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Sunday, 11 July 2021

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Bird photo made with a pinhole camera-

He could rent a Canon EOS R ($88 for seven days) and an RF 600 mm f/11 IS ($37 for seven days) from Lensrentals.

I know that serious birders (and others) don't care for this single aperture lens (or its 800 mm brother) but it could be a fun, interesting and relatively low cost intro.

B&H has a nice guide to birding with long lenses.

For a casual weekend bird snapper approaching me with such a query I'd suggest they look at the Sony DSC RX10 IV.

- All-in-one design
- Easy to carry all day, MUCH lighter than any comparable ILC camera/lens combo.
- Versatile for other needs.
- Excellent Zeiss long, long 24-600mm zoom lens!
- Excellent one-inch Sony sensor (same as on the RX00 VII)
- Very good basic video facilities, too.

Yes, it's a bit pricey but lightly-used cameras can often be had at KEH, MPB, and EBay.

You can get a 1st gen Olympus E-M1 for about $400 these days. The second generation 100-300 Panasonic m4/3 lens can be found used for maybe $600 or so. It's not a bad combo, 600 equiv at the long end, pretty good auto-focus. The first two generations of E-M5 would also work. (In my experience the af speed and aperture limitation in high fps mode rules out the 1st gen 100-300.) And it's all splash/dust "proof".

Or, a Nikon 1 V2 ($200 tops) with their Nikon 1 70-300 lens (closer to $1000) but that would get him 800 mm equiv or so. Smaller lighter system but not weatherproof.

Mike,

You may be right that M4/3 is the best solution, and Olympus has some good long zooms. If your nephew is looking at the APS-C or full frame DSLR space, the Nikon AF-S 200-500mm zoom is one of the best buys for the money out there (https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1175034-REG/nikon_af_s_nikkor_200_500mm_f_5_6e.html). I own it and used it mostly for HS football games, but I have also tried a bit of bird photography with it. You are correct; it's hard. More accomplished bird photographers than I can comment on whether the maximum aperture of this lens (f/5.6) or its maximum focal length is a problem. For backyard or fairly close range shooting, it seemed adequate to me, and I have shot football at night with it and gotten good results.

I have a friend who's having great success with a Panasonic G9 and the Leica/Panasonic 100-400 lens. With the latest firmware upgrade on the G9 he says it compares favorably to his Nikon D850 and Nikkor 200-500 combo Here are some samples of his work.
https://500px.com/p/robertmangelo?stats_source=search&stats_medium=photo_grid&view=photos

RE: Birding camera. I have used the Panasonic Lumix FZ80 for a couple of years now. While I do not specialize in birds, I have found its zoom range very impressive. From my reading I have learned this camera is popular with birders. Cost is relatively low, less than $300. It was somewhat confusing to use at first, but I found it to be a very serviceable. Lots of online tutorials too.

I've been trying to photograph swifts (world's fastest bird, I believe) outside my place in the south of France over the past few weeks with a Panasonic G9 and and Panasonic 100-300 lens (so up to 600mm eq). I've had some success. (In the mornings in particular there are thousands of them.) But I've also had a lot of shots of sky and blurry bird parts. Things improved a bit when I set up a custom profile, read some things at the Panasonic site on tweaking the focusing system and downloaded the latest firmware. But often the bird is gone before the autofocus has locked on.

One of my better efforts (a crop)

https://www.flickr.com/photos/chrisbertram/51285499605

I'm into casual birding, and I just recently have the same questions, shoping for any brand that will suit my limited budget.

My first choice, of course, was looking into M4/3, but then I found that things were not so well defined as they appear in the publicity or in some YouTube channels.

The thing is, if you want good autofocus the capable M4/3 bodies are not so much little and light, and not so much cheaper than APC mirrorless or reflex.

Next big thing: the lenses. It happens that capable telephotos for birding (you want to have at least 400 mm Full Frame equivalent) for M4/3 are also not that cheaper and lighter.

In the end, I think the very slim advantage on weight and price do not counter the disadvantage of the smaller sensors (This is my conclusion about birding, M4/3 cameras have many great features that can be very useful for other types of photography).

Plus, the actual M4/3 bodies are getting old, and the future of the format is not clear right now.

I went with a Fuji XT-3, because I found one new for the price of an XT-30, which was in my budget limits. I think both are well suited for identification birding (the XT-3 is faster, and body-sealed).

And Fuji just introduced the lens best suited for my budget and needs, the Fujinon XF70-300mmF4-5.6 LM OIS WR 300mmF4-5.6 LM OIS. It is lightweigh, sealed, has image stabilization and you can use it with the Fujinon XF1.4X TC WR without compromising the image quality too much, wich expands its reach to 630mm FF equivalent at f8.

Of course, its not a bright lens, but Fuji sensors will give much better high ISO results that any M4/3, and more room for cropping.

I'm not a true expert bird photographer, but I do photograph birds a fair amount. I've used a Canon DSLR with Canon 500mm f/4, but sold that lens to pay for more Micro 4/3 equipment. The Olympus 300mm f/4 lens is excellent, and you can couple it with a 1.4x or 2x extender for more reach at a far lower price than the equivalent in N/C/S gear. I use an Olympus OM-D E-M1 mk II (horrible naming) and switch off between hand-held and tripod use. Here's a photo link showing one photo I made with that lens, body, and 1.4x converter. https://www.smugmug.com/app/organize/Ospreys
My only fear about Micro 4/3 is the recent Olympus kerfuffle.

