July 2, 2015 by Rokman61
(Note 1: This edition of my blog is mainly a discussion of cameras and results of some trials, which may not be of much interest to some – feel free to skip to the pics).
(Note 2: underlined words are links – click for more info if desired).
I have been using a DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera, specifically a Canon 7D model. My bird-shooting lens is a fixed (non-zoom) 300mm f4.0, and I usually add a 1.4x teleconverter. The assembled outfit is 13 inches (33 cm) long and weighs about 5 pounds (2.3 kg). When on my regular walks, I usually chose not to lug my big SLR camera and lens with me, and so was missing too many unexpected photo-ops. I decided to try out one of the newer ‘super zoom’ point-and-shoot cameras which are much more compact than my ‘serious’ outfit. To this end I purchased a newly-released model, the Nikon P900. This camera has an almost unbelievable ‘reach’ (magnification), with 2400mm equivalent (relative to 35mm format cameras), which translates to 48x! In comparison, my SLR with 300mm lens plus 1.4x tele-converter gives me 672mm or 13.4x, and binoculars are usually 8x or 10x.
I was very disappointed and frustrated with the results provided by this camera. Here I present a few examples.
This Rufous Hummingbird was one of my very first subjects. The bird was quite distant, and the camera did manage to capture its essence, but the image is just not very sharp. Plenty good enough for documentation, but nothing to rave about.
A small flock of sandpipers on the beach provided an opportunity to try the camera at various distances and settings. These birds are Sanderling, and the three shots show progressive stages of transition from winter into breeding plumage. I felt the results were poor to fair, and despite various attempts at post-processing I could not get colours that I liked.
In mid-month, there was a nearly unprecedented sighting of an even dozen White-faced Ibis near Kamloops in the Interior. This being a BC ‘lifer” for me, I naturally had to go to twitch them. The photos I got were a major disappointment, albeit the lighting conditions were very harsh and caused everybody some problems. I’ll only present two pics here, first a shot of part of the flock foraging.
This one taken when a single bird came within decent shooting range, but I still could not get an image as good as I had expected.
Although I couldn’t get nice crisp images when using the ultra-high zoom, I must acknowledge that this feature is a potent tool for aiding in the identification of distant birds – an example follows.
This fuzzy photo shows a large sandpiper called a dowitcher, of which there are two species (Long-billed and Short-billed), and which are often very difficult to tell part. They are best distinguished by voice, certain plumage features, and preferred habitat – none of which could be applied to the birds pictured here – except for one subtle field mark visible in the photo, namely the dark and light bars on the tail feathers. For Long-billed the dark bars are wider than the pale bars, and for Short-billed the white bars are noticeably wider (click for enlarged view). Bingo! – we have ID’ed it as a Short-billed Dowitcher.
I made a few attempts at catching ‘birds in flight’. That feat is difficult enough with a fast-focusing SLR, but considerably more challenging with the point-and-shoot. This was the closest I got to a usable photo – Osprey being a relatively accommodating subject.
I was finding that at high zoom I couldn’t hold the camera steady enough – even keeping the subject in mid-frame was tough. My photos were just not acceptably sharp enough. To reduce camera motion I tried using a monopod, and then a tripod, but the results were not much better. I suspect that really crisp photos at high zoom are just not going to happen with this instrument. When I tried some closer subjects I did get some satisfactory results.
Meanwhile, shortly after I had purchased the Nikon, a friend who had also acquired the exact same model P900 decided he no longer needed his previous point-and-shoot and mentioned that he would like to sell it. This was a Canon SX50 HS, a camera I was familiar with and knew had a good reputation. The camera was almost new, the price was right, so I bought it as a spare for any family member to use if wanted. The Canon has a zoom factor equivalent to 24x – half that of the Nikon, but still nearly twice that of my SLR outfit. I decided to give this one a try.
This time I was immediately pleased with the results!
The Lazuli Bunting is a very scarce nester in our area. Last year a pair showed up at a new location fairly near our house, so I went to see if they had returned. On my first visit only this female made a fleeting appearance (two males eventually showed up later).
One of my favourite spring flowers, and one that I had mostly overlooked in the past, is the Pacific Ninebark (Physocarpus capitatus). This tall shrub becomes covered with blossoms, white to start, then turning a rich burgundy colour as the seeds develop.
One day Norma and I had an opportunity to tour a local greenhouse. We learned that they are relatively good citizens when it comes to environmental concerns. They are largely self-contained, recycle whatever they can, use organic methods of pest control, and generally avoid or minimize use of industrial chemicals. This is what this particular operation produces. You are familiar of course with ‘stuffed peppers’. That day it was we who were stuffed with peppers.
At this point I had pretty much decided on which camera best suited my needs. Here is a summary of my conclusions.
* The Nikon was going to require that I learn a lot more about its operation and how to get the best results from it.
* I don’t know how much of the blame for my poor results is due to my incompetence with the camera, and how much is due to its inherent limitations.
* I suspect that the extra ‘reach’ of the Nikon over the Canon is of very little actual use to me. With a tripod it might deliver better distant images, but that defeats my desire to not be encumbered by bulky or heavy gear.
* I prefer the colours I am getting from the Canon. It has a ‘white balance’ setting for overcast/shade conditions, which the Nikon lacks. The Canon can also provide RAW files, the Nikon not. (RAW allows for more flexibility when post-processing images).
* Neither camera can produce crisp shots at high zoom compared with an SLR equipped with a quality long lens. But for closer subjects and when images are viewed on a screen, the results are surprisingly acceptable.
* The Canon is considerably more compact. * I am only slightly disposed towards the Canon brand, and I assume that Nikon produces equipment of approximately equal quality. However, when these two point-and-shoot are compared head-to-head, I give the Canon a wide preference.
So, when Norma and I headed to Oliver in the southern Okanagan at month’s end to attend a BCFO (BC Field Ornithologists) meeting, I left both the Nikon and my SLR at home. Here are some images taken with the little Canon. This cute muskrat was encountered en route.
The town of Oliver touts itself as the ”Wine Capital of Canada’. One small winery we visited has resident Great Horned Owls nesting on the property, which is celebrated by one of their wines, labelled ‘Two Hoots’ in honour of the birds. Here momma owl sits in the nest hollow. If you look at the lumpy dishevelled feathers in lower right you can make out two beaks.
A drake Redhead. Perhaps of interest (or perhaps not) the proper name for this species is Redhead, not Redhead Duck. I liked this particular image more for the pattern of reflections than for the bird.
Judging by the terrain, the architecture, and the signage in the photo below, one would expect it was taken somewhere in the southwestern USA. Nope – right there in the southern Okanagan Valley of BC!
In addition to the bird-watching opportunities, the BCFO meeting featured a banquet and guest speaker. This year the invited guest was a team – one delivered most of the talk whilst the other added comments as appropriate. Here they are in mid-presentaion. I have heard it said that birders are an odd lot, but I don’t think that is a fair assessment. But you can decide for yourself.
After the meeting a group of us continued on to Washington for a guided birding tour of the eastern part of the state. I’ll have something about that trip in my next blog.