Birder's Guide

NOV 2017

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.

Issue link: http://bg.aba.org/i/911854

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Action Photos with DSLRs 10 Birder's Guide to Gear | November 2017 best cameras for photographing birds in flight or what works best for stationary birds and landscapes. Here I discuss two full-frame and two crop-sensor DSLR camera mod- els by Canon and Nikon that are com- monly used in wildlife and landscape photography; they start in the middle price range and up. There are lots of other good camera brands and models, but I reference the four models and two brands that I am familiar with to give you an idea of the features to look for. I also include some pros and cons of each type of camera. The Importance of Burst Rate It takes skill and practice to become a good bird photographer. If you have been out in the field long enough, you have probably witnessed some amazing bird behaviors, and a high-quality, fast- shooting camera would have come in handy. DSLR cameras that are capable of faster continuous burst rates are best for fast-moving birds and other wildlife, but equally important is the number of frames that can be stored in a single burst. A single burst is the number of con- secutive shots that a camera can continu- ously take when you press and hold the shutter release button, before it slows down dramatically or stops shooting. During high-speed shooting, the camera stores images quickly in a buffer mem - ory, then writes them to the camera's memory card. The camera's burst rate is determined by how fast the image files can be written and how large the buffer space is. Also important to consider: the processing power of the camera, whether you shoot RAW or JPEG formats, the size of the file, and if you are using a faster memory card, which I will explain later. A fast burst rate, coupled with a large number of frames that can be stored in each burst, gives you a better chance of capturing the perfect action shot, such as a Bald Eagle swooping down to grab a fish out of the water or a pair of Bald Eagles locking talons in mid-air. Imagine standing in a remote area with several photographers lined up watching a Great Gray Owl perched in a tree from a distance. The owl sud- denly spots a vole on the ground about 10 yards away and quickly flies toward the ground to capture it, then flies back to his perch with dinner. This is an in- stance where having 10 or more frames per second and a high burst rate yields more photos and more chances to cap- ture that split-second shot of the vole in the owl's bill. Slower-shooting cameras that shoot five or six frames per second (fps) may still be buffering an image and writing it to the memory card while the faster camera has already captured the shot. This can leave a photographer frustrat - ed, having missed that opportunity for a once-in-a-lifetime shot. However, the full-frame camera may have captured a better-quality image. Pros and Cons of Full-frame Camera Models Let's take a look at a few DSLR full-frame camera models. A full-frame DSLR from Canon or Nikon has a sensor that's the same size as a frame of traditional 35mm film, measuring 36x24mm. A full-frame sensor has over 2.5 times the surface area of a crop sensor. It comes at a premium price, is typically larger and heavier, and may be uncomfortable to carry on longer excursions. Full-frame cameras are high in quality, with better dynamic range and performance in low- light conditions. Because the pixels are larger on a full-frame camera, they can gather more light and do a better job at higher ISO settings. Birds are active in the early mornings and evenings when light conditions may not be ideal, requiring a higher ISO. If you want to capture movement without blur, a faster shutter speed is necessary. Raising the ISO allows enough light to reach the sensor so you can increase the shutter speed and still get a good exposure. A full-frame camera yields a smoother, less-grainy image using higher ISO compared to a crop-sensor camera when lighting is not the best. A full-frame camera really pays off in low- light conditions. The Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, which shoots seven frames per second, and the n Photographers in Minnesota's Sax-Zim Bog patiently wait for a Great Gray Owl to leave its perch so they might get a flight shot. Photo © Scott Zimmermann

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