Birdwatcher or Fowl Photographer? – 10,000 Birds

Although it’s greater than 50 years since my first hen {photograph} was printed, I’ve at all times remained a birdwatcher who pictures birds, not a photographer whose favorite quarry has feathers. The distinction isn’t fairly as refined because it sounds, as I can get pleasure from enormously an ideal time out once I fail to take a single {photograph}, however for a photographer such a day could be a failure.

There was a time once I flirted with the thought of changing into a correct photographer. Again within the 80s I used to be utilizing a beautiful pair of Nikon FE2 cameras, and even had a 400mm f5.6 lens that was sharp and straightforward to make use of, regardless of being guide focus. Nonetheless, 400mm wasn’t actually lengthy sufficient for hen pictures, so I finally purchased myself a secondhand Nikon 600mm f5.6 lens, then the favorite lengthy lens of many critical hen photographers. I even purchased a 2x convertor to go together with it. 

Sadly, I by no means received on with the 600mm, because it was just too huge, too cumbersome, to get pleasure from utilizing it. It was inconceivable to make use of hand-held, so needed to be mounted on a tripod, which added to its already appreciable weight. I used to be utilizing Kodachrome 64 transparency movie – in all probability the perfect transparency movie then obtainable – nevertheless it was a really gradual, and inconceivable to make use of in low gentle or on uninteresting days.

I did take the 600mm on a few critical journeys – one to Siberia, the opposite to California – and managed to take some passable footage, nevertheless it by no means gave me any pleasure once I was utilizing it. One of many issues was discovering the hen within the viewfinder, significantly when utilizing the converter. On the time I used to be a helpful shot with a shotgun, so my hand-and-eye coordination was advantageous, however with the massive lens on a tripod I used to be painfully gradual, and all however probably the most dim-witted of birds had flown by the point I had the wretched factor pointed at them. This was again within the days of guide focus, so even when the hen crammed the viewfinder you continue to needed to fiddle with the focussing. 

As for flying birds – overlook it. I didn’t have the ability (or energy) essential to level the contraption at something flying. After a pair years I made a decision to do away with it, and remarkably managed to promote it for precisely the identical worth as I had paid – £1600. This was a fortunate escape, as inside a short while autofocus lenses arrived, and no one needed a manual-focus 600mm lens anymore. The worth of those lenses plummeted, depreciating as quick as a peregrine can stoop. 

My first-ever digiscoped hen – a Nice Noticed Cuckoo in Cyprus

On the time I used to be travelling lots in the hunt for birds, often main holidays. One of many unwritten legal guidelines of hen excursions is that the chief shouldn’t take pictures as his (or her) job is to point out the purchasers birds. This often means carrying a telescope, and most definitely not a digicam with a whopping nice lens. Thus I wasn’t tempted to purchase one of many new autofocus cameras and lenses, however I did have a small Nikon E5400 digicam in my pocket for panorama photographs. (This was, in fact, earlier than the times of cellphones with built-in cameras.) It was on a visit to Cyprus, watching a Nice Noticed Cuckoo (above), that one in all my purchasers instructed I ought to have a go at digiscoping it, a way I’d by no means even heard of. Remarkably, the lens of the Nikon fitted snugly into the eyepiece of my Swarovski telescope. Much more shocking, the outcomes had been good, too.

Digiscoping had the nice benefit that it was attainable to {photograph} birds whereas main hen excursions, and I discovered that a lot of my purchasers appreciated to see the images I had taken. There have been frustrations, as my golden rule was that my purchasers ought to be capable to have a look at the hen, or birds, by way of my scope earlier than I tried to take any pictures, however I did take many footage that on the time I discovered pleasing. 

A Pink-Headed Bunting in Kazakhstan – a satisfying digiscoped shot

Black woodpecker – filling the body of the telescope and (under) Better Flamingoes: each photographs had been digiscoped in Northern Greece

I modified the lens on my Swarovski to a 25 x 50 zoom, and although this didn’t work so effectively with the previous Nikon digicam, it did with the Panasonic DMC-TZ7 digicam that changed it. I’ve a robust searching intuition, and digiscoping gave me the satisfaction of bagging my quarry. It was enjoyable to return house from a day within the discipline to load my pictures on to my lap high, and later my iPad. 

