Digital Cameras for recording sightings

To: David Adams <>, Birding-Aus <>
Subject: Digital Cameras for recording sightings
From: Peter Shute <>
Date: Fri, 4 Dec 2009 11:44:02 +1100
The Panasonics seem to be the most popular compact camera for bird photography, 
although I wasn't that impressed with the image quality of my 8MP FZ30 compared 
to my 6MP Canon S3.  It was, however, much easier to use, having better manual 
focus capability.

It was this pointless upgrade excercise that finally convinced me to get an 
SLR.  The last Panasonic to have a focusing ring was the FZ50, and I wanted 
one.  There were too many shots where the bird was behind a twig or a blade of 
grass, and focusing was impossible.  When you're shooting for id, waiting for 
the bird to hop into the open often isn't practical.

Another thing to consider is adding a teleconverter.  These add to the size of 
the camera, but aren't that much extra weight.  I found that a 1.7x 
teleconverter on either of those cameras made an *enormous* difference to the 
results.  They extended the usable reach enough that I was able to get 
reasonably sharp photos at the sort of distances where I'd normally see birds.  
Without the teleconverter I was finding they were often just outside that.  The 
small sensor might add a bit of noise to the images, but a 700mm f3.5 lens is 
fairly useful.

This might not be such an issue now that they've extended the focal lengths a 
little.  What a shame that they decided to widen the bottom end of the range as 
well when they brought out the 18x and 20x zooms.  28-504mm is a ridiculous 
range for bird photography - 400-1200mm would be nice, but it'll never happen.  
Having said all that, even 400mm gives shots that are good enough for id a lot 
of the time.

Regarding the taking of photos instead of notes, sometimes it backfires.  If 
the photos are out of focus, too dark, motion blurred, silhouetted, doesn't 
show a particular feature, etc, you can end up with no id.  I take photos if it 
looks like the bird is going to depart before I have time to take notes, and if 
I think I can get a good shot, but I try to take notes too if I can.

Peter Shute

-----Original Message-----
 On Behalf Of David Adams
Sent: Thursday, 3 December 2009 4:13 PM
To: Birding-Aus
Subject: Digital Cameras for recording sightings

On Thu, Dec 3, 2009 at 3:46 PM,  <> wrote:
> G'day David
> I have a Panasonic Lumix FZ18.  This has an SLR equivalent 28-504 mm lens.
>  It weighs next to nothing and takes quite good bird pics.  I used
> mine in the USA earlier this year and was very pleased with many of the pics.

I have the same camera and have found it _invaluable_ when confronted with 
unfamiliar birds, particularly overseas. (It would also be good for rarities 
seen at home, what I think the original question was
about.) 18x is long enough to get a snapshot of even distant or small birds 
much of the time. When in a new area - particularly one where the birds and 
even bird families are unfamiliar - it's a great thing to be able to get some 
shots for later review. In the past I've tried sketching, writing notes, and 
flipping wildly through field guides.
What I've found from that is:

* It's hard to do two things at once and I'd rather be studying the bird as 
best I can.
* Sketching is probably the single best way to learn birds but it's not quick.
* Memory is unreliable! I'll _very_ clearly remember colors or marks in the 
wrong places. (This is worse with fish, it's typical to reverse the colors on 
fish when you're relying on memory.)
* It's a rare overseas trip where I don't discover one or two birds new to 
science a day ;-)

The camera is great because:
* I can get a few snaps and stop worrying about it.
* The pictures keep me honest - I've found several times when I clearly 
remembered marks that simply weren't there - and missed ones that were in plain 
* I learn more about the birds. When I get back to where I'm reseting up at 
mid-day, I can review my field guides and whatever else I've got and try to 
sort out tricky birds. Can I always sort them out from my snapshots? No. I 
don't care though because what I do get is a better idea of what field marks to 
look for when next I see the bird. Just narrowing down the list of 
possibilities to a few birds is a great benefit for the next time you're in the 

I think by now there are actually cameras smaller than the DMC-FZ18 but I 
haven't tried any. The model I'm using has a remarkably decent lens and, as 
noted, it's not heavy. A few negatives:

* There's no underwater case available, for those that care.
* It's not a great camera for night shots or very low-light conditions, at 
least as far as I can sort out.
* It uses a custom battery. With that said, I can go all day on one charge so I 
only have one spare and haven't had any trouble. I just prefer to use standard 
battery sizes, where possible, for all of my gadgets.

...another helpful tool to bring along on trips is a tiny notebook. We got an 
HP Mini 2140 running XP and couldn't be happier. (And I'm a Mac
guy....) It's really great to be able to pop the picture card in and review 
things on a somewhat bigger screen. Not to mention being able to bring along 
birding software, reference pictures, etc.

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