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Lens/Camera combo for bird photos
A beginner writing out loud based on some research....

I just bought a Canon A640 for my son's high school nature photography class. Not wanting to spend a lot of money to begin with, I chose a camera I thought would provide him and me with a good foundation to explore the medium. We both love the macro capabilities of the camera but when it comes to shooting subjects that rarely come within range of the 4x optical zoom we both see we can't see the reuslts we want of distance subjects even when we crop them. What we want in those cases in a near full image with reasonable detail that could be printed 8x10..

I've searched the forums and found a dimensional depth of field calculator http://www.tawbaware.com/maxlyons/calc.htm that tells me that if I had a 200mm lens shooting from 20' with a 1.5 multiplier that I'd have a horizontal 2'5" and a vertical 1'7" effective FOV. If I was shooting a bird, (which is something he loves to be able to capture) that was say 6" in hight let's say , then it would occupy about 1/3 of the vertical frame distance. I'm thinking that would be pretty good. But I have some questions....

1. 20' is probably optimal and most shots would be further away. Even trying to shoot a bird on the wire outside our front door would mean stepping back to get a reasonable perspective, so my assumptions about 200mm may be faulty..

2. I see a lot of use of 200mm lenses on the forum and have read much about their abilities so chose that as my base as it seems there are some very good options available for that lens class...not wanting to break the bank with humongous alternatives. Can it be used effectively for nature photography and what are the bounds?.

3. I've asked questions here on sports photography which I'm interested in as well, that I got some good advice on that pointed me to pro bodies with high fps and a 200mm lens with 4mb pixels. From what I read here, I'm sensing that while that might be good for capturing dynamic movement (and more), it might not have the reach for nature situations as the low pixel count won't permit much cropping to attain the desired print density. So some trade-off is apparent. True?.

So, if I want the possibility of setting my son on a potential future career in photography and me in taking great pictures as a hobbyist who has lots of time on his hands I know I need to move to a DSLR given their flexibility and performance. I'm not going to buy the D3 or Canon equivalent but I don't mind spending money on quality from which we can grow as we learn our craft and art..

The more I read and learn the more I see the incredible complexity of this medium and how choices in one area can limit choices in others. "If you want to do this this or that then..." In some ways the forums here confound me because I read the pro perspectives that are acute to specific parameters and sometimes generously broad enough to inform beginners like me along with the serious and not so hobbyists who produce great results but might be focused on optimizing their chosen kit. Nothing wrong with either but hard for me still to sift it..

Any responses most welcome. Thank you for reading such a long post...

Comments (12)

I think you will find 200mm a little short for getting shots of birds. I know a lot of people on a budget use the Sigma 50-500 (nicknamed "Bigma") with great success. Also, if you buy a Canon or Nikon body, there's always the option of renting a huge telephoto lens from a local camera shop..

'I reject your reality and substitute my own' -Adam Savage..

Comment #1

I'm going to point you in the direction of an Oly E510 with dual lens kit. http://www.bhphotovideo.com/...Olympus_262042_Evolt_E_410_Digital_Camera.html.

Because the Oly uses a smaller sensor the 35mm equivilent of the lenses give you a focal range of 28-300mm. This is sufficient to get good bird photos. The kit lenses are very good optically with very good resolution wide open thus allowing reasonable shutter speeds..

As well, because the camera has Image Stabilization built into the body you will minimize blur for hand held shots (which are typically the most common).A member of the rabble in good standing...

Comment #2

200mm is way too short for birds..

To give you some ideas - this was shot at 420mm (300mm lens with 1.4 converter) from no more than 25 feet away, on a 1.6 crop (672mm Field of View equivalent).

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420mm from about 40ft away (cropped some).

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420mm from about 150ft away (cropped considerably). This is about the maximum distance that I would even attempt shooting a bird, and at that, only a bird this large. Even a Hawk would be too small at this distance to get a good shot..

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So, as you can see, you need long focal lengths and close proximity to the subject to get the best bird/wildlife shots..

One of the best birding lenses out there is the Canon 400 F5.6L. Someone mentioned the Bigma (Sigma 50-500) - I found the image quality rendered it useless for all but the closest shots, and it's 6.3 aperture made auto focus difficult. Lots of shots were missed. The 400 F5.6 has a great reputation for both image quality and good auto focus. It will take a 1.4 converter, but you will lose auto focus on all but Canon's professional bodies (1D series). Even at only 400mm it will produce better results than the Sigma will at 500mm..

