Updated Nov, 2021

I get a lot of questions about what equipment to use for bird photography. On this page I will list the items that I use (or recommend) for bird photography for the Canon, Nikon and Sony systems. I will try to keep the page current and hope that you will find this a useful resource.

We all know that bird photography requires specialized camera equipment in order to achieve consistently high quality images. Starting with a camera body the serious nature photographer will add a lens, tripod, flash and other accessories to their ever-expanding camera bag. There is no list of equipment that will be perfect for every photographer and the decisions that each photographer makes will depend upon their preferred subject matter, the weight of equipment that they are willing to carry, budget, etc.

 

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Below you will find a list of everything that is in my camera bag. These are the tools that I have chosen to carry taking into account a variety of factors. I hope you will find this list useful.

If you happen to find some good information on this page or on other pages on my site I would really appreciate it if you would consider making your next equipment purchase through one of my affiliate links to B&H Photo Video, Camera Canada or Amazon. You’ll pay exactly the same, but I will get a small commission for the referral. It all helps. Cheers!!

   




 



When choosing a type of camera for serious tropical nature photography there really is only two options – a digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera or a mirrorless camera. These digital bodies allow the user to look into a viewfinder and directly through the lens to their subject. They allow for the use of a wide variety of lenses, have sophisticated autofocus capabilities, have high speed shooting capabilities, and allow their users to quickly and intuitively change settings. For these reasons digital SLR cameras are the choice of 99% of wildlife photographers. Choosing a type of camera is indeed the easy part. Deciding on a brand and model of camera becomes somewhat more complicated.

Once you have decided on a brand of camera you will have to decide what model is right for you. In many cases it is the budget of the photographer that contributes in large part to this decision. After all, both Canon and Nikon produce camera bodies that range in price from about $700 to well over $5000. Aside from the cost of the various camera models there are several factors worth considering before choosing a camera body.

MEGAPIXELS - This is the question that so many new photographers have in mind when they are looking for their first digital camera. While camera manufacturers seem hung-up on the never ending “Megapixel war” to add more and more Megapixels to their cameras – you should not be. The truth is that for most people (including professional photographers) any camera with 15-20 Megapixels or more will be more than sufficient.

CROP FACTOR - Both Canon and Nikon produce cameras that have full frame sensors as well as bodies that have sensors that are smaller than 35mm. The result of these smaller sensors is increased focal magnification. For example, if a camera has a 1.6x crop factor a 100mm lens will become a 160mm lens or a 300mm lens will become a 480mm lens. Bird photographers may choose to use a camera with a smaller sensor so that they can take advantage of these crop factors. Landscape photographers, on the other hand, would likely choose a full frame camera body so that their wide angle lenses retain their wide field of view.

FRAME RATE - There are occasions when the ability to capture many images in a short period of time is a tremendous advantage. Photographing birds in flight in particular is often more successful when the photographer is equipped with a camera that is capable of shooting at a high frame rate. The top of the line camera bodies can take up to 10 images per second and can quickly write these images to a memory card. If you are a photographer that enjoys photographing action then you may want to consider the frame rate as an important factor in the camera you choose to buy.

AUTOFOCUS CAPABILITY - Perhaps one of the most important factors when choosing a camera body is how sophisticated of an autofocus system do you need. The reason this is an important question is that this is often the main reason to spend the extra money and buy the top of the line, expensive camera bodies. If you are just getting started in nature photography you likely do not need one of these bodies.

HIGH ISO CAPABILITY - Another very important consideration for many photographers is how a given camera body will perform at high ISO speeds. As is the case with autofocus, the results at high ISO speeds tend to improve with the cost of the camera body. High ISO performance however generally improves with larger pixel size. Therefore if shooting at high ISO is important to you we recommend either buying a camera with fewer megapixels or one with a full frame sensor (and larger pixel size).

BUILD QUALITY - Another reason why professional photographers pay many thousand dollars more for the top of the line cameras is build quality. These professional camera bodies will be made of studier materials and will offer more protection against the elements. The shutter mechanism will also be rated for a higher number of actuations (often upwards of 300,000). Nature photography can be extremely hard on equipment and each photographer will have to weigh the advantages of having more robust and weather sealed camera bodies against the added expense of these professional cameras.

 

 

 
Canon R5

One of the best sensors on the market. Amazing dynamic range. 45 megapixels. Incredible animal eye detect AF. Plus some very impressive video capabilities.

This is my new primary day to day camera for bird photography.

