography
« Reply #1 on: December 28, 2018, 12:33:13 pm »

Looking at the photographers who crowd into the hides at our local bird reserve you should be budgeting £15000+ for EOS-1D X Mark II or D5, a 600mm f/4 and a Gitzo Tripod.  :o
Seriously there are lots of amateur bird photographers spending that sort of money on their hobby but you can spend a lot less.  That said you need to budget for a full frame or APS-C SLR and a lens of at least 300mm focal length.  When I did some bird photography I had a D700 with 300mm f/2.8 plus 1.7x tele-converter. and a 180mm f/2.8.
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Mike D. B.

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Re: System for bird photography
« Reply #2 on: December 28, 2018, 12:33:47 pm »

Peter, you and your wife might want to view Glenn Bartley's (link) site for information concerning bird photography.

I don't know if you'll ever find a satisfactory answer in the quest for "best IQ", but Glenn's site offers a great deal of (his) gear information and fabulous photos.  I imagine, gear might also depend upon which birds, which country, surroundings, etc.

Good luck!
Mike
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Kevin Gallagher

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Re: System for bird photography
« Reply #3 on: December 28, 2018, 12:55:20 pm »

     Hi Pete,

     The others have offered very good advice, let me add mine. I got very interested in photographing birds around 2000 or so and soon discovered a very successful shooter named Arthur Morris. I have his first book and refer to it often. Art was a Canon shooter and for reasons unknown, after MANY years, has switched to Nikon. That's neither here nor there as I have been using Nikon from the start.

    I'm still a proponent of the APS-C size sensor as you will get the crop effect which increases say a 600 mm lens to an effective 900 mm lens without losing an Fstop or more which most Teleconverters will do.

  For most bird shots there is no such thing as too much telephoto power unless you're shooting posed or captive subjects. I had VERY good luck in the beginning by just setting out various feeders in my yard and putting attractive perches nearby to catch the various visitors as they either waited their turns at the feeders or were eating their treats afterwards.

    I also learned to use a flash booster (Better Beamer) to help when flash was required. One nice thing is that over the years, the use of high ISO settings has made it a lot easier to get nice, noise free, shots while still having an adequate depth of field. I can remember on my D1 that anything much over ISO 400 would not result in a usable shot.

    In the early 2000's up until about 2010 when I grew tired of it, my wife and I made a very good supplementary income selling our photos, notecards, etc. at the various local Art Fairs. There were also many trips to gather the usual assortment of iconic landscape shots but the birds and later, other wildlife was my primary focus.

    The print sales were also made easier (IMHO) because I did my own printing in-house and once you got your master image file the way you wanted it, it was a simple matter to reproduce it over and over in various sizes.  Hope I haven't babbled on too much and feel free to PM if you have more questions.

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Kevin In CT
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kjkahn

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Re: System for bird photography
« Reply #4 on: December 28, 2018, 01:13:26 pm »

While there is no denying the image quality possible with full-frame systems, the lenses required tend to be quite heavy. I consider 800mm to be the minimum satisfactory focal length for bird photography. Before buying expensive equipment, I strongly recommend renting to see how your wife tolerates the weight. One local bird photographer uses a Nikon D5 with a Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 800mm f/5.6E FL ED lens, often with a teleconverter. Since the combination weighs 13 pounds, far too heavy for hand-holding, he also carries a hefty tripod and gimbal head, all of which weigh at least 20 pounds. Further, since 800mm is often too much and the minimum focus distance is almost 20 feet, he also carries a second camera with 300mm lens.

A lighter (and cheaper) alternative would be a Nikon D500 and a Sigma or Tamron 150-600mm lens. The crop factor of the D500 results in a maximum equivalent focal length of 900mm.

I gave up a pro-body Canon and full-frame lens for an Olympus MFT camera and a Panasonic 100-400mm lens, the same equivalent focal length (field of view) as the big Nikon. The combination weighs about 3 1/2 pounds and all my shooting has been hand-held. Olympus is apparently about to introduce a new high-end camera and lens that should provide high quality at a fraction of the weight and cost of the Nikon system mentioned.


https://www.43rumors.com/ft5-e-m1x-has-2-truepic-viii-processors/

https://www.43rumors.com/ft5-new-olympus-150-400mm-lens-has-integrated-125x-converter-and-additional-x2-converter/

