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Thread: Lens for the birds

  1. #1
    Petracsr's Avatar
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    Lens for the birds

    I have been sitting with my mother-in-law lately, and she loves to watch the birds at her bird feeder. All I am thinking about is "I wish I had a telephoto lens to capture these birds!"
    I have a Canon 400D, and I have a birthday coming up. Without asking for too much of a gift, what would be a nice lens to ask for? Besides the birds, I often walk through a park with deer and bobcats that I'd like to capture from a distance. Nothing fancy, but something that produces clear shots without intrusion.
    Thanks,
    Petra

  2. #2

    Re: Lens for the birds

    Petra

    For the feeder, have you tried putting your camera on a tripod next to the feeder with an ordinary length lens, and shooting remotely with a Canon remote switch? I think they are pretty cheap for the 400D. You would need to cover the camera and lens to protect it.

    I think to get decent images with a long length lens you might need to spend quite a bit. You need a fast lens as birds can move very quickly, even when on a feeder, and fast long lenses can get expensive.

  3. #3
    Peter Ryan's Avatar
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    Re: Lens for the birds

    Hi Petra

    I also enjoy bird photography and use a 70 - 300mm lens on a Nikon body. This gives a 35mm equivalent of 450 mm or on your camera 480mm.

    To freeze birds in flight you will need plenty of light to get a shutter speed of at least 1000th of a sec. DOF is not a concern usually so open the aperture right up. Make sure your lens is focused at the feeder distance or beyond (infinity) so it does not go ‘hunting’ for the bird. You need the auto focus to snap on quickly.

    I look forward to seeing some of your results.

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    Re: Lens for the birds

    Besides the lens question (and I use a 70-300 mm Sigma), you might also have to improvise something to hide you: birds are very capable of differentiating between an open and a closed window, and you don't want to shoot through a window pane. And you have to get quite close even with a 450mm eq. (say about 3m). I used a sheet of cardboard (old fridge box) with a few cutouts to hide behind, and that worked, once they were used to it.
    As for the deer and bobcats, they are always farther off than they seem to be but that depends on where you are and how shy the local wildlife is: if there's a lot of hunting, animals stay away from humans...

  5. #5
    Moderator Dave Humphries's Avatar
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    Re: Lens for the birds

    Hi Petra,

    I have just been through the same selection process, I found only the 70-300 size lenses were within a "hobby budget", anything longer or faster was; a) very expensive (although Canon may be a little better) and b) very heavy.

    On that camera, you will certainly notice adding a fast/long lens, since they are usually over 1.4kg whereas the 70-300 are about 750g and, for comparison, a Kit zoom lens is about 500g, or less. If you're out walking, you will notice the extra weight assuming you're not going to encumber yourself with carrying a tripod too. Sorry I'm metric, it must be a pain for you to convert, but at least you can compare.

    A higher ISO coupled with noise reduction in PP gets around the lower aperture of the affordable lenses.

    On my Nikon I use the lens at f8 if I can (one stop down for a bit better IQ) and on sunny days I shoot at 400iso and increase that to 800 if the sun goes in, on light overcast days, 1600 may be necessary. On dull/wet days, it just won't work, so I don't bother.

    I agree with Peter that 300mm (aka 450/480 equivalent) is not really close enough for distant bird shots and since I don't take a hide with me, I walk slowly, keep my eyes and ears open, pause and stand for 5 minutes or more in likely places and wait for the birds to forget I am there (well some seem to, at least) and land close to me. That said, they are usually still a bit more than 3m (or yards) away, e.g. 4 - 6m, but shoot anyway and see if at least a low res image is possible by cropping (I only have 12MP).

    Two examples from yesterday's walk;

    At about 4.5m (and heavily cropped):
    Lens for the birds
    Nikon D5000 + Nikon 70-300mm VR: 1/750s f/11 at 300mm, iso400

    At about 6m+ (and very heavily cropped):
    Lens for the birds
    Nikon D5000 + Nikon 70-300mm VR: 1/750s f/8 at 300mm, iso400

    Hope that helps,
    Last edited by Dave Humphries; 12th July 2010 at 08:50 AM. Reason: add pics

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    Re: Lens for the birds

    For the weights: 500g is a bit over 1 lb, 1.4 kg is about 3-3.5 lb

    And while walking you can indeed get lucky, especially in winter:

    A eurasian siskin:
    Lens for the birds

    and a finch:
    Lens for the birds

    both enjoying rowan berries in the French alps last winter. The tree was just besides a walking trail, and the birds let me get quite close. As it was winter and they needed all the food they could get, I didn't try to get as close as possible.
    Photographed with a Sigma 70-300 mm, F5.6, 1/125 s @ 200 ISO using a monopod, both cropped to 1.6 MP from 10.5 (and then reduced to 700 pixels wide).

