Birder's Guide

DEC 2013

Birder's Guide is the American Birding Association's newest publication. Each issue focuses on a key subject, providing tips from experienced birders on a wide variety of topics like Travel, Listing & Taxonomy, Gear, and Conservation & Community.

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Page 19 of 51

Birding Photography Instead, most birders are looking for ways to document what they see (especially rarities), to take the occasionally pretty picture to put on the wall, or to have study shots of that odd 3rd-cycle large gull for later reference. In other words, they care about the birding frst and the photography second. I call myself an "opportunistic" birding photographer; when some great opportunity presents itself (a confding bird, nice light, a lucky fnd, etc.), I try to grab a shot in one way or another. I am constantly evaluating what approach to employ on a given day, based on weighing (pun intended) the costs and benefts of each tool. This article offers some suggestions and considerations to guide your choices, especially if Birding Photography is new to you or you are looking to upgrade your current system. DSLR There is really no way to compete with the image produced by a DSLR (Digital Single Lens Refex) camera. (D)SLR is what usually comes to mind when someone hears the word "camera": a body in which the magic happens (using a mirror and prism system; the word "refex" refers to the mirror's refection) and a variety of interchangeable lenses that run the gamut from macro to telephoto. The amount of light that enters and is transmitted through the lens and body of a quality SLR provides the highest-quality photo, especially in less-thanperfect conditions, allowing you to publish, share online with other birders, or print and enjoy on your living room wall that photo of that Great Gray Owl clutching a vole atop a snag in a snow-draped coniferous landscape. This is the tool to use if fight photography is a goal, or if you are birding in low-light conditions. For lenses, a minimum of 300mm is usually required, and 400mm is preferable. Either way, stick with fxed-power lenses, which are lighter, produce sharper images, and—all things being equal—are less expensive than zooms. Anything larger requires a tripod for most people, and a lot more cash. Many folks will add a 1.4x teleconverter to, for example, increase a 300mm to the equivalent of 420mm. Unfortunately, with that increased power, some light transmission is lost: the higher the power, the less light that will register. At a morning fight at dawn, for instance, DSLM A Digital Single Lens Mirrorless (DSLM) camera is much smaller and the loss of light transmission becomes a major problem, as the sun is low and the birds are on the move. Still, it adds versatility to your kit. Unfortunately for me, complications from a signifcant shoulder injury limit my tolerance for carrying a heavy camera (even the lightest SLR camera body with a 400mm lens) for long periods. Many other birders will have other reasons for not wanting to be bogged down. For longer walks, my SLR stays behind. This practice, by the way, is perhaps the best way to fnd some great rarity that has to be documented! I've done a few long runs back to the car to grab the camera I didn't carry. Sometimes the bird remains and sometimes it doesn't; I think I need a Sherpa. But if you want the next cover shot of North American Birds, then SLR is the only way to go. Benefits –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– • Quality: SLR offers the best image, all things being equal, of any of the options. –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– • Reproduction: Especially when shooting in "raw" mode, the density of the pixels allows enlargement and quality reproduction. –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– lighter than an SLR, but accommodates a wider variety of lenses. There- • Focus: Fastest autofocus and easiest manual focus. fore, you can use a (D)SLM as a regular camera or attach it to a spotting –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– scope with the appropriate setup. These cameras accept current tele- • Moving targets: The best for photographing moving targets due to superior tracking ability. photo lenses (some require an adapter), even the old one from your last SLR. Those that are equipped with electronic viewfnders simplify focusing and exposure adjustment. This new category of cameras is rapidly growing, and one day may eventually make the bulky body and complex controls of a SLR obsolete, especially as improvements are made to the generally smaller sensor. Like everything else in this article, this tool deserves its own review, but if you are considering entering the world of SLR photography, SLM deserves serious consideration, especially for digiscopers, as the mirrorless system eliminates the mirror shake problem with SLRs. 18 Birder's Guide to Gear | December 2013 Costs –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– • Money: SLR is the most expensive of the Birding Photography options (assuming you already own a spotting scope). A respectable entry-level body like the Canon Rebel series and equivalent Nikons start at a little more than $400, while the "pro" models range up

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