Tag: camera

Nikon CoolPix P600 (or P610) Tips for Bird Photography

I’ve been really enjoying my Nikon CoolPix P600 and now that the holidays are fast approaching, I thought that you might find my experience using it helpful when deciding if you want to purchase it. I would recommend this camera to anyone who wants to take bird photos but doesn’t want to spend lots of effort doing so. This camera is for someone who is a birder that takes photos, but not for a photographer who is also a birder.

Overall Thoughts

You will definitely get better photos with a more expensive camera, but if you don’t want to spend the money or just want a better camera than just your regular point and shoot this is the camera for you. It’s also super light compared to a SLR camera, so you can walk long distances with it on without it hurting your shoulder or neck. It can also fit into a large purse or backpack without being too heavy. You also get the added perk of it being smaller than a camera with a detachable zoom.

Lots of people online complain about it taking a while to zoom, which can be true in the right conditions… but I think of it this way: I get more photos with this camera even if I don’t get everything that I possibly could because I wouldn’t lug around a heavy camera as much. I also wouldn’t spend the money for the equivalent type of SLR camera with zoom lense, so this camera is definitely better than no camera at all! This camera is better than a normal point and shoot and works great for those of us who want to take photos of the birds that they see instead of going out just to take photos.

The camera is a little tricky to get used to since it’s not quite a SLR and not quite a point and shoot either. It took me a while using it to figure out the best methods for bird photography, so I hope these tips will help you make the most of your camera!

Bird Mode

Scene Mode on Nikon CoolPix P600One of the nice features about the P600 is the “Bird Mode.” I’ve shot birds on different settings and shooting birds in Bird Mode is really the most convenient way to focus on moving birds quickly. It appears to focus on whatever the moving object is instead of what foliage that might be in front of the bird.

Getting Into Bird Mode

Bird Mode in Nikon CoolPix P600Finding Bird Mode is not intuitive (the instructions on the Nikon site are useless), so here’s the Cliff Notes version. Rotate the dial on the top of the camera to “Scenes.” Then hit the “Menu” button on the backside of the camera. This will bring up the different scene selection options. If you hit the backside scroll dial down towards the bottom of the list you’ll find “Bird Watching.” Hit “OK.”

You’ll have the option between Single and Continuous. I personally don’t find Continuous all that helpful because it takes the camera SO long to process all the photos that I end up missing sometimes a better shot. Plus, you end up with multiple photos of basically the exact same shot which would only be helpful if a bird was taking off or landing. Since the camera doesn’t do action shots all that well (the wings always end up being blurry), I just normally try to get the bird when it’s still or hummingbirds when they are hovering.

Manual Focus

The most common complaint about the Nikon P600 is that it takes a while to focus (which can be true). If you are staying in one spot waiting for a bird to land, it’s best to put the camera in the manual focus mode. In this mode, the camera stays fixed on one plane of focus, so you can snap away without having to wait on the camera to autofocus. This is how I get most of my backyard hummingbird photos. If you watch the birds for a while, they favor certain spots, so I focus my camera there and wait for them to land there.

coolpix3To get the camera into Manual Focus in Bird Mode, hit the backside scroll dial down. It will bring up a menu on the side. It contains: Auto Focus, Infinity (best for flying raptors or far off birds), and Manual Focus. Continue to hit the dial down and it will highlight the MF mode. Hit “OK.”

You will see the Manual Focus screen options pop up on the display. The line on the right side shows you the full range of the possible focus. At the top is ‘infinity’ and the bottom is the closest macro shot possible. The smaller the bar, the closer it’s focused and vice versa. To increase/decrease the bar, just scroll the scroll dial right or left.

Notice the white lines on the bird when it's in focus (top photo) versus when it's not (bottom photo)

Notice the white lines on the bird when it’s in focus (top photo) versus when it’s not (bottom photo)

The numbered bar on the left side indicates the amount of lines displayed on the image when it’s in focus. The object in focus will have faint white lines on all its edges to help you know what is exactly in focus on the display. You can also control the amount of lines that appear by increasing the number on the left side (5 is the most lines).To increase or decrease this number, hit the scroll dial up and down. This mode is really helpful because it also zooms in on the bird (in the display only) so you can really see what’s in focus. It takes a little to get used to, but it’s worth it. Especially for when you are in Manual Focus mode.

