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gle56 Apr 14, 2007 5:56 PM

[align=left]Is there a 10-18 zoom camera that is fast enough to catch a bird in flight? I see photos that some of you have taken and have done so. I was in a camera shop this morning looking at a Canon 3IS and Olympus 550UZ. I happen to mention this and was told only an SLR is fast enough to do captures a flying bird or a fast running animal. Thanks for any resonse.

Since these were the only two Zoom point and shoot cameras they had I had no other to ask him about. - gle

Corpsy Apr 14, 2007 7:41 PM

There are plenty of p&s cameras that are capable of capturing those kinds of images, but they usually aren't ideal. A DSLR will tend to allow for faster shutter speeds and have faster and more accurate autofocus. But in my opinion the more important difference is the viewfinder.

Most p&s cameras use an LCD screen as a viewfinder, and while it can be nice for getting a pretty accurate preview of your exposure, they are awful for shooting wildlife at longer focal lengths. First off, it can be very difficult to pick out a bird on an lcd screen when compared to viewing it directly through the lens. Often you'll find the bird then look at the lcd screen and have no idea where it is. This applies to both birds in flight and ones that are just sitting on a branch.

Secondly, most LCD screens have a bit of lag, meaning there is a bit of a delay between the time the camera sees something and the LCD displays it. This means that you might have a bird in flight perfectly centered on your screen when you snap a picture, but in actuality you already lost it.

Thirdly, when lighting gets a bit dim LCD screens tend to blur a lot, further complicating matters.

Finally, LCD screens tend to black out for a while after shooting a picture. When using burst mode, some will stay black the whole time, or just display the last photo you shot. This makes tracking an animal for more than one shot extremely difficult.

I used a Panasonic FZ30 for about a year and shot a variety of wildlife with it, mostly birds and deer. When I got my Pentax K100D, a DSLR, I didn't have the money to spend on a decent autofocus telephoto lens so I bought some used manual focus lenses. Despite manual focus, the deer and bird photos I've taken recently are far better than anything I ever managed with the p&s, and spring hasn't even really started yet (I don't remember the last time all of spring break was around freezing temperatures).

Wildman Apr 14, 2007 8:06 PM

Another factor not mentioned in the response to your post is frame rate. A decent DSLR will shoot 3 to 10 frames per second (my EOS 20D does about five). Going to a DSLR system ends up being an expensive option, however, with the cost of decent lenses as well as the camera body itself.

I guess you'll have to do a little soul searching. How much are you willing to spend to get those in flight bird shots?

DSLRs are superior (at a cost) in almost any way over the P&S cameras. Shutter lag, focus time, etc. BUT once you cross the line into DSLR territory, it'll cost in size, weight and money.

I love my DSLR and its lenses/flash/other stuff, but we use a little point and shooter a lot, too.

gle56 Apr 14, 2007 11:45 PM

That photo is something. Do you think you could do that with your 3IS? That is one of the cameras I have been looking at. I am not certain what a Sony F717 but suspect a film camera. Regargless that is one spectacular photo. - gle

eric s Apr 17, 2007 10:57 AM

I partially agree with the comments about how you "can do it" if you practice.

No matter what gear you have, you can get flight shots with it if you practice enough. But better gear will make it easier and you'll get more "keepers" if you use the proper gear.

Any industry that has tools has this problem. You *can* hammer in a nail with a pipe wrench. And if you practice enough you'll even be able to do a decent job. But if you actually used a hammer it will be easier and you'll not bend the nail (or hit your thumb) very often. Now there are many hammers out there... some are good all around hammers, some are most special purpose (ball pean hammers, for example), and some are just too expensive and fancy (only very few need them.)

It's the same way with camera gear. Some cameras are more general, some are designed for specific uses (like those with super-zoom or wide angle lenses.)

