Three Birding Cameras to Watch

Started Jul 30, 2012 | Discussions
Stephen Barrett
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Three Birding Cameras to Watch
Jul 30, 2012

I am always on the lookout for cameras that might be good for birding. This includes reading reviews and doing approximate calculations of lens resolution and sensor resolution to see what looks promising. Here are 3 cameras that I am keeping an eye on:

1) Nikon 1 V1 with 55-300 Lens
Cost: Camera with NIKKOR VR 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 Lens $750
NIKON 1 NIKKOR FT-1 F-MOUNT ADAPTER $270
AF-S DX 55-300MM VR 4.5-5.6G ED $430
Total $1,450

(or you can spend more: e.g. NIKON VR 80-400 F4.5-5.6 D ED AF $1,630)

With a crop factor of 2.7, the 300 mm focal length gives an effective 810 mm focal length.

Looking through the Nikon 1 Talk Forum, there are a few people using this camera with various lenses for birding. Some examples:

Nikon V1 Birds with 300mm F4

http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/readflat.asp?forum=1058&message=41524703&changemode=1

A few animals in the wild, at 1620mm !

http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/readflat.asp?forum=1058&message=41934623&changemode=1

Nikon V1 Review Malcolm Farrow
Using the Nikon V1 for bird photography
http://www.malcolmfarrowphotography.com/articles/nikon-v1-review.html

My own calculations have shown that Compact SLRs with APS-C sensors (approx width 24 mm) do not have enough sensor resolution (i.e. pixel density) to retain the good resolution that telephoto lenses achieve. Micro-4/3 cameras (sensor width approx 18 mm) have the same problem to a lesser extent. The Nikon1 system, however, has a sensor width of approximately 12 mm, which looks very promising for resolution and for image quality as well, because the pixel size is about 3 microns, or approximately double that of most superzooms (sensor width approx 6 mm). Chromatic aberration should also be less because the zoom range is not extreme.

2) Panasonic FZ200 with 25-600 mm eff focal length; f/2.8 max aperture
Cost: $600

600 mm may not be enough reach to satisfy all birders but the resolution should be considerably better than the FZ150 because of the larger aperture. My calculations show that the resolution at full zoom should be about the same as the SX40's at its full zoom, but much faster and possibly with better image quality.

3) Canon SX50 24-1060 eff. focal length; f/2.9-5.0 ? max aperture
This is based on a patent for SX50? in Canon Rumours:
http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/read.asp?forum=1010&message=42139905

Cost: $600? (This is speculation but Canon superzooms are usually less expensive than Panasonic.

The Panasonic FZ200 has a maximum aperture of (108 mm / 2.8) = 38.6 mm. If the Canon patent's 5.00 is the the minimum f number at maximum focal length, then the maximum aperture for the patented lens is (190.43 / 5.0) = 38.1 mm, which is roughly the same as the FZ200. The lens resolution should therefore be about the same as the FZ200's. The sensor, however, will be able to retain more of this resolution because the longer focal length will spread an object in the image over more pixels. So, if a camera like this materializes, it promises to be very good for birding: more reach and faster than the SX40.

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boxerman
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Re: Three Birding Cameras to Watch
In reply to Stephen Barrett, Jul 30, 2012

First (incidentally), there's a somewhat similar thread over at Fuji forum:

http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/readflat.asp?forum=1012&thread=42124394

I am not a birder, but am keeping my eye out for a safari cam. Our needs are just slightly different. I want at least 600 mm, but do not want excess weight/bulk. For our last safari (2 years ago) we got a Fujifilm HS10, which served pretty well (complimented with G11 and TC). At the time the Fuji focal length was exceptional (720 mm), and we really liked the manual zoom. Here are a couple of pix:

BUT, it is SLOW, and high ISO not very good. I tried to keep it at ISO 400, but that was hard.

Can I ask you about your assumptions for calculation. I'm guessing you did diffraction limit and something equivalent to angular resolution of a pixel. I feel I need to mix in sensor quality (which really influences quality in low-ish light), IS and noise reduction control. Oh, and cost, though $1500 doesn't scare me inordinately. I look also at focusing speed, and shot-to-shot, 'cause that lost us a fair number of shots on the HS10.

