Advice and tips on upcoming trips

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6 years 2 months ago #55796 by Mark Brown
Mark Brown created the topic: Advice and tips on upcoming trips
Hi all

I’m new to this forum (not sure I’ve even posted this in the right place..) and a relatively inexperienced birder – I’ve always had an interest and can identify most of the ‘standards’ but when it comes to calls and birds of the smaller and browner varieties I am generally quite lost! I’ve recently rediscovered my interest and have a few trips coming up that should provide some good birding which I’m really excited about.

The first is a trip up to Kruger in Nov – haven’t been to the park in many years and I’m really looking forward to it! We’re doing the Nyalaland trail in the north, which apparently has some fantastic birding – anybody done it? We’re also spending a night at Pundu maria, I’ve seen some great posts here about the North and I look forward to meeting the famous Frank at Pafuri picnic site :) any tips for me / routes or things to look out for? Not sure if we should make a mission down to Shingwedzi or whether to just stick to the Pafuri area..? I’ll be heading to Kruger again over xmas (haven’t been in 10 yrs and now twice in 2 months!), but this time going to Mopani.

The other trip is to Borakalalo in Dec, which I’ve also read great things about here – any tips for me in this regard?

The last thing I’d like to ask some advice on is camera gear – I’ve seen so many beautiful pictures here so clearly you all know what you’re doing :) I shoot with Nikon but my best wildlife lens is only up to 200 and it just doesn’t have the reach for birds – I need to step up to at least 400 I would think, but it all starts getting quite pricey.. The other option is a tele-convertor, but what about the loss of aperture? I’m very lost and if I’m going to make the investment I don’t want to make the wrong choice

Lots of questions :)

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6 years 2 months ago #55797 by mossie
mossie replied the topic: Re: Advice and tips on upcoming trips
I must say, any part of the northern Kruger is awsome <!-- s:bouncy: --><img src="{SMILIES_PATH}/bouncy.gif" alt=":bouncy:" title="Enthusiastic" /><!-- s:bouncy: --> Its one of my favorite places in South Africa.

Regarding lenses, that is tricky, and depends entirely on your budget. Which essentially means stretch it as far as you can, as you get what you pay for. In canon terms, I waited a year to save up for a 400mm f5.6 prime, and have never looked back, as the sharpness, autofocus speed and IQ are amazing, and I now have quite a few "profesional" grade pictures on my office walls to show for it. I had a cheap and nasty 55-200mm which never gave much satisfaction, and I now use it to collect dust in my cupboard. In general, you won't get a birding lens for anything less than about R15,000 new. Perhaps R10,000 from the classifieds (try Outdoorphoto). With Nikon your choice is a bit limited, but your best affordable bet is probably either the Nikor 300mm f4 prime with a 1.4 converter, or one of the many Sigma zooms. On the subject of sigma zooms, be very carefull here, as they are not all the same. Do a lot of reading of reviews and on the forums before you decide which model you buy. I once tried the 170-500 on canon mount, and the AF was as slow as an old landrover on a zimer frame, and the sharpness was awfull at 500mm. If you get a zoom for birding, in all likelyness, you will use it at maximum focal length, so make sure that the lens you choose functions well at maximum zoom. Hence my preference for primes which are super sharp, and have excellent AF and IQ! I know some of the forumites swear by their Sigma lenses, so it check what they are using, as this may help. Also remember, that even with a 400mm lens, a small bird needs to be sitting in the same room as you before you can get a decent full frame picture of it.

Regards,

Mossie

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6 years 2 months ago #55807 by mdelport
mdelport replied the topic: Re: Advice and tips on upcoming trips
Hi mossie

I'm also looking to eventually buy some decent camera equipment. I'm still a student so I haven't been able to afford a DSLR until now. I've been using a 12mp Canon powershot with 20x optical zoom for the past 2 or so years, but now I have some money to upgrade to a DSLR. I've decided on a body already, but as far as lenses go I want to buy the Canon 400mm f5.6 prime because I've read that it has a super fast auto-focus and produces amazingly sharp images, and its not too badly priced either. The only thing I'm worried about is if 400mm is enough reach for birding. Have you ever used yours with any of the Canon Extenders, and if so how were the results? Was there a big sacrifice in image quality?

