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Links to Forums and Forum Postings

Hi all,

Some of you may already know us from various Birding and Photography Forums around the web…

Here I will post links to  recent postings and threads of interest from some of these favorite forums:

 Digital Photography Review – Canon Talk Forum

Birding with Superzooms  (Tips, illustrations, and processing discussions)

The Hummingbird Forum

Buzz is Banded!

Bluebird Nut Cafe

What’s going on in the Yard?

Is it too HOT?

Photography on the Net

Backyard Birding with Kenn & Temple

Superzoom Birds – Backyard Update


“SX50 beats all my DSLRs”

Here’s another discussion from the Digital Photography Review – Canon Talk Forum which may be of interest to our readers:

 “SX50 beats all my DSLRs”

The commentary in the above forum thread raises several technical concepts that aren’t too easily understood, but which lie at the heart of successful bird photography. While the somewhat provocative title doesn’t specify so, the premise of the original post refers to photographing birds which are perched or otherwise not in-flight, at telephoto focal lengths. And with those stipulations, I believe the original poster’s enthusiastic observation about his SX50 will be correct in many cases, and for perhaps most people who photograph wild birds. I’ve already replied in the forum with excerpts from this article and will elaborate just a little further here. You can read additional comments on the topic from several other photographers at the link above.


Comparing the SX50 to DSLRs

The small 1/2.3″ sensor of the SX50 with its 5.6x crop factor allows its inexpensive and lightweight 215mm lens to provide an equivalent 1200mm field of view, thereby putting considerably more pixels on the bird (or whatever distant target) than an APS-C sensor with a 400mm lens shot from the same distance. [Note: The APS class sensors found in many entry-level and mid-range DSLR cameras provide @1.6x crop factor which multiplies a 400mm focal length lens to an equivalent 640mm fov in full-frame terms].

Detail is resolved both by getting close (which the wildlife photographer does via technique and/or stealth), and by involving sufficient pixels in its capture (which long focal length lenses and high quality sensors both help to achieve). The size and quality of the sensor and the sharpness of the lens are two important factors, amongst many, in achieving the detail wildlife photography enthusiasts strive for in their images.

Certainly neither the sensor nor the lens of the SX50 can match the quality of the APS-C/Prime400mm class DSLR combo. Nor are these the only ways in which the DSLR is superior. But the DSLR rig may still not achieve the level of image quality that the SX50 can at typical birding distances, even with deep cropping. Despite pixel size and IQ, there will still be significantly more pixels resolving the details at 1200mm with the SX50 sensor than at 640mm with most DSLR sensors. With good exposures at base ISOs the IQ of the SX50 sensor can be quite good indeed, and the IQ advantage of the larger DSLR sensor will not usually be sufficient to match the level of detail captured even with cropping. Also, unlike most DSLR zoom lenses, the SX50 lens is sharp at full reach and at full wide aperture.

European Starling 1200mm @60ft
European Starling 1200mm @60ft

Whereas telephoto zoom lenses for DSLRs (which are neither lightweight nor inexpensive), are generally not at their sharpest either at their longest focal lengths or with their apertures wide open. More expensive “prime” DSLR lenses are typically much sharper at their fixed focal lengths than comparable telephoto zoom lenses at full-reach, but they are also heavy and can be significantly more difficult to use without a tripod.

The SX50 lens also provides its sharp 1200mm telephoto reach from considerably shorter distances where the typical 400mm/DSLR kit is unable to achieve focus. And at these closer distances the SX50 not only captures sharp detail, but also provides the needed depth of field to allow the entire subject to be in focus, which long DSLR lenses often cannot accomplish even at their much greater minimum focus distances.

American Goldfinch 1200mm @10ft
American Goldfinch 1200mm @10ft
Dark-eyed Junco 1200mm @8ft
Dark-eyed Junco 1200mm @8ft
 Eastern Bluebird 1200mm @5ft
Eastern Bluebird 1200mm @5ft

The SX50 also offers a few other advantages when photographing perching or wading birds and other stationary wildlife: Such as more effective image stabilization for easier hand-held operation; silent shutter actuation which avoids spooking the target when you do get close; and “live view” exposure and DOF (depth of field) simulation in the viewfinder when shooting in Manual mode (a little heralded feature which I personally find to be priceless*)

*See: The Case for Manual Exposure.

Dedicated and professional wildlife photographers know the many advantages and sacrifices involved in using large, heavy, and expensive DSLR equipment to obtain maximum quality images of distant wildlife, including birds in flight and other high-speed animal action shots. And no small-sensor compact superzoom will be up to the task for this kind of work imo. But even though the DSLR will focus and shoot faster, provide higher shutter speeds, track BIF, and offer superior image quality at the pixel level, the SX50 can still outperform it in many common birding situations in terms of capturing details in feather and fur. And of course it’s much easier to carry and afford for casual wildlife photographers.