Ergonomics on the Nikon 1 don't thrill me. AND, the birder pix you posted a link to were mediocre, at best. (The long-zoom animals were fabulous, but the size of that kind of lens is just out of the question for me.)

What I've just noticed is the Olympus OM-D. The speed and new IS sound great. 16 mpx, so that'll make at least one of your resolution calculations better. The sensor really looks like an advance in quality, too (we'll soon get equivalents elsewhere (new Panny bridge?); it's just a new generation). DPR gave it a gold award. With a Pany 100-300 (600 equivalent), it looks like a contender for me.

So, I'd like to hear your thoughts about (1) your rough calculations (e.g, as above, how you do them), (2) about how to read those when things like IS, sensor noise and JPG quality (I don't do much PP), focusing speed, etc. seem also to me important issues, and (3) have you considered the OMD with respect to "intangibles" (things your calculations don't get to) that may compensate for your resolution calculations.

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SHood
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Re: Three Birding Cameras to Watch
In reply to Stephen Barrett, Jul 30, 2012

I would add the m43 100-300mm which gives you a 600mm equivalent with the 2x crop. Although not as long as the Nikon 1 with 300mm, the extra MP (16 vs 10) make up for most of that.

I keep a compact on me for the shorter focal lengths.

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PaulRivers
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Re: Three Birding Cameras to Watch
In reply to Stephen Barrett, Jul 30, 2012

Nice summary!

I'm pretty excited for the fz200...

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PaulRivers
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Re: Three Birding Cameras to Watch
In reply to SHood, Jul 30, 2012

SHood wrote:

I would add the m43 100-300mm which gives you a 600mm equivalent with the 2x crop. Although not as long as the Nikon 1 with 300mm, the extra MP (16 vs 10) make up for most of that.

I keep a compact on me for the shorter focal lengths.

lol, it doesn't work that way. With modern megapixel counts, twice as many megapixels gives you a hair better resolution. Whereas twice as much optical zoom actually gives you twice as much detail. (An exception might occur if they had to make lens compromises to get that additional zoom).

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natattack
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Re: Three Birding Cameras to Watch
In reply to boxerman, Jul 30, 2012

boxerman wrote:

What I've just noticed is the Olympus OM-D. The speed and new IS sound great. 16 mpx, so that'll make at least one of your resolution calculations better. The sensor really looks like an advance in quality, too (we'll soon get equivalents elsewhere (new Panny bridge?); it's just a new generation). DPR gave it a gold award. With a Pany 100-300 (600 equivalent), it looks like a contender for me.

The BoxerMan

I have the same feeling about the OM-D/panny 100-300mm. For me, this is the best contender for a lightweight birding/safari kit right now. IQ, ergonomics,AF speed, features like HD video are the best available in compact format right now. If money was no object, I would recommend this.

I don't have the cash for this personally yet so my 'budget' compact birding setup is the E-620 and 70-300mm. Its bulkier, but cost only about 1/3 of the price of an OM-D and it has all the features I need like excellent IQ, viewfinder, good AF speed, great handling etc.

I will be seriously looking at the panny FZ200 when it comes out.

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boxerman
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Re: Three Birding Cameras to Watch
In reply to natattack, Jul 30, 2012

natattack wrote:

I have the same feeling about the OM-D/panny 100-300mm. ... If money was no object, I would recommend this.

Glad to hear this. Thanks for your note.

my 'budget' compact birding setup is the E-620 and 70-300mm. Its bulkier, but cost only about 1/3 of the price of an OM-D and it has all the features I need like excellent IQ, viewfinder, good AF speed, great handling etc.

Olympus 70-300, I presume. Any problems with purple fringing? Reviews marked this as an issue. It's a slight worry for me with the Panny lens. Fringing looks great on a Panny camera, but it wouldn't be corrected in-camera on the OM-D.

I will be seriously looking at the panny FZ200 when it comes out.

Yup. Worth a look. Flat 2.8 sounds great. But I bet the SX50 will be competitive.
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SHood
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Re: Three Birding Cameras to Watch
In reply to PaulRivers, Jul 30, 2012

A little more than a hair.