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6 years 2 months ago #55809 by mossie
mossie replied the topic: Re: Advice and tips on upcoming trips
That's quite a few questions:

1) I think 400mm is enough. Longer primes can sometimes be better, but then the prices start to go absolutely crazy. Also, as you go to the longer focal lengths, you loose: immage quality, depth of field, the ability to keep the lens steady, money and you gain a lot of weight. Idealy, I would rather have a longer prime (500-600) for birds and shorter 300 for wildlife, but I can never justify that cash for a hobby, so I compromise with the 400mm to cover both. If you look through an 8x and 10x pair of binoculars, that is the approximate difference in the level of magnification you will see between a 400mm and 500mm lens, so that is hardly worth the big difference in price. If you ask any experienced bird photographer, the secret to beautiful pin sharp detailed images is not about the longest zoom you can afford, but rather how patiently you work to getting close to your subject. My best pictures have been taken by sitting near a good food source or nest for long periods of time, waiting for the birds to get used to you, so that they act naturally. My sharpest picture was taken with a 100mm macro prime, but that's another story!

2) The 400mm f5.6 prime is an excellent lens, but it does have a few limitations: The one being, that at f5.6, if you add a 1.4x converter you get an f8 lens and with a 2x converter it goes to f11. Neither of these 2 apertures will allow the autofocus to function on non-1D bodies. I think image quality will deteriorate if you had to use converters and rely on manual focus. The other limitation, is the minimum distance at which focus can be achieved (3.5m). If I had to suggest an accesorry, I often use a 20mm extension tube, which allows me to focus to 2.5m (I loose infinity focus with max being at about 10m). The extension tube will also give you a marginal bit of magnification, without loss of quality or f-stop.

I would say in the price range, that is still your best Canon mount offering for birding. What you can't see on MTF charts etc is how fast the AF is, and the IQ, which impressed me so much.

When I have more time I will post some data and pictures from the lens/extension tube combinations that I have been playing with.

Mossie

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6 years 2 months ago #55815 by mdelport
mdelport replied the topic: Re: Advice and tips on upcoming trips
Thanks so much for such a detailed reply mossie. I Think with my budget the 400mm f5.6 is BY FAR the best lens I can get. It was between that, the 100-400mm f4 or a sigma 150-500mm, but the prime will definitely give me much better image quality than those other 2 lenses, and with birding I think fixed focus is much better. And I also agree that it's very rewarding having to work a bit for your pics.

Cheers
Matthew

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6 years 2 months ago #55816 by mdelport
mdelport replied the topic: Re: Advice and tips on upcoming trips
Back to some of Magafta's questions, as I feel like I've hijacked this discussion a bit now. I would dedinitely spend as much time as possible around pafuri on your first trip trying to see as many of the specials in that area as possible, then try head to shingwedzi area on your 2nd trip when you're staying at Mopani.

Cheers
Matthew

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6 years 2 months ago #55827 by sulamk
sulamk replied the topic: Re: Advice and tips on upcoming trips
The sigma 150 to 500 is a much better lens than the old 170 to 500 the problem with the primes is sometimes they are to long in places like the kruger! I noticed that on my last trip to the kruger some of the big guns were using the 70 to 200 f2,8 with a 1.4 converter gives you 480mm on a canon with the loss of 1 stop. Photoplus magazine rated the new sigma version of this lens quite highly. In fact most of the Sigma ex lenses get a good rating! I have the Sigma 70 to 200 ex and am pleased with the results it locks on focus very fast now to get the 1,4 converter! This one of the lenses rated to still auto focus with a converter. I have a 170 to 500 and have found it not to bad.
On a another point remember to carry water sunscreen and a hat It can be very hot at pafuri this time of the year!

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6 years 2 months ago #55907 by mossie
mossie replied the topic: Re: Advice and tips on upcoming trips
I agree, for the larger game, I have had a few frustrating moments when I have had the 400mm lens:biting: But for birds (and far off game), I usually find myself short at 400mm, and end up having to crop on most of my shots. If I had a second camera body, I would probably put a 70-200mm on for Elelphants etc.

