In common with many people, I’m sure, I’ve always found bird photography frustrating. My first efforts, many years ago, involved a manual Fujica film camera with a cheap and nasty 500mm lens, which looked impressive in a cock extension kind of way, but was complete crap. Unless the light was absolutely perfect you couldn’t even see what you were trying to photograph through the viewfinder, and I never managed to take anything even bordering on acceptable with it.
After that I had a Pentax ME Super, which was a good camera, but again I was hampered by the lack of a decent lens. And the fact that it used film, which is frankly a ridiculous way to take photos, on a par with using candles to light your home. In 2001 I jumped on the digiscoping bandwagon, firstly with a Panasonic camcorder and then with the ubiquitous Nikon Coolpix 995. If anything, digiscoping was even more frustrating – my scope really wasn’t up to it, adding a hideous blue fringe to everything, and I always found the shutter lag on the Coolpix made taking photos of birds a very hit and miss affair. This was made even worse by the utterly useless (and stupidly expensive) Nikon remote release cable. This rarely worked properly, and eventually stopped working altogether, a far from uncommon occurrence apparently!
A couple of years ago I bought a Panasonic Lumix FZ-30, with a 1.7 x convertor. This was a great improvement on digiscoping, but suffered from a rather slow autofocus which didn’t work at all on anything in flight, and went horribly grainy at anything other than the lowest ISO setting. Nevertheless, I did manage to take some half decent photos with it when conditions were right – i.e. a close bird in good light.
Recently, after many years of pissing around, I finally got myself a proper digital SLR, and a big fuck-off lens to go on it. I’ve just sold my old Panasonic camera on ebay, so I can’t show you a photo of it, but it’s a Canon 450D with a Sigma 150-500mm lens. The lens is pretty heavy, but it’s stabilized, so can be handheld at shutter speeds down to about 1/125th of a second.
Now, before any ‘professionals’ out there start looking down their ten grand 1D Mk IIIs + f4 prime lenses at me, don’t worry, I shan’t be getting any delusions of grandeur, or entering your ‘who can afford the most expensive camera gear?’ competitions. I know it’s only an entry-level DSLR, and a third-party zoom lens, but this is way better than anything I’ve ever owned before, and for the first time in my life I can take bird photos that I’m completely happy with.
And now some examples to bore you with: