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Tips & Tutorials >> All Tips & Tutorials

Camera and Lens Recommendations for Bird Photography

Regardless of the genre, having the proper gear is half the battle won. This is especially true for photography niches such as wildlife or astrophotography where specific cameras and lenses can influence the final output. For this article, we spoke to Adrian Silas Tay, an experienced bird photographer, on his gear recommendations for both beginners wanting to try out bird photography, and currently active bird photographers wanting to upgrade their equipment. Let’s go!

PS. If you’re looking for a great beginner guide on bird photography, read here.


Common tern EOS R6, EF300mm f/2.8L IS USM +2X III, f/8, ISO 600, 1/2000s, 600mm 

Recommendations for beginners in bird photography

Given the wide variety of very capable Canon cameras and lenses, beginners are spoilt for choice. My recommendations are the Canon EOS R6 and Canon EF70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM lens

 


Olive-backed sunbird EOS R6, EF70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM, f/5.6, ISO 1250, 1/500s, 300mm 

Why Canon EOS R6 and Canon EF70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM lens? 

The EOS R6 camera is equipped with the latest auto-focusing system Canon has to offer, and with its Animal Eye AF feature, makes bird photography effortless. The In-body Stabilizer feature, coupled with the ability to shoot with high ISO, will enable beginners to capture sharp images easily. The reasonable price point for such a capable full-frame mirrorless camera makes it second to none. Additionally, the EOS R6 will still be relevant and useful up to a professional level, making the camera choice an excellent long-term investment.

It will be easier for beginners in bird photography to start with telephoto zoom lenses like the Canon EF70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM lens (with an adapter for EF lenses for Canon EOS R6) or similar focal lengths. Due to the tight point-of-view from 300mm onwards, beginners will usually struggle to find the subject (bird) when they bring the camera up to their eye. The ability to zoom in from a wider point-of-view on a telephoto zoom lens makes locating the bird much easier. The wide aperture of f/5.6 is also useful in low light situations and enables easier subject isolation through background blur. The biggest advantage lies in its user-friendly size and weight, making it very portable for outdoor adventures.

 


Brown-throated sunbird EOS R6, EF70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM, f/6.3, ISO 1600, 1/500s, 300mm 

Bird species and locations to try out the recommended beginner kit 

Parks and gardens are ideal locations to start bird photography with the recommended kit. The birds at these locations are usually accustomed to humans present in their environment, making it easier for beginners to approach. Common garden species like sunbirdsjunglefowl, waterhen, herons, egrets and kingfishers make excellent starting targets as they are pretty easy to spot.

*Disclaimer: practice proper etiquette when photographing wildlife! Get more information here

 


Blue-winged leafbird EOS R6, RF100-500mm f/4.5-7.1L IS USM, f/7.1, ISO 640, 1/640s, 500mm 

Important features for users wanting to upgrade their gear 

When it comes to upgrading camera gear, reach and good low light performance are two key areas to look at. In exchange, this will incur extra cost for more professional equipment and an increase in carry-on weight. An example of such equipment would be the super-telephoto primes like the 500mm or 600mm f/4 lenses, which are more expensive and slightly heavier. However, they do provide excellent reach - especially when paired with extenders - and perform very well since the lenses allow in more light with their wider apertures.

 


Coconut Lorikeet EOS R5, EF300mm f/2.8L IS II USM +2x III, f/6.3, ISO 1600, 1/100s, 600mm 

Recommendations for users wanting to upgrade their gear 

In my opinion, I would classify mid-level gear profiles as photographers using the EOS R6 or even the EOS R5. I would now recommend the Canon RF100-500mm f/4.5-7.1L IS USM lensCanon RF600mm f/11 IS STM or Canon RF800mm f/11 IS STM lenses. The native RF lenses, the auto-focusing speed, tracking and accuracy, image-stabilization performance and enhanced optics will all ensure better results and improved image quality. There is also an increased reach with longer focal length.

 


Javan Myna EOS R6, EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4x III, f/6.3, ISO 3200, 1/1600s, 700mm 

Bird species and locations to try out the recommended kit for mid-level photographers 

For the mid-level photographers shooting with the EOS R5/R6 and Canon RF100-500mm f/4.5-7.1L IS USM lens, Canon RF600mm f/11 IS STM or Canon RF800mm f/11 IS STM lenses, they can try photographing shorebirds. If you reside in Singapore, the recommended place for shorebirds is Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve (SBWR), and Dairy Farm Nature Park or Windsor Nature Park for forest birds. 

Common shorebirds found in SBWR include the common sandpiper, common redshank, Eurasian whimbrel, different types of egrets and storks. In addition to shorebirds, one can also photograph birds of prey like the brahminy kite, white-bellied sea-eagle, and grey-headed fish-eagle. Other common birds include kingfishers and tailorbirds which are often encountered in the reserve. 

Common forest birds include different types of bulbuls, flycatchers, Asian fairy bluebird, greater racket-tailed drongo and various woodpeckers. 

 

Gear requirements to look out for  

Certainly, the biggest need in bird photography is reach. Birds are often high up in a tree or far away in the distance, so having enough reach is always a priority. Serious bird photographers usually start at 500 or 600mm focal lengths supplemented with 1.4x or 2x extenders where necessary.

The second requirement would be a high frame rate, as indicated by the frames per second (FPS) a camera can achieve. Bird photographers often document action sequences like flying birds, feeding or hunting behaviours. Higher FPS would allow more images to be shot, increasing the chance of nailing the perfect moment.

The third requirement is the ability to shoot at high ISO. Due to the long focal length and the need to freeze action, photographers often resort to high ISO settings to achieve their images.

Check out the downloadable infographic below on the summarised pointers of this article!

 

For similar articles: 
7 Important Facts about the EOS R6 
Bird Portraits: 4 Simple Tips for Finding a Better Angle 
Birds in Flight: Camera Settings to Increase Your Successful Shots 

Adrian Silas Tay

Adrian Silas Tay

A job coach working with people with autism by day, in his time off, Adrian is a passionate birdwatcher and wildlife photographer involved in several bird conservation projects with various organisations. He aims to document all species of birds in Singapore, and his photographs of them (330 species and counting) can be found on sites and publications such as the Singapore Birds Project and eBird by The Cornell Lab of Ornithology.