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Old Nov 5, 2007, 5:03 PM   #1
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Hi all: Would love to hear your suggestions as to the camera/lens combination I should consider for taking shots of wild birds. Would like capability to handle a variety of lighting situations and capture birds in flight as well as perched. Don't need to print at sizes much larger than 8x10 and don't do much digital processing with PhotoShop. Need minimal manual control, but fast lens, fast autofocus, fast zooming, very little shutter lag all important. Looking to come in under $5,000.00 with camera, fast telephone zoom of 200+mm and flash.

Thanks for your input!



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Old Nov 6, 2007, 3:00 AM   #2
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In your shoes I would consider:

1. Canon 40D body. ($1200)
2. Sigma 120-300 f2.8 EX ($2700) + 2x teleconverter ($210)
3. 580 EX flash + better beamer. ($450)
4. Good monopod or tripod ($300 minimum, but spend as much as you can.)
5. A fair few CF cards, shooting birds (even for the skilled) is a bit tricky so plan on shooting a lot in search of a few great images. Plan on at least 8Gb if you are shooting RAW, 4Gb might be enough for a day if you want to shoot JPG which a lot of bird shooters do. Having 16Gb+ wouldn't hurt.

That pretty much takes you up to $5000. Actually I think it's worth spending the extra $80 or so on getting the 40D + 18-55 kit lens, just in case you should want to use your camera for something other than birding. It would be weird to spend $5000 and not be able to take a family snapshot.

With the teleconverter you get what is still a pretty decent 240-600mm f5.6 lens and multiplied by the crop factor gives an equivalent of 960mm maximum telephoto. On this forum NHL uses that lens for birding and gets some very nice results.

It's not a light rig though - long fast lenses are heavy. If it's way too much for you then you could consider substituting the Canon 100-400L and save a lot of weight and money.

If you want to push the budget slightly you could substitute the Nikon D300 body for the Canon 40D. A Canon 1D MK II or Mk III body would be even better, but that doesn't leave you much (if anything) for lenses.

Also as I'm sure you know, simply having the right equipment is no guarantee of success, it is simply a minimum requirement. Shooting birds is very hard. Shooting birds in flight is ridiculously difficult. You will need to practice a LOT before it all comes together. Lots of patience and a good hide (which don't cost much) are very important too.
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Old Nov 6, 2007, 6:10 AM   #3
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peripatetic wrote:
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It's not a light rig though - long fast lenses are heavy. If it's way too much for you then you could consider substituting the Canon 100-400L and save a lot of weight and money.
There's another altemative that I'm considering...

Have you look at an Olympus set-up? Theses dSLRs have a 2x crop, pretty small and light and have built-in image stabilization in the body. IMO if you use a Bigma 50-500 (which is not much more heavy than the 100-400L) on theses bodies you'll have an equivalent reach of an image stabilized 100-1000mm without any teleconverter!
-> If you do use flash then fast lens is not really as critical. I always bring a flash since when you're pointing the camera up in the trees the birds tend to be usually backlit by a bright sky to bring out their colors...
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Old Nov 6, 2007, 10:56 AM   #4
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Or, slap a Bigma (Sigma 50-500mm) on a Sony DSLR-A700

You wouldn't have a 2x crop factor (it's closer to 1.53x). But, it would give you an extra 2 Megapixels to work with for cropping compared to the other models mentioned so far (and the OP is only interested in prints up to 8x10" anyway). It would also give you stabilization.

I've been seeing a lot of user reports that the A700 is so fast that it's very easy to capture birds in flight. I don't do birding. But, I can say that the Autofocus is absolutely superb (both speed and accuracy) with the A700 (I have one of these now). I'm very impressed with what Sony did to improve the Autofocus compared to the KM DSLR models.

I was just reading a lens review yesterday from someone using a Minolta 600mm f/4 APO HS Autofocus lens for that very purpose, making comments about how easy it is compared to the KM DSLR model he was using for birds (thanks to the A700's beefed up Autofocus System). I sure wouldn't call lugging a 600mm f/4 around as being "amazingly easy". That's too heavy for me. lol

Here are his comments about it using a Minolta 600mm f/4G APO HS Autofocus Lens (and he uses a 1.4x Teleconverter on it, too).