  7. #7

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    Re: Lens for the birds

    A 70-300 lens makes a useful general purpose lens (I use the Canon 70-300 IS) but for birds you need to be fairly close even at 300 mm. But it is possible to lure them close enough with a bird table containing irresistible tit bits. They will soon get used to a slightly open window if you don't make sudden movements.

    From my experience, a tripod is essential. Depth of field will usually be shallow so you need to keep refocusing on suitable subjects. Therefore, I have found that remote cable release doesn't really work that well due to close focusing problems.

    If it is just going to be a wildlife lens; then a prime 300 mm or preferably 400 mm may be worth considering. Although not exactly budget priced this option would produce excellent results at a reasonably realistic price, and they would also work with a converter.

    Be careful about some of the 'cheaper' zooms as sharpness usually decreases substantially at maximum lens length.

    Probably the best value general/bird lens would be the Sigma 150-500 OS. I'm not sure about the worldwide price but I think it currently retails around 800 in the UK which you may consider to be prohibitive. But I find it does produce acceptable results.

  8. #8
    Petracsr's Avatar
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    Re: Lens for the birds

    Thanks, everyone.
    After reading your posts, it narrowed down my search for reviews. The Sigma 70-300 had pretty good reviews. Canon EF 70-300 IS as well. Sigma was a couple hundred dollars cheaper, though! As a beginner, I think I'm thinking I need to not spend so much. My next step will be to head to the camera shop and try them out, see what feels comfortable. I'm sure whatever gift I pick....I mean, receive, I know I will have fun with.

    Dave, is that a Blue Heron? He's beautiful.
    Petra

  9. #9
    Moderator Dave Humphries's Avatar
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    Re: Lens for the birds

    Quote Originally Posted by Petracsr View Post
    Dave, is that a Blue Heron? He's beautiful.
    Thanks, I believe s/he's a Grey Heron, I don't think the UK has Blue ones, only Grey or Purple - according to my RSPB book.

    That said, our Greys are very similar looking to the Blues that Steve S shows us form US (?) in March, April and May.

    In fact they are so similar, I wonder if it is the same species just known by a different name.

    Cheers,

  10. #10
    Petracsr's Avatar
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    Re: Lens for the birds

    Ok. Went to the camera shop, and the sales rep showed me the Tamron 18-270 VC.
    Does anyone have any experience with this lens? Has a heck of a warranty, 8 years, I think.
    Thoughts?
    Petra

  11. #11
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    Re: Lens for the birds

    This place is reasonably good for reviews:
    http://www.dpreview.com/lensreviews/...p5-6p3_vc_n15/

    My preferred site, Photozone.de, don't list this lens.

    I haven't tried this lens, so take what I say as an untested opinion.
    I think with any lens that gives this zoom range, you are not going to get very good results, with emphasis on the very. Maybe take your camera and card along to the shop and ask to shoot some images that cover the range, both zoom and aperture and then have a quiet look at home without the salesman breathing enthusiasm down the back of your neck. If they say "No", I'd take my $$$ elsewhere. Those are my thoughts anyway.

  12. #12
    Petracsr's Avatar
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    Re: Lens for the birds

    Quote Originally Posted by Klickit View Post
    This place is reasonably good for reviews:
    http://www.dpreview.com/lensreviews/...p5-6p3_vc_n15/

    My preferred site, Photozone.de, don't list this lens.

    I haven't tried this lens, so take what I say as an untested opinion.
    I think with any lens that gives this zoom range, you are not going to get very good results, with emphasis on the very. Maybe take your camera and card along to the shop and ask to shoot some images that cover the range, both zoom and aperture and then have a quiet look at home without the salesman breathing enthusiasm down the back of your neck. If they say "No", I'd take my $$$ elsewhere. Those are my thoughts anyway.
    Very good advice. I did read the review at dpreview, and I think the biggest negative they had was a slow AF, so it wouldn't be good for sports, etc. I was hoping someone here owned it or had tried it out. That makes a lot of sense to take my camera in to try it. Thanks, Kit.

    Another question...For those of you with the Sigma 70-300, do you use it with a canon camera?

    Petra

  13. #13

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    Re: Lens for the birds

    Third party lenses, like Sigma, are supplied with a suitable attachment ring to fit specific brands of camera. So when ordering, you must specify 'Canon Fit' (or Nikon Fit etc).

  14. #14

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    Re: Lens for the birds

    Hi, Petra;

    Sorry to jump in late. You might still consider Rob's suggestion of setting up on a tripod near the feeder. You can work tethered by extending your USB a little bit. With an active USB extension, like this, you can easily set up twenty feet or so from where your camera is sited. You can then use your Canon software or something like DSLR Remote Pro to focus and shoot. DSLR Remote Pro is US$130, but it has a much nicer interface than the Canon software. You should definitely download the free version and make sure you like it before you buy: it has full features.

    I used this kind of setup to take the shots in this thread. The camera was 5m away from the bird, but I was more than 5m from my camera with my laptop.

    Cheers,
    Rick
    Last edited by rick55; 26th July 2010 at 07:22 PM. Reason: Added a bit of info

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