In the previous blog post, we saw what is Bird Photography? How to start with Bird Photography and Are telephoto lenses necessary for Birding?
In this Blog I am going to talk something related to the last question. Equipment plays an important role in Bird Photography. People think that a long telephoto lens and a full frame, High end camera is must for Birding. That’s a common misconception amongst most of the beginners. Telephoto lenses and Full frame camera will definitely help you to get some good, sharp and close shots of birds, but keep in mind those Telephoto lenses and Full frame cameras are not a necessity for birding. I myself use a crop frame DSLR with kit lens and sometimes I rent a telephoto lens as per need. In this blog post we are going to discuss all about equipment used for birding.
Photography equipment are pretty expensive and thus it is good to buy the right equipment. A beginner photographer is always confused about choosing the right equipment according to his need. This Blog post will surely help you to choose your equipment for Bird Photography.
Choosing Between Camera Bodies
Beginner Photographer often see the cameras of great wildlife photographers they follow and think that a High-end full frame camera is necessary but that’s not true, your simple entry level DSLR will also give you great results. Now for those people who don’t know what is a Crop frame DSLR and what is a Full frame DSLR, let’s have a look at this.
The categories like crop frame, full frame etc. are made on the basis of the size of the censor on which your image is captured. So there are various censor sizes that various brands use for their various models. But most common and widely used sizes are Crop Sensor and Full size censor. The below illustration shows the dimensions and ratios of these two censors.
The above diagram shows the censor sizes. Full size camera censors are of 36mm X 24mm in size and is used in Full Frame camera bodies. While crop size censors are 23.6mm X 15.7mm. (Note – The crop size is according to Nikon DX cameras, crop size varies in different brands. Size of Canon APS-C is around 22.2mm X 14.8mm).
The basic difference of Crop Frame Camera with respect to a Full frame camera is that you get a relatively cropped image with a crop sensor i.e. if you keep a crop frame camera and a full frame camera with same lens on the same position and angle and click photos, you will see that Full frame camera captures a wide range of area while in a crop frame you will see the same image but in a cropped manner. Simplifying this, smaller the size of your sensor smaller the range of area would be captured in the camera and bigger size of your sensor, more wide range of area would be captured in the image.
Now while we look at a full frame camera, the most important thing that a high end camera will provide you for Bird Photography is the frame rate. Frame rate is counted as the maximum number of frames that can be captured in one second in the Burst Mode.
In bird photography Burst mode of your camera plays important role, as you can capture the subject in action or flight easily. The frame rate varies from model to model and brand to brand. So that’s one of the advantage of a full frame camera that you get a higher frame rate. 2nd thing that is good about full frame DSLR is that you get a wider range of area in your image. This helps in capturing good Habitat shots of your subject. The subject as well as a wide area around the subject is captured which gives good habitat shots.
Now looking at a crop frame camera the Important thing that it gives you that it gives you more zoom results than a full frame camera. For example – If you are shooting with a crop frame camera and using Nikkor 200-500 mm lens when you zoom in till the maximum limit, it will give you results equivalent to 600mm.
Yes, a crop frame will give you results equivalent to 1.5 times the actual zoom capacity of the lens that you are using. This is shown in the upper image and indicated as ‘1.5X’. If you go for a high end crop frame camera it will also give you a good and sufficient frame rate but not as higher as a Full frame camera. A crop frame camera also does a good job at birding if used appropriately. Right now I am using a crop frame camera and it gives me excellent results.
So if you have a High budget, the definitely go for Full frame camera. But if you are low on you budget then crop frame camera is that you need.
Another good option for choosing a camera body is a point and shoot camera. Yes, you heard it right! A point and shoot camera. Many people think that a point and shoot camera is for people who use camera for regular use and not for photography. But this is not true. Point and Shoot camera are also good options in the field of photography.
I had started my career in photography using a Nikon point and shoot camera. Though there are some restrictions of using a point and shoot, like not all point and shoot cameras provide manual modes, some of them have a manual mode but then you have a less range of aperture etc. But it gives amazing results as well as you don’t have to buy different lenses for a point and shoot cameras. There is 1 fixed lens that has works as a kit lens as well as zoom lens.
So now it’s your choice and your budget to decide what type of camera body you want to buy. Do write in comment section if you have any queries about what type of camera to buy or if you are confused between models and want to choose one of them. Do write down in comments section and I will help you out with the same.
Buying Right Lenses
Buying right lens can be too difficult at times as each and every lens has its own uniqueness and they are made that way by the manufacturer so that each lens serves uniquely for a specific purpose. Camera lenses are much expensive to buy and it is better to buy the right one than regretting about your choice later.
First you need to know that what type of birds and what type of shots you are most comfortable with. Like for some people small, rapidly moving, unstable Perching birds are those who interest them, for some they are raptors flying too high in the sky, for some it might bigger, silent and calm Waders. Also you need to know whether you like close-up shots or habitat shots showing a particular behaviour or response of a bird to a situation. You need to know yourself first, get comfortable and test yourself. For that I suggest using your kit lens for almost a year or two.
First get used to bird photography, explore more and more, know what type of birds and what type of shots interests you. Take suggestions from some professionals by showing them your clicks.
After you know what are you good at then you can add new lens to your kit. There are 3 types of lenses i.e. kit lenses, prime lenses and zoom lenses. When choosing your lens have a look over specifications of the lens like zoom range, focusing modes, VR (Also known as ‘Stabilizer’ for Canon Cameras), aperture etc.
