Should I by a bridge/superzoom camera *instead of* a scope?

That's the short version, here's the full question!

I'd like to be able to identify wintering/migrant wildfowl/waders that might be 200-500m away. The 20x Kowa TS-502 that I have is great, but doesn't quite cut it at that sort of range.

I was on the point of either buying something like the Svbony SV406P ED (£370) or an RSPB Harrier 80mm ED (£499). However, I stumbled upon this article…

https://www.bhphotovideo.com/explora/photography/features/a-guide-to-birding-with-long-lenses

… where there are some very experience birders talking about not using bins/scopes *at all* any more, but just bridge/superzoom cameras made by the likes of Nikon, Canon and, particularly, Panasonic Lumix – not for taking pictures, necessarily, but just for, well, birdwatching!

The cost comparisin is very favourable: there are lots of perfectly ok looking s/h bridge cameras for sale online at under £200, even new I could get a Lumix FZ330 for under £400.

Thoughts? What is it really like peering at distant birds through a camera viewfinder instead of a scope?

(For clarity: I'm not particularly interested in actually taking photos, and, yes, I do have a good tripod :)

  • A lot of people do seem to be going for using cameras only but I have never noticed any of our regular birders forsaking their bins. I cannot comment on what camera/lens to use as I am not even a poor photographer, I tend to just enjoy others work.

    Pete

    Birding is for everyone no matter how good or bad we are at it,enjoy it while you can

  • Angle of view. How much light? And (for cameras) how big is the sensor?

    The lumix model you mention has a 600mm maximum focal length. The focal length may be related to a (reduced) area sensor. For a full size sensor that may equate to ~ 400m. And the headline maximum aperture (f/2.8) isn't as bright at 600mm. It is f/8.0.

    How much can you see in detail? Angle of view. Angle of view. Angle of view. And how much light gets through to the sensor (whether it be an eye or a digitl equiv).

    The AoV from camera/lens combos should be the diagonal AoV to give a proper comparison when compared to the circular AoV of a scope. Do any of the cameras you are thinking of give figures for AoV?
  • Your biggest problem is battery life - you'd drain the batteries regularly using it in place of a scope, so would need a few spares. Quality of view would not be as good, you're looking at a screen (even if through the viewfinder, it's a little screen) rather than through an optical-only setup. Magnification would be less than your current scope too - about 12x compared to your current 20x, though you could then use digital magnification (essentially cropping into the image) to get a closer view. Of course, to offset that, you can take a picture :-) The camera will adjust for the light levels somewhat, so you may get a better view in poor light conditions and it can be very handy showing people what you're looking at on the back screen. There's no right or wrong answer unfortunately, it's down to personal preference. I use both approaches (though with an EVIL setup) and the camera is an excellent alternative when I don't want to lug both around. But the scope is better (it does have a 60x zoom eyepiece though). Can you simply put a different eyepiece on the Kowa to get extra magnification? I thought they normally had a 20x to 40x zoom on those

    ___

    Find me on Flickr / All about your camera - The Getting off Auto Index

  • At this very moment I’m waiting for a bridge camera called the Nikon Coolpix 950 camera. But costs a lot more. But some of the regular birdwatchers who I’ve got to know very well at various local birdwatching area’s as well as friends from my local RSPB Group have recommended this camera of which has had excellent reviews and I seen photo’s and video’s including photo’s and video’s after friend who’ve used the Zoom for photo’s and video’s from that camera which again is excellent. But that camera which I’ve got ordered is out of stock at this present moment as that camera is so very popular of which I’ve had ordered since the end of November 2021 and the birdwatchers/who I know and who who use that camera have nothing but praise and I’m waiting for that camera to come back into stock. But I won’t be giving up on using my expensive Zeiss Binoculars that I bought 4-5 years ago and I will continue to use my Zeiss Binoculars.

    Regards,

    Ian.

  • That back screen on my camera is the reason I don't carry binoculars. It's a really useful tool for on the spot identification - and I can show other people what I've seen without having to try to describe it.

    Our herring gulls are red listed birds.  Think about that the next time you hear some flaming idiot calling for a cull of them.

  • Thanks for all of these perspectives, very interesting!

    Field of view is something that I hadn't thought about, and is, I agree, crucial. I have to admit that I took a chance on an no-brand 80mm 20-60x Chinese scope recently, only to discover that the FoV on it is about half that of my Kowa: which means that effectively you spot half as many birds! Not a good buy. And, with the camera, battery life: again, I hadn't really thought about that.

    My Kowa is an older model that doesn't have interchangeable eyepieces, so that idea is out. Based on all of this, I think I will carry on with the plan to get a better scope, and maybe try buying a second hand bridge camera to try somewhere down the line.

    @THOMO – there is actually a Nikon Coolpix P900 on ebay for £499 right now: www.ebay.co.uk/.../304283759089
  • In reply to Clare:

    That's interesting Clare but do you not find it hard to scan an area for birds using just a camera as the field of view must be a lot less and in bright light I find it difficult to see the back screen when someone is showing me something, that may be just my eyesight though

    Pete

    Birding is for everyone no matter how good or bad we are at it,enjoy it while you can

  • I'll echo Whistling Joe's reply, with a bridge camera your biggest issue will be battery life. Yes, you can take spare batteries, I do with my DSLR, and these days, they're not that big or heavy and often will fit in a pocket. BUT: if you do carry spare batteries make sure nothing can touch the contacts, because they can go BANG in a very spectacular and painful way!

    I use a small perfectly sized plastic box that I found online for my battery

    Clare mentions the bonus of using the LCD screen to show others if there's a conversation around a particular bird of that photo, I do that very often with my DSLR.

    I can't say I've ever used my previous bridge cameras as a scope, though I do sometimes use my DSLR as a scope, it doesn't require power to view, and focusing is purely manual, but my preference is to use dedicated optics for a search and to view, then the camera to take the photo.

    A lot will depend on your personal preferences and what you really want to do, many birders will use a scope, they are clearer and allow you to view clearer detail, though I don't see many birders using scopes and a camera.

    Mike

    Flickr Peak Rambler

  • Hi

    I was birding today using bins ( doh- Birder!) at Lynford Arboretum showing some birder guests around
    My trusty 10 year old KOWA TSN 883 will never be replaced by a bridge camera-
    today I zoomed in on a Hawfinch 300 (?) yards away at the top of a tree- it was a dot naked eye:
    It was easily identifiable by the birders with me who looked down the scope: My trusty LUMIX FZ would have been nowhere near as good at that range:

    S

    For advice about Birding, Identification,field guides,  binoculars, scopes, tripods,  etc - put 'Birding Tips'   into the search box

  • Hi

    I was birding today using bins ( doh- Birder!) at Lynford Arboretum showing some birder guests around
    My trusty 10 year old KOWA TSN 883 will never be replaced by a bridge camera-
    today I zoomed in on a Hawfinch 300 (?) yards away at the top of a tree- it was a dot naked eye:
    It was easily identifiable by the birders with me who looked down the scope: My trusty LUMIX FZ would have been nowhere near as good at that range:

    S

    For advice about Birding, Identification,field guides,  binoculars, scopes, tripods,  etc - put 'Birding Tips'   into the search box