In this example a 60% increase in resolution will give you about a 20% increase in resolution horizontally and 30% vertically, due the 3:2 vs 4:3 formats.

PaulRivers wrote:

SHood wrote:

I would add the m43 100-300mm which gives you a 600mm equivalent with the 2x crop. Although not as long as the Nikon 1 with 300mm, the extra MP (16 vs 10) make up for most of that.

I keep a compact on me for the shorter focal lengths.

lol, it doesn't work that way. With modern megapixel counts, twice as many megapixels gives you a hair better resolution. Whereas twice as much optical zoom actually gives you twice as much detail. (An exception might occur if they had to make lens compromises to get that additional zoom).

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Stephen Barrett
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Re: Three Birding Cameras to Watch
In reply to boxerman, Jul 30, 2012

boxerman wrote:

First (incidentally), there's a somewhat similar thread over at Fuji forum:

http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/readflat.asp?forum=1012&thread=42124394

Yes. Thank you. I should have cited that thread.

Can I ask you about your assumptions for calculation. I'm guessing you did diffraction limit and something equivalent to angular resolution of a pixel. I feel I need to mix in sensor quality (which really influences quality in low-ish light), IS and noise reduction control. Oh, and cost, though $1500 doesn't scare me inordinately. I look also at focusing speed, and shot-to-shot, 'cause that lost us a fair number of shots on the HS10.

[2 paragraphs removed to save space]

So, I'd like to hear your thoughts about (1) your rough calculations (e.g, as above, how you do them), (2) about how to read those when things like IS, sensor noise and JPG quality (I don't do much PP), focusing speed, etc. seem also to me important issues, and (3) have you considered the OMD with respect to "intangibles" (things your calculations don't get to) that may compensate for your resolution calculations.

1) The formulas that I use are given in this article:
http://www.dpreview.com/articles/4110039430/detail-of-sx3040-vs-compact-slr

2) I don't do any numerical evaluation of IS, sensor noise, JPG quality, focusing speed, etc.

3) Yes,I looked at the Olympus OM-D (see table below). With a 300 mm f/6.7 lens, it does almost as well as the Nikon 1.

For all the reasons you have suggested, these number should be taken with a grain of salt, but they do give an idea of when the sensor has inadequate resolution to retain most of the resolution that the lens attains:

Angular Resolution (approx 9% MTF) in microradians

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Lens Alone ----------- Sensor Alone ----- Total
Canon SX30-------------------------24.1---------------19.0------------------30.7
Canon SX40-------------------------24.1---------------20.5------------------31.6
Canon SX50 Rumour-------------16.4---------------16.2------------------23.1
Panasonic FZ150------------------30.1----------------28.6-----------------41.5
Panasonic FZ200------------------16.2----------------28.6-----------------32.8
Sony HX200V-----------------------24.0----------------17.3-----------------29.6

Nikon P510--------------------------20.5----------------14.9-----------------25.3

Fuji HS30----------------------------27.8-----------------22.0----------------35.5

Fuji X-S1-----------------------------22.1-----------------27.7----------------35.4

Nikon V1 300mm f5.6------------11.7------------------22.7-----------------25.5

Nikon V1 300mm f10 ------------20.8------------------22.7-----------------30.8 (sweet spot?)
Olympus OM-D w 300 f6.7---- 14.0------------------25.0----------------28.7

Olympus OM-D w 300 f10 ----20.8------------------25.0----------------32.6 (sweet spot?)
Panasonic G5 w 300 f5.6-------11.7-----------------25.0-----------------27.6

Panasonic G5 w 300 f10 -------20.8-----------------25.0-----------------32.6 (sweet spot?)
18 MP APS-C w 400 f5.6--------8.8-------------------21.5-----------------23.2

18 MP APS-C w 400 f10 --------15.6-------------------21.5----------------26.6 (sweet spot?)
(same for EOS-M)
(Smaller angle means better resolution)

All of the table entries are for maximum optical zoom with the aperture wide open except for the "sweet spot" entries. My tests on my SX30 show that the best resolution is 30 microradians (calculated 30.7) and this does occur for the aperture wide open at f/5.8. For the SLRs, however, the calculations should perhaps be done with the aperture stopped down one or two stops for the "sweet spot".

