Affordable setup for beginning bird photography?

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orange dog
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Affordable setup for beginning bird photography?
2 months ago

I would like to try bird photography with as long a focal length lens as I can reasonably afford. I feel caught in a bind because:

1) the newer entry-level Nikon DSLRs appear to have the best specs for the price (e.g. D3300 gets a dxomark score of 82). So, I would prefer to go with a Nikon body; but

2) the best semi-affordable (< $1000 used on ebay) long lens I've found reviewed is the old Canon 400mm F5.6, which works fully only on Canon bodies. I watched a review which said the 400mm performed so well for the price, he'd recommend that people just getting into bird photography buy a Canon body, just for that lens.

I haven't found many lower-cost super-telephoto lenses with good IQ. Aside from the Canon 400mm,

1) I've checked online reviews for the Sigma and Tamron zoom lenses and the cheaper ones don't perform as well at the long end;

2) the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 300mm f/4D ED-IF is good enough IQ wise, but it has no VR and I don't know if it will be long enough to provide enough magnification for bird photography, even with a 1.7X converter;

3) The very low-cost Samyang (Rokinon, Bower, etc.) 500mm has no autofocus/IS and is a slow F8, so that neither Nikon nor Canon autofocus would work anyways.

My options so far are to either:

1) get a Nikon body along with the 300mm lens and a 1.7x converter, to give a 510 mm F6.8 lens (equivalent to 765mm with the 1.5x Nikon crop factor); or

2) get a Canon body along with the 400mm F5.6 lens and a 1.4x converter, to give a 560mm F7.8 lens (equivalent to 896mm with the 1.6x Canon crop factor).

Neither setup meets the F5.6 cutoff for autofocus, but I've read that it works fairly well anyways.

Can anyone answer:

1) if either of these setups would be good enough for photographing birds further away than a nearby feeder (e.g. 100 feet);

2) if one is likely to be better than the other in terms of image quality;

3) if there are good alternatives that I've missed.

Thank you for any suggestions offered!

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Nikon D3300
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