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Author Topic: Which Camera For Birds and Wildlife?  (Read 4916 times)

Mitchell Baum

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Which Camera For Birds and Wildlife?
« on: December 30, 2008, 11:04:42 am »

I want a rugged, autofocus, weather resistant SLR with a long image-stabilized lens for shooting birds and mammals, prints to 13x19 at the largest. I would use it mainly in 3 types of situations.

1. On a tripod or shoulder stock shooting stationary or flying birds with autofocus from a distance. Does autofocus work on flying birds 40-100 feet away? (I'm autofocus ignorant.)

2. Shooting prefocused birds flying from close by with a 80-40mm lens. In this situation focus is hit or miss. (Unless I'm wrong autofocus can't lock on a bird 3 feet away flying through the frame.) In this situation higher ISO allows greater dof which increases hit rate for focus.

3. On a trip to Alaska to shoot bears on a salmon river.

I've been thinking of a Nikon 700 because the high ISO would give me good dof for situation 2 above. It would also be useful for high ISO in general which I don't now have an answer for.

But, perhaps the greater magnification of a smaller sensor like the D 300 makes more sense? Can this be offset by getting a longer lens on the D 700? What are the advantages and disadvantages?

Is there any agreement on Canon versus Nikon for wildlife shooting or just flame wars?  

Are there particular lenses and lens lengths you'd recommend?

Thanks for any help.

Best,

Mitchell


 




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Mitchell Baum

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« Reply #1 on: December 30, 2008, 11:20:38 am »

Example of situation 2:


[attachment=10615:4_07_Gol...ing_span.jpg]
« Last Edit: December 30, 2008, 11:36:41 am by Mitchell Baum »
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JohnKoerner

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Which Camera For Birds and Wildlife?
« Reply #2 on: December 30, 2008, 11:35:05 am »

This is exactly the question I have been mulling over for over a year now. I myself finally decided on the Canon 50D and the 100-400 mm zoom, for a variety of reasons:

1. If you're looking for "reach," a crop camera makes more sense than a full-frame;
2. Of the elite crop cameras available the choice is pretty much between a D300 and a 50D;
3. Although the D300 is a great camera, the 50D provides slightly better resolution and is cheaper;
4. Of the significant zooms Canon offers the better lenses;
5. In particular, the 100-400 Canon is strongest at the 400 setting, while most reviews pretty much indicate that the Nikon's 80-400 mm camera sucks and is considered objectionable at the long-end of its "reach."
6. The Canon is a 1.6 crop which turns the 400 mm into a 640 mm; the Nikon is a 1.5 crop which turns its 400 mm into a 600 mm;

Conclusion: The Nikon D300 + 80-400mm zoom costs more, provides slightly less resolution, provides slightly less reach, and its big lens pretty much sucks at its highest magnification ... while the Canon 50D + 100-400 mm costs less, provides slightly better resolution, provides slightly longer reach, and its big lens is at its strongest (or at least is still very much usable) at its longest reach.

This is basically what my research has told me and which is why I just bought the Canon 50D + 100-400 mm.

Jack




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« Last Edit: December 30, 2008, 11:36:51 am by JohnKoerner »
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Mitchell Baum

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« Reply #3 on: December 30, 2008, 11:39:58 am »

Jack,

Sounds like you've really done your research.

I'm not sure I see the advantage of zooms for this use. Any opinions on this?

Best,

Mitchell
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JohnKoerner

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« Reply #4 on: December 30, 2008, 11:56:13 am »

I guess there wouldn't be a need for a zoom at a fixed, pre-focused scenario, no.

But you mentioned "Shooting prefocused birds flying from close by with a 80-40mm lens" (I assume you meant 80-400mm), and the research I have done suggests that the Nikon 80-400 is only tolerable up to about 200 mm, and after that it performs mediocre at best. By contrast, the Canon 100-400 mm is considered still very strong (or at least acceptable) at the long-end of its reach. Since you also asked, "Is there any agreement on Canon versus Nikon for wildlife shooting or just flame wars?", I figured this (80-400mm zoom) was the tool range you were inquiring about.

Finally, Michael just did a resolution/print comparison on the 50D, 5D, 5DMkII, and 1DMkIII ... and the quality of the 50D prints were indistinguish from the higher-end Canons, up to 13x19," which was another point of consideration you mentioned. Only at larger print sizes did the 50D begin to fall behind, but up to 13"x19" its printed images were considered "professional quality" right alongside the big guns.

