A suitable camera for bird watchers (19.03.2016)
Text and photos: Triin Leetmaa
I have been looking for a second camera (so to say) for a while now. A camera that I could take with me to the trips where I couldn’t take full frame DSLR camera because of its weight and size. When I was offered to try out NIKON COOLPIX P900 compact camera, I decided to seize the opportunity and took this camera with me to a winter bird census.
Winter bird census means a 10 km hike during which, all the birds that the hikers meet, are noted down. Getting close to the birds is not the purpose. At these hikes, the best camera would be compact, lightweight and easy to use, but it should still enable focal length sufficient enough to capture a bird on a photo when lucky. P900 superzoom’s focal length of 24-2000 mm (35 mm equivalent focal length) seems extreme but then again, what possibilities does it have!
The measures and weight of P900 remind smaller DSLR cameras, but this camera has a 1/2.3“ CMOS type sensor and there is no RAW-file capability.
Regarding the purposes of this hike, I left my tripod home and I hoped on the P900’s photo stabilizer in those low light conditions. The stabilizer worked very well and at 2000mm (35 equivalent focal length), the shutter speed of 1/30 s was not bad when shooting from hand.
P900 in equipped with electronic viewfinder but for framing, it is more reasonable to use LCD-tilting screen that shows the frame just as it was captured on the memory card.
When I was taking landscape photos and used the wide angle area of the lens, the photos turned out good. Thanks to the small measures of the sensor, the focal area covered the whole frame even when using open aperture and when taking macro shots, the background subjects were also sharp enough. This enables creative approach that cannot be achieved with a DSLR camera. When zooming into the telescopic reach, the focus unexpectedly moves to the background. I found a solution by choosing manual focusing instead of automatic focusing.
When I noticed dippers by the river, I had the opportunity to try P900’s total zoom reach. It was amazing to move the zoom lever and see how the bird becomes bigger and bigger within the frame. Keeping the eating bird in the frame while using the maximum magnification was a real challenge. Here, I used the button on the side of the P900 that zooms into the frame automatically. When releasing the button, normal zoom level is restored. I used a tree to hold the camera still and capture the dipper from “safe“ distance without any kind of sneaking or crawling around.
With P900, I was the most interested whether I could react fast enough to capture any of the birds when they are flying. It was hard to find birds that were flying further away from the LCD screen so that I could zoom them in. It was easier with birds that flew towards me. I just had wait until the bird got closer and fulfilled most of the frame for the autofocus to work. When I was looking for birds in the tree branches, the autofocus tended to jump between the subjects. P900 is more suitable for capturing birds on open landscapes where there are no disturbing subjects. In addition, the super zoom is helpful for reading the leg-ring of the birds.
In general, COOLPIX P900 did everything that I had expected. One needs to consider that this is a compact camera that’s photo quality and focus accuracy should not be compared with a DSLR camera. But at the same time, its focal length of 2000mm (35mm equivalent focal length) is something that every bird fancier should really like. Taking into consideration that a lens with this kind of focal length costs a fortune in front of the DSLR camera, this camera is a great and good-priced solution for bird fanciers for photographing and accurate specifying. A camera that has such a great zoom range is a very suitable tool for a bird watcher.