Mossie

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6 years 2 months ago #55912 by arty
arty replied the topic: Re: Advice and tips on upcoming trips
Hi Cannot wait to see what Doug and Gordon post about the lens'.
Parfuri in November is really very hot and many specials are around so good luck and happy birding.

Cameras as the previous chaps have said are really pricey.Good glass is insanely expensive so when you find a good one keep it. I use the canon eos 1d mk3 with a canon 300m f.4 lens and a 1.4 mk2 convertor. Really happy with this rig but would go for the 300mm f2.8 canon if i could afford it. I sometimes have autofocus problems but not often. I lose 1 stop of light with the convertor but image quality is really good. I very seldom take pics of mammals so the 400mm is not really needed for me. As Mossie says good field craft and knowing bird habitat and gizz is half the battle of getting a good pic. Another thing when you have the opportunity take as many pics as you can. I regularly take 50 to 80 pics of one bird to get the one i want. Sigma well not sure, i have the 170-500mm and i use it so seldom now.I find that on my bodies the sharpness is not great and also a little slow. The big prime canon lens' are really over priced right now over 90 000 .00 not really worth it. I took some great pics of a white fronted bee eater at crooks corner with a 600mm prime lens but had to use a tripod because of camera shake.

Wim at outdoorphoto in menlyn is really helpful and a professional bird photographer, i bought my current rig from him second hand and am really happy.body was 24k and the lens was 17k,the convertor i bought new about 4 k.The new nikon and pentax also give awesome pics.My advise rent first from odp and decide after.it might take awhile but i did that over about 6 months to a year before i settled on what i have. Remember good bird pics are low f stop anything from f5 to f 8, high shutter speeds and good light.Your body must also be able to handle anything from 8 frames a second or up id birds in flight are your aim.
check out the bird pic thread on this site and see what us amateurs are achieving with pretty well priced rigs.post editing is also important so a good software programme is also essential. Photoshop or lighthouse are great.

anyway i could go on for ever about this topic, find a good shop and some one who knows bird photography first. i wasted a few bucks coz i did not know better.

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6 years 2 months ago #55915 by nkgray
nkgray replied the topic: Re: Advice and tips on upcoming trips
Over the past 6 years I have 'graduated' from a Canon20D with a 100-400mm zoom via 40D and 60D with the same lens to a 1D mkIV with the 300mm f2.8 prime. While the difference between 40D and 1D is chalk and cheese with same lens, so is the difference between the 300mm prime and the 100-400mm zoom set at 300mm for the same camera. So, although I sang the praises of the 100-400mm zoom for many years as possibly the best lens on the market for the birder that is in the business of ad hoc hand-held shots whether of perched or in-flight subjects, if were starting out afresh with the benefit of hindsight, I'd go for a prime lens straight off. Clarity and sharpness of image are just so much better with the prime.

I find that with the 300mm I can use a 2x extender without affecting my ability to take hand-held shots - so an effective hand-held 600mm. The light has to be pretty decent, but even on bright overcast days I am not too limited as auto-focus has not yet been a problem. The issue of whether 600mm is 'too much' for Kruger is for me not such an issue - I reckon I can shoot 90% of the birds I want with the 300 + 2x extender. I am fortunate that I still have the old equipment and can grab the 60D with the 100-400mm for the birds that are just too close, and the 40D with a 17-85mm zoom for the animal shots as even at the 100mm setting the zoom definitely is still too much for that lion walking past the bakkie!

Obviously cost is a major issue when looking at prime lenses, and you need really deep pockets for the 300mm f2.8, but I would seriously look at the 300mm f4 (or Nikon equivalent) and use a 2x or 1.4x extender. I would imagine in good light conditions that the 400mm f5.6 (again, or Nikon equivalent) with a x1.4 extender would still perform well hand-held - but whether auto-focus would work will be an issue. Here again though, whereas a few years ago I used auto-focus for most shots I now use manual for about 90% of perched bird shots, taking lots of shots and bracketing the focus so that a few will always be just right. So, just because AF doesn't work is no reason for not using a prime hand-held with an extender.


Neil

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