I'm not a bird person, but if your nephew is comfortable with Fuji, I would suggest looking for any of the X-T2 or later mirrorless reflex models, which must be pretty inexpensive by now, and the 100-400 image-stabilized Fuji lens. That lens is impressively stable, and offers effectively 600 mm maximum range on an APS camera, and the Fujis have nice color rendition. Good copies of both should be available used, and they just work.

Cameras than work well with, and, 'super-telephoto' lenses are large, heavy, difficult to use and expensive. I know, because I use them.

Best advice: get up close, start small, build your own small hide. Many wonderful bird shots have been taken 'close-up', try that first.

Nikon D7500 can be had for relatively cheap these days. It is not as good for the purpose as a D500, but more than enough quality and cheaper. I used both cameras and can highly recommend the D7500 for photographing birds and wildlife.

I don't have but have heard good things about the 70-300 AF-P full frame lens from Nikon, although I don't have that lens so I can't speak from first-hand experience. With the crop factor, that takes him to 450 mm equivalent and should be enough for what he wants to do.

I would ask your nephew what focal length on the Fuji he finds adequate for his photos and if he doesn’t know (likely), get him to send you some samples so you can look at the EXIF.

My brother in law, a hardcore birder, uses a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ2500. He likes not having to change lenses. The camera has a 1-inch senor.

There’s a saying among cyclists whenever a new rider asks for advice before buying a bike: “Light, strong, inexpensive... you can only pick two.” Similar thing definitely happens in photography. Your nephew didn’t specify what he considers “inexpensive” for a DSLR but listed features that expensive cameras (or lenses, rather) would have. That said, I agree that micro four thirds would be a good consideration because of the sensor size. And he seems to be interested in just getting documentation type of photos with enough detail instead of the bokeh-licious variety, so he wouldn’t need a lens with a large aperture.

I’m the one who commented about photographing ravens during the pandemic in a previous post. It’s much different than what I used to think of when I heard of birding photography — 100 feet away, stealthy, with a massive telephoto lens. My experience with ravens feels more similar to shooting cats or dogs (ravens somewhat remind me of Black Labradors) because I’m mostly doing portrait type of photos from 2-3 feet away. www.keithsong.com/galleries/ravens Shooting moving subjects is not my forte and doing it with a Fuji X-T1 has been an added challenge because of its modest autofocus capabilities. I had never used the electronic shutter function of the X-T1 but I vaguely remembered reading about how quiet it is. I tried it for the first time last year and it’s what I use all the time now with the ravens. Although most of them have become familiar with me and my camera, I prefer completely silent shooting.

I’ve never really done this type of photography myself but I have participated in forums where a significant percentage of posters did, so I am familiar with the complaints…

I think the key to successful bird photography is the lens; you need longer than you think. In Canon-land a favoured combination is a Canon APS-C DSLR and the Canon 100-400 Mk2, which on a Canon APS-C camera is the equivalent of 640mm at the long end. Of course that’s a very expensive lens. The Mk 1 is cheaper but not as good. Alternatively, there are Sigma alternatives - 150-600, I think, and others - which are a lot less expensive. Lots of photographers then pair their lens with an 80D or 70D, or (if they need the robustness and better sealing) a 7D Mk 2. The 80D is perhaps the sweet spot - a well-featured body with good-enough resolution, plus better DR than its predecessor (70D). The T7i (800D) is pretty much the same camera as the 80D in a lighter body but note that it doesn’t have micro-focus adjustment which many bird photographers believe is essential, given the long focal lengths that they use. The 90D is best avoided - the very high resolution (32mp) on an APS-C sensor requires exquisitely careful technique - many experienced bird photographers upgrading from the 7DII, 80D or 70D to the 90D really struggle to get images in focus, or to get the focus point where they want it. (The 90D is excellent for other forms of photography, e.g. travel & landscape where very long lenses and wide apertures are not used as commonly.)

There are of course Nikon equivalents to all of the above, but I’m not familiar with them.

I'm sure Thom Hogan will chime in here eventually.

Before I try to answer, let me try to see if I understand the question correctly. David states that DSLRs have gotten quite cheap lately, by which I assume he means, the used prices have become quite favorable for what he is looking for.

I think this is a reasonable observation. Further, I think a DSLR is likely to be the right answer instead of mirrorless because, for the same money, DSLRs focus better.

For the camera, my thinking is to go with the top of the line APS-C camera from either Canon or Nikon. So for Nikon that is the D500, D300, or D200, for Canon the 7D series. Maybe the level below that, so for Canon two digit number followed by D, for Nikon D7_00. My feeling is that speed does not trickle down quite as directly or as quickly as megapixels.

As for lenses, given the choice of stabilization or a wider aperture at a similar price point, choose aperture. For birding, you are limited by the movement of the birds, less so hand shake. The 70-200 f2.8 lens has a long history. Go as far back in the catalog as will make it affordable.

If he checks Keh, he'd find a Lumix G Vario 100-300 f4-5.6 for $351, and a GX7 for $206 or a G95 (a pretty late model camera) for ~$700. That would be a solid, lightweight birding kit to which he could add a tele-extender if he wished, for a bit more reach, and then additional lenses if he wished to get into more photography. Also, he doesn't need the most highly corrected lenses since the birds are usually in the middle of the shot...