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Comment #3

Thanks for the replies so far. I'm sensing the need to move up beyond 200 to be able to capture given subject skittishness whether with a converter or otherwise. The samples posted give me a great feel for results given lenses/cropping/bodies used..

If you needed a camera/lens to do both sport photography and birding what would it be?..

Comment #4

Luxumbria wrote:.

Thanks for the replies so far. I'm sensing the need to move upbeyond 200 to be able to capture given subject skittishness whetherwith a converter or otherwise. The samples posted give me a greatfeel for results given lenses/cropping/bodies used.If you needed a camera/lens to do both sport photography and birdingwhat would it be?.

To do it cost effectively, you can get by with a good 70-300mm zoom. Combined with a 1.4x telelconverter, this will make a serviceable system for birding as well as sports provided you are shooting in decent light. This is the combination i've been using for years and it has served me well, as long as I recognize the limits of the lens..

Ideally for small backyard birds, 400mm is the minimum I've seen recommended and most pros shoot a 600mm lens as their birding lens. however, with the crop factor on a DSLR, the 70-300mm zoom becomes the equivalent field of view as a 450mm lens, so you can get by with the cheaper consumer zoom..

Sport photography indoors is difficult with these consumer zooms as the maximum aperture at 300mm is typically f/5.6. You really need f/2.8 for indoor sports to get a fast enought shutter speed, but it you work with the f/5.6 lens, use a high ISO and shoot off a monopod, you can get some usable images///but once again, know the limitation of the lens and do not expect miracles..

I'd think the best bet to start off would be to purchase a 70-300mm Tamron, which will set you back only about $200. Try it and get the feel for the lens and using the long focal lengths, then you can decide of you feel the ned to invest in a faster and/or longer lens. Sigma makes and excellent 100-300mm/4 lens but it costs $1k, and if you stick with Canon they have wonderful long lenses for wildlife, but they will be pricey..

JohnPentax *ist-D, K100D, Fuji F20/31fd, Oly Stylushttp://www.pbase.com/jglover..

Comment #5

Luxumbria wrote:.

If you needed a camera/lens to do both sport photography and birdingwhat would it be?.

Canon 1Ds MkIII and Canon 600 F4L IS....

But since I don't have $15,000 lying around waiting to be spent... .

A 40D would be a good camera. As for lens, get the best you can afford. The 400 F5.6 L and 300 F4L IS are both 'bargains' at around $1000. The 400 F2.8 L IS is more ideal but is Canon's heaviest and one of it's most expensive lenses (over $6000). I definitely recommend primes for anything over 200mm as the image quality afforded by a prime lens can make the difference between a keeper and a tosser..

I'm real happy with the IQ I get from the 300 F4L IS, but I may still get a 400 F5.6L and I'm really hoping they come out with a 400 F4L..

Some cool cats that can use your helphttp://www.wildlife-sanctuary.org.

Even if you can't donate, please help spread the word...

Comment #6

Lighting conditions, range of distances, where you'll be, tempo, number of subjects... they're all fairly useful to know..

Ex. indoor basketball tends to be under quite bad lighting and is fairly continuous, but if you're able to run up and down the gym, the distances usually aren't that brutal. In addition, for many shots you could consider using a (fairly powerful) external flash..

For football under lights, distances can be quite ong, lighting is very bad, there are many subjects, play is discontinuous so there's some time for checking and correcting settings, and the ball can move down the field very quickly on a long pass, so anticipation becomes critical..

For softball or baseball under lights, the problems are similar, although with fewer subjects. The lighting will be far less even (home, 1st, 3rd -may- be decently lit, but the region between 1st and 3rd, well... if it's a municipal field and not a stadium with some serious overhead lighting, that's going to be very VERY dark). If you're in the stands shooting outfield action... you'd need quite a long, fast lens...

Comment #7

Thanks to those who replies to my extended question that included sports photography. You guys are a great resource!.

Given the comments I'm sensing the need for 300mm to start with to begin to cover both as long as I'm willing to accept shooting in light that is within the bounds of the lens speed/camera focus speed and not expect too much from too far away. The details on specific lenses used and their cost didn't scare me too badly as I expected that a $1000 lens would be necessary at some point. Best to start with the somewhat cheaper suggestion to begin with I'm thinking, learn more and then the clarity of the next step will be apparent...