Here are a few bird photos I took with my MFT system:

http://www.kjkahn.com/birds/images/goldfinch-09.jpg

http://www.kjkahn.com/birds/images/bay-breasted_warbler-3.jpg


http://www.kjkahn.com/birds/images/osprey-30.jpg

http://www.kjkahn.com/birds/images/clapper_rail-3.jpg

http://www.kjkahn.com/birds/images/snowy_owl-11.jpg

http://www.kjkahn.com/birds/images/thrush-1.jpg

http://www.kjkahn.com/birds/images/yc_night_heron-9.jpg

http://www.kjkahn.com/birds/images/tern-23.jpg

http://www.kjkahn.com/birds/images/tern-33.jpg

http://www.kjkahn.com/birds/images/house_finch-1.jpg

http://www.kjkahn.com/birds/images/oystercatcher-11.jpg

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DP

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Re: System for bird photography
« Reply #5 on: December 28, 2018, 01:16:45 pm »

My wife has become very interested in photographing birds, and with her current bridge camera (Lumix FZ-1000) has gotten a lot of very nice shots. In the pursuit of best IQ she is now considering upgrading to a full-frame system. But which one? I am not a bird photographer so cannot advise her. I use a Sony A7 so if she went with that we could share lenses. But maybe other systems are better for birds? Any advice will be welcome.

may be you can share what your wife shoots ? sitting ducks or swifts in flight - that might make a big difference...
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Telecaster

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Re: System for bird photography
« Reply #6 on: December 28, 2018, 04:26:31 pm »

I agree with kjkahn that reach is what it's about with bird photography. You can do it with a 35mm format camera, a 400mm lens and excellent stalking/tracking skills & well-honed technique. But a smaller sensor in a lighter camera with a smaller & lighter lens of equivalent or greater reach is a more practical alternative.

-Dave-
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E.J. Peiker

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Re: System for bird photography
« Reply #7 on: December 28, 2018, 04:53:36 pm »

The new Nikon 500PF mounted on a D500 is a game changer IMHO for bird photography...
http://www.ejphoto.com/Quack%20PDF/Nikon%20500PF.pdf
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BJL

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Re: System for bird photography
« Reply #8 on: December 28, 2018, 10:46:33 pm »

I agree with kjkahn that reach is what it's about with bird photography. You can do it with a 35mm format camera, a 400mm lens and excellent stalking/tracking skills & well-honed technique. But a smaller sensor in a lighter camera with a smaller & lighter lens of equivalent or greater reach is a more practical alternative.

-Dave-
Agreed that—short of affording the weight and cost of a 400/2.8 or 500/4—the best value for money in bird photography probably comes from a smaller format system, with the shorter and likely lighter and less expensive kit needed in most situations. For one thing, zoom lenses can often have the reach that only primes offer with larger, lower resolution(*) sensors of 35mm format.

* Meaning true resolution, lines per mm, which is what counts for focal length needs in long lens photography
« Last Edit: December 28, 2018, 10:52:36 pm by BJL »
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Two23

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Re: System for bird photography
« Reply #9 on: December 28, 2018, 10:56:37 pm »

The new Nikon 500PF mounted on a D500 is a game changer IMHO for bird photography...

I have to agree.  This kind of photography is probably better with a DX camera than an FX, unless you are photo'ing owls at night.  I bought the Nikon D500 for wildlife and action sports and have not been disappointed.  It's far superior to my Nikon D800E for this.  The new Nikon 500mm PF is a killer lens for bird shots, but it's a bit expensive and right now they can't make enough of them to supply.  I've been using the Nikon 300mm PF f4 plus a TC-14E and like it a lot.  That lens works well with the Nikon TC-17E which yields 510mm f6.3 (I think).  The optics on that lens are superb, it's light enough to hand hold (and thus easy to catch birds in flight,) and the autofocus is the best available in any camera.