Photographing wild birds can be very challenging even when they’re not in-flight. Getting satisfying results requires a good deal of patience, practice, and more than a little luck, with whichever gear you choose. Understanding and working with both the strengths and weaknesses of your equipment greatly improves your chances for success.

Good shooting everybody.


Superzoom Songbird Portraits

We know that many folks prefer bird photos which include their natural surroundings and environments in the composition, and we do love these kinds of shots too of course. But we often can’t resist also shooting extreme closeup portraits of our birds, which let us see their beauty in a way that just can’t be experienced with the unaided eye. Even with the extraordinary focal lengths offered by compact superzoom cameras, they can still focus at significantly shorter distances than DSLR telephoto lenses which have less reach, and the larger depth of field of the superzoom also often allows the whole bird to remain in focus even when shooting at very close range. Of course the image quality of our small cameras is usually better at close range as well, so we have a lot of incentives to shoot this way when we can.

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While we do shoot primarily songbirds and mostly in our own backyard, some may notice that a couple of the subjects in this slideshow are not really songbirds. You can see all of these and a variety of other wildlife at higher resolutions in our Smugmug Galleries:

Full-screen Slideshow

We hope that some of our readers will enjoy these images as much as we do.


Garden Variety

A recent selection of  backyard songbirds captured with the SX50.

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We continuously add new images to our SmugMug galleries between blog articles.  This little slideshow is a sampler of photos recently posted in Birds Blossoms and Butterflies Vol.7 [2013].

We hope you enjoy them.


SX50 – Manual Exposures

From time to time I’ll quote from and/or link to various forum threads we’ve participated in. This article is based on excerpts from recent conversations at  Discussions like these include questions and answers from the range of experience, with newbies and skilled photographers freely sharing info and advice. These forums are a valuable resource to us, and are highly recommended.

The Case for Manual Exposure: 

I prefer to shoot in Manual mode, generally avoiding all the automatic features of the camera save for AF. I begin by assessing the prevailing light and manually choosing an appropriate minimum ISO for my intended target area. My preset C1 settings set ISO80, Manual mode, full-zoom with aperture full-wide, so in decent light I generally only need to frame the shot and adjust the shutter to expose. With practice this becomes quicker than you might imagine, and not too different than trying to guess how much EV compensation will be required to correct for however wrong and in which direction any given AE metering will likely be. An often overlooked advantage of Canon SZ cams is the “live-view” EVF preview which simulates both exposure and DOF (wysiwyg) when shooting in Manual mode. This puts exposure control back in the hands of the photographer. This behavior  is unique to the Canon superzooms afaik, and it’s a priceless feature imo… despite the other short-comings of the EVF.

I’m sure most users will prefer to use one or more of the semi-auto modes in various situations for a variety of valid reasons. Temple prefers Av mode with both the SX50 and SX40, and I also use Av mode occasionally when speed is of the essence. I believe Canon has done a good job with SX50 mode processing in general. They provide users at all skill levels with a capable and flexible camera. But I shoot all our Canon cameras in Manual mode most of the time. So with due respect to the preferences and techniques others prefer, I’ll just explain my own thinking on this and hope not to cause any angst. And then I’ll share some example images which illustrate the benefits of manual exposure.
So, just what’s so different about shooting in Manual mode, as compared to Auto, Program, Av, Tv, or even Sports mode for that matter?

The big difference for me, is that in all the AE modes, exposures are determined by algorithm. And however fast or clever that code may be, it simply does not see with the eye of this human photographer … More often than not AE does not expose my images as I would prefer. Further, depending on the complexity and lighting in the scene, any slight reframing (intentional or otherwise) prior to focus lock can cause the camera to alter exposures (often dramatically) even after EV comp has been dialed in. And, when you half-press to lock focus the AE program also locks the exposure in accordance with whatever “it thinks” is correct or best for the framing in place at that focus point, without regard to what the photographer sees or wants to see. Any subsequent reframing (intentional or otherwise) before releasing the shutter does not automatically re-adjust the exposure accordingly even though the composition may have changed significantly, and no manual re-adjustment or further compensation is possible without also refocusing. So if you lock focus on the Raven’s eye in bright light, expose the deep textures of his black head, and then reframe to include the white Mouse in his talons…you can be pretty sure that all the detail in that poor Mouse’s fur will be blown out in your image. If the exposure is not correct when focus is acquired, the captured frame will not be exposed correctly. These complex auto-exposure calculations are all done pretty quickly I grant you, which can be a major advantage, but it’s obvious that this method simply doesn’t always work so well, with blown highlights, blocked shadows and harshness or imbalance in overall lighting even when clipping does not occur… all being very common in auto exposures. And I find it all rather just too fussy anyway.