I aspire to being an excellent bird photographer and have the throwaways to prove it. I’m an advanced newbie with enough money to buy any kit, which is usually unreasonable for a real newbie, so no names.Years ago I obtained some slides of ducks and geese near Lock and Dam 26 (near the Missouri/Mississippi confluence just north of St Louis) with my Nikkormat and a Nikon 50mm. I was sorely disappointed in the un-magnified slides with dust specks. Those specks, magnified to dots, were my subjects. I take two general types of bird photos and favor birds in action: images for identification and images for showing or printing. I avoid taking photos through vegetation unless they are for ID only. Birds can move fast, and manual frequently is not good enough. I do not know how antediluvian bird photogs could manually focus at my age. Vegetation can mess with autofocus too much. I set up a feeder to train with. Obtain a good short tele- to (super)tele zoom lens (eg70-300,100-400 or more-more is much better), I rarely use normal lenses for birds. I find the favorite lens discussions here amusing. Many of my closeups are 300-700mm shots. I own a big white lens (camo covered) that is not a show-off item. 500mm or more has gotten me some of my favorite images that would have been unobtainable otherwise-bird fights, nesting birds, fledglings, portraits. Crop sensors really help. Till recently I favored APS-C cameras with fast focus and the ‘magnification’ that results. I start with the highest 'not to noisy' ISO and stop down the lens little to none. That last setting works against ‘through the vegetation’ shots-maybe not enough in focus. For ID perhaps, an f-stop of 8 or 9, may sharpen the field marks more. Since noise is a lesser issue with ID then the higher ISO the better to allow faster shutter speed and aperture. Post processing using increased exposure (I frequently underexpose to allow increased Shutter speed and f-stop in camera) oversaturation, higher vibrance, clarity, and sharpening has helped me ID a bit.

I assume he means DSLR loosely as in a "real" camera.
https://www.dpreview.com/reviews/buying-guide-best-cameras-for-sports-and-action
I'm m4/3, but birding requires speed, so large sensors have advantages. That said I don't do serious birding as I don't have the patience. Which is the most important thing for birding. But he seems to have some idea what he's looking for.

PS: And as you well know cameras are improving slowly, so used may be a good value.

My son (who knows nothing about photography) has been taking amazing bird and nature photos with a Panasonic Lumix FZ1000 and the quality is really surprising me. 25-400 equivalent lens and 1" sensor makes for a great combination.

I have used several different kits for birding, but would recommend the Nikon D500 with the Nikon 200-500mm f5.6. It is fairly inexpensive and there are often good deals on the used market. Telephoto primes are easily several thousand dollars.

Have him check out the Nikon D950 and D1000. DSLR in size but 2000 and 3000mm focal length equivalents on the long end and 24mm on the wide. Canon has an SX70HS with 21-1365mm equivalent lens.

Easy to use and no interchangeable lenses to take off and get dust on the sensor.

Panasonic DMC-G8/85/81/08 (all the same, just for different markets) with the Leica 100-400 Zoom (200 to 800 equiv.). Can be shot hand held due to good stabilization and at ~1 kg (2 lb, lens only) still somewhat portable. I had the lens with me on a trip to Galapagos and never felt the need for a tripod. Manual focus works nicely with focus peaking (blue fringes in the sharp region).

I'd say G81 and not G9 or G90 just for budget reasons. The lens might be picked up on ebay used, the body should be quite a bit cheaper now than it was when the camera came out. The G-81 (mine) and the G90 are a bit smaller and lighter than the high end G9.
Otherwise the G9 would be the tool to choose. Obviously, there are similar choices from Olympus and more expensive ones too.

But beware, the 100 to 400mm has such a long reach that you get similar problems as with a telescope: it is quite hard to aim properly at 400mm. Thus, you often need to zoom out to ~100mm just to find your target. And with 100mm at the widest setting, the lens is hardly usable for other things than birds and wildlife.
Thus, a lens like the 45-200 might be more versatile (and lighter and cheaper and, maybe, just good enough).

Micro 4/3 is probably the way to go, as it effectively magnifies focal length, and you just can't have too many mm's when photographing birds. They're smaller than you think. Nowadays long kinda slow zooms are pretty darned good, given modern high ISO performance.
You also need excellent fast autofocus, so small digicams generally won't do the trick.
Mike, the bird was probably a red tailed hawk. They're the most common birds of prey here in the Finger Lakes, and juveniles can be surprisingly tolerant of close approach. They're quite large, up to a 6 foot wingspan.
This one was sitting on our yard swing, about 12 feet outside my window. It stared at me for about 15 minutes before it finally flew off. IMG_3430

Fifteen years of living on a farm in rural CA with about 50 species of birds led to some interesting bird photography - and thousands of photos. I was shooting Oly M4/3 at the time and wanted something longer than the 40-150 tele I used on trips. It worked fine on safari with elephants, but I needed more reach with birds. I chose the Panasonic 100-300 lens over the equivalent OLY because it had image stabilization in the lens so I could test whether the lens or Oly IBIS worked best. I found I could not tell the difference.
I also bought a clamp-on tripod mount for the lens from an individual in Germany, if I remember right. That got little use since image stabilization worked fine and hand holding is good for following birds.
You need to set up the camera so it can autofocus + manual focus. Birds are tough focus targets especially around limbs and leaves.
You also need to be able to quickly adjust exposure. I used P mode and had a control set up for exposure compensation.
Here is a unretouched sample image of a crow with the Pana 100-300.

