BIRD PHOTOGRAPHY GEAR

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Let's talk about photography Gear: What do you need

 

Gear can be tools or can be objects of collection; the first will serve you in your photography. The later, will only serve  your in your chats.

* * *

First, some definitions:

Full frame cameras: camera which sensor measures approximately 36mm X 24mm. Canon 5D II, 1DS MK III, Nikon D700, D3 and D3X

APS-C cameras: Cameras which sensor is approximately  22.3mm x 14.9mm. Canon Rebels, Xt, 20D to 60D, 7D, all other Nikon cameras. In this case, Nikon APS-C sensors are a little bigger than Canon APS-C

APS-H cameras: well there is only one which is the Canon 1D (MK I to MK IV)

Compact cameras: Small portable cameras with non removable lens, which sensor is regularly small as your little finger nail or smaller. Very practical for the ones who travel and do not want to be bothered by carrying photography gear. I will not talk about compact cameras but when I will mention focals and lens, this should help you choose the compact camera by checking the focals built in the compact cameras)

Prime lens: a camera lens with only one fixed focal. Ex. 35mm

Zoom lens: a camera lens with a zoom range of focals. Ex. 24-70mm

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Gear for Birds photography:

Birds photography is the type of photography where, "be quick but don't show it" should become your motto

Cameras

First you need a fast camera starting at 5 or 6 i/s. Your camera focus performance has to respond to the agility and speed of the birds. Entry level cameras has to be eliminated  for someone who want sharp professional look shots. You should look at the top end of the mid range and the top professional range cameras (Canon 7D, 5D III, 1D IV, 1D X/Nikon D4, D4s, D7000, D300).

Lenses

You cannot think about doing bird photography below 300mm and even this range is limited. A minimum of 400mm reach should be appropriated to start getting results.

I will mostly talk about Canon lenses since these are the ones I am using. Nikon shooters can find the equivalent in their range of products.

The basics: 

................................................................................................................ Score      IQ             Focus Speed       Weight         Reach                                                                                               

  1. Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS + 1.4X II or III (300 to 420mm)                                   7.5   👍👍👍            👍👍           👍👍👍👍👍   👍👍 
  2. Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS + Kenko 1.4X Pro DGX (70 to 420mm)               8.0   👍👍👍👍        👍👍👍        👍👍👍👍👍  👍👍👍
  3. Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS                                                                   7.0   👍👍               👍👍👍        👍👍👍👍      👍👍👍
  4. Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II + 1.4X II (100 to 560mm)                        9.0   👍👍👍👍        👍👍👍👍    👍👍👍👍      👍👍👍👍
  5. Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L                                                                                   7.5   👍👍👍            👍👍            👍👍👍👍👍  👍👍👍
  6. Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G VR                                                                        7.0   👍👍                👍👍            👍👍👍👍     👍👍👍
  7. Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 E ED VR                                                                       8.5   👍👍👍👍        👍👍👍        👍👍👍👍     👍👍👍👍

The basics will allow you to do some birds in flights, as well as photographs under smaller range with the exception of the Nikon 200-500mm which gives you a longer reach. I have not tried third party lenses like the Sigmas for bird in flight.

 

The Performers (Super Teles) and some Nikon equivalents:

................................................................................................................ Score      IQ             Focus Speed       Weight         Reach