I make no claims about the accuracy of these numbers and would welcome suggestions for improving the formulas. The numbers do suggest that the SX50 should have good resolution, assuming the same sensor as the SX40 and the rumoured 24-1060 f/2.87-5.00 lens.

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natattack
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Re: Three Birding Cameras to Watch
In reply to boxerman, Jul 30, 2012

Yes, the SX50 & fz200 do both seem like a step forward in bridge cameras. I suppose I'm a little afraid of the AF performance & small sensor letting me down, though I've been very happy personally with the IQ of the samples I've seen from the SX40 and FZ150. I will defintely be checking them out as potential substitutes for my Oly kit, but I might be expecting too much.

The Oly 70-300mm is a gem & I like it. I used to own the Oly 50-200mm (non Swd) but its was little short for me. These are a couple of pics I took a week ago, I was pretty happy with how tight I could get the shots, and the responsiveness of AF. The light was awful that day.

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mingleby
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Re: Three Birding Cameras to Watch
In reply to PaulRivers, Jul 30, 2012

I've owned the SX40HS for a few months now and the extra zoom over the other cameras in its class (with the exception of the Nikon, obviously) is worth its weight in gold, for birding at least.

I'm sure the SX50 (which is incidentally the model number of a Canon projector we have at work!) will have the same very decent image quality as the SX40 and the extra zoom (let's hope it is 42/44x) will be the deal-maker for me, much more so than a constant f2.8, as in the FZ200...

Mike.

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boxerman
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Re: Three Birding Cameras to Watch
In reply to natattack, Jul 31, 2012

natattack wrote:

The Oly 70-300mm is a gem & I like it. ... These are a couple of pics I took a week ago, I was pretty happy with how tight I could get the shots, and the responsiveness of AF. The light was awful that day.

For "awful light," those are impressive. I'm guessing you used a tripod, since 1/25 sec at 600 mm is unbelievable, otherwise.

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boxerman
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Re: Three Birding Cameras to Watch
In reply to Stephen Barrett, Jul 31, 2012

Stephen Barrett wrote:

I make no claims about the accuracy of these numbers and would welcome suggestions for improving the formulas. The numbers do suggest that the SX50 should have good resolution, ...

I appreciate your response and your original post. A good opportunity to think about what numbers tell you and my own priorities. I'm thinking, for now, these numbers don't tell me much about what's most important to me. Here are some points:

1. I think the calculations "reward" megapixels (sensor size held constant) without qualification. That's a dangerous "assumption."

2. This is personal and depends on your use, but the 10 mpx on my HS10 is pretty close to good enough for me (see the pix in my previous post). A good 13 x 19 print was all we ever used the cam for. The killers for that camera were poor IQ at > 400 ISO, and slow speed.

3. The "perfect lens" assumption erases some genuine problems. The Fuji XS1 would probably do for us, but the softness at full zoom keeps me away. That "design flaw" doesn't show in the numbers. (I understand that lens designers must decide on trade-offs across zoom range. If they had a choice, softness at full zoom is NOT good for me, for safaris. Fine for other purposes.)

4. Even if they reflected real-world images, I wonder how much variations in your resolution numbers really affect images. My knee-jerk is 20% would not be noticeable (on general principles of vision), and most of the number are not THAT variable, across the list. A factor of two, however, seems potentially quite consequential

5. The FZ150 is the worst in your list. But, I believe the real-world image are pretty good (and I trust SOME of the high camera review ratings).

The numbers DO tell us that superzooms can potentially be very good in terms of resolution. And SLRs don't have that all wrapped up on the basis of basic principles of optics and sensor resolution.

TNX again.
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natattack
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Re: Three Birding Cameras to Watch
In reply to boxerman, Jul 31, 2012

Thank you, I know, 1/25 at 300mm ! These were hand held, but the bird was very still and I was in a braced position (there were lots of mushy shots from this set too)

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Re: Three Birding Cameras to Watch
In reply to boxerman, Jul 31, 2012

Thanks for a very good post. I have the FZ150, and the results are excellent, thanks to a very good lens and good noise reduction in JPEGs with minimal damage to the details.

