Bird Photography with Bridge Cameras

I’m thinking of perhaps buying a bridge camera for the outings I go on in photographing nature and hiking. Unfortunately, my budget is limited, so I am looking at the cheaper bridge models (e.g. Canon SX540, Nikon Coolpix B600).

Has anyone had a good experience in using bridge cameras for bird photography in particular?

Considering the models I mentioned above, I’m wondering how a camera that doesn’t have an optical viewfinder but has a LCD display, would fare in capturing birds in flight.

Any insight or advice would be most welcome!

I use a DSLR, but know many birders who use bridge cameras. Bridge cameras are better if your goal is just to document birds, since they have better zoom. However you will not get the sharp crisp photos that a DSLR with a good lens can get.

I’ve heard that bridge cameras are harder for birds in flight, which I’m guessing is due to less control over the shutter speed?

The Canon Powershot SX series and the Nikon Coolpix P900 or similar seem to be the most popular.

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I use a Nikon COOLPIX B700 for all of my bird photography. I find it works great. The zoom is about the best you can get on any camera without a massive and expensive telephoto lens. I highly recommend it.

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I used Canon PowerShot SX30 IS in 2011 (here’re all photos of birds from that period), bridge cameras can certainly photograph birds in flight, big problem for me is that to zoom it takes time, so unlike dslr you either have to leave it turn on all the time or you can miss many moments while zooming in, of course focusing type working with display is far from great (and if there’re branches forget about focusing on the bird), but you certainly can focus in flight too. I wasn’t into settings at all at that time and still got something at least idable:

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I use a P900 and I get decent enough pics for iNat for sure a lot of the time.

In-flight is kinda hard though, yes, although certainly not impossible, at least for bigger birds. Let’s say this and this are IDable, but that’s the best I’d dare to call them, while on a good day and with a slower-flying bird it can do something like this which is not as shabby. That said, I used to use a FZ300 (much less zoom) and in-flight pics were a lot easier just by using its quick semi-manual focus button, so maybe the issue is me not using manual focus more and not the camera itself? And I’m obviously a pretty mediocre photographer who has never tried to work on technique at all, so…

If the bird is not moving, it’s mostly fine, although not super crisp at bigger zooms (example 1, example 2).

Honestly though, just being able to see and document the bird is what I’m usually after, so I happily take a bit less crisp but IDable for birds that are really damn far away, like this two smew which I could barely see as a white dot in the distance with the naked eye. Your decision will vary based on your goals :)

For zoom amount, 50x on something like a SX540 seems like it might already allow you a lot more than a non-super-zoom camera would (the FZ300 is only 24x and was already neat), so…

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I use a Nikon P1000 for bird photography. I love it, but I don’t have much luck with birds in flight.

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I got a Canon PowerShot SX740HS specifically to photograph birds for iNaturalist. It’s great for iNaturalist but most of the photos aren’t especially high quality for printing and such if that is what you are interested in. The 40x zoom is wonderful. I’ve used the 40x zoom for almost every photo I’ve taken with that camera. I’m very glad I chose that over a 30x zoom. Photos I posted on iNat with this camera are here. Note that many/most are cropped.

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I use a Panasonic Lumix DC-FZ80 for birds. It has 60× zoom, which is just barely enough to get IDable photos of tiny things in the tops of conifers. As far as the viewfinder question, it has a fake one but I just use the screen. I haven’t gotten very good pictures of birds in flight, which I think is mostly due to the autofocus and my lack of skill. My general experience has been positive.

Like keirmorse, i have too a sx740hs. Is it good? Well it depends -
a) is your goal to document observations on iNat?: hell yeah, even with distant birds in flight as long as you use center focus it is relatively easy to take decent pictures to make and ID. I often stretch the zoom to 80x (which is massive) and it works great…in direct sunlight. This camera has a small sensor (like many other bridge cameras) so be aware that no light = slow focus, poor quality and slow shutter speed. Shutter speed is what you need to capture BIF. Almost every photo on my iNat profile is shot with this camera.

b) is your goal to take great pictures?: um kinda, like i just said, no light=bad (which sometimes is just a cloudy day). When the light is good and you get the hang of it, you can surely get some great photos. I got many of them printed and i’ve put them on my wall. They look great!

