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Category: All About Photography : Photographing Specific Subjects : Animals, Pets, & Wildlife Photography

Photography Question 
AHMAD S. QURAISH
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/19/2007
 

Taking Better Bird Photos


I like to take bird pictures ... which lens would be best? The problem is the birds are afraid and far away. What is the best technique? My Camera is a Canon EOS 400D. Thanks!


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12/26/2007 11:52:21 PM

 
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  Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS USM
Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS USM
© W.
Miscellaneous Does...
 
 

Hi Ahmad,

you need a EF 600mm f/4L IS USM lens and a very sturdy tripod.


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12/27/2007 8:36:40 AM

 
Irene Troy
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/27/2004
  Hi Ahmad Ė
I do a fair amount of bird photography and have learned a few things: first, the most important "accessory" you need is knowledge of the bird you are attempting to photograph. Get a good bird book for your region and study not only the picture of the bird, but something of its habits. If you take time to sit quietly, in your car, behind a window or near a feeder, and watch the birds, you will begin to learn something about their behavior and thus be better able to anticipate your shot.
As for equipment: I use several different lenses Ė Sigma 70-500mm, Canon 70-200mm, and Canon 28-135mm. I generally use a tripod, but on occasions, I shoot handheld or use a bean bag resting on a fence post, tree limb, car window, etc. Once again, if you know something about the bird you can more easily guess where to focus for the best results. Plan on making multiple images, since sometimes you will need to shoot rapidly in order to capture that one good image. I tend to select a fairly high shutter speed and it helps that my Canon 5D has a constant focus mode that permits clear focusing even if the subject moves during capture.
Be prepared for at least some level of frustration when trying to make good images of birds. I suspect that even the real experts have days when nothing goes right and each image is somehow flawed.
Good luck!


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12/27/2007 9:45:39 AM

 
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Of course Irene is right, Ahmad: you do not need that very expensive (although very great) lens in order to capture good bird images. (It's also very heavy BTW! Big prob for hiking!). But it would increase your hit rate tremendously.

Indeed, the single most important factor in getting good bird images is knowledge of bird behavior. But there is also a shortcut to long focal lengths: if for instance you should get a 300mm (35mm equivalent) lens and used your 400D's digital zoom at 2x you would effectively have a 600mm Field of View! Bingo!
The trade of is that you get smaller images, less pixel width and height. But your 400D's 10 megapixels can take a dent, imo.
You will, still, need a good tripod, however!

Have fun!


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12/27/2007 8:00:59 PM

 
Bob Cammarata
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/17/2003
cammphoto.com
  For serious birding, lens choice will depend upon the quarry you seek. A fast super telephoto prime lens of at least 300mm that will accept matching teleconverters will be a wise choice for raptors or any other skittish species.
Waterfowl and wading birds can be easily approached in public parks and preserves where they've become accustomed to humans. In this scenario, shorter focal lengths will suffice.


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12/28/2007 1:09:59 AM

 
AHMAD S. QURAISH
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/19/2007
  i found sigma 170-500mm f5-6 APO
is it good for these kind of photos?


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12/28/2007 1:23:38 AM

 
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If you're after birds you want crisp, clear, and tacksharp focused photos. So if the reviews of that Sigma lens are anything to go by I wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole, because "crisp, clear, and tacksharp focused photos" are exactly what the Sigma does NOT seem to deliver!

See: http://tinyurl.com/2yqx4s.

Ahmad, the expression says "you get what you pay for". This lens seems to indeed be be VERY cheap (compared to e.g. Canon's equivalent), and I expect you to be very disappointed with it, so that you would feel you wasted 695 dollars!

The digital zoom method I outlined above may be not too much different in image quality, but it would save you 695 bucks!

If you get an extra lens, get the best quality you can possibly get in that class if you don't want to regret your purchase later.

Have fun!


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12/28/2007 6:51:51 AM

 
Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
gregorylagrange.org
  For future reference to anybody who wants to listen, any lens that has a zoom range that long isn't going to be that sharp.
So be prepared
And also, what kind and where are these birds that you want to get pictures of. I haven't seen that answered. Because if it's local birds around your house, it may take just sitting outside for awhile until birds start coming around.
Walking up to a bird makes it harder. Already being there is different. Because birds that are used to people walking by will still fly away once you look at them.
One more thing, don't confuse field of view with extra telephoto power. It's just cropping a picture to fill a frame.


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12/28/2007 3:14:39 PM

 
Irene Troy
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/27/2004
  Ahmad Ė My best suggestion to you, and to anyone else who is truly interested in birds, is to visit the Birds as Art website and talk with the folks there. These people are really talented in their field of interest and can provide you with fairly specific advice and answer your questions with real experience.

