Birding Kit

Getting the right birding kit is essential, unfortunately it tends to be a matter of trial and error and, with birding kit not being cheap, can cost a few dollars until you reach a position of harmony. Below is the stuff I use, if this helps you pick something then great, kit is all about what suits you best.

Binoculars – buy the most expensive you can afford because you get what you pay for, even if the optics companies are obscene in their pricing. In my opinion the very best are the Swarovski EL Swarovision range. I’ve owned and used the top of the range Zeiss, Leica and Bausch & Lomb, for me, in overall performance and handling, none compare with the Swarovski EL 10×42 but it is a matter of choice. My back-ups when travelling are Nikon Monarchs, a $400. binocular that is ok but not great in low light.

Telescope (Spotting Scope). I have a Nikon 82mm with 25-75 zoom. The scope is a bit bulky but optically excellent. It is not as good as some of the recent additions to the scope market. If I was to change it I’d be looking at the Swarovski and would choose the angled version. The zoom on the Nikon is as good as any I have used, even at the top end of the magnification. There are various digiscope kits that Nikon sell although they can be hard to pin down. More on my digiscope set up below. Don’t be tempted by some of the super cheap scopes, they are useless.

Travelling scope – In some circumstances the need for a large scope is outweighed by the need to travel light. For trips to the tropics I have a Nikon ED2 50mm travel scope. It takes the same eyepieces as the large Nikon and is excellent optically.

Digiscoping – Although digiscoping has been happening in some form or another for years I had not found a combination that worked for me until recently. I tried all sorts of clamps and rigs to varying effect, what I wanted was a simple hand held option to supplement my large lens. I recently decided to try something different and ended up gluing a piece of tough rubber tubing to an old camera, it works!

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Big camera – I now use a Canon EOS70D – previously I used the cheaper Rebel and 50D, the camera works well for birds unless you are aiming for being more photographer than birder. The EOS70D has all the features a birder-photographer needs and more but without getting to complicated. I mostly use the rapid fire feature in auto and manual modes. The big lens I use is the birders lens, the Canon 100mm-400mm, this lens is not cheap but very durable and flexible. It folds down to a resonably small size and is not overly heavy, I carry it in a side bag ready to use. Extended it is obviously larger but not cumbersome. It has image stabilising which is a great boon and I always use it, I always shoot hand held.

Tripods are a matter of choice. I use a heavy one for general work but not where I’d have to carry it for any length of time and a carbon one for trips and all day use. I’m still looking for the perfect head.


2 thoughts on “Birding Kit

  1. Hi … I’ve been reading your posts with interest … excellent & informative blog. I’m an avid bird photographer and was most interested in your cuban trip reports. I am planning to go the Holquin area in the next few weeks, and had planned to take a Canon 500mm F4. Unfortunately I’ve been reading about Customs problems with such a large lens. Any advice?

    • Hi Bill. I’ve not had any real problems with them in Cuba regarding optics or at least none that could not be resolved. There are ways to check the lens securely as I understand it but I’m not sure what you’d do if you got there and they made a fuss. Personally I’d just bluff it out with them, they don’t really want to put tourists off and offering to buy a ‘permit’ would probably work, just don’t ask for a receipt!

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