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I am interesting in birding and want to buy a camera. I am new to photography and am on a pretty low budget (between $500-1,000). I was wondering if there were any suggestions on how I can balance quality photographs, ease of use for a beginner, and a small budget.

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Welcome to PhotoSE. Try going through these while you wait for answer(s) - photo.stackexchange.com/questions/tagged/birds –  Regmi Jul 4 '13 at 5:24
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A "prety low budget" means different things to different people. For example, for Bill Gates it might be $10,000 but for a person living in the slums of India it might mean only a few cents. It would be easier to answer your question if you add in what range "pretty low" is. Are you looking for a kit for $100, or a kit more like $500-$1000. –  damned truths Jul 4 '13 at 6:01
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photo.blogoverflow.com/2012/09/… –  MikeW Jul 4 '13 at 6:36
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Those voting to close the question as too broad: Can't we give the asker a day or two to respond to @damnedtruths suggestion? –  Michael Clark Jul 5 '13 at 12:12
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What's wrong with leaving the question as is? It's got three good answers for three different budgets: Bridge camera, Sigma Bigma and 70-200/2.8 with 2x TC. Don't they collectively cover pretty much the entire space of what 'budget' could mean? For future visitors through Google, aren't these good answers to "I'm not a millionaire, but I'd like to shoot birds - what are my options"? –  j-g-faustus Jul 6 '13 at 1:06

3 Answers 3

up vote 7 down vote accepted

I wrote about this on my blog recently: http://www.chuqui.com/2013/06/getting-started-in-bird-photography-choose-your-weapons/

For someone getting started, it's not really true that you need a big, heavy, expensive camera set any more. There are some really nice, moderately priced cameras with what are called "superzoom" lenses. There are limitations to this gear, but they can turn out really nice images under many circumstances.

the one I currently like is the Canon SX50. Its lens zooms in as far as the equivalent of about 1000mm (on a 35mm SLR). The sensor is good, image quality is good in good light. It's not going to replace my big, heavy, expensive birding rig, but I bought one to keep in the car and to use when I don't want to haul around my big, heavy, expensive birding rig. It's about $400 US right now, and it's a pretty good beginner to intermediate birding camera.

It does have limitations: Auto-focus isn't as capable as more expensive cameras, but still decent. When you zoom it up to 1000mm, hand holding is twitchy, but with 1000mm (equivalent) of lens, you should expect that. With some care and practice, you can get good images fully zoomed in. Its ability to handle a wide dynamic range is more limited than more expensive cameras, so heavy light/shadow situations will challenge it. You can't expect to to do high speed burst modes, and it won't be as good at following a bird in flight and maintaining focus lock as more expensive cameras.

So no, it won't do everything a $5000 birding rig will do, but it does a lot pretty well for $400. I've been recommending it to friends and birders who've been looking for a "carry around" birding camera, and so far, everyone who's tried one has been happy with it.

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I loved the blog post you linked to. I was so dead-set on going DSLR because that's what most people swear by. You are the first person I found to admit that it might be better as a beginner to just go with the cheaper option to start out. I think I am going to get the SX50!!! –  SeanBallentine Jul 9 '13 at 14:30
    
Let me know how it goes or if you have questions, Sean. good luck! –  chuqui Jul 9 '13 at 15:31
    
@SeanBallentine - it's not just better for a beginner to go this route, it is even better for serious photographers that simply don't want to spend the money on huge telephotos or that want a smaller size. It really is a great camera. –  dpollitt Jul 12 '13 at 2:45

A crop camera (1.6x) and Sigma's "Bigma" lens (50-500mm), would get you a respectable 800mm reach and value.

In the end, learning bird behavior, approach techniques, and perfecting your patience are probably going to be the best benefit no matter your gear.

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You're not going to get quality and reach at a low price, choose one or the other.
IOW you're either going to have to spend serious money on long lenses and heavy tripods and/or have to learn to get really close to the birds without disturbing them.
Buying a ticket to a zoo also helps, the animals there are used to having people around and are far less skittish.
Took these at a zoo several years ago, semi-free flying enclosure (free flying enclosure of about a hectare in size) ... enter image description here

70-200mm f/2.8 with monopod and 2x teleconverter on a Nikon D200. Heavy tripod would have been preferable, but the added weight and size makes it impractical to use in a potentially crowded area.

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Did you use a built in flash for that last photo? –  bafromca Jul 9 '13 at 23:27
    
@bafromca was taken years ago, can't remember but highly unlikely as I rarely use it. Might have used my SB800 with a diffuser head. –  jwenting Jul 10 '13 at 5:28

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