Superzooms – Shooting the SX30

Hi all,

We’ve had several requests for tips on optimizing results when shooting birds and wildlife with compact superzoom cameras. This post is an excerpt from a thread in one of the birding forums where I offered such tips regarding shooting the Canon SX30, but most of it should be applicable to any similar camera.

We shoot in Manual mode, so our settings tend to vary a lot from each shot to the next. The SX30 is a very good little birding camera though and I would offer some basic guidelines here which should help you to get the best photos from it:

1. Shoot outdoors or thru open windows…shooting thru window glass (especially double panes) can degrade image quality dramatically.

2. Avoid using Auto mode… The Program, Av, Tv, and Manual modes allow much better control over exposures. And these modes all allow setting ISO manually… ISO settings should be kept as low as lighting conditions permit. Use ISO 80 or ISO100 if at all possible. Higher ISOs will produce progressively noiser and less-detailed images with less natural color.

3. The SX30 zoom lens is at its sharpest at full-reach (maximum zoom). It’s difficult for most folks to get close enough to birds or wild animals for 840mm to be too close. So don’t be afraid to use long focal lengths. Try to nearly fill your frame with your subject… the more pixels you get on the bird the more detail you will record.

4. Avoid Digital Zoom – image quality will be degraded.

5. Learn to use the view finder… it’s tiny and cluttered with the needed info it displays, but holding the camera to your eye to frame the shot provides stability that just can’t be achieved by trying to hold the camera steady at arms-length to view your shot in the LCD. The image stabilization in the SX30 is excellent, but you will minimize camera shake with good viewfinder technique. Hold the camera steadier and you’ll get more sharp shots.

6. Lock focus using the shutter half-press and see your sharp shot in the viewfinder before fully depressing the shutter button. Full-press shutter actuation is frustratingly slow (lag) and often results in mis-focused shots.

And maybe most important of all…
7.8.9.&10. Shoot shoot shoot shoot. Not only does practice make perfect, but there will always be shots which are missed for every reason imaginable… the bird moves, you move, clouds roll across the sun changing the light, something or anything blocks your camera’s view just as you release the shutter… etc. So, just set High Continuous Shooting and hold the shutter button down as long as you have the bird focused in the frame. The more shots you take the more keepers you will find amongst the poor ones that you must toss. This, more than any other thing, will increase the number of shots you’ll be proud of.  But be prepared to spend the time to sort thru them all to find the best ones.

Additionally, I do recommend the use of RAW (or “detuned” JPEG settings in any camera that doesn’t offer RAW output files), and the subsequent developing of images using competent post-processing software. We will continue to offer further discussions regarding the optimizing of images via post-processing in other articles here on the blog… You will find these articles under the tag: “tech-talk“.

Hope this is helpful, and good shooting everybody.


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