Excerpts from P.O.T.N

Songbird Portraits with our new SX40: (Original post – April 2012)


Hi all,

We picked up another new superzoom this past week… an SX40-HS. It has a lot in common with our SX30, (same lens and body), but uses a smaller 12mp CMOS sensor which improves it’s continuous shot speed, and allows better high ISO performance and some additional shooting features. We’ve just begun processing our first captures with it and I wanted to share a few of them here…

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We do shoot pretty close up most of the time, and 840mm sure helps. But even though all these were taken from 25ft or less, they are all also cropped… and a few are fairly deep crops. They were all taken hand-held at base ISO(100) in Manual mode, as jpegs with reduced in-camera settings, and processed in Photoshop.

The exif below is from the full view shot of Ben (#6 above), and is fairly typical of the set with variations primarily in shutter speed and focal length.
Camera Model Name Canon PowerShot SX40 HS
Shooting Date/Time 4/5/2012 8:31:56 PM
Shooting Mode Manual
My Colors Mode Custom Color
Tv (Shutter Speed) 1/400
Av (Aperture Value) 5.8
Light Metering Spot
ISO Speed 100
Lens 4.3 – 150.5 mm
Focal Length 150.5 mm (840mm equivalent)
Digital Zoom None
Image Size 4000×3000
Image Quality Fine
Flash Off
White Balance Day Light
AF Mode Continuous AF
Parameters Contrast -1
Sharpness -2
Saturation -1
Color Space sRGB
File Size 2097 KB
Drive Mode Continuous shooting

While we are certainly advocates for low-cost backyard birding with superzooms, (and they definitely do offer amazing features for very little money), those with experience shooting wild birds with higher-end gear should know the other “price” that superzoom users must pay. These cams are generally quite slow to focus, slow shot to shot, unable to track birds in flight, and must be used at close range in good light (base ISO) for best results. Their sensors are tiny and the per/pixel IQ and dynamic range is simply no match for larger cameras. In other words, be prepared for low hit rates in the wild. Every camera has strengths and weaknesses, but those who normally shoot with DSLRs will soon become painfully aware of the superzoom’s weaknesses when they first try shooting with one.

But… they do also have their $trengths… light weight, extraordinary reach with very effective IS, and surprisingly good IQ under ideal conditions. They cost less and take up less space in the camera bag than most decent DSLR lenses, and serious birders may indeed find them to be useful additions to their kits.

Thanks again, and good shooting everybody.


2 thoughts on “Excerpts from P.O.T.N

  1. Need following settings for sx40 in bird pictures of 15-20ft range. Servo af(on or off)continuous af(on or off)spot ae pt(center or af pt)and af focus(tracking or flexizone). You say you customize your color settings. Is there anytime you change your custom color settings? Thanks ken!! And i just think your bird photos are just amazing(A++).

    • Hi drilakin, and thanks for your comment.

      Our settings tend to vary quite a lot from each shot or series to the next. Temple and I each have different preset start-up preferences, but we each also modify our settings continuously as various conditions present. Temple usually shoots with Continuous AF, and I generally prefer Single Shot AF. She normally shoots the SX40 in Av mode, whereas I nearly always shoot all our Canon cameras in Manual mode. Neither of us uses Servo AF or tracking modes, but that does not mean that others won’t find them useful.

      We generally just don’t believe that any combination of customized settings can be optimal for the wide variety of scenes we shoot. And different photographers will often not agree about what works best in various situations anyway, so we hesitate to recommend any fixed settings.

      Our Custom Color settings for the SX40 are fixed however, to allow improved latitude for our post-processing method… as follows:
      Sharpness -2
      Contrast -1
      Saturation -1
      Green -1

      Hope this is helpful, …and good shooting.


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