Using the Zoom

Focus, Zoom, Focus

Like I said multiple times, the most common complaint about this camera is that it can take a while to focus. Since you can’t control the focus at all in AutoFocus mode, you are totally dependent on the camera to do it for you. If it’s evening light or if there is a lot of foliage in the foreground, the camera can take forever to do it.

The best way I’ve found to make the camera focus faster is to focus on the bird zoomed out (by holding the shutter button half way down) then zoom in on the bird while keeping the camera as still as possible. Once you are where you want the bird to be, hold the shutter button halfway down again. This will allow the camera to focus on the bird faster than it would have if you just zoomed in without focusing on the bird first. It seems counter intuitive that it would be faster to focus and then focus again, but it does help when the conditions are messing up the camera’s focus.

Finding a Moving Bird While Zoomed In

The best thing about the P600 is that it has an awesome zoom… but it also makes it difficult to find birds when you accidentally get it out of the frame while zoomed in. I find it’s just easiest to zoom out quickly, find the bird again, focus quickly, and then zoom back in. You can spend forever trying to find it again while zoomed in!

I hope these few tips help you take better photos of your birds! I also would love to hear your experience with this camera, please just comment below.

UPDATE: Since I’ve gotten several requests about it, I’ve added links to all the supplies that I use to create my photos and art on my supplies page.

Batiquitos Lagoon

I was hankering to get out of the house on Sunday, so my parents and I went to Batiquitos Lagoon. I went birding there previously with my dad for Father’s Day, but my mom hadn’t come with us so she was busting a gut to go. I believe that I’ve infected my parents with the bird bug.

I didn’t sketch while I was there since I wanted to take the opportunity to actually observe the birds and spend the time learning to identify birds that I didn’t know. I was excited to see a couple of Whimbrels because there was a recent article about them in Bird Watcher’s Digest. I also enjoyed watching a female Nuttall’s Woodpecker flit around pecking at a dead branch. I’ve never tried to identify a woodpecker before so it took a while to narrow it down to Nuttall, but we decided that the spots on the back made it the only option for woodpeckers in this area. I realize that “spots” is probably not a technical term, but I’m unsure of what it would be called so if anyone could inform me of the correct terminology I would appreciate it. We also saw a juvenile Black Phoebe (not the one shown above) which threw us because it had a yellow beak and slightly grayer wings which apparently they grow out of and end up looking like the tuxedoed phoebe we all know and love.

I took my old beat up digital Elph and my dad brought his Canon Rebel with zoom lens. It quickly became apparent that we needed new photography equipment. My point and shoot just didn’t have a good enough zoom to be useful and my dad’s camera was just so bulky for our trip. By the time he got the tripod set up and the camera focused the bird had flown away. I’m not sure how professional bird photographers do it other than just staying in one spot and waiting for the birds to come to them.

So, I’ve been looking into replacing my little camera with something new. I know that I don’t want something bulky and I don’t want to have to change the lens or fiddle a lot with it. I want to be a birder who takes photographs instead of photographer who shoots birds, if that makes sense. I don’t want to spend a ton of money on equipment, I really want something that I can use to take reference photos for my sketches or for bird identification.

After doing a little online research, I narrowed it down to the Canon SX50 and the Nikon P600 since they are essentially the same camera. They both are point and shoot, have insanely long zooms for an attached lens, don’t require other external accessories to work (like a longer lens or tripod), and are light weight. It seems that more birders have the Canon SX50 because it was the first to market and has been out longer. The Nikon P600 is obviously Nikon’s response to the Canon SX50 with each aspect of it being slightly better on paper so it’s competitive. The P600 came out only a few months ago, so it’s the latest in this area. I’m torn because I think both of them will work for what I want and when I went to look at them at Best Buy they seemed to perform the same.

I’m leaning towards the Nikon just because it has 60x zoom compared to the Canon SX50’s 50x. I don’t know if I’ll need the extra 10x, but it’s basically the same price so why not go with the one that’s newer with slightly better numbers? I will make the decision today and probably go ahead and purchase it at Best Buy. I’ll report on my thoughts in a later post after I get to play around with it for a while.