Small camera for birds and wildlife

Started Dec 26, 2012 | Discussions
Bill McKenney Contributing Member • Posts: 570
Small camera for birds and wildlife

I'm writing for my son who currently uses his cellphone for pictures. He is moving to Costa Rica for a few years and wants to upgrade. He is interested in taking pictures of birds and wildlife and getting better quality shots of his children. He wants something light and easy to carry. I think there is something called a 3/4 camera. What are they and would they be suitable? Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Thanks Bill

Alphoid Veteran Member • Posts: 5,333
Re: Small camera for birds and wildlife

They are cameras with sensors almost as big as a dSLR (so basically identical image quality), but without an optical viewfinder (which requires a moving mirror, 5 additional mirrors, etc., so makes it rather bulky). They are also easier to use than a dSLR. Key downsides over dSLR are slower focus speed, and (obviously) no optical viewfinder.

They are very suitable. I recommend the Olympus PEN series over the Panasonics for your application.

Other choice would be a superzoom point-and-shoot. Those give a lot of zoom for photos of birds, but much worse image quality (tiny sensor, so you can get a lot of telephoto in a small package). For a u4/3 camera, you can get longer lenses too, but they are almost as large as long lenses for dSLRs, and quite expensive. Personally, I prefer fewer, better pictures, so I'd take the u4/3, but many would pick the superzoom.

Kokeen4231 Contributing Member • Posts: 613
Re: Small camera for birds and wildlife

The olympus pen series would be a good way to go. But the problem is there is not really a good lens yet for wildlife. Their cameras are rather fast(pretty quick AF and shooting rates), they give 2x reach. But the problem is their furthest lens is kind of slow.

An alternative is the sony nex. These are not 4/3 but bigger apsc sensors. You can get one of Sony's lenses meant for dslr's and use an adaptor to mount it on the nex. Bt then again this would be expensive. If you have a high budget of $1700+ then go sony. Lower than that then go for the olympus.

 Kokeen4231's gear list:Kokeen4231's gear list
Fujifilm X-E2 Fujifilm XF 18-55mm F2.8-4 R LM OIS Fujifilm XF 56mm F1.2 R Fujifilm XF 50-140mm F2.8
Alphoid Veteran Member • Posts: 5,333
Fast telephoto for u4/3

Olympus 35-100mm f/2.0. Equivalent, for all intents and purposes, to shooting a full frame with a 70-200mm f/4.  Probably out of OP's budget and weight class, though.

Michael Melb AU Contributing Member • Posts: 935
Re: Small camera for birds and wildlife

4/3  class cameras would be pretty good for the purpose. They are light, and offer the best possible image quality in a compact body. However, for birds and animals photos he will also need a long focus lens - so you are after a camera with two lens set - which will cover most of the needs. This sort of set can be expensive, and for the money a twin lens set DSLR can be bought - like T3i , light and quality camera if only slightly bulkier than the largest of 4/3 class cameras.  It will produce images considerably better than 4/3s typically capable of, especially in dense forest and at dusk/dawn. Is it really that difficult for a young man to carry it around?

trekkeruss Veteran Member • Posts: 3,899
Re: Small camera for birds and wildlife
1

Define "small."

If by small you mean something that can fit into a pocket, then a travel zoom camera might suffice. Examples include the Panasonic ZS20 and Sony HX20V.

The M4/3 you have heard about come in a couple of different styles. One style looks like a half-sized version of a DSLR camera. The other style looks like a compact camera but with a protruding lens. These offer higher image quality than a compact pocket camera, but at greater cost and size. The "kit" lens sold with M4/3 cameras isn't long enough for wildlife; a second lens would be needed.

trekkeruss Veteran Member • Posts: 3,899
Re: Small camera for birds and wildlife

FYI, you might find the following graphics helpful. First is a comparison between a popular consumer DSLR and an M4/3 camera. Note that neither has a lens attached:

http://j.mp/Vdqfy9

Next is the DSLR-like M4/3 camera compared to a compact-style M4/3 camera. Again, no lens attached:

http://j.mp/VdrmO5

Finally, a compact-style M4/3 camera compared to a travel zoom camera. The travel zoom has a built-in lens that covers a range that would require two lenses on the M4/3 camera:

http://j.mp/VdrNrN

Randyflycaster
Randyflycaster Regular Member • Posts: 117
Re: Small camera for birds and wildlife

For wildlife should the micro zoom go to 150 mm or 200?

Randy

mgd43 Veteran Member • Posts: 4,322
Re: Small camera for birds and wildlife

For shooting birds, especially small and midsized birds you want all the reach that you can get. M4/3 cameras can be relatively small, but once you put a long tele lens on it, it becomes pretty big and expensive.

Compact cameras known as travel zooms are small enough to fit in a good size pocket. They have lenses that go from wide-angle to long tele, but they use small sensors (that's what keeps them small). A typical travel zoom is my Panasonic ZS15. It has a 24-384 equivalent lens. A problem with small sensors is that they are not good in low light. Photography is full of trade-offs. You get a small camera with a long tele lens, but you pay for it with poor performance in low light.