Crows are a pain because of the exposure. They are really black and hard to show feather detail.
All this was several years ago, but I'd recommend the new Pana 100-400 and either an Oly or Pana camera.

I use a cheap and good Leica camera for my bird photography.

It's the V-Lux 4 with a constant f2.8 aperture and zooms from 25-600mm. You might like to search the "pre-loved" market for it.

Here is a link to it's description:
https://cameradecision.com/review/Leica-V-Lux-4

How about a new pretty much impossible category in my view, butterfly in flight. It would seem you need a camera like the Nikon D500 with it's 10 second 200 shot spray and pray capability.

:) Just a thought.

I tried photographing birds several years ago. It ain't easy. I discovered backyard birds were my best source of photos so I set up feeders and bird baths all over the place and set myself in the middle of them all. It worked out pretty good but it still wasn't easy. Plus I had to deal with the !@#$! squirrels robbing the feeders.

I used an APS-C Canon and a Canon EF 400mm ƒ/5.6 lens and cropped a lot. Four hundred millimeters is not very long when you're working with bird-size subjects. But I think bird shooter expert Arthur Morris said he used the 400mm Canon lens handheld for large birds in flight.

Although I never did it, I considered buying or constructing a portable blind to use in the backyard. A shorter lens would have worked if I had done that. Today, a Micro 4/3 body with IBIS and/or a stabilized lens would be ideal.

Birders don't necessarily need special equipment to get interesting photos. Here are two shot sightings shot with an iPhone.

This is a great blue heron. Great is right - he's very big - almost a meter/yard tall. He was spotted at Paramount Ranch in the Santa Monica mountains on one of our hiking trips. What is a heron, usually found around lakes, doing in the high desert? We asked the park rangers and they laughed. The heron comes to the area to catch ground squirrels. It eats them by swallowing them whole! Here's a video of one in action:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MVJH0kBPT8E

Second sighting - on our balcony in Santa Monica - through a screen and glad door. A red-shouldered hawk, a small hawk about the size of a crow landed on our balcony. He was looking all around for some reason.

He jumped down on the small table we use for outdoor dining.

Then down on the floor of the balcony and hid under the shelf used for a herb garden.

The the reason he was hiding showed up - a crow. Crows and Hawks often get into battles in the air - they seem to be mortal enemies - so the hawk was just hiding from the crow.

The crow was either fooled or unwilling to go down to the floor after the hawk so he flew away. Then the hawk hopped back up to the balcony edge and flew away.

Birding can be competitive - counting sightings - or can just be fun watching bird behavior!

He should consider second hand. A ten-year-old pro Canon or Nikon might have the autofocus he needs on a budget. Then spend on the lens. Alternatively, an APS-C camera makes your lens longer. Just be aware, following a bird in flight is pretty difficult with any camera!

If David's birding interests are limited to large shorebirds, a full frame equivalent focal length of 400mm to 600mm will be sufficient to capture the detail described. However, if his goal is small songbirds (e.g., a hooded oriole), his sole low cost option is to use a photo blind (and supplement with lots of luck).

At a minimum, songbirds will require a full-frame equivalent focal length of 800mm to 1,000mm, and the lowest cost path to that objective is probably this (coming soon) new product from Nikon: https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1538573-REG/nikon_coolpix_p950_digital_camera.html

Do note that the use of a so-called "one inch" (e.g., 8.8mm x 13.2mm) sensor size camera is not sufficient to provide the required optical magnification.

One approach would be to start with an excellent lens and build from there. I purchased the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 VR lens several years ago, and it has been used with a Nikon D610, a D780, and now a Z7. Used D610 bodies are about $600-$700 dollars used, and the 200-500mm lens is just around $1400 new. That's a couple of grand for a very respectable kit.

It's a big kit though, and while handholding the 5 lb. stabilized lens is possible, best results require a tripod. Set aside money for that, and even more if a gimbal tripod head is desired.

Here is a shot with the lens used on a D780 body.

One thing to remember is that heavy cropping is often required. Don't be stingy with megapixels.

I am currently using the Nikon 1J5 with the ftz adapter and the 70-300 afp vr dx lens.

The Nikon D500 along with the 500 EPF would also be a good suggestion

I have been photographing birds for many years and a key factor in all of this is speed of focus and long enough focal length to capture images good for identification and of course good images. After using DSLRs with large lenses for many years I switched to the Sony RX-10 IV and have been very happy with the results. Since affordability is also an important factor the camera that many birders use for field identification is the Nikon Coolpix P900. The image quality is not as good as the Sony but it is fine for field identification and costs half the price new or even less at a used dealer.

I spent close to two hours yesterday morning photographing a great assortment of birds. Red-winged Blackbirds, Bushtits, Dublin, a Great Blue Heron, and an American Bald Eagle. My lens was the surprisingly good Sigma 100-400mm lens in F-mount, attached to the Nikon V2 via the FT1 adapter. For perched birds that lens + body combo works very well. Once birds are in flight it sucks.

I am also looking for a new “birding body” to pair up with my Sigma 100-400. I am considering the Nikon Z50, which can be purchased as a bundle with the amazingly-good 16-50mm and 50-250mm lenses - or with the 16-50mm kit lens plus FTZ adapter to mount my Sigma to it. The Sigma works very well with the Nikon D7500, which I borrowed for two hours from a Nikon rep during a sponsored photo bird walk, and used to get hundreds of good bird photos. Nice camera! The D7500 is quite reasonably priced for an enthusiast DSLR. The D500 is highly recommended by many, but is a bit pricey.

