Choosing the camera and lens is the favorite topic among bird photographers.
It’s never ending endeavor. The improvements in today’s technology are tremendous. Every year there are tens of new models.
I can understand the dilemma which you have to go through. It can prove to be a nightmare. Let me simplify it for you.
Things to Consider While Purchasing a Camera for Bird Photography
Here are few points which should steer your purchasing decision in the right direction.
1. Better Sensor Trumps the Reach
I know it will shatter your belief. You must be thinking I am crazy. I am, in a way J
Sensor plays a significant role in getting you the top-notch image quality. Full frame sensors will always outperform the cropped-sensors by leaps and bounds. The bigger the pixel size or photo-diode size in the sensor, the better is the light gathering capability. Better light implies better Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR). Higher the SNR, lower will be the noise.
Bigger sensors are always great in handling noise.
If you are serious about your passion, go for the full-frame camera body. Period.
If money is a bigger constraint, then think of going for a second-hand full-frame camera. It’s always worth it.
If you are just starting out and doesn’t know whether bird photography is for you or not, then go for a decent cropped frame camera.
2. Autofocus Points
The number and type of autofocus points is a killer. Not many bird photographers seem to realize it.
If you check few camera models, the fundamental difference will only be in the number of autofocus points. But the price difference will be a bomb. That’s because the increase in autofocus points implies an increase in autofocus sensors, which costs money.
There are two types of autofocus points:
- Single-point autofocus sensors (referred by default as autofocus points).
- Cross-point autofocus sensors.
Most entry-level cameras have single-point autofocus sensors. These sensors will detect the contrast (contrast detection) or the phase (phase detection) only in one direction. They are also known as vertical sensors.
Mid-segment to professional-end cameras will have cross-point autofocus sensors. A cross point sensor will have a horizontal and a vertical sensor, both working together. It’s much faster and precise in detecting the contrast or the phase thereby achieving a more rapid focus.
Now it should be clear to you why a camera body with more autofocus points, especially more cross-points will cost a bomb.
Next time you are purchasing a camera, you need to check how many autofocus points it has. Also, check the number of cross-points. It will prove to be a massive advantage with the right set of lens.
3. Better ISO Performance
If you are into bird photography for at least some time, you will already know the need of better ISO. Don’t you?
Poor ISO performance could be disgusting. What seemed to be a good action shot in the field looks awful on the bigger display. Many bird photographers are sick and tired of removing the ruthless noise in the image. It’s painful. I know it. And I just hate it.
The best thing that happened to me last year was buying Nikon D750. It changed the whole game. I have shot up to ISO 3200 without hesitation.
Don’t be a scapegoat for manufacturer’s claim on ISO 100 to ISO 12,800. Nowadays, every DSLR supports that range. The manufacturer is bullying you to purchase inferior cameras.
Remember that bigger sensors can handle noise very well. Unless you are buying a full-frame body, I would strongly recommend you to rent a body and test it thoroughly. Most cropped-sensors are good only up to ISO 400 or 800.
Higher ISO is always a boon for the bird photographers. It will give you an enormous advantage in the low light as well as in the early morning and early evening lighting conditions.
4. Higher fps (Frames Per Second)
Wonder why it’s the last thing to consider?
I intentionally wanted to put it at the end, the first thing in bird photographer’s mind. How cruel! J
The reason my friend is; compared to all other factors, this is not a deal-breaker. I know, at this point, you are growling with anger. I will make my point if you can wait.
Higher fps is always a boon for bird photography. I see a smile now J But, not at the expense of several hundred to thousand dollars. If I have to spend several thousand dollars to get from 6.5 fps to 12 fps, I would rather spend that money on a lens.
There’s a strong reason. Most of the action can be captured with a decent speed of 5 to 6 fps. Higher fps will only fill your buffer and memory card faster. It doesn’t necessarily give you an edge over others. Certainly there are many exceptions. But, is it worth the extra cost? It might not be.
Today, most cameras support an fps of 5 to 8 fps. That’s sufficient enough. At least 5fps is a must, though. Don’t go for a camera below 5 fps. It will be a disaster unless you are too good at what you are doing.
While purchasing a camera, remember to look for a camera with at least 5 fps. The more, the better as long as it meets other criteria.
To round up, here it is:
- Go for a full-frame camera or a bigger sensor.
- Go for a camera with more number of autofocus points, especially the cross-points.
- Go for a camera with better ISO capabilities in terms of lesser noise at ISO 400 to 1600 range.
- Go for a camera with a burst speed of at least 5 fps.
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Recommended Pro Camera Bodies
These are too expensive camera bodies, but definitely worth the money. I guess 🙂
1. Nikon D5
I think this is by far the best in Nikon.
2. Nikon D4S
3. Canon 1D X Mark II
I think this is by far the best in Canon.
4. Canon 1DX
Recommended Full-Frame Camera Bodies
1. Nikon D750 – I strongly recommend this camera. I use it 🙂
2. Nikon D810
3. Canon 5D Mark III
Check the comparisons between these camera bodies
Recommended Cropped-Frame Camera Bodies
In case you need to use the cropped-sensor body, here’re 2 of my recommendations.
1. Nikon D500
2. Canon 7D Mark II
I cannot comment on the Sony, Olympus and other camera bodies as I have no idea.
Ok. That’s it for today. Hopefully, I have uncovered some myths and given you food for thought.
If it eased your decision on purchase, it’s good. If you are mad at me, then I am the culprit.
Feel free to share your thoughts by hitting the reply button. I am listening with a bulletproof jacket on 🙂
Alright then…have a great time! Have fun!