Some notes on digital still cameras for bird photography: Part 2

To: <>
Subject: Some notes on digital still cameras for bird photography: Part 2
From: "Robert Inglis" <>
Date: Sun, 14 Jul 2002 07:11:47 +1000
Hello digi-birders,
This is Part 2 of my comments on Digital Cameras for bird photography.

In the first part of this series of postings on digital cameras for bird
photography I said there were two 'classes' of digital cameras on the market:
- Professional and
- Consumer.
I suggested that if you want to be really serious about your photography then
you should consider the (extremely expensive) 'Professional' range.
If, however, you simply want to produce pictures similar to that which you get
from your 'conventional' film cameras then you will be interested in the
'Consumer' class.
So, as I believe most people will fall into the second catagory, that's what I
will concentrate on.

But WHY would you want to go over to digital photography?
(A few brief points follow here and most will be expanded on later.)

Film type cameras have been around for a long time and it is possible to obtain
excellent images from film using cameras which cost a great deal less than
the current range of equivalent digital cameras.
In fact, in spite of the grandiose claims of the manufacturers of digital
cameras along with some reviewers in some magazines, film still produces the
best images overall.
Film and with film cameras have advanced to such a degree that it is a very
reliable and easy to use medium for most people and most instances.
There is a great range of 'consumer' SLR type film cameras on the market along
with a huge range of interchangeable lenses whereas a 'consumer' class digital
camera with interchangeable lenses is a very rare animal indeed!
For bird photography a telephoto lens of at least 300mm (35mm equivalent) would
be included in every nature photographer's kit along with accessories such as
remote shutter release and external flash units.
These devices are common amongst film cameras but not so common in the digital
camera arena.
There is a great variety of film available for different uses but even the most
commonly used film types are relatively cheap and reliable and easily
On the other hand, digital cameras use removable media cards (a modern version
of the old computer floppy disc) to temporarily store the pictures taken.
These cards are expensive and unlikely to be available at your local
When it comes to 'developing' your photos the options are becoming very
The options for developing film are well known but those for digital photos are
becoming greater every day.
The potential to be able to 'develop' your own digital images is probably the
main (only?) incentive for going digital.

Until recently the next step after taking your digital photo was to download the
image onto a computer.
The picture was viewed in a software program where it was 'worked on' to obtain
the result desired and then it was either stored electronically for future
viewing on a computer screen or printed on a photo-quality printer.
However, things are changing in this area; some camera shops are now capable of
printing from the camera disc onto print-film paper or CD.
Thus it is now no longer really necessary to even own a computer if you want to
go digital.
But that would take away half the fun of using a digital camera.

Of course, images on film slides and prints can easily be downloaded onto
a computer using scanners which generally cost a great deal less than a digital
camera. (However, the results are often less than perfect.)

So, once again, why would you want to go digital?

If you are like me and don't see any point to, or reason for, anything in this
world then it would only be out of curiosity and hope or something different to
However, for most people it would have to be: "Convenience".

Digital cameras are convenient because:
1/ It IS possible to have a digital camera with a fairly powerful telephoto
range that is somewhat smaller and lighter than the equivalent 35mm film camera.

2/ Digital cameras allow for reviewing the pictures taken moments after the
event rather than hours or days later.
You then know if you have 'the shot' or if you need to take more.

3/ It is also possible to shoot with gay abandon (depending on the capacity of
the storage media card) without worrying about the cost of film.
Large capacity media cards are capable of store hundreds of images depending on
the image quality and size.
This feature is great for bird photographers; you will have noticed how that
bird always seems to move just as you press the shutter release!!
Bad or unwanted shots can be deleted on the spot thus freeing-up space on the
storage card for more pictures.
When a card is full a replacement card can be inserted quickly without the
problems that film has with ambient light and correct feeding into the camera

4/ If you are camped in the middle of the Gibson Desert you can download your
digital images of the Night Parrot you have just seen onto your laptop computer
and then upload the enhanced versions onto your website via your satellite phone
for everyone who hasn't ticked a Night Parrot to see and be envious of.

5/ It is a lot quicker and easier to transfer the pictures to your computer from
a digital camera than to develop and scan shots taken on film.