Hope this helped,

Jack
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Mitchell Baum

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« Reply #5 on: December 30, 2008, 12:48:00 pm »

Hi Jack,

Thanks for our reply.

I actually meant a non-zoom lens in the 80-40 mm range. The example of a Goldfinch above was taken from maybe three feet prefocused.

As for the long (300mm or longer) lens, I have very little experience with zooms (or autofocus), but it seems to me they add weight, and rob aperture speed, and I imagine it's not often I'll be too close and need to zoom when using them.

I don't know, but wonder if your preference for Canon would be different if zooms were not a factor.

Best,

Mitchell
« Last Edit: December 30, 2008, 12:51:19 pm by Mitchell Baum »
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vandevanterSH

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« Reply #6 on: December 30, 2008, 12:52:32 pm »

I have an 80-400 and the AF is too slow for BIF's.  "Bird glass" is $$$$$$$..after doing some research....the least expensive Nikon option is the 300 f4 + 1.7 TC.

Steve
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JohnKoerner

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« Reply #7 on: December 30, 2008, 01:41:00 pm »

Quote from: Mitchell Baum
Hi Jack,
Thanks for our reply.
I actually meant a non-zoom lens in the 80-40 mm range. The example of a Goldfinch above was taken from maybe three feet prefocused.
As for the long (300mm or longer) lens, I have very little experience with zooms (or autofocus), but it seems to me they add weight, and rob aperture speed, and I imagine it's not often I'll be too close and need to zoom when using them.
I don't know, but wonder if your preference for Canon would be different if zooms were not a factor.
Best,
Mitchell


Okay, I beg your pardon, you really did mean 80-40 mm then  

As far as my personal preference for Canon, it was a very tough call for me to make. The end boiled down to cost-for-camera, and then cost-for-each lens. It is just easier to "get in" to the Canon system, as well as easier to "add" to the Canon system.

That, and the fact the specific lens of 100-400 (which is what I want) is a better lens than the 80-400 mm Nikon cinched the deal. On the macro end, Nikon offers an awesome 105 mm and 200 mm macro, a hair better than the Canon ... yet the Canon's 100 mm and 180 mm macros are both very good and very comparable. And again, less expensive. That and the fact Canon also has the MP-E 65mm super macro (a toy that I plan on adding by summer), that offers a 5:1 magnification, for which Nikon has no answer, again cinched it for me.

For your specific purposes, I guess I can't offer anything useful. I thought we were a little closer in objective than what we are. Good luck to you though. I myself just bought about 6 different bird feeders to give myself as many "subjects" as possible for my recently-ordered 50D and 100-400 mm  

And by spring, I hope to add the 180 mm macro to my collection to be prepared for butterfly/spider/insect work  

I like your photos (you deleted one) and hopefully you get what you're looking for. I hope to post some neat pics here in not too long a time  

Jack
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Chairman Bill

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« Reply #8 on: December 30, 2008, 01:49:35 pm »

Andy Rouse (well respected wildlife photographer & big-time Canon user) has this to say about the D3. Might be of interest Andy Rouse

vandevanterSH

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« Reply #9 on: December 30, 2008, 01:55:54 pm »

"3. On a trip to Alaska to shoot bears on a salmon river."
***********
I would think that "long glass" would be very useful in this situation.

Steve
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GregW

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« Reply #10 on: December 30, 2008, 02:08:21 pm »

Rugged, weather proof and birds nearly always means expensive, unless you are willing to make significant compromises.

My view is that in this category of shooting more than any, the quality of your glass is what makes the biggest difference.  You can nearly always learn to focus manually given enough time and determination.

I'm not particularly familiar with the Canon line-up but if you are interested in Nikon's offerings, consider the 300mm f/2.8 VR. This is a personal favorite right now. Results are exceptional and with a 1.4 and 1.7 TC it's incredibly versatile. I'm using it on a D3 and occasionally with a D2X when I need some extra length.