I am always reading here that it is really hard to get good bird images without a good prime long lens. Iím not about to argue that this is not true; however, Iím continually amazed at how often I am able to capture a great image without using my long lens. We have a small farm and set out all sorts of feeders that attract many different species. Iím lucky to live right on the important Atlantic flyway Ė meaning that many different species migrate through our area. Hawks and other raptors hunt our fields and the occasional owl will nest in the tree line between our house and the field. Iíve spent time studying the habits of local species and have at least some idea of when and where they are likely to roost. It is, IMO, all about patience and trying again and again. Personally, I love all of it, even when the resulting images fail to meet my expectations! Iíd love to own a Canon 600mm IS lens, but at close to $7000, itís just not going to happen. So, I use my existing lenses as best I can and keep working on the technique.

Good luck and if you get any images, come back and post them here for us to see!

Irene


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12/28/2007 6:01:16 PM

 
Bob Chance
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/19/2006
  Ahmad:

I do a good deal of bird shooting myself and use Canons 100-400mm lens. Even though this lens has image stabilization technology, I've found that shooting anything slower than 1/250 sec results in images not as sharp as I would like. I've since learned to use a tripod as much as possible.
Though shooting at a faster shutter speed may reduce blur due to motion, it also means shooting at a wider aperature and most lenses aren't 'tack sharp' at wide open aperature. The general rule is that most lenses are sharpest stopped down one or two stops.
Shooting at high ISO may eliviate the problem of shutter speed and aperature, but the higher the ISO, the more noise. Everything in life is a compromise. I try not to shoot above ISO 200 and unless my prey is in heavy shade, this seems to give me a good balance between fast enough shutter speed and sharp enough aperature. But you will find, as Irene pointed out above, that you'll have days when nothing goes right. You might spend a whole day shooting and thing you got some great shots, only to view them on the computer at 100% magnification and see how blurry they are.
Best of luck with your lens choice. My only advice there would be to stick with your camera manufactureres lens. It might cost more, but you'll have a higher quality lens and one that is less likely to give you compatability issues, especially when everything is electronic these days.


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1/2/2008 4:22:05 AM

 
Irene Troy
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/27/2004
  I second Bobís suggestion to use a tripod as often as possible. I am somewhat obsessive about using my tripod even when I am shooting at moving subjects. Last year I invested in a good basalt (light weight metal) tripod with a really good ball head. I never leave home without at least one tripod and use my light weight one when I have to hike into an area. Once you get the hang of things you can actually follow a moving subject by quickly moving the ball head Ė I donít tighten down the knobs until I am ready to shoot and have been known to shoot without the knobs being locked. Again, it is all in the practice. I also have found that I can shoot at ISOís as high as 800 without encountering unacceptable levels of noise; however, I am now using a Canon 5D which, I believe, has the capacity for higher resolution than some other cameras.

Irene


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1/2/2008 6:15:55 AM

 
Oliver Anderson
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/16/2004
  Ahmad, I think the best solution is to take the $700 you were going to spend on the wrong lens and RENT a great lens for the day(s). When I shoot surfing competitions magazines rent me a lens to use, like the Canon 600mm f4 IS...well they haven't got me that one yet...but I've used the Canon 400mm 2.8IS and it's HUGE and makes you look cool. You can throw a 1.4X on and you've got a 600mm f4IS. The rental fee is $100 a day but you've got to leave a deposit of the cost of the lens or $$6500. I've used the Canon 100-400mm and it's a fine lens as well.


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1/2/2008 9:18:57 AM

 
Sharon  Day
BetterPhoto Member Since: 6/27/2004
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  If you have a backyard you can also put out bird feeders to attract birds then place a blind nearby to shoot them from. I have a window not far from my bird feeders that gets me pretty close. Also, attach a natural looking prop on the bird feeder such as a branch or something. Birds tend to land in the same spot time and again while waiting for their turn at the feeder.


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1/2/2008 11:42:19 AM

 
Oliver Anderson
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/16/2004
  I am a bit weary of Sharon's info...I set up a blind to shoot the ducks in my pool and the neighbors called the cops...12 gauges are VERY loud...but dinner was tasty that night.JK


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1/2/2008 10:46:11 PM

 
Sharon  Day
BetterPhoto Member Since: 6/27/2004
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  LOL Oliver! It doesn't matter in my neighborhood ;).


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1/3/2008 9:16:12 AM

 
Judy T. Howle   I use a Canon 100 - 400 IS L and am fairly well pleased with it. The 300 mm f/4 + 1.4 extender combo has a little more reach and slightly better image quality according to several who have used both. That will be my next lens purchase.

If your budget doesn't permit the above lenses and the birds aren't terribly far off, you might consider the Canon 70 - 300 IS. It doesn't have enough reach for me most of the time.

My photos: http://imageevent.com/jhowle


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1/3/2008 3:13:04 PM

 
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They taste a lot better when you leave them for a few days, Oliver/JK....


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1/3/2008 3:23:10 PM

 
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