If you plan on taking wildlife/bird shots, here is what I say when I teach photograph classes:
- All advice is based on standards. My standards are quite high, yours might not be as high as mine (I've spend well over $10,000 USD on camera *gear*. That doesn't include gas, trips to places....) I will try to take that into account in what I say, but you still might not be willing to pay the $$$ to get the benefits that I'll lay out. That is ok. Nothing wrong with that. As long as it's an informed choice then we both go away happy.
- Unless you live in Florida (or some other place where animals let you get close) you will find the minimum reasonable focal length lens is 400mm. You can get by with less, but you'll find the subjects are not as big in the frame as you'll like.
- At least 3 frames per second shooting. You can survive with less, and if you have less you'll end up being better at anticipating that "magic moment"... or you'll get frustrated and upgrade. :) But you can't always anticipate.
- Reasonable deep buffer. Your camera should buffer a burst of at least 5 pictures before it locks you out. Mine does 22, but I rarely take advantage of it. My previous camera had a 7 image buffer and I rarely ran that dry (but when I did, it was always important - like a flight shot of an eagle.)
- Fast flushing buffers. When the buffer fills, you need to be able to shoot again soon. If you're filling the buffer something important is almost certainly happening so you will want to shoot more! You can only know it is "Fast enough" by trying it. Test in a store or talk with others.
- little or no "lag" time. When you press the shutter, you want the picture to be taken. Practice and anticipation can help here, but many times birds are not predictable to the level that, say, your children are. Yes, if a seated bird takes a dump, it's almost certainly going to take off. But a flying bird could suddenly bank and you want that wing-spread shot... but how do you "anticipate" that? You can't see the wind currents up there.
- Easy Exposure Compensation (EC) settings by 1/3 of a stop. Camera metering systems always screw up. There is always some situation where they get it wrong. Now, unless you want to shoot in manual, you're going to have to *learn* when the metering will be wrong and use EC to fix it. For example, back-lit subjects are tricky for all metering modes other than spot metering (or manual.) You need to realize this and correct for it. If exposure compensation isn't easy (in fact, it should become second nature to you!) you'll miss pictures because of it.

Now, do you *have* to have all those features? No, technically you don't. But they will make a big difference between getting the shot and not. It won't be "easy", but it will be "Easier". Practice can overcome these things. If you have a shorter focal length, you can practice sneaking up on subjects (with the trade off that in some situations you might have to set up a blind and wait for hours because your lens isn't long enough for you to be at a comfortable distance.) If your camera doesn't have exposure compensation you learn how to shoot in manually mode. Things like that.

But it will be harder and you'll find it frustrating 'cause the camera will be getting in your way.

I like the idea about practicing flight shots with Frisbees. That is good. What I've done in the past is get a box of crackers and feed some Gulls at the beach. They are fairly large and will come in groups to get the food.

And let me tell you, getting good flight shots of birds is hard. This is something that the pros practice and it takes time. So don't get discouraged if your results are not what you like. Keep at it and you'll get better.
Here are a few of my examples:


ac.smith Apr 17, 2007 12:32 PM

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The dealer was both right and wrong. A DSLR typically will have less shutter lag than any P&S but even a DSLR is not instantaneous, the mirror has to get out of the way.

A lot depends on the skills of the photographer as Keoeeit stated, anticipating the subject action and subjectively knowing the shutter lag times of the camera in use. Knowing the rest of your camera as well counts.

It also depends on exactly which birds/animals your trying to photograph. The larger the bird/animal the easier to capture in motion. Soaring birds have predictable flight paths. In general larger birds/animals cannot change direction as abruptly and you don't have to be as close to get a decently sized images which in turn provides more reaction time. A DSLR is better equipped for cardinals and meadow larks.

All shots below were done with a Kodak Z612. The shotof the geese was one of my first test shots withthe defaultcamera settings. Conditions were heavy overcastand I should have upped the ISO to 200. I have since also disabled the Quickview function.

ac.smith Apr 17, 2007 12:35 PM

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Somewhat better lighting conditions. Much more difficult because of the closer distance. ISO 200

ac.smith Apr 17, 2007 12:49 PM

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Last picture take same day/location as dove.

Corpsy Apr 17, 2007 4:23 PM

I completely agree with all the points Eric laid out. Even though shooting birds in flight isn't a big interest of mine, I do like to try it just for the fun. With my ultrazoom p&s, I used to try whenever I had the opportunity, but becauase of shutter lag, lack of decent high ISO, and particularly because of the difficulty of tracking a bird using an LCD, I rarely got anything in good focus.

After getting my DSLR, the first day I went out to shoot birds in flight (middle of March), I got more in-focus shots than I ever did, and practically all of them were better than anything I ever managed with the p&s.

These were all shot within about 45 minutes of each other, using a manual focus 135mm lens, stacked on a manual focus 2x teleconverter. The birds were relatively close so I couldn't use infinity focus.

No, that last one isn't a bird, but it is something I wouldn't have managed nearly as well with my p&s. It was only in my field of view for about 1 1/2 seconds before disappearing behind some trees.

gle56 Apr 17, 2007 4:37 PM

These are just fantastic! My only problem is a DSLR is way out of my price range. I suppose if a point and shoot will not do what you are doing then I should throw in the towel. What great shoots! - gle

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