Be aware that the same amount of “zoom” that i can get with my camera is obtainable with mirrorless (or dsrl) ones with a massive telephoto lens (600mm mounted on an aps-c body) which isn’t exactly something i would carry around everyday, but the quality is no match.

While my camera is a trusty companion for my birdwatching (and other nature photography), i will upgrade (in like 1-1.5 years) to a beast setup to get that good shots i dream about :sweat_smile:

Keep also in mind that there is no perfect camera and it won’t do the job for you. Achieving the best results takes practice (a lot of it).

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I use a Nikon Coolpix P900 for nature photography. The strong zoom makes it particularly suitable for animals at greater distances. Such large focal lengths cannot be achieved with a DSLR. However, the quality of the images is not as good as with a DSLR and a high quality lens.

I also use a Canon SX70HS. For iNaturalist, for identification, it’s great! I can get reasonably good close-ups and lots of good distant shots. It can get good flight photos. In sunlight, the picture quality is quite good. In shade, less so. Picture quality, even in sunlight, is not as good as it was with the Lumix I used to have, but I fell onto rocks and damaged it in a way that can’t be fixed, and the Canon costs a lot less.

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Both hubby and I are hobbyist photographers (nature for me, sports for him). We have 3 bridge cams -

Ancient Canon Powershot SX50HS - I loved it when new. Got many good photos, but forget about using in low light. Horrible noise. It now sits on a shelf and collects dust. :(

Panasonic Lumix FZ2500 - I never liked it. I would always go back to the old SX50. Hubby likes it and gets decent shots with it, but his Go To point and shoot is a pocket-sized Panasonic. I think the old Powershot was a better camera, but maybe I was just resisting going through another learning curve?

Nikon Coolpix P1000 - Certainly not inexpensive, but worth saving for. I love this camera! I use it for documentary photos of all sorts - birds mostly, but all nature. I love the reach, but I do miss a lot of in-flight photos. Partly me for not being able to track a bird at 2000 or 3000 mm, but also because it focuses slow (compared to my DSLR). It beats carrying around my DSLR and 500mm f/4 lens with 2X teleconverter that still will only get me 1000 mm vs the 3000 mm of the P1000. It is better than the older cams on noise handling, but still not great when you need a fast shutter speed in low light.When I want pretty, I’ll sit in a blind with the heavy stuff on a tripod. :)

Good luck in finding the perfect cam for you.

If you practice with whatever bridge cam you get, you can get better at birds in flight. I have improved.

at ~$350, i think all your camera options are going to have relatively small sensors. so that’s going to be the main thing that limits what you can capture with your camera.

it sounds like you’re particularly interested in long distance shots of birds. instead of getting a “birding camera”, i wonder if it might be better to get a birding scope instead? to take photos, you could get a phone mount, and take photos and video with your phone through the scope. when you have more money saved up, you would have the option to get a camera body that you could attach to the to get better photos than through the phone. and all the while, you’ll have a decent scope for birding.

if a birding scope is too cumbersome to haul around and you’re willing to sacrifice a bit of zoom, i sort of think that a small pocketable camera with lower zoom but a lot of manual controls might be the best way to go. others have mentioned the Canon SX740HS, which i think would probably suit your needs if you’re willing to go a little above your budget. otherwise, it looks like a Panasonic ZS70 might fill a similar need within your budget. (these cameras top out at 40x and 30x, respectively, but they both have manual options and pocketability that i think are worth the trade.)

Probably outside the price range but I have used the Sony RX10 for some years and it is more than adequate, autofocus is excellent so you have a chance at birds in flight. The attached photo of a Red-tailed Hawk from a couple of days ago was handheld at something like 150+ m which shows the capability.

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Like one other poster here, I had good luck using the now-defunct Canon Powershot sx50HS. Although the resolution is significantly limited by its relatively tiny sensor, that’s also what gave the camera its 50x reach (well, that plus its zoom lens). Moreover the sharpness of the lens on that camera was better than you would have any reason to expect. Also it functioned pretty well as a tele-macro, worked great in butterfly exhibits. See lows-res samples below.


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