I don’t know how much size and weight factors into what your nephew might choose, but zoom lenses that zoom out to 500mm or 600mm tend to be quite bulky and heavy.

Other camera and lens combos that might be worth considering…
- Canon EOS 7D Mk. 2 or 90D + Sigma or Tamron 100-400
- Canon EOS RP + Canon RF-mount 600 or 800 collapsible lenses
- Sony a6400 + E-mount Sigma 100-400 or Tamron 150-500
- Olympus E-M1 II or Panasonic G9 + Olympus 100-400

None of these camera + lens combos are particularly cheap. But none of them break the bank like a pro-level camera body with a 600mm f/4 lens mounted onto a gimbal atop a robust carbon fiber tripod would.

Used gear is an option suggested by others here. It is definitely a great way to stretch the photo-gear dollar. At least half of my gear was purchased used.

I wish your nephew best of luck with making a decision.

I can second the Panasonic Lumix FZ80. I use it for the convivence and cost. I think the thesis of his ask was photography for "documentation" purposes and not necessarily "artistic" purposes. As a newer birder myself I found the FZ80 had the speed and range that I was looking for. With it I could document a bird was in fact what I thought it was or use the "review the tape" as it were to make a determination later on. Often identifying subspecies or gender is easier "in review". Also, small birds with small features can be very elusive. I am curious to see all that is discussed as I have found that documentation can tend to evolve into a more artistic pursuit. I always expected that if my photography (film) and birding hobbies merged that I would need a better solution. I'm still in the utilitarian phase, but have gained a tremendous respect for those who make birds the subject of their art.

To get into bird photography without blowing the budget and see if you really want to photograph birds, an easy, less capital intensive suggestion is buy a used Canon 7D markII and a Canon 400mm f5.6 L lens. The combination will give him lots of satisfaction and assure early success. The 400mm Canon lens is absolutely one of the sharpest and fastest focusing long lenses out there. I've been using the lens for over 20 years with a variety of Canon cameras(initially with a 20D all the way through to the 7D). I recently switched to a Sony A7RIV and the Sony 200-600 lens...but that's a whole other price range.

Mike,

I have been doing a lot of bird photography over the last 15 months. Sadly, “inexpensive” and “bird photography” don’t really go together! Bird photography is hard and any remotely “affordable” setup is going to have compromises. To get fast shutter speeds with lenses mere mortals can afford, you end up pushing ISO up under many lighting conditions. Fortunately, good noise reduction software (e.g., Topaz DeNoise) can often, although not always, do a remarkably good job at improving high ISO shots. Any modern DSLR has sufficiently fast shutter speeds available so that shouldn’t be a concern for your nephew; the hard part is having enough light to use those fast speeds, which are necessary to freeze bird movement (they rarely stay still!).

Unless your nephew is going to mostly be shooting backyard feeder birds, 70-300 mm kit zooms are not going to be long enough so I’d recommend AT LEAST a 400 mm lens. With small birds, you just never can have enough focal length so cropping will be inevitable. For DSLRs, the various Sigma or Tamron 150–600 mm zooms are reasonably priced options. If he ends up with a Nikon DSLR (D7200 or D7500 would be excellent choices), the Nikon 200–500 mm lens is popular with birders too. In the m4/3 world, the 100–400 mm zooms from Leica Panasonic & Olympus would give excellent reach. I have used the Leica Panasonic version and the build quality was great but the zoom ring is a bit hard to rotate. (For that reason, I’d probably gravitate toward the Olympus, but I don’t have personal experience with that lens.) I shot a rented OMD EM1 III and Pany 100-400 combo and loved the portability and the image stabilization was great! I felt the image quality, although fine, was not quite as sharp as the Canon 90D APS-C system I also used.

I find that image stabilization is still useful with these long focal length equivalents even though one might think it is not necessary when using fast shutter speeds. Keeping highly magnified views of your subject steady in the frame when handholding supertele focal lengths is not always easy.

If budget is a primary factor, I think a Sony RX10 mkIV might actually be a really good choice if you can get it on sale (seems like it is pricier now than when I last looked a few months ago). It gets you a 600 mm equivalent lens with Sony’s fast AF system. It’s 1” sensor would still be a step up in image quality from the tiny sensor super zoom camera he had been using. It is also a lot more compact than any other interchangeable lens system would be. My wife tried this out on recent birding outings and liked the camera well enough that we will probably end up buying one for her. Although expensive for a bridge camera, it would still be hundreds less than the APS-C or m4/3 options. Otherwise, a Canon 90D + Sigma 150–600 Contemporary lens or the aforementioned Nikon combo would be very good reasonably priced (for birding) choices. The extra resolution of the 90D over earlier Canon bodies can be helpful for cropping and keeping enough resolution to make out smaller field marks for identification. Of course, shopping used cameras would be one way to bring down the cost.

Certainly the industry is moving toward mirrorless and if the budget allowed, I’d probably recommend the Canon R6 or R5 for their amazing bird eye AF but it sounds like that won’t be an option. I now shoot with a Sony full frame system and have to say that for all of the advantages of mirrorless (and there are multiple), I do find it more difficult to locate a bird in foliage through the electronic viewfinder than through an optical viewfinder. Score one for the DSLR.