  1. Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS  + 1.4X III or +2X III (300 to 600mm)                      9.5   👍👍👍👍👍   👍👍👍👍👍    👍👍👍👍     👍👍👍
  2. Canon EF 400mm f/4L IS DO + 1.4X III or +2X III (400mm to 800mm)*             8.5   👍👍👍👍       👍👍👍           👍👍👍👍     👍👍👍
  3. Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS and 1.4X or + 2X III (400 to 800mm)*                      9.0   👍👍👍👍👍   👍👍👍👍👍   👍👍             👍👍👍 
  4. Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS and 1.4X III and 2X III Extenders (500 to 1000mm)*    9.5   👍👍👍👍       👍👍👍👍       👍👍👍         👍👍👍👍
  5. Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS and 1.4X III and 2X III extenders (600 to 1200mm)*    9.5   👍👍👍👍       👍👍👍👍       👍👍👍         👍👍👍👍👍
  6. Canon EF 800 f/5.6L IS and 1.4X III (800 to 1120mm)*                                     9.0   👍👍👍👍       👍👍👍👍        👍👍            👍👍👍👍 ***
  7. Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS +1.4 and 1.4X  or 2X III (zoom 200 to 800mm)*   9.5   👍👍👍👍       👍👍👍👍        👍👍👍        👍👍👍👍👍 
  8. Nikon 300mm f/2.8 VR and 14E II  (1.7X and 2X are not performant )                 9.0   👍👍👍👍       👍👍👍👍        👍👍👍👍    👍👍
  9. Nikon 200-400mm f/4 VR and 14E II (Zoom 200 to 560mm)**                           8.0   👍👍👍           👍👍👍            👍👍👍        👍👍 

In the case of the 300 f/2.8L IS I & II, I should add that this is a stellar lens and the best for birds in flight handheld with the 400mm DO II.

** For me, a zoom has a big reach advantage on a prime for wildlife photography. 

* The 2X (and the add'l 1.4X for the Canon 200-400mm) is usable with autofocus, only if you have a pro body or 5D III, IV or 7D II 

*** The 800mm has the longest reach without extenders but it is restrictive to a very long focale and can be coupled only with the 1.4X

The extenders:

Extenders are practical as they allow you to increase your focal (your reach) without bringing an other lens or a bigger lens. Canon offers the new EF 1.4X MK III and the EF 2X MK III which are superior to the previous versions. The 1.4X paired with one the the super tele and the 70-200mm will produce very sharp pictures with minimal flaws. The new 2X is also very performant but image degrades a little but it still keeping a good sharpness. I am asked many times about using extenders with the 100-400mm or the 70-300 mm. The answer is you loose a lot of sharpness and images are degraded. If your goal is to produce images for the web, the extenders will do with these lenses but if your goal is to make large prints, then you will see degradation and lack of sharpness. Nikon offers the 1.4X, 1.7X and 2X extenders.

When you use extenders, you lose speed: 1 stop for the 1.4X and 2 stops for the 2X. So make sure you put them on fast lenses to get enough speed and to stay compatible (lens max aperture+loss of stops) with your autofocus. All APS-C cameras can autofocus up to f/5.6: a prime lens of f/4 max aperture+1.4X extender. Only Canon pro cameras(1D, 1DS) can autofocus at f/8(with only the center focus point) so you would be able to use let's say a Canon 500mm f/4L + a 2X extender (f/4+2stops=f/8) which would give you 1,000mm.

The Flash "extender":

More often than none, you will be in shaded or dark area to shoot birds. Flash became practical to highlight details and also add the catch light in the bird eyes. But since the birds are usually far from you, you need an "extender" to push the light from your flash to distance. Comes the Better Beamer. The BB is a tool that you fix on your flash head and which position a fresnel lens in front of your flash. You will use this tool when you are using at least a 300mm lens.

My Wildlife Photography bag:

CAMERAS : Canon 1D X II & Canon 5D IV

+ Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II  Excellent lens for birds in flight or certain wildlife shot opportunities. This workhorse is sharp also with

                                                          the MK III versions of 1.4X & 2X extenders on a Pro camera like the 1D X. Used extensively.

+ Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II A new acquisition also for wildlife in environments when there is sufficient light

+ Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS+1.4x  One of the best Super tele  I had ever used. Hyper Fast and Hyper sharp. It is also outstanding with

                                                               the internal 1.4X and with a second 1.4X on top(784mm). Very versatile with its variable focal.

+ Canon EF 1.4 X Extender III

+ Canon EF 2 X Extender III

 

 

JDG