Zoom lenses will give you aperture value ranging from 4/5.6 and above while a prime lens like Nikkor 400 mm will give you a aperture value of 2.8 and above. For those who don’t know what is aperture, smaller the aperture number wider are the aperture blades from centre making your subject stand out by creating Bokeh effect in background and bigger the aperture number, closer are the blades from the centre making background as well as the subject in focus. This a just a short, crisp and simple explanation of what is aperture. There is lot more things to learn about it.
We will have a look upon some Lens used for Birding
- 55-200mm/55-250 mm – This is the basic kit lens I was talking about and one must try hands on this before buying a new lens. Nikon and Sony manufactures 55-200mm while a Canon brand manufactures 55-250 mm. This difference doesn’t matter a lot and differs because of different brands and their different manufacturing techniques, policies and types. Kit lenses are good to start with gives excellent sharpness to your images. They are lighter in weight, small in size thus easy to carry around. The below image was clicked by me using a Kit Lens
- 70-300 mm – This is one of the good budget lens, for those who have a low budget but want to explore more in this field of Birding. You get original nikkor as well as canon 70-300mm as well as Sigma and Tamron produces this lens. It a good zoom lens and comes in different specifications, the basic model doesn’t have a VR/stabiliser and Auto focus, as the add more money to your budget for this lens specifications increases from VR, Auto focus to Macro Mode switch. This lens is not that costly and price ranges from 7,000 /- Rs to around 20,000 /- Rs.
- 150-600 mm – Neither Nikon nor Canon manufactures this lens. Sigma and Tamron are the brands that manufactures this equipment. It’s a relatively heavier lens and bulky in size compared to previously discussed lenses. This lens has also given fantastic results and is not that expensive as compared to other telephoto lenses. It will cost around 60,000 – 70,000 rupees. You can surely try this lens by renting it from a nearby renting store and try your hands upon it.
- 70-200mm – One of the best lens which can be used for various genres of photography, for example – Wedding photography, portraits, street photography, Birding etc. This lens is widely used by various photographers all around. This lens gives an amazing aperture of 2.8 giving a nice separation between your subject and the background. This lens can be used for habitat shots as well as close-up shots (if you are lucky to get close to the subject)
There larger variety of lenses available like Nikkor 200-500, Nikkor 400mm prime, Nikkor 180-400 mm, Canon 100-400 mm etc. you can check more and explore more lenses. Before buying any lens try it out by renting the lens or borrowing from any of your friends who have that lens etc.
Now after you are done with camera bodies and lenses, lets discuss about some of the other things that complements your equipment and helps you on the field. 1st thing is that when you go out in the field with such heavy and bulky lenses, it is impossible them to keep it in your Camera bag that comes with your camera.
The camera bags provided with the camera are to small and are made to keep your camera and kit lenses. You can’t keep the bulky equipment in your normal laptop bag and laptop bags are not that safe for photography to be kept in. So it’s better to buy a camera bag enough for your equipment. You get camera bags in various sizes depending upon your equipment that you are going to keep in it. Right now the bag that I am using is ‘Vanguard ZIIN 39’. This bag I bought around 6-7 months ago and has a good built quality to protect my equipment. It can accommodate around 2 camera bodies, 4-5 lenses and can also accommodate a 70-200mm lens. It is also perfect to keep your 150-600mm / 200-500mm etc. but then these lenses occupy too much space so then you have to reduces other lenses from the bag. But overall the bag is good.
There is large variety of camera bags available in market. Vanguard, Lowepro are some brands that have a good quality of camera bags. So go and find out yourselves that which camera bag is suitable for you.
Next things that helps you on field is a Tripod. Always remember that Tripod is a one-time buy product if selected smartly. Tripods are long lasting and doesn’t disappoint you if you buy the right one.
One may find it difficult to handle those heavy lenses and keep hands steady after sometime of use. Also when you video shoot the behaviour of your subject with the maximum zoom, it is difficult to keep the camera steady, that is when a tripod comes in use. It helps you to get sharp images as well as steady videos. Always look for the built quality of the tripod before buying. Also ensure the maximum weight capacity of the tripod, because if you go and buy a cheaper tripod and mount a camera with a heavier telephoto lens, it is obvious that tripod won’t be able to handle the weight and will break. So before you buy any tripod, check the weight of equipment you use and the maximum capacity of the tripod that you are choosing to buy. If the weight of the equipment is compatible with tripod and the built quality is good enough then surely buy it.
Another thing that works for camouflaging is the camera covers and quick camo blinds. Camera and lens covers helps the equipment to be camouflaged in the surrounding and the bird doesn’t get alert. Another thing useful for camouflaging is a quick camo blind which covers the photographer as well as the camera and helps in camouflaging you with the environment. These camouflaging equipment are not necessary they are adding in as per needs of photographer.
Always keep with you extra batteries. Birding needs a lot of patience and you need to wait and shoot for hours and hours in order to get the desired shot. This may result in battery drain after few hours of use and you may miss a shot due to battery drain. Having extra batteries for your camera prevents you from waiting for the battery to charge again and then get back to shoot.
If you have extra fully-charged batteries with you then you can easily continue to shoot by just changing them in less than a minute. I don’t suggest using battery grips for those who don’t have a tripod because already your camera and lens have enough weight to make it harder for you to keep hands steady and if you put on the battery grip in this case then it becomes heavier and difficult to handle. In such case I suggest to take out the extra battery from your camera bag and keep it in your pocket so it is easily accessible and take less time changing the battery.
Concluding this topic, it all depends on how you are using the equipment, what type of shots and what type of equipment are comfortable with. There is a wide variety of equipment available out there, check it out, try them before you buy, make the best use of your equipment. Make sure that you handle them with care. Also do let me know how was your experience with your equipment.
Do comment your queries or confusions that you have about buying any equipment, I will try to solve all your queries. Also comment your valuable reviews in the comment section below.