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With a Minolta 5D, it's fast enough to focus slow birds; tracking moving subject is far from reliable. A better camera would be desirable.

However with the Sony A700, tracking bird in flight is amazingly easy. Continues AF is very accurate even in dim light; simply set it to AF-C and Wide AF area mode.
http://www.dyxum.com/reviews/lenses/....asp?IDLens=24

I wouldn't even want to lug around a Bigma, much less the brighter and longer lenses. Of course, I wouldn't spend $8k on a Minolta 600mm f/4 APO HS Autofocus lens either (discontinued now, but it's last selling price was around $8k new). lol

Personally, I'd probably go with a Bigma if my primary purpose for a camera was birding. I've already seen some very nice BIF images from this combo (A700 + Sigma 50-500mm) + you'd save a bunch compared to most other choices (the Bigma is only $999 at http://www.bhphotovideo.com )

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Old Nov 6, 2007, 11:47 AM   #5
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Here is the key - find the photographic evidence of a particular combo and see if the quality is what you're after. For instance if NHL can point you to some bird photos with the combo he's suggesting and Jim do the same - THAT's how you want to buy gear - based on actual first hand evidence.

I would never advise buying just on spec - i.e. because a combo looks on paper like it should do a good job. Birding is fairly populer. So if there's a good combo you can bet it's easy to find dozens of quality photogs using that setup. If you can't find a number of people using the setup given the multitudes of birders out there, that alone should tell you the combo is at best unproven at worst not capable of the task. Also focus speed comes into play with BIF - not all lenses focus at the same speed. For instance in the Canon realm quite a few birders believe the 400mm 5.6 prime is a better BIF lens because it focuses faster than the 100-400. They're both 400mm L lenses but one is faster at focusing (while the other has the benefit of being a zoom). That's the other bonus to getting first hand information from people actually using the combo for the same purpose you will - you find out things that don't show up on a spec sheet.

I would ask down in the wildlife section here. I would also recommend lookin at DPREVIEW - there are a LOT of exceptional birders in the forums there (some very good ones here too, don't get me wrong). But there you'll have to post in the individual SLR forums.
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Old Nov 6, 2007, 12:06 PM   #6
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JohnG wrote:
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Here is the key - find the photographic evidence of a particular combo and see if the quality is what you're after. For instance if NHL can point you to some bird photos with the combo he's suggesting and Jim do the same
That's true.

I don't like to point users at other forums. But, I'll make an exception. Here is someone doing birding with the Sony A700/Bigma combo (all hand held, and mostly at 500mm):

http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/re...ssage=25165494

He's got a wider variety of images in this thread (smaller, faster birds, etc.), with the thread being designed to give a verdict on the usefullness of the a700 for birding:

http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/re...ssage=25247808



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Old Nov 6, 2007, 2:46 PM   #7
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Thanks so much for the suggestions. This set up is for my Dad who is an avid birder and is ready to move up to a DSLR set up. He will take pictures mostly at his hunting ranch and has multiple hides already set up. He has just started working on shooting birds in flight and knows that it will take lots of practice. I think he will be okay with the weight of the big lens because his mode of operation will be to pick a spot, set up the camera on the tripod within the blind and shoot from that spot until he needs to move for lighting, etc...

Really appreciate your time in putting this together!



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Old Nov 6, 2007, 2:49 PM   #8
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You know, I was thinking in terms of Nikon, Canon, Sony(Minolta), and maybe Pentax. Hadn't considered the Olympus, but love the image stabilization in the body and not the lenses. Will check out that alternative as well. Thanks so much for taking the time to leave the suggestion.



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Old Nov 6, 2007, 2:51 PM   #9
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Thanks for the info, JimC. That quick autofocus sounds great. Will definitely look into this. Appreciate the time you took to pull the references together. Thanks.



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Old Nov 6, 2007, 2:54 PM   #10
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Great points, JohnG. I will spend some time this evening checking in the other forums. I've already browsed through the wildlife forum here and its amazing what you learn just by reading the posts! Thanks for the suggestion, I really appreciate it.

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