You mentioned a D700, but as the 300mm f/2.8 VR is quite expensive, consider a D300 at around half the cost, if you are on a budget. You'll loose some ISO but dynamic range is similar according to DXOMark. If money is no object I know a number of dedicated birders who find the combination of a D3 and D300 excellent.
« Last Edit: December 30, 2008, 02:09:55 pm by GregW »
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JohnKoerner

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Which Camera For Birds and Wildlife?
« Reply #11 on: December 30, 2008, 02:09:10 pm »

Quote from: vandevanterSH
"3. On a trip to Alaska to shoot bears on a salmon river."
***********
I would think that "long glass" would be very useful in this situation.
Steve


I would agree there ... if I were going to be shooting kodiak bear, I sure would rather be doing it on the long-end of a 400 mm (magnified to 640 on a crop) than I would with a 40-80mm "up close and personal"  

Even if a person placed a camera on a tripod and operated via remote, he might have to kiss his camera goodbye if the bear decided to fiddle with it ... and even in a "best case" scenario I personally am not sure I would want to "go back and get my equipment" after the bear left, unless I could see a quarter mile in all directions
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Mitchell Baum

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« Reply #12 on: December 30, 2008, 02:37:04 pm »


"I would agree there ... if I were going to be shooting kodiak bear, I sure would rather be doing it on the long-end of a 400 mm (magnified to 640 on a crop) than I would with a 40-80mm "up close and personal"  "

Believe me, I'm talking about two different lenses here. A short one, and a long one that I'll use with the bears.

I was walking alone on a trail in BC last year and ran into a grizzly coming my way. I got off the trail, and she just calmly walked on by about 20 feet away. I did what I had been told and spoke softly to her. "Hello, hello, how are you?" was the best I could come up with, pretending to be calm which I was NOT. She paid me no mind and continued blessedly on. I with shaking hands changed lenses to a 90mm, the longest I had, and got some crappy snaps of her receding rear end.

It was a great experience to be that close! But very clear if she wanted to kill me she could. I will never be that close again on if I can help it. But, almost all attacks come from bears that have had bad histories with humans, including being drug darted or shot with rubber bullets in the parks. There's a couple of good bear books by Charlie Russell.


Best,

Mitchell

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Mitchell Baum

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« Reply #13 on: December 30, 2008, 03:08:03 pm »

Bill,

Thanks for the informative Rouse D3 review. I found a subsequent interview with him and he's now shooting the D3 instead of Canon.

Best,

Mitchell
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David Sutton

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« Reply #14 on: December 30, 2008, 04:36:37 pm »

Hi Mitchell. Just a few quick notes. I have a 40D, 70-200f4 and 24-105. The thing I use most on the 40D is the 3 custom functions. One set to a custom iso, f stop and AEB for for stationary birds and high dynamic range landscapes, one for live view, and one to 400iso and a custom f stop, high speed shooting and +1 stop exposure compensation for BIF. These things always take me a while to set up in camera by which time the opportunity is sometimes gone. For example shooting a landscape with mirror lockup and you hear birds approaching, it takes half a second to switch to c3 and I'm ready.
The rest I find a series of compromises. The 70-200 f2.8 would probably focus faster, but I'd get tired faster lugging it around. As it is I get a reasonable hit rate for BIF and for most people technique probably has more to do with it than the camera.
The IDmk3 would focus faster and maybe more accurately but it's a brick and I can't afford it .
The 70-200f4 also takes the 500d close up lens for macro work and the results a pin sharp though the dof is tiny and live view is probably the only way I can be sure about what I'm getting.
I'm just about to purchase a 400mm f5.6 for BIF and to get closer in general. Compromises again. No image stabilisation, but it is supposed to autofocus much faster than the 100-400 and be sharper. As I don't plan to use it much under a 500th/sec the lack of IS won't be too much of a problem I hope, and the faster autofocus is the thing I'm looking for. Big advantage: same lens diameter as the 24-105 so I only need one set of filters for the both. Big downside: won't focus under 3m.
For the shorter focal lengths in non zoom the Canon EF 85mm f1.8 USM has a good reputation and is quite cheap.
If I were starting from scratch it would be difficult choosing between Canon and Nikon. (Or Sony for that matter). I'd just go into the shop, try them out and buy the one that felt best in my hands.
Cheers, David
« Last Edit: December 30, 2008, 07:38:48 pm by Taquin »
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Fine_Art

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« Reply #15 on: December 31, 2008, 12:36:12 am »

Quote from: GregW
Rugged, weather proof and birds nearly always means expensive, unless you are willing to make significant compromises.

My view is that in this category of shooting more than any, the quality of your glass is what makes the biggest difference.