In the end, no matter the system, getting good bird photos takes lots of practice!!

Mike, David mentions only wanting to accurately record identifying field marks. I’m not a birder, but I’ve spent time carefully observing wildlife, and for me the best tools for that have been a good mental catalog of field marks, a standard set of questions to guide me through the field mark ID process, and concentration while looking.

So I question the need for a camera at all. Even with a huge telephoto, most birds look tiny in the frame close up and in good light. Don’t even talk about bad light and obscuring vegetation, and typical bird flight distances. Just good binoculars and something to record observations? Birders talk about binocs plenty. Maybe bird websites, books, and club members have advice about cameras and lenses.

Stepping back a bit: there are so many different kinds of birds, so many different shooting conditions, and so many different motives for photographing them, that the choosing the right rig depends on particulars.

A used Sony RX-10 Mk 3 or better, a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ2500, or a nikon Coolpix 950 would like be the least costly way to hit close to his goal. Anything 'better' is more, anything cheaper would not get the job done any better than what he has, since you need more than 300mm equivalent most likely.

I think it's really between the Sony RX10 IV and the Nikon P950. The Sony has great AF and a brighter lens (f/4 at 600mm equivalent), and should give better photos across the board up to its maximum zoom. The RX10 IV is the camera I take when I head out and don't know what I will encounter, and it handles everything with aplomb. It would be the camera I recommend to anyone who has $1300-1700 to spend, doesn't mind a bit of bulk, and wants the best all-around camera you can just buy and not think about anything beyond that.

On the other hand, the Nikon P950 is as close to a "birder's camera" as I've seen. The sensor is tiny, but you can't argue with 2000mm equivalent, and owners seem quite happy with it. It's also a fair bit less expensive if you can find it in stock ($900 new vs. $1300-1500 used for the Sony). Some examples I've seen show smeary (lack of) detail at maximum zoom in okay lighting, but it's probably the best option strictly for bird ID photos. If that's really all your nephew is looking for, it's probably the best option.

To give any kind of recommendation we need to know what type of bird photography is going to be undertaken. At least a few orders of magnitude exist between stationary birds (such as ducks on a pond) and small erratic birds in flight. The former can be photographed with pretty reasonable gear, the latter benefits from the highest performance money can buy (and that might not be enough). Long focal lengths—300mm full frame equivalent is probably the absolute bare minimum, 500mm+ is preferred—and fast, reliable continuous/tracking autofocus are a good place to start. APS-C bodies have the benefit of functioning as a full-time tele extender (1.5–1.6x crop factor), but every choice has some kind of trade off to contend with.

Check out the recent Audubon photo contest winners for what kind of kit is required for serious bird photographers; it ain’t a poor man’s hobby…

If he can’t reach to a Sony RX-10 IV for $900-1000 used on eBay, then what sort of budget level are we to be serious about?

If you need it to be new, then hard to beat a twin-lens-kit DSLR from the white goods stores, e.g. Nikon D5600 with 18-55 and 70-300mm lenses for about $700 new open box.

Although his request not to be fooled into AF on twigs in front of birds is pretty advanced, and needs a fairly advanced AF module — and he would need to learn its intricacies, and even then realise that failures will still happen.

Cheers

I use a Panasonic G85 body with a Panasonic 100-300 f/4-5.6 zoom. My brother uses an Olympus body with the Panasonic 100-400 zoom. In good light, with good technique, both rigs produce nice sharp images. We both crop freely, because with bird pictures you just do.

Two observations: First, good bird pictures are shot from up close. Getting close is the main thing. That means knowing the birds and learning to hang out where they hang out.

Second, the serious birders I meet tend to have expensive binoculars and spotting scopes, and they are carrying cheap superzoom cameras. The bird photographers have the exotic cameras and lenses. Depends on which one you want to be.

almost anything will work

it's all a matter of what degree of frustration you can tolerate

a 300mm equivalent will get you in the ballpark for general capture

i personally use a panasonic point and shoot as a solution when walking or fishing

a kit with a longish zoom would let you know if you really need more camera

i gave an old dslr with a 70-300 to a nephew for just bird ID and it's worked well...the entire kit was selling for a couple of hundred at keh at the time

The Robert Angelo 500PX link provided by Randall Teasley tells you all one needs to know about Panasonic Lumix G9 quality. The same applies to older, used Lumix M4/3 cameras with the same sensor and image stabilization. John Camp’s post tells you what combination of gear will produce the same result at a fraction of the price and where to get it.

Maybe he should get one of these. I have one on order:
https://mybirdbuddy.com/

They have a very clever Kickstarter video:
https://youtu.be/VPCGr5xcVtY

They are very close to shipping it.

There’s a sort of semi-wilderness near my home where I often go on my bicycle for some fresh air. In the middle next to a swampy lake is a concrete cabin for birdwatchers. Most of them only carry binoculars. By far the most popular lens among the photographers seems to be the Samyang 650-1300mm f/8.0 - f/16.0. A ridiculous stovepipe, but also very cheap. Available under several other brand names as well.

A low cost option
Panasonic G85
Panasonic 100-300 2nd version
The camera has 16 mp but an improved iteration and combined OIS and IBIS

It is not state of the art but you can buy this cheaply on ebay etc.

