Geez, TonyP certainly knows how to make a bloke jealous!!
A Nikon D1X would certainly make my day!
As it is I am making do with an Olympus Camedia C-700 Ultra Zoom
Here are some personal comments on using digital cameras for bird-photography.
Please keep in mind that my only practical experience has been with the Olympus
camera mentioned above.
Other people using this or other digital cameras may have different opinions.
The camera in brief:
A compact style 2.1 mega-pixel zoom-lens camera;
Auto or manual modes of operation;
10x zoom lens (35mm equiv: 38mm to 380mm)
Dimensions: 107.5 x 76 x 79.5 mm (when camera is 'off' and lens has contracted)
Weight: approx 445 gr (with batteries, lens cap, strap)
Power: Supplied with 2 non-rechargeable CR-3V lithium batteries.
Rechargeable AA size NiMH or NiCad are a more practical solution.
Images: JPEG, TIFF, Motion JPEG, WAV audio.DPOF compatible (whatever that is).
Max size image 1600 x 1200 pixels.
Storage: 3.3v removable SmartMedia memory card (8 MB supplied but a 64 MB would
be a better option)
Viewfinder: External LCD screen approx 30 mm x 22 mm, internal colour LCD in
place of optical viewfinder.
The reason I chose this camera was for the 10 x zoom lens.
My limited research seemed to show that this was the only reasonable quality
camera (that I could afford) with something approaching a high power zoom.
It also seemed to be the only 10 x zoom camera currently available.
Most digital cameras are 'compact' style with non-removable lenses (as is the
The zoom power on most digicams is generally around 3 x which is woefully
inadequate for my purpose.
Digital zooms are a better option in a digital still camera than they are in
digital video camcorders.
However they are still not worth using above about 2 x.
The C-700 has a 2 x digital zoom.
Reasonable quality? I believe that cameras with less than 2 mega-pixel are not
suitable for bird photos.
2 mega-pixels produce an image large enough to be able to select a small part of
the image and 'blow it up' and still get a good enough image to be able to
identify that mystery bird.
The Nikon D1X is a 5 mega-pixel camera!! One of the new breed.
5 mega-pixels will produce an enormous image around 3000 x 1950 pixels (many
times the size of the average PC screen set at 800 x 600 resolution).
The Nikon also has the advantage of being a 35mm format camera and uses
These lenses can be standard 35mm type lenses or dedicated 'digital-camera'
Using the 35mm type lenses may require a quick calculation to work out the true
focal length when used on a digital camera body.
I think this has something to do with the difference between the area of a 35mm
negative compared with the area of the CCD in the digital camera.
That is, a 35 mm type lens of 200 mm focal length when used on a 35mm camera may
be a 'longer' focal length when used on a digital camera.
Is 10x zoom adequate?
Barely; when using my 35mm film camera I tend to use focal lengths of 400mm and
Most of my photography is opportunistic, rarely at a nest, so I need fairly
The 380mm (equivalent) provided by the C-700 needs a bit of help.
Olympus has an optional filter adapter tube that screws into the body of the
Using this tube various filters and special lenses can be fitted.
Olympus has a 1.45x tele-converter for this camera but I happened to have a
Canon 1.4x tele-converter from an old video camera and this fitted perfectly.
This worked well and provided me with a 530mm lens equivalent.
I also tried the 2x converter from my Sony digital video camcorder.
This required an adapter ring on the adapter tube (yeah, well........) but it
Something to watch here is to check that the auto focus still works properly
with a teleconverter attached.
The C-700 does not have 'external' manual focus; 'manual' focus is achieved
through the electronic menu.
The image quality with both set-ups was not much reduced from normal but the
second set-up produced a fair bit of vignetting at low zoom levels.
Not a problem really because the aim is to use maximum zoom.
Pros and cons:
Good digital cameras are not cheap; I can't bring myself to think of what a
Nikon D1X costs!!
A PC (or Mac) is required to 'process' the images; some photo shops are
providing 'developing' services that produce images on photo print paper.
A good quality printer is required for hard copies; home printed images may have
a limited life.
Image processing software is usually provided with the camera.
Most digital cameras these days should connect directly to a TV set via A/V
cable and a PC via USB port.
Power is the biggest problem; digital cameras can be very hungry for power and
the batteries supplied or allowed for do not last long before going flat.
Rechargeable batteries are essential; Lithium Ion (Li-ion) are probably the
best... and most expensive, NiMH (Nickel Metal Hydride) are probably the most
practical, these come in various capacities; recharging batteries can take many
hours so spare sets are essential.
Batteries usually go flat suddenly and at the worst possible time.
The C-700 is far more compact and portable, even with all of the attachments,
than my 35mm set-up.
The internal LCD viewfinder on the C-700 is adequate but an optical TTL
viewfinder would be better.
The storage card supplied with most digital cameras is usually too small in
capacity; often only one maximum resolution image can be stored.
Spare cards of high storage capacity are essential but expensive; note that
non-genuine storage cards may not allow use of all of the camera's facilities.
For the C-700, non-genuine cards do not allow taking of panoramas.
Images need to be transferred from the camera to a PC and then stored on a disc
or CD; this means a CD burner is essential.
The C-700 does not have an image stabiliser such as is usual with video cameras
these days or was provided on the C-700's predecesser the C2100 which I think is
probably out of production.
An image stabiliser would be handy at maximum zoom.
Short duration, low frame-rate, 'videos' can be made with many digital cameras;
this could be useful for getting shots of birds in flight.
Being modern electronic devices, digital cameras are usually crammed with as
many 'facilities' and 'modes' as the manufacturers can think of!
The learning curve can be steep if it is intended to learn how to use every
However, most of my pictures are taken using the fully automatic mode recording
High Quality JPEG format.
For best quality images it is necesary to use the TIFF format but the image
files produced take up large amounts of storage space and only one image can be
stored at a time on the 8MB card supplied with the C-700.
I doubt that digital cameras with optical zooms of less than 10x would be
suitable for obtaining 'identification' images of mystery birds.
Cameras with CCDs smaller than 2 mega pixels should be disregarded except for
Owning and using a digital camera means spending a lot more time in front of a
Digital cameras are suitable for photographing stationary or slow moving
subjects; digital video cameras are better for moving subjects but more work on
the computer is required to produce satisfactory individual images.
The latest digital video cameras can probably produce still images similar in
quality to the 'cheaper' digital still cameras and would probably be more suited
to some peoples' requirements.
Viewing stored images is not as convenient as viewing prints or even slides.
Rechargeable batteries are self discharging so it is essential to have plenty of
spares and to keep them charged; remember that charging can take a long time, up
to 13 hours.
In spite of the above I am glad I took the plunge into digital photography.
To view some samples of images obtained from shots taken with the Olympus
Camedia C-700 Ultra Zoom digital camera go to:
I hope this is of some help to someone,
SE Queensland, Australia.
Birding-Aus is on the Web at
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