Need tips: Buying a camera for fauna (mostly birds) photography

Hi all!

I am looking to buy a camera that I can use to photograph wildlife.

I hike a lot, and would need it to be easy to bring with me, eg, ideally not a massive camera I have to add a huge lens to. 

A small, portable camera with a good zoom function would be ideal. My budget is approx £400 max. 

I have looked online but a lot of the 'low end' wildlife cameras are much more than I'm willing to spend.

I should note that, as an amateur birdwatcher, I'm happy for the camera to not be the best quality in the world, as long as it's portable and relatively affordable.

If you're not aware of any particular models that would fit the bill, does anyone have any advice re the minimum zoom I should be looking into for birdwatching purposes? (Eg 60x minimum?)

Thanks !

Ps: cute baby swallow picture as a thank-you in advance!

  • A good question, the photographic world is your oyster, and a lot depends on your personal needs and preferences.

    60x is a very ambiguous zoom figure, not because it isn't good, it is purely relative to the camera processor, so a 60x zoom may not be better than a 40x zoom. Ideally you need to ideally look at optical zoom relative to a 35mm camera, which most manufacturers will specify and 35mm optical zoom figures are a good standard to work with, and a good salesperson will be able to help you make a suitable informed choice.

    As a former hill and moorland walker, I generally used compacts with an optical zoom or around 200mm relative to a 35mm camera, but you can get larger zooms. Anything bigger was just unwieldly with a rucksack and other mountaineering and/or camping gear.

    Today, because I'm not able to go to the hills and moors, for personal preference, I use a Digital Single Lens Reflex (abbrev to DSLR one of those big jobbies that looks like a professional camera, except I'm no pro, merely an amateur who loves taking landscape and wildlife photos and it helps to get me outdoors) and select the lens according to what my subject is.

    A consideration might be to look at Bridge Cameras, they're often a nice in-between camera, between a compact and a Digital Single Lens Reflex  often with all the thrills and none of the messing around with changing lenses.

    A decent Bridge camera would probably have an optical zooms from 200mm relative to a 35mm camera up to 800mm elative to a 35mm camera, depending on budget and how it feels in your hands, and around your neck when carrying the camera, which is a very important consideration.

    Personally, I prefer to have an eye view finder, that is where you bring the camera to the eye, which for me, cuts out the light and other interferences while concentrating on the subject of your photo. LCD screens are good, but in brilliant sunlight or artificial can make it hard to see clearly what you're subject is and what's around it.

    Most cameras today offer video as well as still options.

    Also, consider do you want loads of photographic scene options, or just play around with the main functions, shutter priority, aperture priority or straightforward auto mode(s)

    From here, the best advice would be to visit a reputable camera retailer, talk to the salesperson about your requirements and budget, and have a look what's available, handle them and look at the price. Often camera shops have starter deals on, give them consideration.

    You may need to reconsider your £400 budget buying new, but used may give some good deals.

    Good luck with your search and enjoy it, you'll pick up a lot of tips and let us know what you finally buy.

    Mike

    Flickr Peak Rambler

  • Hey there! I am by no means an expert but i use a P900 and it has done me wonders. Maybe not the most crisp and the auto light balancing can be a problem until you figure out your settings but the zoom is immense and the bird/auto modes are really good for a camera that fits in one hand. Here are a couple of the most difficlt shots it pulled off at full zoom for reference:

    and here at closer range:

    In flight it gets more difficult as the focus doesn't always catch and many birds are designed to be awkward to latch onto when in flight (like the kestrel):

    Hope this helps you out! Nikon P900 (and I believe there might be an updated version with crisper pixels etc? Would need to ask someone who has tried it if it's any good). All the best with your search!!

    Shez

  • Good advice above, Juliette, especially the handle before you buy, because each camera will feel different in your hands. Another thought to bear in mind is what you want to do with the pictures. I started with a Panasonic bridge camera, but when I came to print what looked like super pictures, bigger than 6x4 were not at all good, so I moved up to an entry level DSLR and then bought a good lens. If not printing I would say a bridge camera is the way to go for their sheer versatility. But, as stated, try to get your hands on some to see how they feel.
  • Hi Juliette,
    Look at something like panasonics tz90 which can be picked up for around £300.This camera is a compact camera with a built in viewfinder and a 30x zoom.
    You can get a bridge camera as mentioned above with about the same zoom for about the same price but they will be bulkier........this isn't always a bad thing though as bridge cameras are easier to hold with their bigger grip.
    Most compact and bridge cameras use the same sized sensors so image quality from a good compact or bridge camera will be the same at the same optical focal lengths.
    Some compact and bridge cameras have bigger sensors for increased image quality but there is also an increase in price and a decrease in zoom length.
  • Hi-

    see my posts on here about various Lumix cameras:

    S

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

  • As others have mentioned, you're probably looking at a bridge camera for your needs. I don't have any specific models to suggest (I'm a DSLR guy), but Panasonic (Lumix), Canon, Nikon are probably your go-to brands. For typical birding, I'd aim for something in the 4-600mm (35mm equivalent) optical zoom (forget digital zoom) as a minimum - don't get too hooked on the multiplier, it's simply a reference to the difference between wide and long ends (eg a 10mm - 600mm is a 60x zoom, but so is a 20mm to 1200mm). Some of the bridge cameras quote massive multipliers, but the bigger the range, the harder it is to make the lens decent at all focal lengths, especially at a low price point, so you may find results at the long end especially, somewhat disappointing.
    If you'd like to understand more about the technical aspects, checkout the Getting off Auto index linked in my signature below. There's all sorts of info explaining the terms used in the threads linked from there - mostly talking about DSLR, but just as relevant to a bridge

    ___

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

  • Thanks so much all!

    It's a whole new world to me, I'll have to get my head around all the different options, I'll let you know once I've made a purchase, and how I get along with it!