My first camera was given to me by an uncle when I was a young teenager in Wales and had just taken up birding. That was about 70 years ago and the camera was an old – but in those days a very popular – Brownie model. It was almost useless for bird photography – you’d have had difficulty getting a decent picture of an ostrich in a zoo. Cameras have come a long way since then of course. However, up to a few years ago small, easy-to-carry cameras still presented significant difficulties when trying to photograph birds, especially small ones. That’s not the case any more. About seven or eight years ago I bought a Canon SX60, which has a 65X zoom (21-1365mm equivalent); then a couple of years ago I substituted it with a Nikon P900 with an 83X zoom (24-2000mm equivalent). All the following shots were taken with one or other of these two cameras.
One of the major challenges for the older point-and-shoot cameras was getting decent photos of small birds. The super zoom and amazing anti-shake technology of the modern models make it possible to get good photos from distances that don’t turn a potentially good shot into one of a “just-flew-away” bird just as you’re getting close enough to click the shutter.
You don’t even need to get very close to even our smallest birds. This shot was taken from about 30 m.
Large birds are easy to photograph from a considerable distance. I was very pleased to get this photo of a species that’s not even easy to see let alone photograph. This shot was taken at Swan Lake in Saanich from at least 80 m.
The large zoom is particularly welcome when photographing birds that you should take special care not to disturb – like this Snowy Owl at Boundary Bay. When some bird photographers were being severely criticized for getting too close to the several Snowies that were there that year, I was able to remain on the dike and shoot the owl from about 80 – 90 m.
Here’s another bird I didn’t want to get too close to so as not to disturb the feeding behaviour of the parent. So I kept my distance and took the photo when the parent came in with some caterpillars for this chick.
Occasionally, a bird makes it too easy. A few years ago I was with a birding group checking out the alpine at Pink Mountain in northern BC when we spotted this ptarmigan standing just a few metres from the road. I simply rolled down the window of the van and got this shot.
It’s very satisfying to get pictures of a bird with details of its plumage and other fine features. Modern point-and-shoot cameras have no problem doing this when you can get very close to the bird, as for this shot.
When you can’t get very close, in good light conditions the large zoom can still afford good detail of the feather structure.
One reason birders carry cameras is to get photos of any rare birds they see. With the older point-and-shoots the best you could usually get was a distant “record shot”. With the modern equipment you have a reasonable chance of a good photo – like this one of a Victoria rarity.
The other significant problem with point-and-shoot cameras is their ability to get decent photos in low light conditions. However, the technological advances in anti-shake technology do now allow you to sometimes get good shots even at the low shutter speeds low light conditions dictate. This photo of a Barred Owl taken in a forested habitat with dense canopy cover was taken at 1/30 sec.
Great Blue Heron
My final photo is one of my favourite pictures. The shot of the bird is, of course, nothing special because the heron is simply doing what herons typically do, but I thought the setting with the flowers and other pond vegetation was particularly aesthetic.