It also has passable video if needed and unlike the Olympus has a good grip enabling one handed use with shorter lenses.

FWIW I think the advantage of m43 is its small lightweight form .

I am using Fuji more nowadays but the above is a cheap way in ….

Another vote for the Sony DSC RX10 IV.

The zoom is fantastic and the image quality is decent.

Best of all, it is compact and you will take it with you.

No, it will not match the image quality of a fixed 600mm (or longer) lens on a DSLR, but there are very, very few people who are dedicated enought to carry around something that heavy.

m43 sounds good on the face of it, but I haven't figured out what lens is decent without getting into pricey pro zooms. DSLRs have lots of great, affordable teles available from surprisingly good 3rd party options like the Sigma 100-400 to OEM lenses like Nikon's 200-500. A refurb D7500 and an on-sale 100-400 is going to come in less than an RX10 IV. I have an RX10 III and get better photos with the DSLR. The RX10 III is known to ... well, suck ... at AF at the long end of the tele range, and while sharpness is surprisingly good for a lens that covers 24-600, the DSLR still has it beat. A used or refurb D7500 should under $800 and the 100-400 goes on sale for $700 or less. And that's a reasonably hand-holdable lens.

I go birdwatching at least a little every day. I've been using a Sony RX10 iv for a couple of years. It's been fine for everything but birds in flight (and really, my problems there are mainly my bad technique).

Before that, I used a Panasonic GX7 with the 100-300mm zoom; I used those long enough to actually wear them out. A m4/3 with such a zoom is very good, I only switched away before I wanted the larger focal range without switching lenses.

I've also used the Nikon P900 which was...OK for ID shots, and a useful substitute for a spotting scope when scanning distant flocks of shorebirds. (The RX10's zoom viewfinder mode is actually better for that.)

I looked at the cost of getting into BIF shots and know that I am too lazy for a blind. I have settled for my imagination and a decent pair of binoculars.

True bird photographer does not use long lens. True bird photographer uses moderate wide lens. If pictures are not good enough, true bird photographer knows this is because they are not close enough. True bird photographer thinks little of spending a year or more allowing a bird to become used to their presence. True bird photographer takes pictures of birds in nests by being in the nest (for this macro lens is allowed), of birds in flight by constructing wings. Some true bird photographers have dedicated whole life to production of a single image.

True bird photographer, of course, uses only reversal film. If serious this will always be Kodachrome: true bird photographer has of course bought substantial stock before 2009, and does not regard the processing required as unduly arduous, certainly not compared to the years of work required to make a good image. After all it is a mere matter of chemistry. Often it is believed that Kodachrome was designed to render caucasian skin-tones well: true bird photographers know that this was merely a convenient fiction for the purposes of funding. Kodachrome was developed to faithfully render certain transcendent hues in the plumage of Loddigesia mirabilis. To this day no other medium can render these hues correctly. This is, perhaps, not undesirable as a true perception of these fearsome colours often can prove fatal to the unprepared.

I mention in passing the late Una Persson, regarded by many true bird photographers as the finest practitioner of the art. What is technically so distinctive about Ms Persson's work is the use of an 8x10 camera, which she used exclusively. She used, of course, only Kodachrome. This fact has been disputed by the ignorant, who point out that 8x10 Kodachrome was discontinued some years before her birth. Am in a position to state with some certainty that Ms Personn indeed bought a substantial stock of 8x10 Kodachrome, and did so some years before she was born. The details of how this was done I am not at liberty to reveal (I mention only the chronology protection laws which must of course be maintained: you will understand I am sure).

Her work is only viewed (can only be viewed) in the original. Attempts at duplication of the images were once made: the death toll was above ten thousand I understand. The details of the event are not public however: the island is not officially acknowledged ever to have existed, still less to exist now. I have been there: the radiation burns do heal with time.

Uma Persson's heroic death while photographing Diomodea exulans is well-known in the community. After several weeks aloft it seems that the adhesive in her flight suit failed – perhaps owing to extreme sunlight – and she fell to her presumed death (curious it is that her body never has been found). Fortunately her last dark slides survived and although salt-damaged images were recovered. Understand they are to be shown presently to a select few who are both able to appreciate the images and have the strength and training to survive the experience.

I am not one of these few.

I got a new D7500 for telephoto work for $800 in 2019 and suspect they can still be found. That paired with any number of tele/zoom or primes should be more than adequate.

P1000 is great for walk around and bird Id as Thom said. For type, may I add distance and size. A 300 f4 plus d500 (I like my 70-200 with 1.7, not my 500 due to sharpness) goes a long way for close by bigger birds. But for small one as the hk birdie would say all paths leads to 600f4 (nicked name 684 in Cantonese). Not whether but when.

Mike,
Camera Ergonomics suggests this Canon equipment for imaging birds in their habitats:
http://cameraergonomics.blogspot.com/2021/06/canon-eos-r5-with-rf-100-500mm-l-lens.html

As your other readers have suggested, the Sony X10 IV is also recommended by Andrew Smallman for birds in flight. I find his writing to be interesting and well thought out.

I'm not a birder, but thought these suggestions might be of interest to those who are. Good luck to your nephew.

Arthur Weeks

I was recently surprised to learn that an important part of this decision might be the remote shutter release. For me, it matters more than the choice of camera or lens.