There's also another factor here. The better ratings of the SX40 are due to the longer focal length of it's lens, as compared to the FZ150; but at 600 mm, the SX40 is no better because F# and pixel count are the same. At shorter focal lengths, the FZ150 tends to have a larger aperture because the SX40 apertures decrease (larger F#) with increasing focal length rather rapidly, and the FZ150's apertures decreases quite slowly over most of the range, only decreasing rapidly near 600 mm. For example, the FZ150 is f/4 at 300 mm and the SX40 is closer to f/5.

Before I'll buy a camera, I plot F# Vs focal length on semi-log paper. I can usually get enough data from review's galleries to do this with some confidence. I also verify the data after I receive the camera; and after doing this with several cameras, I find the method quite reliable.
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Stephen Barrett
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Re: Three Birding Cameras to Watch
In reply to GeraldW, Jul 31, 2012

Thank you GeraldW, for your helpful suggestions about plotting f-number. It is also useful to know that the FZ150 has better resolution than the SX40 at 600 mm and below.

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Stephen Barrett
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Re: Three Birding Cameras to Watch
In reply to boxerman, Jul 31, 2012

Thank you for your comments, BoxerMan. You give me plenty to think about.

boxerman wrote:

I appreciate your response and your original post. A good opportunity to think about what numbers tell you and my own priorities. I'm thinking, for now, these numbers don't tell me much about what's most important to me.

I wouldn't make any major decisions based only on resolution calculations either, but I find the numbers helpful for understanding some of what is happening in various cameras and for giving indications of where to look for promising birding cameras. For me, resolving small details is very exciting even if it means sacrificing some image quality, but not too much. We probably disagree about where to draw the line. Most MTF charts for SLR lenses stop at 50% MTF as if nothing beyond that matters. If birders were to excise the parts of their pictures that fell beyond 50% MTF resolution, we would lose a lot of spectacular pictures.

Here are some points:

1. I think the calculations "reward" megapixels (sensor size held constant) without qualification. That's a dangerous "assumption."

It is true that the calculations for sensor angular resolution reward megapixels (but also small sensor size and long focal length). That is as it should be, I think, when looking at resolution. The dangerous part is if you ignore the fact that megapixels penalize low light capability, noise and image quality in general. That is why I think the Nikon 1 system is so interesting. It is rewarded for small sensor size and long focal length and penalized slightly for its 10 MP. And yet, from the perspective of a superzoom birder, the Nikon 1 sensor is large and has large pixels, which is good for image quality. Lens imperfections, such as chromatic aberration are also avoided because its lenses have small zoom ranges.

2. This is personal and depends on your use, but the 10 mpx on my HS10 is pretty close to good enough for me (see the pix in my previous post). A good 13 x 19 print was all we ever used the cam for. The killers for that camera were poor IQ at > 400 ISO, and slow speed.

I do not disagree but this thread started with the heading "Three Birding Cameras to Watch".

3. The "perfect lens" assumption erases some genuine problems. The Fuji XS1 would probably do for us, but the softness at full zoom keeps me away. That "design flaw" doesn't show in the numbers. (I understand that lens designers must decide on trade-offs across zoom range. If they had a choice, softness at full zoom is NOT good for me, for safaris. Fine for other purposes.)

Yes, you are right that the formulas can't capture all the things that might go wrong. Even though the SX-1 is capable of taking beautiful pictures, it has more than its share of unexpected problems. For the other superzooms though, I think that the "perfect lens assumption" is pretty good. Looking at the SX30, the calculated lens resolution is 24.1 microradians. The actual value can't be lower, but it can't be much higher either because I measured the total camera resolution as 30 microradians (and 29 upon repeating the tests several months later). Where I lose confidence in the lens-resolution formula is when there is a "sweet spot" as with SLR lenses. That is an indication that the lens is not perfect, which is difficult to accomplish when the sensor is large. The table's "sweet spot" entries with higher f numbers make the calculations more reasonable. The upcoming generation of superzoom lenses with larger apertures and/or more zoom will also likely be farther from perfect.

