Bird Photography Equipment on a Budget
I’m frequently asked about what kind of equipment I’m using or what kind of equipment one should choose.
I don’t always have the opportunity to give an answer as precise as I would like, I thought a page describing the equipment I’m using could be a good idea. Let me start by saying that I tend to be always on a budget, I try to maximize what I get from my gear as much as possible, this involve expending lots of time getting close to my subjects, studying them and learning from they behavior. And above all, having lots of patience.
You will see “medium” to “lower” quality gear on this list, and that’s what have worked for me (and my wallet) so far.
My main and only camera body. 18.0-megapixel, 1.6x crop factor and 8 fps makes it a very good option for Bird and Wildlife photography. Be sure to upgrade the firmware to the latest version before you take it for a spin.
On the bad side, it does not perform very good under low light conditions. I rarely take it over ISO 1600.
The only “telephoto” lens that I have, almost 100% of my photos have been taken with this lens. For the price, its a nice zoom lens, I like the flexibility that I get with the IS, on those special situations I can be on the move enabling me to get the camera of the tripod or to get on my knees to make the shot. Since it is a zoom lens you can also be more “creative” with your composition
However, It has a number of small flaws. Since it is a “pump” zoom lens it tends to collect a lot of dust. You have to clean it constantly and be very careful that sand ,dust or water wont get in the barrel.
Grips are great, it makes the camera way more confortable and enable easy portrait shooting when necessary. This Zeikos grip is excelent at a quarter of the “official” Canon 7D Grip
With this 1.4x extender the actual focal length that I get with the 7D and the 400mm is of something like 960mm!. Compared to the Canon 1.4 Extender this Kenko extender is not that bad. You can still autofocus without the need of taping pins and sharpness is OK.
On the other hand the combination of the extender with the Canon 100-400mm is not very efficient. You cant really handhold when using the extender and the autofocus is very slow. You really need a prime lens to make the most of a extender.
I have found good results with the extender when using it with perched subjects or relative still subjets and always on a tripod.
Investing in a sturdy tripod is a must in bird photography. This Slick tripod is great for the price, its light and quite sturdy. The column can also be removed to get lower on the ground. Its tall enough for me to be confortable shooting standing up and I am 6.2′.
If I had the money I will definitely go for a Carbon Fiber Gitzo, but this fit the bill for now.
Gimbal heads are great for bird photography. They take the weight of your gear and make it effortlessly to pan and move around. They can also be quite expensive. This Opteka GH1 is very good for the price. Its built on ball bearings and moves very smooth.
A shutter cable is very important. It will reduce camera shake to a minimun. Even when you use a tripod and a good tripod head you will have camera shake when you press the shutter button. Here in the tropics we always have to use very slow shutter speeds. The shutter cable is your best friend when using 1/40 or 1/60.
You can find lots of shutter cable options besides the Canon one. I like the Pixel or Bower brand.
For me, flash is a must in nature photography and more important if you shoot in the tropics where lights is never optimal, we rarely get shutter speeds higher than 1/80 here. This is where flash comes to the rescue. Fill light, strong backlight and subject in the shadow, subject in light and background in shadow, etc. Everything can be fix with flash.
When using flash its also very important that you try to get your flash above your camera, this will avoid red eye and other flash nuisance .You can get flash brackets for this purpose. I built my own from a aluminum plate and attach it to my gymbal head(More of this on a separate post).
There is a new version of the 580EX , the Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite Flash (Black) it has lots of improvements over the 580EX and sometimes can be found at the same price as the 580EX. You should keep it in mind.
The Better Beamer or Flash X-Tender is great to get the most out of your flash. Its pretty much a magnifying glass for your flash, but that will enable you to get some light on those birds that perch high up in a branch for example. But most important, when using it in “regular conditions” it will enable you to use a lower flash intensity than before, and with that, you will be saving battery and getting faster recycle times, Wohooo!