In Manual mode there is never any need to fight with (or compensate for) the vagaries of the Auto Exposure program. Whatever metering mode is chosen only appears as a light meter guide display and has no effect whatsoever on the exposure of your image. I can adjust ISO, shutter speed and/or aperture to obtain the desired exposure and DOF for my scene based on what I see in the viewfinder. I can lock focus wherever I choose and reframe as needed without fear of the camera altering any setting I’ve chosen. And I decide what compromises should be made to optimize the quality of my shot.
You must select a reasonable ISO for the prevailing light of course, but you can choose the best (lowest) ISO appropriate to the available lighting and never have to bemoan the Auto-ISO program having chosen a higher one than necessary. And you must also know what minimum shutter speeds you need for a steady camera… which with good technique and the SX50s excellent image stabilizer can often be slower than would be chosen by the camera in AV mode. But by not relying on Auto-ISO and Auto-Exposure algorithms the photographer can pretty easily control all these settings to properly adjust his image prior to releasing the shutter, without any unexpected or unwanted intervention from the processor. And he can have much better confidence that what he sees in the viewfinder is both what he wants, and indeed what he will get.

The camera usually makes all of these settings decisions faster than any human could, and my choice to shoot in Manual mode means that whatever exposures I capture (and any missed opportunities that I don’t capture), will be my fault. But I usually prefer the results I get by making these decisions myself.

The following slides were created to illustrate how the high-resolution IQ of the SX50 expands the optical focal lengths (fov) presented in cropped images. But they also provide examples of common scenes which for reasons of focus, lighting and shadow, could be problematic for the AE modes to expose properly.

Peace, and good shooting everybody.


Superzooms: A few Non-Avian images

Excerpts from: Digital Photography Review – Canon Talk Forum

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We shoot all our Canon superzooms with reduced in-camera jpeg settings, and post-process each selected shot individually. Most of our images are shot with low ISO, long focal lengths, and at modest range. Under these conditions the SX30 is pretty hard to beat for high-resolution detail and freedom from artifacts. But every camera has strengths and weaknesses, and we continue to shoot all of our cameras in various situations.

Links to a lot of my earlier DPR threads containing discussions of our cameras & lenses, shooting methods, settings, and post-processing techniques are listed here:

I have also begun excerpting some of these posts, and some from other forums, to include them in various “tech-talk” articles for the blog :

Hope this is helpful, and good shooting everybody.



Hi all,

This time we would like to share some woodpecker images…

These were all taken in our suburban backyard habitat (mid-west USA), and are posted here roughly in the order from most commonly seen to least. Links to additional images of each species, some including both sexes as well as adults and juveniles, follow each of the photos.


Red-bellied Woodpecker photos


Downy Woodpecker photos

Northern Flicker:

Northern Flicker photos

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker:

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker photos


Hairy Woodpecker photos


Pileated Woodpecker photos


Red-headed Woodpecker photos

We hope you enjoy these,


Birds in Trees

Photographing birds in trees nearly always presents a variety of extra challenges. There’s focusing of course, with the camera often struggling to lock onto your intended target instead of any number of other foreground and background elements nearby in the frame. There’s lighting, with frequent shadows and hotspots which can make exposures tricky at times. There’s distance, as at least in our case most of the potential tree perches are further up and away than the staged ones we have placed around our feeders and near the deck. And in very many cases there are obstacles to that “in the clear” shot which lets us capture the whole bird…
But we just say, “sometimes there’s a twig”… and take the shot anyway.

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All these challenges to shooting birds in trees make it harder for us (and our cameras) to get the kind of well-lit highly detailed photos we want. And we miss a lot of great shots for all these reasons that’s for sure. But we manage to keep some too.
Here’s the link to our virtual “Birds in Trees” gallery:!i=1994768026&k=3khPGgG

We hope you enjoy them.


The Finch Connection – Virtual Galleries

This is Qwerty, a juvenile House Finch. And in this post we use him to illustrate a special feature of our Smugmug site, known as Virtual Galleries.

At the bottom of each image in our galleries you will find a set of keywords for that image. This normally includes the species name, and sometimes various other key attributes specific to the subject of the image. By clicking on these keywords the gallery you’re viewing is automatically  filtered to display all and only the images containing the keyword(s) clicked. This feature allows easy configuration of our image collections to display “virtual galleries” of  All Bluebirds, or All Cardinals, or All Woodpeckers… etc.

The image of Qwerty above is linked to such a virtual gallery of All House Finches. The Virtual Gallery widget in the sidebar on the right is linked to another themed slideshow which we change periodically.

We hope some of you will find this feature useful, and enjoy using Virtual Galleries to see and study collections of your favorite birds.