Cameras redux...

To: "'Birding Australia'" <>
Subject: Cameras redux...
From: "Paul G Dodd" <>
Date: Mon, 4 Jun 2012 21:12:09 +1000
Hi birders,


In January of this year I posted about cameras - firstly indicating that I
intended to upgrade Ruth's Canon gear and secondly that I was considering
abandoning the Nikon camp and jumping ship to Canon. Quite a number of
people responded both on birding-aus and to me directly, so I thought I
would just update everyone on the decisions I made, and the reasons why.


Firstly though, thanks to Jen Spry for telling me about
and - I don't know why I didn't know about these sites
before! Also, thanks to all those that responded with helpful advice, Dave
Stowe, Bob Gosford, Alistair McKeough, Sonja Ross, Damian Kelley, Richard
Baxter, Allan Richardson, Chris Sanderson, and to Martin Cachard for sending
amazing pics of Blue-faced Parrot-finches (which I have not yet seen!)


To refresh your memory, Ruth had a Canon 350D and a Canon 100-400mm L IS
lens. I was tossing up between the 60D, 7D and 5D Mark II. The consensus was
that the 7D was the best camera for birding, having the smaller sensor with
the crop-factor, still a high pixel density and a good high frame rate. I
read plenty of reviews, and all seemed to agree with that assessment. I took
into account the fact that the 7D (and the 5D) were due to be replaced this
year - but in the end I decided that I didn't want to wait, and bought Ruth
a 7D. I must say that I am particularly impressed with the camera - the
image quality is amazing, and it works well with her existing 100-400mm
lens. From Ruth's point of view, there was a slight learning curve as she
liked the "sports", "landscape" and "portrait" settings on her previous
camera - so now she has to relearn aperture priority mode!


I had a Nikon D200S and a Nikon 80-400mm VR zoom - and I was not at all
happy with the combination - to my eye, the images were always soft,
regardless of the aperture. In the end, I decided that I wasn't going to
switch from Nikon to Canon as I considered that I had too much invested in
Nikon (lenses other than my 80-400, for instance). So my first purchase was
a lens to replace the 80-400 - this seemed to be the most important
consideration. Ultimately I was tossing up between the Nikon 300mm f/2.8 VR
and the Sigma 120-300 f/2.8 OS. Whilst two people I respect advised against
third-party (ie. Sigma) lenses, I did a lot of research, and read a lot of
reviews. The Sigma was well reviewed and image quality was compared
favourably with both the Nikon 300mm, even wide open, and the Nikon
200-400mm VR. I had a look at both lenses at Michaels in Melbourne and was
very impressed with the Sigma. Ultimately I ended up buying the Sigma from
Teds in Melbourne (a special order) - the cost was LESS than I could buy one
for on eBay - which also means that I get an Australian warranty.
Incidentally, the price of this lens is only a few hundred dollars more than
the Nikon 80-400. One thing I need to say about the Sigma, it is heavy! For
those of you that use the big prime glass (300, 400, 500, 600mm) this would
hardly be a surprise, but for those of us that have or had the Canon 100-400
or Nikon 80-400 the difference in weight is considerable. Since the Sigma is
only 300mm I figured that I needed teleconverters, so I bought both the
Sigma 1.4x and the Sigma 2x (it is important to use the Sigma teleconverters
and not the Nikon or other third-party ones with this lens). The lens is
absolutely pin-sharp, fully open with the 2x teleconverter. This is a great


In addition to replacing the Nikon 80-400mm lens, I also replaced my D200S -
opting for the full-frame D800 - at almost 37 megapixels! This camera has
only just been released and I was on a waiting list for it, both at Teds in
Melbourne, and also at Borges in Port Melbourne (really my favourite camera
store now!) Borges came through with the goods, so I bought it there. Once
again the price was much less than I could get it on eBay, so well done
Nikon and the local camera stores for their excellent pricing. This camera
is simply amazing. Words cannot describe the image quality well enough - for
instance, I shot yesterday at ISO 1000 because it was so dull. I could never
have used ISO 1000 on the D200, the noise even at ISO 800 would have
rendered the pictures almost useless. At ISO 1000 on the D800, the only way
to see any noise is to zoom in to 100%. I have heard all sorts of "horror
stories" about the effects and artefacts that a high pixel count can cause
on images, and I must say that I have not found this to be true at all. The
D800 is a full-frame camera - and I was advised that this was not necessary
(or indeed desirable) for bird photography - mainly because I would lose the
advantage of a 1.5x crop factor. In actual fact, the pixel count is so high
in the D800, that I can still aggressively crop the resultant images and
still have a high resolution image that I can blow up! This is simply the
most amazing camera I have ever owned - if there are two disadvantages to it
they would be that the frame rate is only 5fps (presumably because of the
time required to manage and save 37mp images!) and secondly that as a
full-frame camera, DX (digital crop-factor) lenses are no good with it -
meaning that I had to replace my brilliant Tokina 12-24mm wide-angle zoom
with the Nikon 14-24mm.


Paul Dodd

Docklands, Victoria



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