Digital prosumer cameras are very convenient and rather small and compact cameras that have a great potential as part of the basic birding equipment. Normally we think of cameras for birders like with big telephoto lenses on digital single lens reflex cameras.
These are still the optimal camera equipment for real bird photographers. But for the many birders who are keener on observing the birds without breaking the back – or breaking the bank – the modern prosumer cameras come in very handy.
In the following article I will offer you my own experience from using a number of rather small digital super zoom cameras and highlight the qualities you should look for when deciding what kind of camera to buy for your birding activities. But first let us see the camera as a part of the birders total equipment.
The camera as part of the birder’s equipment
When we go birding we bring the following equipment:
– binoculars for birding
– our bird note book
– a bird field guide book
– food and drinks according to the length of the trip and character of the birding location
– rain coat or whatever extra protection might be needed
Some birders also bring:
– a telescope for birding
– a stable tripod for the telescope
– a map and other equipment facilitating the observations
– mobile phone / smart phone to be in contact with other birders
– electronic devices to replay bird songs or to make play backs to call the birds, or to record our findings
– a small chair if you expect to sit and observe the birds for a longer time
– camera equipment
– first aid kit
– other tools and items of convenience
– all typically packed in a backpack.
If bird photography is your main passion when going birding then the bulk of your camera gear would probably be the most heavy to carry and handle of your total equipment. But for the birder – man or woman alike – the convenience of being able to move around fast and silent without fatigue might be more important. So let us see what the birder needs from a suitable camera to carry on for every birding trip.
Requirements for a camera for birders
No need to say that these days a digital camera is a must. With a digital camera you can take 1000 frames and throw 990 away and it will not cost you anything extra even with this extraordinary waste. This is not just speculation, as all bird photographers will know we make a lot of bird pictures that are not sharp or not good from other criteria and we have to through them away.
But in fact we will want to use the camera for many kinds of bird motives:
Taking pictures of:
– standing individual birds on the ground, in vegetation, on the water or elsewhere
– flocks of birds on the ground or flying in the air
– birds doing their specific behaviour
– bird’s nets
– found dead birds
– found bird feathers etc.
– close-ups of birds cached for bird ringing by others (or ourselves)
– bird habitats
– displays at bird sanctuaries and natural parks
– local maps displayed at birding locations
– fellow birders and friends on the trip
A so-called prosumer camera with a long zoom lens should be able to provide you with all these opportunities. Compared to a big single lens reflex camera equipment these different kinds of pictures would require at least 2- 3 interchangeable lenses to use on the camera body.
What is a prosumer camera?
Among camera producers the different segments of potential camera buyers are divided into the professional photographer segment and the consumer segment. We are all to be regarded as common consumers for areas that are not our occupation area.
With the wording prosumer camera the understanding is cameras of rather professional quality but expected to be bought by consumers who are more serious with their photography than the mainstream consumer.
Essential this means that prosumer cameras are very capable cameras with plenty of options and very good picture quality. To be accessible for the not-professional kinds of comsumers the pricing needs to be rather low compared to full-fledged big camera systems.
The capacity of prosumer cameras As a bird watcher who is also doing professional stock photography I know these distinctions rather well. As an author of a number of published printed books I have with full satisfaction made use of digital pictures from prosumer cameras and even from less sophisticated cameras. This tells me that these kinds of digital cameras – if treated well – are very capable of producing pictures for quality printing; at least when the printing is for normal book size pictures.
Prosumer cameras for birders
When we discuss prosumer cameras for us birders we have to be more selective. As mentioned we need a camera with a lot of options build in. The most important will be long zoom range. When I started bird photography for a generation ago, the standard lens for a 24×36 mm single lines reflex camera was a 400 mm, focus 5.6 telephoto lens.
These were rather expensive lenses for a normal household budget. A 400 mm tele photo lens would give a magnification of 8 times compared to the standard lens of 50 mm.
When we talk about modern digital cameras this is a rather small magnification. The camera manufacture will often display the exact magnification in all promotion material for the camera.
For Olympus SP-800 UZ it is 30× magnification but be aware that is measured from the wide level of the zoom (28 mm) to the long tele photo reach (840 mm) here mentioned as 35 mm film camera equivalent.
As impressive such data is do not be fooled by this aspect of the lens in itself. It is next to impossible to keep such a camera steady when using the longest zoom function. And even with a good tripod and optimum photo conditions you might not be able to take your dream shot of your seldom bird or whatever in your mind.
On the other hand most of these super zoom cameras now come with lens stabilisers that will help you 2-4 f.-stops to avoid hand shake.
Such cameras are often in trouble when focussing on rather small items in low light or with less contrast when using the full zoom.
To take sharp pictures of birds in flight is often impossible with these small and convenient cameras.
The camera models are becoming better and better to take pictures in high ISO settings with a low noise level. Luckily, every year these aspects are being improved.
To feel comfortable with your prosumer camera for birding you might want to get a new camera model every second year to feel you have the best equipment for your bird watching.