6/ If the pictures are only going to be viewed on a computer screen or TV screen
(more on that later) then the quality doesn't have to be as good as for slides
or prints.
Even a lot of really poor photos can be 'fixed' sufficiently to make them
acceptable on a computer or TV screen.
A lot of poor quality shots actually look ok on a computer screen or a TV
without 'fixing'!

Of course, with all of this convenience there is bound to be some inconvenience.
And there is.

Digital cameras are inconvenient because:
1/ Usually it is necessary to go through another steep learning curve before
being able to easily use your new digital camera.
Digital photography is not exactly the same as film photography and
digital cameras are not exactly the same as film cameras therefore some new
techniques need to be learned (or is that learnt? learning never seems to

2/ Many of the facilities of digital cameras are only available via screen-based
'menus' rather than external buttons or levers.
The facility you need NOW is often only accessed after a number of button
operations which, bird photographers, can often mean missing out on that
shot that requires other than 'auto' settings.

3/ Digital cameras are often quite slow in operation; it takes a lot longer for
an image to be stored on a disc than on film.
The shutter operation is as fast as a film camera but there is a second step
required where the image  is transferred from the internal camera-memory to the
removable media card. During this operation it is usually not possible to use
the camera. Depending on the quality setting this can be several seconds.
This means that the ability to take 'high quality' pictures as fast as you can
aim, focus and press the trigger is not usually available with 'consumer' type
digital cameras.
Although many digital cameras do provide a 'burst' facility allowing a sequence
of shots to be taken while the shutter release is held operated, actually
well aimed and properly exposed shots during the process can be a bit difficult.
Also, the number of shots that can be taken in a sequence varies according to
the quality setting and the amount of internal memory the camera has.
After the 'sequence' of photos has been taken there is still the second step
mentioned above.

4/ Images reviewed on the tiny LCD screen built into the digital camera often
look clear and sharp whereas when viewed on larger computer or TV screens they
turn out to be out of focus.

5/ Manual focus is often really a form of motorised focus accessed only through
the 'menu' system and activated by button operations.
Although the 'Auto-focus' systems are generally very good these days they can be
fooled quite easily in the situations commonly encountered by bird
Most bird photographers would prefer a true manual focus system via a focus ring
on the lens.

6/ Accessories such as Teleconverters (to increase the power of the lens) or
external flash units are often difficult to attached.
External flash is particularly difficult with most digital cameras.

7/ Digital cameras are very heavy on power and a good supply of batteries is
Rechargable batteries are the only really practical source of power for digital
This means you need to carry a couple of spare sets of charged batteries or have
ready access to a 'fast-charge' battery charger.

8/ Generally speaking it is necessary to have a computer to 'process' the
The computer needs to have image software installed; this can be the simple
software that often comes with the camera or more complex software right up to
something called "Photoshop" (another steep learning curve required).
Image software can be a little daunting at first and often will be capable of
doing things with images that the average person would not be interested in, let
alone have the time to do.
The computer also needs to have a large amount of hard-drive storage space for
short-term storage of your pictures.
And a Compact Disc (CD) 'burner' (at least a CD-RW writer) for long term storage
of images.

9/ Using the software mentioned above can lead to a great deal of time being
spent looking at a computer screen rather than out actually birdwatching!

These are some of the pros and cons to digital cameras as I see it.

In Part 3 I will go into more detail on what I consider are desirable features
of 'consumer' class digital cameras for bird photography.
In later parts I will elaborate on a number of the things mentioned above.

In the meantime here are some more web-sites to check out:

Bob Inglis
Woody Point

Please note that these are my personal opinions gained from personal experience
and observation; other people may have other opinions and different experiences.
What I have written below is not intended to be absolute.
Anyone contemplating purchasing a digital camera for any reason or purpose would
be advised to seek advice from other sources as well.
Note that, except where a particular model of digital camera is mentioned, these
comments and notes are meant to be general by nature.
These comments and notes are not intended to be an endorsement for or a
statement against any particular brand or model of digital camera; they are
intended only to be a point of discussion for those people who may be
considering purchasing and/or using digital cameras for bird photography.
It should be realized that changes are occurring seemingly daily in this field
and therefore features and usability of digital cameras are changing also.
The types of digital cameras will change regularly as will the quality of image

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