I by no means used adapters, simply putting the little digicam on the telescope’s lens. The ensuing image wanted cropping, however this was a job that took just some seconds. I used to be at all times fairly fast at pointing the scope at my quarry, and I turned equally speedy at taking my pictures. Arguably the excessive level of my digiscoping profession was in 2012, once I received the digiscoping class within the British Birds Fowl Photographer of the Yr awards.  My profitable image was of a Wryneck, photographed in an apple tree in an orchard in Poland the earlier 12 months. It was a lovely shot: the publicity was spot on, the hen not too huge within the picture, whereas the out-of-focus background and blossom on the apple tree complemented the topic. Because the Wryneck is a misplaced breeding hen in Britain it’s additionally a hen of particular curiosity to us Brits and one I by no means tire of photographing.

Competitors winner: a digiscoped Wryneck in a Polish apple orchard

Nonetheless, digiscoping did have its limitations. Flying birds could not have been inconceivable – I managed to take some cheap footage of Dalmatian Pelicans in flight, whereas the shiny ibises (under) are OK – however was exceedingly difficult. And each {photograph} required the telescope to be arrange on a tripod, one thing that took time. Spontaneous pictures was out of the query. The standard of the picture produced by small digital cameras was nothing like pretty much as good as that from first rate SLR. Nonetheless, it will possibly nonetheless be spectacular, because the header {photograph} of a Hoopoe on the high of this web page demonstrates.

Shiny ibises digiscoped in Portugal – digiscoping flying birds is a serious problem

Digiscoped Dalmatian pelicans – huge birds may be digiscoped in flight, nevertheless it’s not simple to get sharp footage. Small birds in flight are inconceivable

This digiscoped Kingfisher in India was joyful to pose

It was on a visit to western Sicily that I used to be launched for the primary time to the answer. Considered one of my purchasers had introduced with him his new Olympus digital digicam, an EM-1. It was mirrorless and compact, and each small and lightweight sufficient to be extremely transportable. I used to be sufficiently impressed to go house and purchase one. That first digicam broke down throughout a birding journey to Portugal, however Olympus changed it with a brand new one which labored completely till I traded it in for an EM-1 Mk II, which stays my digicam at this time. The subsequent improve will likely be to an OM-1.

I coupled the EM-1 with an Olympus 75mm-300mm lens, which was notably gentle and remarkably cheap. This gave me a extremely transportable digicam that, due to the digicam’s four-thirds system, offered the equal magnification of the previous 600mm lens. It was the form of package that I may hold from my shoulder and hardly comprehend it was there, making the right digicam for a birdwatcher. The little 75-300mm lens additionally proved to be satisfyingly sharp, particularly contemplating how little it value.

Hoopoe and barbed wire, photographed in Georgia with an Olympus EM-1 and 75-300mm lens

DT birdwatching in Andalucia. I’m nonetheless principally a birdwatcher, regardless of the digicam (with 100-400mm lens) hanging on my shoulder

Although I nonetheless use this lens, my customary birding lens is now the OM System’s M-Zuiko  100-400mm f5-6.3. It’s nearly compact sufficient for me to stay a birdwatcher with a digicam, not only a photographer, whereas its weight (1120g) is on the higher restrict of what I’m ready to hold on my shoulder. At round £1000 it’s additionally reasonably priced. Due to a superb picture stabilisation system I can use it handheld and get razor-sharp outcomes, whereas it additionally performs effectively with a 1.4 convertor. It’s also extremely efficient for butterflies, because it permits very shut focus.

Eurasian Nuthatch – a pin-sharp shot with the 100-400mm lens, taken hand-held at most magnification and with a shutter pace of only one/100sec

Lesser Noticed Woodpecker in Estonia, with 100-400m lens plus 1.4 converter

Shut focussing makes the Zuiko 100-400mm lens nice for butterfly pictures. This Swallowtail was photographed in Andalucia

Along with this lens, OM Techniques (what was Olympus) presents an expert 150-400mm f4.5 lens. It’s a great piece of package, and even has a inbuilt 1.25x teleconverter, however it is extremely costly (practically £7000). It’s also significantly greater than the 100-400mm, weighing a hefty 1875g. An expert hen photographer good friend of mine enthuses about his, and the outcomes he has achieved with it are excellent. I’ve used it and was deeply impressed. I’d love one, however possession of such a lens would flip me right into a critical photographer, not a birder with a digicam. I’m joyful as I’m.

Ring Ouzel in Norfolk, photographed with the OM Techniques M.Zuiko Digital ED 150-400mm lens at most magnification, with MC-20 2x converter. It’s nonetheless sharp at 1000mm, regardless of being handheld (1/500sec)

The M.Zuiko Digital ED 150-400mm lens from OM Techniques is a good piece of package for the skilled

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