A hawk was close enough to my car on a telelphone pole allowing me to photograph it with my 300mm lens with a 1.4x teleconverter.
A hawk was close enough to my car on a telelphone pole allowing me to photograph it with my 300mm lens with a 1.4x teleconverter.

You love your point & shoot digital camera but now you yearn for something more. A camera that offers more versatility and interchangeable lenses. A camera that lets you get closer to wildlife than the zoom on your small digital.

Perhaps you want to shoot birds — with a camera, not a gun.

Be forewarned, if you want to get into photographing wildlife, especially birds, you must have have a LONG lens. The very minimum focal length would be a 300mm with a 1.4x tele converter. I have used that with some success in photographing birds.

When I was first starting out as a photographer I was on a nice drive with the ex and children. I really wanted to photograph the great blue herons we saw in the fields outside Davis, Calif. But every time we got even a little close to the birds they would hop/fly off just out of range of my wimpy 200mm lens.

So I figured if I got out of the car and sort of crept up on them I could get a good shot. Slowly, ever so quietly, I approached the herons. And off they would go as I brought the camera to my eye.

In frustration I finally gave up and went back to the car. My ex said wryly, “It is really hard to sneak up on a bird — especially if you are wearing reds pants”.

Smart aleck. But the lesson stayed with me and I never wore red pants again.

But seriously, even with a 300mm lens and tele converter you cannot get really close to birds. I usually settle for a hawk on a telephone pole like the one shown, or a scenic with a bird in it — not a close up of the bird.

The really good bird and wildlife photographers are shooting with lenses that start about 500mm and go up from there. With lenses that are that big one needs special tripods and supports so to really dedicate oneself to wildlife shooting means spending a lot of money.

One of the best web sites I have seen on learning the basics of bird photography is www.richditch.com/page0/PhotoTurtorial/PhotoTurtorial.html

Much of what is discussed can be used in any type of image making: lighting, composition and lens techniques. (Sound familiar?)

But what if you just want to make that switch to digital SLRs to further your photographic journey? I use Canon gear so what I suggest is biased by that experience.  Canon’s entry level camera is the EOS Digital Rebel XT. It has an 10.1 Megapixel CMOS sensor, Canon’s DIGIC III Image Processor and compatibility with more than 50 EF Lenses.

I have played with this camera and it is sweet and easy to use.

And the price is perfect. B&H photo has the Rebel with a 18-55mm kit lens for $529.95. Considering the first digital body I ever used for newspaper work cost $15,000 for a whopping 2 megapixels; what this little Canon costs and what it can do is amazing!

If you have been considering the switch this is the perfect time for it. The 18-55mm lens is not a great one but it is a good beginning lens that you can cut your photo baby teeth on. Once you have gone beyond the basics, you can look to expand your gear list. — like for a BIG lens for shooting birds.

Remember to have fun!

2 COMMENTS

  1. Great little summary. I’ve just moved up to a DSLR from Canon and Fuji “Point n’Shoot” digitals. Love it as it takes me back to my old film-SLR days without the “I wonder how that’s going to turn out ?” wait for film developing. Looked at the Canon and Nikon offerings and settled on a Sony Alpha a300. This has now been superceded by later models but they have gizmos I just don’t need. Sony DSLR’s are a continuation of the Konica-Minolta brand that Sony bought and are increasingly popular here in the U.K.

    Anyway, I have the usual 18-55 lens but also a nice 18-250 for wildlife, aero and motorsports. Brilliant…………..and quiet. Don’t forget that with all the DSLR’s at this level the sensor is not “full frame” but APS-C sized so the rated focal lengths on lenses have to be multiplied by a factor of 1.5 or 1.6. My 18-250 actually performs at 27-375 in 35mm terms and a lens rated at 500mm would equate to a 750mm film lens.

    I’m back to creative photography rather than snapping and thoroughly enjoying it.

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