By Daniel Dupont
July 3, 2020
Bird photography is a booming activity. Just walk through a nature park or marsh and you will meet a birder with a camera and a large lens.
For my part, I have been practicing this kind of photography since 1993. Over the years, I have used several cameras and lenses.
Here is the equipment that I recommend according to your knowledge and your budget.
There are three main categories of cameras: Point & Shoot, Mirrorless and DSLR.
The point & shoot camera is interesting if you are a beginner or if you want to have a lightweight camera that you can carry with you on a hike. It offers a digital zoom, which consists in cropping the image on the sensor (which reduces the final resolution of the image), and an optical zoom.
PRO TIP: If you opt for a point & shoot, make sure you have a digital zoom equivalent to a minimum of 600mm.
Discover Our Vast Selection Of Point & Shoot Cameras
Panasonic Lumix DC-FZ80
Olympus Tough TG-6 (Red)
Fujifilm FinePix XP140 (Sky Blue)
Sony ZV-1 Vlog Camera
Canon PowerShot SX540 HS
Nikon COOLPIX P950
Nikon COOLPIX B600
Nikon COOLPIX P1000
Fujifilm FinePix XP140 (Yellow)
Nikon COOLPIX B500 (Black)
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX400V
Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II
The mirrorless camera is relatively new on the market. It's light, offers good resolution, will certainly be the way of the future, but is not yet popular with the majority.
Discover The Mirrorless Technology
Canon EOS M50 with EF-M 15-45mm IS STM Lens
A7 III Body Only
Canon EOS R5 Body Only
Canon EOS R6 Body Only
X-T200 with XC 15-45mm F3.5-5.6 Lens (Silver)
A7II with FE 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS Lens
A6400 with E PZ 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS
Sony Alpha a7S III Body Only
A7 III with FE 28-70mm OSS Lens
A6100 with E PZ 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS lens
A6600 Body Only
The DSLR camera is the perfect choice for this activity. There are three main categories: amateur, advanced amateur and professional.
Discover Our Vast Selection Of DSLR Cameras
D3500 with AF-P DX 18-55mm VR Lens
EOS Rebel T7 with EF-S 18-55mm IS II Lens
EOS Rebel SL3 with EF-S 18-55mm f/4-5.6 IS STM Lens (Black)
D7500 Body Only
Nikon D5600 with AF-P DX 18-55mm VR Lens
EOS 90D Body Only
EOS Rebel T7i with EF-S 18-55mm f/4-5.6 IS STM Lens
EOS 6D Mark II Body Only
EOS 5D Mark IV Body Only
EOS 90D with EF-S 18-55mm f/4-5.6 IS STM lens
D850 Body Only
For this type of photography, the advantage is the APS-C housings which, due to their smaller sensor, offer a focal length multiplication effect.
Whichever type of camera you choose, it should have a high resolution (24 megapixels and more), fast focus and fast burst. I also recommend a tropicalized camera that offers protection from the elements.
The Choice Of Lens
For mirrorless and DSLR cameras, you will be faced with two choices: a fixed lens or a variable focal length lens. The varifocal lens is more versatile, since you can vary the framing without moving around. It's generally less expensive and lighter.
The 500mm and 600mm fixed lenses have the advantage of being more powerful - but are more expensive and heavier - and require a tripod. You should make your choice according to your budget, your physical capacity and the type of bird photography you want to take. If your budget allows it, the two types of lenses are complementary. If you want to take a few pictures while out for a walk, the variable focal length lens is the perfect choice. If you want to spend several hours each week practicing your hobby, the fixed focal length is for you.
One thing to take into account when buying a lens is to make sure you have a button to limit the focus. Depending on the position you choose, you may be able to increase the speed of the focus. This button is integrated on fixed focal lengths and some variable focal lengths.
Using The Flash
I use a flash in the majority of shooting situations because it allows me to uncover shadows. I use it as a fill light, but never as a main light or to photograph owls.
I select the TTL mode, making sure to choose the high speed flash sync mode. You will be able to adjust this on the flash for Canon models. For Nikon models, select Flash FP 250 or 320 in the body menus. For Sony and Olympus, the adjustment is also found in the body menus.
PRO TIP: Here are some combinations I recommend. These sets are lightweight and you can use them without a tripod. Also, the focus and burst of the cameras are fast:
To photograph birds in flight, I use a Canon EOS 1D X Mark II. For more distant activity, I use a Canon EOS 7D Mark II (discontinued). For closer action, I choose a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV camera. For fixed and more static subjects, I use a Canon EOS 90D.
In a future article, I will discuss techniques for photographing birds.