How long should a lens be for birding?

Discussion in 'Canon EOS' started by mark_stephan|2, Apr 5, 2017.

  1. Yes, in comparison, humans, jet planes and race cars and much easier to track and keep in focus than a green-winged teal flying close at 40-mph. Speed, plus unpredictable flight patterns and changing backgrounds, all make flying birds really tough.

    Don't try to hunt for the subject in the viewfinder. Instead, look at the subject as you're raising the viewfinder to your eye. Practice that with perched subjects at first, then start with moving subjects. Gulls, if you have them in your area, are great practice subjects, because they're often plentiful, somewhat fast and erratic in flight pattern.
  2. Mark, the smaller the bird the longer the focal length you will need to isolate the bird from the background. If your shooting from a distance you will never seem to have enough reach. A 100-400 zoom is not a bad choice as a starting point and the newer version is impressive. I have avoided teleconverters in general and especially on a slow zoom lenses but you can probably make due with them just fine. The resolution of the newer model cameras really shows the limitation of teleconverters IMHO. For some applications the 7D is probably a good/better choice over full frame for birds and has a good frame rate for wing shooting. A tripod and gimbal action head will help you get the most out of your system. It looks like you have what you need in hand. Good hunting.
  3. Don't be afraid of teleconverters, just use the very best. Canon Series II lens with Series III, 1.4x TC-III:

    [​IMG]Pose for a male, but no male is in sight. by David Stephens, on Flickr

    The only worry is speed of AF. Canon 100-400/S-II with a Series III TC is plenty fast, even for birds in flight, on a 5D3, 7D2 or 5D4, but it can be problematic with other bodies or with lesser TCs.
  4. when you get longer distance to the bird, over 400mm the heat waves become an issue on a summer shoot. If you are shooting for documentation then what ever you can carry.
  5. This is true, but shooting at 700mm and 1000mm, which I routinely do, you still want to be close to the bird. Shooting over water, almost any time of the year, you can get atmospheric refraction. I was shooting cranes in early spring, last year and the refraction over grassy ground was so bad on day that I couldn't use anything over 50-yards away. This winter, I was shooting an owl 20-feet away, but noticed distortion, caused by heat from my car, so I turned the car off. Shooting across the roof of the car can be problematic, at times. Refraction is there, even with shorter focal lengths, it's just easier to see with a super-telephoto.

    If you're shooting a bird that is covered by one AF point in the viewfinder, no matter the focal length, then refraction will be on a long list of issues with the image. It's best to get the bird covering 1/3 of the sensor, or higher, unless you're going for an environmental shot. When you accomplish that, then refraction is not a problem, most of the time.

  6. True Dat. I know a couple of ornithologists who spend their working days every day tromping all over creation taking pictures of birds, and documenting locations and environment. Obviously their primary goal is documentation, but one uses a Sigma 150-600 on a crop sensor Nikon, and the other uses a Canon SX730 HS. Some of their imagery is quite good, and easily publishable.
  7. I'm sorry for hijacking the topic a bit. But if we talk merely documentation, what would be a good setup? My brother asked me the other day and I had a hard time answering. He documents the game on his property and would like to get pictures good enough to be able to distinguish the different features of the animals. We're talking distances of about 100-200m and mostly dusk.

    I was thinking that perhaps one of those Canon Powershot models would do the trick? Anyone have two cents? Or should he go with digiscoping?

    And again, apologies to the OP for the hijacking.
  8. For documentation only, a Powershot or Coolpix "superzoom" would do the trick.
    TriggerHappy likes this.
  9. Thanks. I've never tried any of them so I don't know how good they are on high ISOs or on longer focal lenghts. But they do have image stabilization so I guess that works for them.
  10. I've noticed that most birders are not bothered in the least by the same things that would have "us" pulling out our hair. ;-)
    TriggerHappy likes this.
  11. I bought the older 100-400mm L lens when the newer one came out. Saved a few bucks and it seems more than adequate for my use.

    Except for one thing -- walking through an open forest, I could see every bird and critter scattering as they spied the "Great White Lens"
    Thinking about getting a camouflage cover, or simply getting a "hide".

    I don't personally find the 400mm long enough for stalking -- as I say, a hide seems superior.

    At re-enactments, I get cries of "what is that? a rocket launcher?" -not so amusing when you consider that journalists with these long lenses have been targeted in the Gulf region.

    Good for images of the south end of north-bound animals as they flee "Moby Dick" (the great White)
    Last edited: May 28, 2017
  12. If that's the sole goal (or even if he aspires to something a bit more) , then yeah, one of the 40x superzoom compacts would likely be fine. As I said, one of my high school friends (currently at the University of Botswana) uses a Powershot sx730 hs. He does NOT attempt to shoot birds in flight, but as he's got ~ 960mm of effective FL, and 20mp to crop from that, it works well for him. He's always posting great looking pics of strange (to me ;) ) looking smaller to medium birds, as that's what his research covers. The biggest challenge (so he says) is holding the camera still enough zoomed all the way in, but the IS works well enough to make such shots clear in decent light...
    TriggerHappy likes this.
  13. LOL. ;-)

    The more you use the "big whites" the less self conscious you become. Camouflage leads to a different set of questions, but I leave mine on all the time, even when I was shooting at the Bonzai Pipeline. My stock answer when someone comments or asks about my lens is, "It's like cheating" which leads to a laugh. Next question is, "Are you a pro", to which I respond, "Yes, but I can't pay the rent with it."

    Hides are great. I have a throw-over that's fantastic, BUT, unless you get there before the sun rises, you still need to follow "the fifteen-minute rule." That means that when you come into a new area, you need to stop moving and sit still for fifteen-minutes before you can expect any resumption of bird activity. It really works, often, even without the hide.

    For birds, using full-frame, I find 700mm is my go-to focal length. However, 400mm, plus a 1.4x TC, on a crop-sensor will certainly do, in a pinch.

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