Changing over to DSLR

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abulharith3's picture
Changing over to DSLR

So ive been using compact cameras now for two years since ive started birding and feel i seriously need to switch over but Im getting mixed and conflicting answers from the various sites and blogs Ive been reading on the subject. No doubt its a confusing one. So my simple questions are as follows: Currently Im using a Sony Cybershot DSC-H300 which has x35 zoom and Im looking at purchasing a Nikon d3400 and matching it with a Nikon AF-S Dx 55-300mm lens. a) Is this an upgrade or not? b) Would I be able to zoom into those little thornbills and weebils and get decent shots at a distance of say around 10-20m? c) Would I be able to get decent shots of raptors perched high up trees or soaring overhead?

Thanks in advance and please forgive my ignorance!

Rick N
Rick N's picture

Hi AB, These questions are some of the hardest to answer and opinions will differ but I'll have a go, sort of :-)

I don't think your choice is ideal but at about $1000 is certainly a budget start to DSLR. Body seems ok and gives you

manual option plus raw but lens may be a limiting factor especially for BIF.

300mm with crop sensor D3400 gives effective 450mm so no problem with reach but IQ may be an issue at 300mm.

As with all of these things price makes a difference and just for comparison a D7200 plus non VR 300mm prime lens

would set you back about $2500 but deliver an outstanding value for money birding unit streets ahead of D3400/70-300.

I have an old 70-300 and while the optics are good they are a real clunker in every other way, noisy and slow AF.

So to answer your original question, yes but better options are available.


abulharith3's picture

Thanks so much Rick. I dont want to go over a thousand as Im just entering the field so I might just start with that and work my way up slowly. As long as its an upgrade on what I already have

brian63's picture

Hi abulharith3,

I was looking at the same combo when I purchased my gear back in May. I ended up spending a little more and getting the D5500 twin lens kit (18-55mm & 55-300mm). If you check out my threads on pages 5,6 & 7 of the best photo's forum you can see what is possible with that combo. I like you was on a budget of around the $1000 mark.

I purchased mine online from the business below and couldn't have been happier, ordered at 9pm Thursday night and arrived at my workplace at 10am Monday morning. Hope this helps with your decision.


abulharith3's picture

Thanks Brian for that info. Those pics are amazing. Do you crop them before you put them up or not?

brian63's picture

No worries, glad to help. A little cropping here and there but most are as is. 

alcatraz's picture

I'm certainly no expert, but have just been through the same experience. I have been using a Canon SX50HS which is a point and press camera with a 1200mm lens. Great, but very soft at the upper end. Decided to upgrade at to DSLR and decided on a Nikon D3200. Found a low-use one on ebay that included a standard lens plus a Nikkor 55 -300mm lens. Happy with all components but you start to understand what the experts say when they state get close to the subject. That is imperitive with any camera when shooting birds. Anyway, have just bought a 150 - 500 mm Sigma lens which does what I want in regard to getting close to small birds etc etc. For me the combination is working well so far and the all up cost is $930.00. The camera had just over 600 shutter movements when I bought it six months ago and the big lens is second hand, but never used. I found the Nikon 55-300mm lens great, but too short for birds. So, I bought a 2.0X teleconverter, but when you do that the AF does not work, so it means you have to focus manually. Hence the reason I forked out for the longer lens which has all the goodies for focusing and VR. Hope this helps. Cheers. 

detritus's picture

I'd agree with just about everything said so far. The combination you're looking at will be able to get you some good shots, but you will almost definitely wish your lens was longer or you'll find yourself struggling to get close enough a lot of the time. Especially for the little weebills and whatnot.

From my understanding (and the jury is still a little out given how new the D3400 is), there's very little difference between the D3300 and D3400. If you don't value the bluetooth connection for smart devices that comes with the D3400, a D3300 might give you almost identical results for a bit cheaper. They will probably become harder to find as time goes on, though.

The D5500 mentioned above will give a slightly better autofocus system but that might not prove necessary. The lens is a bigger consideration. 

300mm on the DX body will give you an approximately 450mm field of view. Your old Sony compact camera had an 875mm equivalent field of view when you zoomed right in. If you zoom the Sony in until it says "18x zoom" and try using it, that will give you an idea of how the bird will look through the DSLR with a 300mm lens. I quite happily shoot birds with a 300mm lens but it does take a lot of patience getting close enough, and my 300mm is a more expensive prime lens which would generally give a sharper picture to start with, so I can crop quite a lot without the picture falling apart completely. I tend to use it when I know I'm chasing bigger birds or going to be very close up (or both).

The older Sigma 150-500 and 50-500s can be found used, but they have been replaced by 150-600mm models (Tamron also makes one, which is about to be replaced by a newer version). These lenses give heaps of reach, but they're much much bigger and heavier and more expensive (the new options are approx $1200+ on their own).

So there are a lot of tradeoffs involved. Quality, size, cost etc.

The good news is that a DSLR body like the one you're considering will absolutely give better image quality than the little compact. Much better in lower light, more detail, better colour etc. But the lens is just as big a part of the equation. Good luck with it. I think what you're planning on doing is just fine, as long as you know that if you really get the bug, somewhere down the line you're probably going to be spending a few more dollars to upgrade something!

abulharith3's picture

Thanks Alcatraz and Detritus for that invaluble information. I think Ill start there and make my way up. I do have lifetime left (how much ever that is!) so Ill work my way up slowly. No rush. Thanks again everyone!

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