Thursday, January 13, 2011

My Camera Equpiment

While a few of you are familiar with what gear I use to take my photos - the vast majority are in the dark as this blog tends to focus on the pretty pictures and bird sightings rather than the technical photography aspect.  Well that's about to change - I'm going to expand the scope of this blog a little bit and try to include a little more detail on how the image was made for those who are interested.  Let's start with what I use in the field.

The one constant of course is the camera.  I started my foray into wildlife photography with Nikon's D60 DSLR (which has since been phased out) which was a nice starter camera that gave me full control but included some real user-friendly features that made jumping into the DSLR game easy.  It came with two kit lenses - the 18-55mm and the 55-200mm.  Both of these offered a nice range but fell well short of what I needed to photograph birds.  Anyone who is interested in starting photography on a more serious level would do well with these lenses but you will likely quickly outgrow them.  The 18-55mm is an excellent little lens for photographing things that don't move (like flowers) or people while the 55-200mm offered a nice range for some bigger birds (like egrets and herons) as well as allowing me to get a little closer to things like dragonflies and butterflies - but to photograph 90% of the birds out there, I needed something "bigger and better".  So I went out and purchased the...

Nikon D300s camera (linked below) which had just been released as an update to their D300 (the S stands for speed!).  Moving up to this camera allowed for more control and what every avian photographer covets - increased fps (frames per second).  With the D300s I can hold the shutter down and rip off 8 shots per second for a few seconds which really comes in handy when I'm photographing a bird in flight or trying to capture an egret catching a fish.

I paired this camera with the Nikon 300mm f/4.0D ED-IF AF-S Nikkor Lens which is plenty fast and tack sharp (both extremely important features).  This combo is good for shooting larger things like deer, seals or gulls that don't mind you getting close - but to get really close to the small warblers, sparrows and shorebirds I still needed more length, which is where Nikon TC-17E II (1.7x) Teleconverter AF-S, came in.  When matched with the 300 f4 lens, I now have 500mm of focal length to work with (and on the cropped sensor of the D300s we are working with a 750mm equivalent lens - not bad!).  The negative to this combo is it slows the autofocus a bit on the 300 f4 and lets in less light but it's an easy tradeoff when the other option is a 500mm lens which costs a whooping $6,000 more!


  1. So you are a nikon guy ;-) I'm a canon one, but i do not think it does make so much difference ;-)

  2. Luke, thanks for your plan to include technical details on the photograph in your future postings. As a birder I love the photos, as a birder with a camera I love the details of speed, exposure, focal length, etc.

  3. I have a Nikon rig and started with the 70-300mm, plus the 18-55 for other subjects. I stepped up to the sigma 150-500mm as my main wildlife lens. I'm pleased with it. A sigma teleconverter 1.4 is available. My camera is a d3000 which is slow but I'm not going to change it for a while. I agree with Chris in that all the main brands are good. Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.

  4. I'm back again. Talk some some more about the teleconverter too will you? The advantages and disadvantages of using one. I've been advised against them. Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River.

  5. Chris - on this level it doesn't make too much of a difference... when you get into the true Pro Glass, it's my contention that Nikon is superior - and might even have an edge in the cameras but we are talking about $5,000 bodies and $10,000 lenses so... doesn't make a difference for us!

    Bosque - I plan on making EXIF data more available... it's really been laziness for the most part that has kept me from including that but I also didn't know there was a desire for it. Considering how quick people were to post comments on this, I realize that info is certainly in demand!

    Gary - The 150-500 is a really great value. I've never used it but have seen some awesome shots from it and the range cannot be beat (the Nikon's 200-400 VR comes close). As for TC's, I love my 1.7X and they work well with fixed aperture lenses (the 300 f4 for example) but can be pretty weak on zooms. Nikon and Canon really make top of the line converters (with top of the line prices) specifically designed to go with their lenses. Kenko and other lesser brands suffer in the quality department and I have not seen any real great photos using 2nd brand TCs.

  6. I should also add in regards to Nikon vs. Canon - a big reason for my choice was physical comfort. I prefer the layout of the buttons on the Nikon, their menus and just how the camera feels in my hands.

    Anyone who is looking at purchasing a DSLR for the first time should really test out both Canon and Nikon (and if you really want to be adventerous, Sony and Olympus) because you may find one fits better in your hand than the other. Also, some people may have smaller hands or larger hands and different camera bodies will suit them better.

  7. Nice discussion. I love my Nikon D300 - bought it before the 300s came out - and the Sigma 150-500mm lens. I had a Sigma teleconverter, which I sold on Ebay. It does not work with a telephoto lens - not enough light! I just bought a BlackRapid strap, a bit pricey, but it keeps the camera and lens safe and leaves your hands free.