My bet on the lowest cost with good glass would be the Pentax K20D and their 300 prime. The camera is very well sealed. All their DA* lenses are weather sealed. ( I dont use Pentax)
http://www.pentaximaging.com/camera-lenses..._F4_ED(IF)_SDM/
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telyt

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Which Camera For Birds and Wildlife?
« Reply #16 on: January 01, 2009, 08:44:53 am »

Quote from: Mitchell Baum
... I was walking alone on a trail in BC last year and ran into a grizzly coming my way. I got off the trail, and she just calmly walked on by about 20 feet away. I did what I had been told and spoke softly to her. "Hello, hello, how are you?" was the best I could come up with, pretending to be calm which I was NOT.
I find it helpful to remind the bear that the foods I've most recently eaten are full of preservatives and artificial colors, so I don't taste very good.  I haven't been eaten yet so maybe it works.

Regarding the equipment choice, there's no magic bullet.  Coming as you are from high-end equipment you might find the 100-ish to 400 zooms and 14-bit AA-filtered cameras an image quality disappointment.  Wait for the R10.
« Last Edit: January 01, 2009, 09:39:00 am by telyt »
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Mitchell Baum

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« Reply #17 on: January 01, 2009, 10:34:19 am »

"I find it helpful to remind the bear that the foods I've most recently eaten are full of preservatives and artificial colors, so I don't taste very good.  I haven't been eaten yet so maybe it works."

Doug,

Thanks so much. This is just the sort of practical experience based advice I've been looking for. I'm concerned that my purely organic diet will make me smell too delicious to resist. Henceforth in bear country I will eat exclusively pepperoni, Doridos, diet soda, and Twinkies, and demand the bears get off the path.

Unlike you, I need autofocus so I'm looking to sell my DMR. Waiting for the R10, and a super expensive autofocus long lens is the best solution, but I fear a long wait. (2 years or more?) That's a lot of birds I'll miss.

I'm favoring primes, not zooms.

Best,

Mitchell
« Last Edit: January 01, 2009, 10:48:29 am by Mitchell Baum »
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Philip Weber

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« Reply #18 on: January 01, 2009, 12:14:18 pm »

Quote from: Mitchell Baum
I want a rugged, autofocus, weather resistant SLR with a long image-stabilized lens for shooting birds and mammals, prints to 13x19 at the largest. I would use it mainly in 3 types of situations.

1. On a tripod or shoulder stock shooting stationary or flying birds with autofocus from a distance. Does autofocus work on flying birds 40-100 feet away? (I'm autofocus ignorant.)

2. Shooting prefocused birds flying from close by with a 80-40mm lens. In this situation focus is hit or miss. (Unless I'm wrong autofocus can't lock on a bird 3 feet away flying through the frame.) In this situation higher ISO allows greater dof which increases hit rate for focus.

3. On a trip to Alaska to shoot bears on a salmon river.

I've been thinking of a Nikon 700 because the high ISO would give me good dof for situation 2 above. It would also be useful for high ISO in general which I don't now have an answer for.

But, perhaps the greater magnification of a smaller sensor like the D 300 makes more sense? Can this be offset by getting a longer lens on the D 700? What are the advantages and disadvantages?

Is there any agreement on Canon versus Nikon for wildlife shooting or just flame wars?  

Are there particular lenses and lens lengths you'd recommend?

Thanks for any help.

Best,

Mitchell


Mitchell - I shoot with the D700 and D300 and find both to be great although I'm sure a Canon system would serve you very well too.

Birds/wildlife shooting and weather proof camera/high quality long glass IS expensive as has been pointed out but if you have the money, I would NOT recommend the Nikkor 80-400 but rather the Nikkor 200-400. Depending on how far off the subject is (and lighting) determines whether I'll go with the D700 (my primary body) or the D300. Additionally, I use the Sigma 300-800mm EX HSM for REAL reach and if you're up for spending 7k, that's what I'd go with as they make it in both Nikon and Canon mounts. It's a lot to lug around though and if I don't think I'll need that amount of reach, the Nikkor 200-400mm (sometimes used with a 1.4x TC) works so very well...it's a world class lens and I've read that quite a few Canon shooters pine for the equivalent in their system. Michael Reichmann has written very favorably about it in LL somewhere; currently it costs approx $5,200 US.  

Another, less expensive option would be the Bigma (Sigma 50-500). It's not the best in low light but it's in their EX line of glass and they make it in almost every mount for approx 1k. I used to have one for my K10D and K20D before I switched exclusively to Nikon and coupled with the Pentax in camera anti-shake (which I miss!), it worked very well as long as the lighting was good.  

For what it is worth, those are my recommendations, based on my experience.

Wishing you the best on your research and for the New Year!

Phil
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