4. Even if they reflected real-world images, I wonder how much variations in your resolution numbers really affect images. My knee-jerk is 20% would not be noticeable (on general principles of vision), and most of the number are not THAT variable, across the list. A factor of two, however, seems potentially quite consequential

My two resolution measurements on the SX30 are within 3% of each other, but I would estimate the standard error of the tests as 5%. In the tests, including some using bird-feathers, I was surprised at how abruptly a change of target-element size or distance from the object affects whether detail is definitely visible or completely washed out. A 10% change is easily noticeable in such a contrived test situation. In my opinion, a 20% change in resolution would be important to a birder. Of course you can always try to get 20% closer but then those darn birds tend to fly away. Even though 20% difference in resolution is important (e.g. P510 / SX40 = 25.3 / 31.6 = 0.80) birders seem to agree with you that resolution is not everything. Many of them have chosen the SX30 and SX40 even though the P510 probably really does have better resolution.

5. The FZ150 is the worst in your list. But, I believe the real-world image are pretty good (and I trust SOME of the high camera review ratings).

Yes. I never intended that the numbers be used to say how good a camera is over all, just an approximate indication of resolution at maximum zoom. GeraldW's post above is also interesting, indicating that the FZ150 has better resolution than the SX40 at 600 mm and below. On the Panasonic Talk Forum, people seem to really like the FZ150 except for its lack of a rubber eye-cup. Some of them are saying that they will not buy the FZ200 for this reason!

The numbers DO tell us that superzooms can potentially be very good in terms of resolution. And SLRs don't have that all wrapped up on the basis of basic principles of optics and sensor resolution.

TNX again.

Thank you too, BoxerMan, for your thoughtful comments.

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boxerman
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Re: Three Birding Cameras to Watch
In reply to Stephen Barrett, Jul 31, 2012

So great to have a quiet, interesting conversation. (I do get SO tired of the shouting matches.)

I don't think we are at odds. I know birding is a different thing. Feather detail is SUCH a hard task. As I said, on safari, our HS10 did us well. But the birds were just not good, pretty much at all. Low-contrast detail at long zoom--such an art. I think the best bird photogs show real PP expertise, too. It has been a great revelation to me how different people's needs and aesthetics are.

We're not that far apart in terms of our sensor preferences. I've been a Canon G man for a while, but my personal interests have slid upscale a bit. Superzooms are shockingly good, for the reasons that you say. They have MUCH easier time with the basic optics with smaller sensors. My main reason for not liking the Nikon 1 is the camera operation. Though, that could change with experience. The closest thing to the Nikon, which has the controls and operational features I like (flippy LCD), seems to be the OM-D, which is where I am thinking...today, anyway.

I was, in fact, shocked that your calculations for the SX30 came out so close to the calculation. This makes me tend toward thinking the Fuji XS1 is more "goof" than just design trade-offs. My other concession to your experience is that 10% is visible, and 20% "a lot," at least for birding. This certainly resonates with my experience with occasional bird shots with the HS10. Our big mammal shots made us very happy. Birds, if the light was not perfect, just fell off a visual cliff. We got maybe 2 or 3 bird shots that made us happy, of which I posted one, earlier.

So, here's what we're up to this summer. No real need for super zoom:

Best...

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natattack
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Re: Three Birding Cameras to Watch
In reply to GeraldW, Jul 31, 2012

Re: Zoom comparisons, I thought you guys might appreciate this comparison between the SX40 @840mm zoom and FZ150 @600mm Zoom. Its a comparison pic from the camera labs SX40 review....to me the zoom difference isn't so huge.

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Stephen Barrett
Regular MemberPosts: 410Gear list
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Re: Three Birding Cameras to Watch
In reply to boxerman, Jul 31, 2012

Wow! Your pictures are amazingly beautiful, BoxerMan. Thanks for posting them.
Also your earlier photos of the bee eaters and the leopard are very fine.

 Stephen Barrett's gear list:Stephen Barrett's gear list
Canon PowerShot SX30 IS +3 more
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