I have always enjoyed being an amateur photographer. Above are two birds that I recently shot with a small Canon SX-50 camera on a cloudy day and from long range at Tanglewood Park in Forsyth County, NC. This Canon is the camera that I recommend for the average birder. Disclaimer: If you want professional quality bird photography, this post in NOT for you. BTW, you can click on photos to enlarge them in a new window.
The bird below, named Lola, is one of the offspring of Flitter and Maude, the birds who introduced me to bird-watching. Lola is a young, female Northern cardinal.
As a still-novice birder, photo-documentation has been very helpful to me to correctly identify species and to learn more about them, especially new birds. When I am uncertain about a bird, I just send a photo to one my experienced birder friends who promptly and properly identify the bird. And taking photos is useful just as a way to get a better look. Not long ago, for example, I saw a dimly-lit bird at dusk with a beak that made it look to me like a Kingbird — not at all likely — but when I examined the pictures in Photoshop, it became obvious that the mystery bird was a Robin.
Great Egret in flight in Bermuda Run East (15th hole)
Camera equipment? I have some expensive and some “relatively” inexpensive cameras. The expensive Sony stuff — Sony a99 camera with a 70-300mm zoom lens — can capture images of birds in flight (as above), but the relatively inexpensive camera — sorry, still about $350 on Amazon — has a phenomenal 50X zoom lens.
The Sony is very expensive and clearly has many advantages over the Canon camera, including the ability to alter shutter speed and aperture at the touch of a button, not to mention that it can shoot 11 frames/second. The light meter is built in and it has a lot of other bells and whistles. The Sony is a serious camera for someone who takes their photography somewhat seriously. (I am not sure that that person is me.)
And truthfully, for that money there may be many better cameras out there. I chose that combination of Sony camera/lens, because I felt that I could handle it, size and weight-wise. However, the 300mm limit of the Sony lens doesn’t approach the 1,200mm zoom of the Canon SX-50. So, the big Sony camera comes out for special occasions and for specific applications. For my everyday birding, most of the time, I prefer my Canon SX-50.
Using the Canon SX50 camera, you have to have a steady hand and a relatively-still bird. Most of my photos on this blog are taken with it. When shooting, I take as many shots as I can get in before my arms start to shake. This is done on the principle that one out of ten frames will be in good focus. When shooting long-range, I even control my breathing. To get good photos with this camera, it does take practice.
It wasn’t until I had purchased two other more expensive cameras that I appreciated my SX-50. Some of my birder friends are amazed at some of the photos with this little camera, as mine are often better than theirs, taken with much more expensive equipment.
Finally, I also like that the Canon SX-50 is lightweight and easy to handle. It hang it around my neck just below my binoculars. Hands down, I recommend the point-and-shoot Canon SX-50 for birding primarily because of the great zoom lens. It does, however, require a steady hand. If you disagree with my opinion and you have another best-camera-for-the-average-birder, please leave a comment.