Friday 20 December 2019

A New Camera?

A couple of months back I decided it was time to retire my elderly bridge camera, and asked birdy Twitter for recommendations. In my budget range the Nikon Coolpix P900 was easily the most popular. And now that I've owned one for a few weeks I can see why.

However, the purpose of this post is not to sell you a Nikon, but to outline my camera-ownership rationale. It won't be of much interest to photographers, but if you think of yourself as a 'birder first, photographer second' kind of person, well, that's me too. Perhaps one or two NQS readers might be in the market for a camera? Or maybe are at the stage prior to that, and wondering if it's worth adding one to their birding kit? So, if the cap fits, please read on...

Back in December 2004 I was birding the Coly Valley with @birdingprof, trying to suss a Dipper stake-out for an upcoming bird race. A large raptor landed in the hedge across the field from us, but it wasn't the expected Buzzard, it was a stonking adult Goshawk! It perched in full view for several minutes, and while binocular views were amazing enough, a scope would have been handy, and a digital camera to use along with the scope, even better. I doubt I'll ever have better views of a Gos, but it's a memory I can never revisit in picture form.

So if you're wondering whether it's worth bothering with a camera at all, there's reason number one in favour:

1. To capture some of those unique, unrepeatable birding moments.

I was a bit slow to learn from the Goshawk incident, and it was another 18 months before I bought a Fuji Finepix F30 to use for digiscoping. What persuaded me was the desire to add photos to my posts on the 'Backwater Birding' thread that had been running on Birdforum since the beginning of 2006. So there's reason number two:

2. To illustrate any digital publishing you might do.

Since then I've never looked back. I added a bridge camera to the armoury in 2010, and on Steve Waite's recommendation it was a Panasonic Lumix Fz38. Both cameras were still in action up until very recently. Between them they have captured images of the first 12 (of 13) Caspian Gulls I've seen on the Axe, and right there you have reasons three and four in favour of owning a camera:

3. To allow you to capture, and analyse at leisure, photos of tricky species.

I have found it brilliant for gaining familiarity with challenging taxa, especially gulls.

4. To confirm the ID of birds you're not able to 100% clinch in the field.

That has happened three or four times with Casp in my case.

And if you are inclined to submit records, there's a fifth reason:

5. To provide photographic evidence of local/national rarities for records committees.

That's a no-brainer really, but as a former records committee member I cannot stress enough how helpful decent photos are to the record assessment process.

And here's a thought. If, like me, you often prefer birding without the encumbrance of a scope, it's inevitable that you will sometimes be caught out by birds which are simply too far away to be successfully identified with bins alone. Step forward, mighty mega-zoom bridge camera! Photograph the object of your frustration and magnify it on the camera's viewing screen. Frequently that will do the trick. So...

6. To facilitate the identification of birds too distant for your optics to resolve.

But maybe you're wondering if toting a camera around with you all the time is going to be a hassle? Well, for starters the P900 weighs very little. I stick it in a bag, sling it across my body and barely notice it. Yet it is really quick to access the camera and fire it up when the need arises...

This is a Crumpler Muffin Top bag. Naff name, brilliant bag. Indestructible. For a bridge camera, can't recommend highly enough.

Of course, there is at least one more reason why a camera is a handy piece of kit:

7. Being able to produce photos (perhaps I should make that 'verifiable photos') of your nice finds will help prevent your reputation being sullied with any taint

So there's my case for owning a camera, or more specifically, a bridge camera. In a future post I'll offer some thoughts on using one. What settings to use, and why, is a perennial head-scratcher for the part-time tog...

PS. I'm sure there are other good reasons for a birder to carry a camera. If you spot something I've failed to mention, please add it in a comment. Ta.


  1. Why, to take pictures of people behaving badly and then NAME AND SHAME them online of course!!

    1. Is that what the video function is for too?

    2. Jono, that post of yours with an image of a Wanstead Flats Dog-Women is a classic. What a beauty!

  2. The video option gives you the opportunity not only to capture your subject on the move but also to sound record. I've submitted a couple of videos to BBRC for the sound recording only. You can - or some people can ( seemingly easily) produce sonograms from these video clips. Quite useful if one of your sibe Chiffs calls or sings not so useful for a Caspian Gull.

    1. Chideock Sibe Chiff called today, but just three times. If one of them ever goes for it properly I do plan to use the video to capture the sound. That's how the Beer Head Iberian Chiff was nailed.

      I've once had an Axe Casp do the full call, posturing perfectly. I'd like to have captured that on video!