In my previous article I discussed different types of cameras that we can use for bird photography. As a recap, the 3 different categories are the Compacts, the Bridge Cameras and then the DSLR’s.
Compact cameras are of little or no real use for bird photography leaving us with really with only 2 feasible options. The Bridge camera is sort of a hybrid between a point and shoot and a DSLR. It has features of both categories but for birders, the important things are that they can be used in automatic and semi-automatic modes as well as in manual modes. Your progression through the different modes can be at your own pace and expertise leaving you a great flexibility in your photography.
The weight of the bridge camera can be a deciding factor for many birders. We often spend a lot of the time out in the field and lugging heavy cameras and camera equipment around is not an option for a lot of us. This is where the bridge camera comes into the fore. It is light, small enough to carry around and offers us features like large zoom capabilities and auto modes that make our experience pleasurable rather than a drag.
An added benefit to these cameras is that most of them now offer superb video capability as well. Imagine you are out in the field, you spot a bird behaving unusually or even normally but somehow something that you haven’t seen before. At the push of a button, you have video on tap. A video clip is easily recorded, in either high definition (HD) or even in ultra high definition (UHD or 4k), for you to replay on your big screen TV at home. This can be done wholly in automatic made, bringing the filmmaker in you right from the field to your living room.
The bridge camera does not have interchangeable lenses but instead generally has one lens that can be used widely for landscapes and zoomed all the way in to bring far away objects a lot closer to us. Some of these cameras are even called “Superzooms” because they can bring our subject up to 60 times closer. There are however 2 types of zoom on these cameras.
The digital zoom – This merely magnifies certain pixels on the camera sensor to digitally make the image larger, thus deteriorating image quality and ruining the details in the image.
The optical zoom – using the actual lens elements to bring our subjects closer and thereby not degrading the image in any way.
One must also consider that the magnification amount does not just mean that you can capture images of birds that are exceptionally far away. One must bear in mind that we have all sorts of anomalies in the air between ourselves and the bird and if you are zooming into a bird by 60 times, all these anomalies will also be magnified by the same amount.
Things like dust and heat currents in the air can cause distortions and unclear images. A further note is that the more we zoom, the more we tend to shake when using cameras so one needs also to consider this factor. We generally do not lug tripods around with us when we are out birding so it is important that we use bridge cameras with built in stabilization. This will reduce the amount of shake in the camera when we are zooming in and capturing images which in turn will give us clearer and sharper images.
I am often asked for advice of which camera I would recommend and when looking in the stores. There are 3 brands that generally are kept in stock. The Canon, the Nikon and the Panasonic.
Whilst each brand has its pros and cons, I find that the Panasonic Lumix brand suits birders very well. All their cameras have a good built in stabilization with some models even featuring Leica lenses. For those of you that are not aware, Leica is considered to be amongst the best lenses in the world.
Panasonic Lumix offers 3 different models, the FZ1000, the FZ300 and the FZ70. The FZ70 is a superzoom and offers a 60x zoom with the capability of doing lovely landscapes as well. The FZ300 has a Leica lens, 4k video capabilities as well as a 24x zoom. The FZ1000, also with a Leica lens has a large one inch, 20.1mp sensor which renders beautiful quality images as well as 4k video and 16x zoom.
Some might scoff at the small zoom rate compared to some others but consider that you are actually bringing your bird 16 times closer, more than a lot of binoculars do. The FZ1000 and FZ300 also offer a unique feature called 4k Photo. This allows you to capture images at a rate of 30 photos per second (30fps) which is unique and a wonderful feature to capture that bird in action.
At the end of the day, no matter which camera you decide on, the most important thing is for you to get out there and shoot the birds………….. with a camera of course!
I will be looking at DSLR’s in the next article.