My suggestion is a bridge camera. A typical bridge camera has a lens from wide-angle to very long tele (600mm equivalent or more). Bridge cameras are bigger than travel zooms and smaller than DSLR's. They also use small sensors. That's what allows such long tele lenses in a small package. Some good bridge cameras are the Nikon P510, Canon SX50IS, Panasonic FZ200, Panasonic FZ150, Sony HX200V (or something similar), Fujifilm HS30, and Fujifilm HS25.

My first choice is the Panasonic FZ200 which has a constant f/2.8 lens which is a great feature, but it is the most expensive and the lens is not as long as some of the others. My other favorite is the Fujifilm HS25. It takes AA batteries that you can get anywhere and it has a manual zoom ring which is faster and more precise than the power zoom on the others. It also can use an accessary flash which can be used for bounce flash or off camera flash. With bounce flash you bounce the flash off of a ceiling or wall to get a softer more natural light.

 mgd43's gear list:mgd43's gear list
Nikon Coolpix P7800 Nikon D5500 Nikon AF DX Fisheye-Nikkor 10.5mm f/2.8G ED Sigma 10-20mm F4-5.6 EX DC HSM Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR +3 more
jbart1 Regular Member • Posts: 195
Re: Small camera for birds and wildlife

I have owned both the Nikon P510 and Canon SX50 HS.  The Canon is significantly better and more flexible.  It has longer reach, better auto mode, a hot shoe for external flash, and can record RAW files.  Lots of discussion of this camera in the Powershot forum.

drj3 Veteran Member • Posts: 7,852
Re: Small camera for birds and wildlife
1

You did not say maximum cost for the camera.  That would certainly be an important determinant of any recommendation.  Also climate conditions are important and depending on location in Costa Rica a camera that can be used in humid/wet conditions may be necessary.

Any good P&S super zoom should be better than a cell phone for animal/bird photography.  However, one should not expect them to perform as well as any 4/3 or APS sensors in image quality.  They will tend to give reasonable results in very good light, but will suffer in both noise and dynamic range when lighting is less than ideal.

The new Olympus and Sony Nex, mirrorless camera all have very good sensors (at least as good as any of the Canon APS sensors) and can do very well in almost any light.  Equivalent lens for the Sony NEX will be larger than the Olympus 4/3 lenses.  However, I believe only the Olympus OMD is appropriate for use in rain or very humid environments.  Unfortunately not inexpensive nor all that small, especially when one adds a telephoto lens.

For serious animal or bird photography, the DSLR still provides the best performance (phase detection focus is still better for moving targets and for focus in wooded environments), however, the cameras are no longer small.  The Canon 7D is a very good camera for animal/bird photography, but it is expensive and not small or light weight.  While I have not used them, the Pentax DSLR cameras are often recommended as alternatives to the mirrorless cameras, since they are relatively small, have internal stabilization and weatherproofing.  However, they are again larger than the 4/3 mirrorless.

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drj3

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Olympus E-510 Olympus E-5 Olympus E-M1 Olympus OM-D E-M10 Olympus E-M1 II +7 more
peevee1 Veteran Member • Posts: 6,247
Re: Fast telephoto for u4/3

Alphoid wrote:

Olympus 35-100mm f/2.0. Equivalent, for all intents and purposes, to shooting a full frame with a 70-200mm f/4. Probably out of OP's budget and weight class, though.

It is not for m43, it is for Full 4/3. It can be used on m43 with an adapter, but autofocus will be slow.

OP Bill McKenney Contributing Member • Posts: 570
Re: Small camera for birds and wildlife

Thanks all for the advice. I'm dated when it comes to cameras - my Nikon D80 suits my purpose and I haven't looked since. There has been a lot of new products.

While this posting was ongoing, he bought a Nikon D5100. I'm not sure that would be called small.

Bill

leno Senior Member • Posts: 1,257
Re: Small camera for birds and wildlife

Bill McKenney wrote:

Thanks all for the advice. I'm dated when it comes to cameras - my Nikon D80 suits my purpose and I haven't looked since. There has been a lot of new products.

While this posting was ongoing, he bought a Nikon D5100. I'm not sure that would be called small.

Bill

Depends on the size of your hands, but it is a very good camera and the lens are the best by a small margin.

 leno's gear list:leno's gear list
Olympus XZ-1 Nikon D5100 Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 55-200mm f/4-5.6G VR Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 35mm F1.8G +3 more
Randyflycaster
Randyflycaster Regular Member • Posts: 117
Re: Small camera for birds and wildlife

Can a lens hood and filters be fit on most bridge cameras?

Randy

jbart1 Regular Member • Posts: 195
Re: Small camera for birds and wildlife

SX50 yes,  P510 no - not sure about others

mgd43 Veteran Member • Posts: 4,322
Re: Small camera for birds and wildlife

Randyflycaster wrote:

Can a lens hood and filters be fit on most bridge cameras?

Randy

Yes to the Fujifilm HS25 and HS30. I think the Panasonic FZ200 and FZ150 can also, but I'm not sure. I don't know about the Sony. Look them up on B&H's website and it should tell you if they do and what size filters they take. If you get filters get good multicoated filters.

 mgd43's gear list:mgd43's gear list
Nikon Coolpix P7800 Nikon D5500 Nikon AF DX Fisheye-Nikkor 10.5mm f/2.8G ED Sigma 10-20mm F4-5.6 EX DC HSM Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR +3 more
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