Kent in SD
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Kevin Gallagher

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Re: System for bird photography
« Reply #10 on: December 29, 2018, 07:49:29 am »

The new Nikon 500PF mounted on a D500 is a game changer IMHO for bird photography...
http://www.ejphoto.com/Quack%20PDF/Nikon%20500PF.pdf


 Hi EJ, very well written review and I must agree with you. I so remember struggling with my D1 and the non VR 600mm that cost me all the great outdoors!!
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Kevin In CT
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PeterAit

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Re: System for bird photography
« Reply #11 on: December 29, 2018, 10:23:13 am »

Thanks to y'all for the information.
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Peter
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bobfriedman

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Re: System for bird photography
« Reply #12 on: December 29, 2018, 01:58:42 pm »

entry level is a D500 + Nikkor 200-500/5.6 which should be handholdable.
« Last Edit: December 29, 2018, 04:21:42 pm by bobfriedman »
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Two23

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Re: System for bird photography
« Reply #13 on: December 29, 2018, 02:24:04 pm »

Another very good medium priced option is the Nikon D500 (going used for around $1,000) and the Nikon 200-500mm VR lens ($1,400 new.)  That combo will be a very noticeable increase in performance.  If I were more into birds this is the route I would go.  It's easy to get silly crazy buying camera gear for birds. :o


Kent in SD
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NancyP

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Re: System for bird photography
« Reply #14 on: January 04, 2019, 11:37:27 pm »

I am a Canon user, so I can properly advise on Canon options.
Good and affordable APS-C dSLR option for bird photography is the Canon 7D2 or less expensive 80D and Canon EF 400 f/5.6L or EF 100-400 f/4.5-5.6L IS I or II.

Cameras: 7D2 is pro-grade-construction "bombproof", heavier, more water resistant, has more autofocus points and has good autofocus customization options, has fixed LCD, has "joystick" control as well as top wheel and back wheel for changing parameters, has more custom programming settings, has maximum 10 frames/ second continuous burst shooting. I own this camera. I formerly used the Canon 60D, which is a capable old (2010) APS-C dSLR camera with much less sophisticated autofocus capacity than either the 2010 7D original or the two 2015-2016 cameras 7D2 and 80D.

80D: more plasticky construction, lighter, less water resistant, burst mode 7 per second, fewer (but respectable number of) autofocus points, has movable LCD for video shooting

Both cameras have the ability to focus at the center point at f/8 maximum effective aperture given appropriate lens and teleconverter combinations (there are tables showing compatibility).


Canon EF 400 f/5.6L is a 7 element lens, very well balanced, very light (1.1 kilo), very sharp, very fast AF, and very affordable new or used, because it is an old and relatively simple design. Once one has practiced enough to get the hang of smooth panning and shutter release, the lens is a joy to use for hand-held bird-in-flight photography. Minuses: no stabilization means that for stationary (perched) birds, one needs either a fast shutter speed or some support (tripod or monopod); relatively long minimum focus distance.  I have used this lens for 7 years.

Canon EF 100-400 f/4.5-5.6 L IS II. More versatile due to zoom and due to stabilization, sharp at all focal lengths (equivalent to affordable prime lens quality), somewhat heavier (1.6 kilo), packs better for air travel (ie shorter when at 100mm), has much closer minimum focus distance, enough so to get 1:3 magnification at 400mm. Also more expensive. I recently bought this lens. I am still getting used to the different balance and slightly increased weight of the lens.

Canon EF 100-400 f/4.5-5.6L IS I: Push-pull ("trombone") zoom, which some people love and some people hate. The new version has "twist" (usual movement) zoom. Early generation stabilization, less effective than version II. Slightly less sharp than either the 400 f/5.6L or the 100-400 v. II, but I have seen many really good photos taken with "the trombone" at 400 mm. These lenses are no longer made (replaced by v. II), but are found on the used market, and are very affordable.

Appropriate 1.4x teleconverter: Canon 1.4 TC v. II works for EF 400 f/5.6 and version 1 EF 100-400. Canon 1.4 TC v. III works for those lenses plus the newer version 2 EF 100-400.

Yes. good gear helps, and reach is essential, but practice helps more. Field skills help more. What habitat does that species of bird use, where is it likely to feed and drink - very useful to pick most likely site to find said bird species. Bird temperament - will you need a blind/hide because the species tends to be jumpy and shy, or can you just sit/stand quietly in one place, allow the bird to see you and figure out that you aren't a threat, and wait for the bird to come closer. Join the local Audubon Society, join any local nature photography club, check out eBird and local internet resources to get  info on sightings.

Finally, read this excellent site for how-to and for useful tips: http://www.digitalbirdphotography.com/
And Glenn Bartley's site has good advice and great photos.