Comment #8

As an alternative to DSLRs and for the sake of giving you options..

Consider something like the Fuji S8000..

These has a long-ish zoom and might be long enough for your needs. You can augment this with converters. It might be a good (budget) option..

However a DSLR with something like a 70-300 and a converter ( x2 ) would be better. You may also want to consider how you plan to use the camera. Ideally you should use a tripod ( and if you get a big zoom lens, like a 500mm or the 'Bigma' that's a really the only sensible option )..

You should also note that manual focusing is rather useful..

As I have a Pentax I'm going to wave the flag, based in no small way on the fact that the K100D is a very well featured camera and can mount older (used) lenses which still benefit from the in-body anti-shake. For example I have seen ( relatively poor quality but useful ) 500mm f/8 mirror lenses ( fully manual ! ) which you can still get good results from on the K100D..

StephenG.

Pentax K100DFuji S5200Fuji E900PCLinuxOS..

Comment #9

Luxumbria wrote:.

Thanks to those who replies to my extended question that includedsports photography. You guys are a great resource!.

Given the comments I'm sensing the need for 300mm to start with tobegin to cover both as long as I'm willing to accept shooting inlight that is within the bounds of the lens speed/camera focus speedand not expect too much from too far away. The details on specificlenses used and their cost didn't scare me too badly as I expectedthat a $1000 lens would be necessary at some point. Best to startwith the somewhat cheaper suggestion to begin with I'm thinking,learn more and then the clarity of the next step will be apparent..

Hi.

Realistically you will need to spend a few thousand on lenses and cameras. If you go Canon you may find a few longer teles coming on the market over the next year or so as a few pro sports people jump to Nikon (who are ramping up their long lenses to get ready for the D300 and more particularly the D3)...this might be good all round as it may bring down prices for both systems..

The Canon forums have some great birdshooters and sports shooters have a look at the threads there (if you have not already)..

For those on a budget who never want to spend the price of a small car (at least) the cheapest way to get long lenses are to use Olympus and old manual lenses with adapters...might be ok for birding....not so good for sports..

And Pentax...with Pentax you can get a K100d or K10d fit a Tamron adaptall 300 2.8 manual focus lens and with 1.4 x converters have a reasonable fast manual outfit for not much more than a thousand if you are lucky....a few hundred more and you can get a second hand autofocus adapter and have a 510 mm 4.8 autofocus lens that is reasonable.... and usable for sports to some degree (no buffer on the k100d...so may be better on the K10d). If you (or son) want to do it more seriously then Canon is the way to go...Nikon not bad but getting better..

Actually with Pentax autofocus adapter goes ok with many old lenses like old primes and even old zooms (the trouble is they have not been made for years but are very useable so sell for several times their original cost)..

This is the only bird pic I have online at the moment was done a while ago with an old Promura screwmount 135 1.8 lens with the 1.7xafa The few times I have done sports I have been happy enough with the results..

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Neil.

Link back to flickrhttp://www.flickr.com/photos/26884588@N00/..

Comment #10

Thanks for the reply and I love the bird photo. My son I'm sure will smile wide once he sees it. As far as price goes, yes I was expecting a $2000 investment. Some other advice I've received pointed me to a used D2H with appropriate tele, extolling the virtues of outstanding pro build, fast fps and AF etc. The down sides for me are:.

1. buying reliable used for a price that is close to new not to so bad alternatives; like Canon 40D.

2. limits on print size due to 4MP and unable to boost effective print size to overcome lens deficiencies by having a larger native image size3. serviceability on older equipment.

The more I dig the more questions I have which I think is a good thing at this point.Feedback as you've provided is helpful in finding my way...

Comment #11

A 300 mm lens, on a 1.6 or 15 crop camera body, is an absolute minimum for birding. Even then, you are talking about birds at very close range. To put a teleconvertor on the lens, to give more reach, reduces the maximum aperture and makes usable shutter speeds and focusing difficult. Realistically, 400 mm is a better minimum focal length for birds..

Shutter speeds are as important as focal length, and a f/5.6 lens becomes a f/8 lens when a 1.4x teleconvertor is mounted..

Brian A...

Comment #12

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This question was taken from a support group/message board and re-posted here so others can learn from it.

 

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