Perhaps one of the hardest, perhaps most satisfying, wildlife photography genres is that of birds. In a new blog series Martin will provide some insight into exactly that – capturing birds...
Blog 01: Choosing the correct gear
Choosing your camera equipment correctly form the outset will result in the least frustrations when it comes to successful bird photography.
A good, weather-sealed DSLR with 6-10 fps (frames per second) plus a reliable autofocus system for consistent in-focus results is the best option, even if you spend a little more. To me, the latter is probably more important than rattling of 10 frames with none in focus!
On the subject of camera bodies, one can also choose between ‘full-frame’ sensors and those bodies with a crop (APS-C/DX format) factor. Full-frame sensors have significant advantages (cost not being one of them) when it comes to shooting at higher ISOs but also typically require longer focal range lenses to obtain the same comparative reach as with crop sensors. The negative with crop sensors is that shooting at higher ISOs are not as effective.
I personally shoot mostly with crop-sensor bodies (as they are much cheaper) and when coupled with good lenses one can still get amazing bird photographs! This is just something to be aware about and to ask your camera store when buying selecting the right camera body. A crop sensor gives you an added magnification factor over your lens focal range which is much needed for bird photography as birds are often shy and can be difficult to approach. For me, the ability to magnify the subject more and potentially resolve more details is a great advantage of crop-bodies for bird photography.
We then get onto the topic of what lenses are good for bird photography. This is a tricky question and invariably depends on how much money one is prepared to spend. The best bird photographers in the world will all tell you that they cannot live without their 500mm and 600mm f4 prime lenses, used with and without teleconverters. These lenses are the ultimate in image quality no doubt, but are expensive and large in size.
For me, bird photography is a byproduct of primarily being a birder at heart and mobility is key. For this reason I prefer to use the smaller 300 f/2.8 or 300 f/4 lenses with and without a 1.4 converter. These coupled with the magnification factor of crop bodies still gives a portable, potent (and importantly cost-effective) bird photography setup. A real exciting development by camera manufacturers of late has been the addition of diffractive-optic/Phase Fresnel lenses which have allowed Canon and Nikon to greatly reduce size and weight of lenses. In this regard, both the new Canon 400 f4 DO IS II and Nikon 300mm f/4E PF ED VR are particularly exciting developments for bird photographers looking for more cost-effective alternatives. The thought of a DO 500 0r 600mm f/4 lens one day is particularly exciting for me!