A few years ago, we moved to a new house. My wife is a birder and wanted to document the birds that showed up on our feeder. So I set up my Nikon D7200 on a tripod, mounted a 300mm Nikkor lens, and set the camera to be triggered by the remote control. The idea was to allow my wife to work in the kitchen and when she sees a new bird, fire the shutter. But the camera, by design, turns itself off in 15 minutes when in remote shutter mode. We lost a lot of interesting bird photos as a result :-(


An old fashioned mechanical cable release would have been adequate if only the camera allowed attaching one to the shutter release button.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aEF-qmGa58U

Mike, have him check out the video of Stafford Fuhs on Point & Shoot big range zooms for wildlife. Solid advice and information that may help him with a final choice.

Note to Chris Bertram - There's a fine article on photographing swallows in flight at https://www.outdoorphotographer.com/pro-perspectives/melissa-groo/a-wide-angle-for-bird-photography/

One other thing - although swifts & swallows are fast and erratic in their flight, the fastest known bird, and perhaps the fastest known animal of any kind, is the peregrine falcon, which reaches speeds up to 200 mph (322 kilometers per hour) when in a steep dive for prey.

Off topic. ( kinda )
About four weeks ago, my friend, who is a pilot, had a very interesting bird experience. She had to go to the lavatory during a flight, so she called a cabin crew to come to the cockpit while she was out. (some companies still require that no pilot be left alone in the cockpit). When she returned, there was big caos in there. After she left, a bird came out from behind her pedals and was frantically flying inside the cockpit, crashing with the windows, trying to get out. Then went back to his hiding place. She took a look with her torch and yes, there was a bird hiding there. “Not a pajarito chilero” were her exact words ( chile eating little bird ) it was rather big. Before the approach they briefed about all the what if’s for the descent and landing. When they reached the ramp, they informed the engineer about the bird. They opened every access and searched everywhere. They couldn’t find it and the flight was cancelled. I think she took a photo of the bird behind the pedals.

David;
As a lot of people have said there are a lot of choices for a good bird camera. You really need to think about what your use case is. It sounds from your post you want something that allows you to react quickly to take a photo and you also want accuracy. It sounds like you want enough quality to identify a bird, but not necessarily enough quality to do high quality prints.

Because you mentioned want to be able to have the camera focus on the bird instead of branches you will probably want something that will let you change the focus area and focus point quickly - many cameras will let you do that - only a few cameras can automatically identify a bird - and they are pretty expensive.

Also, to react quickly you will probably want something that will let you have a couple of user settings that you can just press a button or twist a knob to set.

You also mentioned price.

As many said, used is probably the way to go the first time - I think the 80-400 Mike has could be a good first long lens - its not too big and if it is the more recent version of the lens high enough quality for your needs. For a DSLR to go with it, I'd look at a used Nikon D7200. It is an older model, but some think it had higher quality output that the later models.

That would give you the ability to react pretty quickly - not top of the line - but quite good. You can move the focus area around - it has a good Nikon focus system.

All told that would be your most cost-efficient option. Lens free + camera reasonably cheap.

If you found you like using a DSLR and you want a better lens or camera you would have an option to pick up a reasonable cost used lens to either extend your reach (if you want to stand further from birds) or increase your image quality. Or you could upgrade the camera to something like the D500, which is the top of the line smaller sensor Nikon DSLR to get better focus system and speed, or a Z50 to get a smaller body size with much the same capabilities of the D7200.


Let's ref back to what Thom said. He's right. For birding, especially BIF, AF tracking is all important. Sure, you can get good shots with anything- now and again. The trick is to have gear that will catch the highest number of focused shots. At this point of time, Sony has a clear lead in technology that does this. Much the same af tracking is used in the A1, the Rx10iv, the Rx100Vii, the A9, the A6600. Earlier models in these ranges do not have the high end AF tracking. After that it is a matter of the differences in sensor size and body styles between the models. The other makers will catch up on this but at the moment, Sony is the clear leader. Check this years Audobon bird photography awards and note the number of Sony being used. If it was a landscape competition, Sony would not be nearly as highly represented.

I have owned the Sony RX10 v3 but would consider the zooming too slow for very shy animals (lest you always leave it out somewhere at 600mm). My money would indeed by on a m43 - like the G9 I use for portraiture on the move (perhaps used / refurbished).

Thanks @Bill Tyler, that's an interesting and useful piece. I've actually photographed peregrines earlier this year, though not in flight. They perch on the warehouses near my home in Bristol.

Well, having shot a lot of fast-moving objects in my time, Thom Hogan's comment, "That said, in all cases there is a learning curve, and that's what trips up most: the just-press-a-button-and-it-works crowd is going to be continuously disappointed in some, if not all, of their bird photos." is right on the mark.

That's because there is something that even the best cameras of today can't provide...and that something is...SKILL.

This speaks to a key point that many "newbie" or amateurs these days don't seem to understand....technology is not, nor ever will be, a substitute for skill or expertise.

As someone who has many, many, many years shooting fairly small subjects moving at speeds well over 120 mph, i.e., racing motorcycles, which could be viewed as quite analagous to shooting BIF, even a Fuji X-T2 can get the job done. But here is the operative qualiifer: in the hands of someone who knows WTF they are doing.

While Thom's correct that the best cameras for BIF are the A1, D6, or...Canon 1Dx MkIII, the fact of the matter is none of these are a substitute for skill and practice, practice, practice.

It's the old 10,000 hours thing. Trust me on this...

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