Peter Ait mentioned the 1" sensor Sony bridge camera RX10 IV, with 25-600mm equivalent lens. This is the hot item for bird photography now, because the autofocus is said to be capable of capturing birds in flight reliably. I have not used it, but I have seen good reviews of it for birding, and there's no question that this is one of the simplest and least expensive options, and is lighter weight than the APS-C format dSLRs and appropriate lens. I would love to try it - it would be a great travel and hiking camera for birding.
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Kirk_C

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Re: System for bird photography
« Reply #15 on: January 26, 2019, 06:09:40 pm »

Cameras: 7D2 is pro-grade-construction "bombproof", heavier, more water resistant, has more autofocus points and has good autofocus customization options, has fixed LCD, has "joystick" control as well as top wheel and back wheel for changing parameters, has more custom programming settings, has maximum 10 frames/ second continuous burst shooting.

Chris Bale is a very accomplished and published bird photographer who uses a Canon 7D2.

https://www.instagram.com/thebirdbox27/
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donbga

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Re: System for bird photography
« Reply #16 on: January 26, 2019, 09:44:46 pm »

Your wife might wish to consider a bridge camera such as the Canon SX70.

The article found here is quite persuasive: Bird Photography with the new Canon SX 70

The work of this photographer with the Canon Powershot SX60 is very excellent. Take a look at his Flickr page.

Gary Helm - Canon Powershot SX60

« Last Edit: January 26, 2019, 11:47:18 pm by donbga »
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NancyP

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Re: System for bird photography
« Reply #17 on: January 27, 2019, 05:08:58 pm »

The other possibility is digiscoping (photographing through a spotting scope eyepiece), which requires nothing other than the existing camera and the existing spotting scope and maybe an adapter. For identification purposes this is fine. For web use, fine. Bad at low light.
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Hezu

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Re: System for bird photography
« Reply #18 on: January 27, 2019, 07:14:14 pm »

The other possibility is digiscoping (photographing through a spotting scope eyepiece), which requires nothing other than the existing camera and the existing spotting scope and maybe an adapter. For identification purposes this is fine. For web use, fine. Bad at low light.
I have some experience with digiscoping, specifically with Swarowski ATX 95 fieldscope and Swarowski's APO camera adapter for ILCs (I've used various Sony A and E mount cameras). For good pictures digiscoping is not the easiest task and perhaps the trickiest part is to get the focus right as you have to focus the scope manually and if your subject moves, then it makes things even trickier as tracking some fast-moving bird with scope is not always the easiest task.
But for certainly the fieldscope offers lots of reach, that Swarowski ATX 95 + APO adapter provides something like 900-2100 mm focal lengths depending on the magnification (30-70×), and getting similar focal lengths to that longer end with telephoto lenses is quite tricky and even this rather expensive field scope is still cheaper than some of the fancy fast telephoto (prime) lenses.

And since I own that scope and hauling it (and the required tripod and its head + binoculars etc.) can be bit taxing, in last autumn I decided to test drive Sony RX10 IV since I had heard lots of praise for it. And indeed, if you want a nice compact camera with very good autofocus and lens that provides nice versatile zoom range from wide angle to supertelephoto (and with decent apertures), this is very fine choice. Sure, certain controls are less tactile than those of ILCs and the 1" sensor cannot do miracles in the low light or provide the same depth of field control as larger sensors, but you have to do some compromises.

Of course, the latest Sony FE camera generation does provide also very good autofocus and the two longest telephoto lenses for E mount (FE 4.5-5.6/100-400 GM OSS and FE 2.8/400 GM OSS) are high quality optics, although the 2.8/400 prime belongs to the price category where that Swarowski fieldscope is looking to be inexpensive. But the telezoom is pretty capable too and you can even use it with teleconverters without loosing the autofocus!
I don't (currently) own either of these FE telephoto lenses and as so far my primary birding ILCs have been APS-C A-mount cameras (primarily for the extra "reach" with the crop sensor), currently A77 II, which is not bad camera either, even if it may not offer as good AF as the newer Sony cameras.
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Heikki "Hezu" Kantola

stever

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Re: System for bird photography
« Reply #19 on: January 29, 2019, 10:39:26 pm »

my experience is similar to Nancy's.  the Canon 100-400ii on a apsc camera that will autofocus at f8 so that you can use the 1.4x extender provides enough range for small birds (with patience in most circumstances) and has the IQ to make decent size prints.  the zoom gives you a reasonable chance of capturing birds in flight.  I'm not aware of any other long zoom that provides the same IQ at equivalent price. 

unless you are a dedicated professional, i think you will get fewer good images with full frame and enormous costly lenses.
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