See Review - HERE




Nikon Z9

Nikon's latest top of the line camera. Aimed to compete with the Canon R5 and Sony A1. This is Nikon's best camera for bird photography. But it's not cheap!




Sony A1

Sony's current top of the heap mirrorless body. 50 megapixels, 30 FPS and insane autofocus. This body has all the bells and whistles.

A great option for Sony shooters that want the best!




Canon R6

Basically all the still photography features of the R5 but with a lower megapixel count (20MP). If you want to get in to the world of mirrorless cameras and dont need the cropping ability of the 45 megapixel R5 then this could be a great choice for you.




Nikon Z7 II

Nikons current top of the heap mirrorless body. 46 megapixels and all the bells and whistles.

A great option for Nikon shooters!




Sony A9 II

Full frame body with 24 MP




  Canon EF to R Adapter

In order to use your EF mount lenses from your DSLR on the new R mount mirrorless bodies you must have this adapter.




Nikon FTZ Adapter

In order to use your F mount lenses from your DSLR on the new Z mount mirrorless bodies you must have this adapter.




Sony A7 IV

Full frame body with 33MP

Great all round camera!




Battery Grip BG-R10

An excellent accessory to allow for 2 batteries and a vertical shutter button. A must have in my opinion. This model works on both the R5 and R6.




Battery Grip MB-N11

An excellent accessory to allow for 2 batteries and a vertical shutter button. A must have in my opinion. This model works on both the Z7 II and Z6 II.





Sony A 6600

Sony's current APS C crop body. 24 MP and a 1.5x crop factor. A nice budget option!





Once you have decided on a camera body, you will need to decide what lens or lenses to buy. The choice of which lenses to buy depends largely upon what subject matter you are most interested in. For example, to get started in bird photography you will need an auto-focusing lens of at least 300mm. Nature photographers that are interested in landscapes will likely want to purchase a lens that is wider than 28mm. Those interested in the world of miniature subjects such as insects and frogs will likely want a dedicated macro lens. 

 

 

600mm f/4 IS (EF or RF)

My primary lens. For me the weight savings and minimum focus distance of the new lens made it attractive enough to trade in my old 500mm for.

The 600mm remains the ultimate bird photography lens!





600mm f/4 VR II

If you are a Nikon shooter and you want the biggest glass possible then this is the lens for you. Very comparable to the Canon counterpart.

Nikon has just updated these to be super light!.





600mm f/4 

If you are a Sony shooter and you want the biggest glass possible then this is the lens for you. Very comparable to the Canon and Nikon counterpart.
 
The ultimate bird photography lens!




500mm f/4 IS (EF or RF)

This is truly one of the world's best lenses for wildlife and nature photography. It may have cost more than my car - but I love it!

NOTE - I have recently sold my beloved 500mm for the new 600mm lens.





500mm f/4 VR II

If you are not prepared to lug around a 600mm and you are a bird photographer this is likely your next best choice.

Owning one of these super-telephotos is a must for the serious bird photographer.

Nikon has just updated these to be super light!.





500mm f/4 

If you are not prepared to lug around a 600mm and you are a bird photographer this is likely your next best choice.

Owning one of these super-telephotos is a must for the serious bird photographer.



100-400mm f/5.6 IS II

I did some recent tests on this lens and was VERY impressed. The new version kills the old version in every way. So much so that I have decided to sell my 300mm f/4 and 400mm f/5.6 for this versatile lens.

Check out my review on YouTube.





500mm f/5.6 PF VR

A revolutionary new lens. Incredibly light weight and fantastic image quality. I wish Canon made one!





200-600mm  

I'm jealous of this Sony lens. I really wish Canon had a 200-600 at this price point. What a fantastic option for Sony shooters!




RF 100-500

By all accounts this is a spectacular lens! I'd love to pick one up one day but they are very hard to get your hands on right now.

Part of the ultimate Canon bird photographer kit!




200-500mm   f /5.6

I've heard nothing but good things about this very versatile lens. I wish Canon made one!





300mm 2.8 

One of the sharpest and fastest lenses available. It also takes teleconverters extremely well. This lens can offer a very versatile combo for any wildlife photographer.


300mm f/2.8 IS II

One of the sharpest and fastest lenses available. It also takes teleconverters extremely well. This lens can offer a very versatile combo for any wildlife photographer.





300mm f/2.8 VR

One of the sharpest and fastest lenses available. It also takes teleconverters extremely well. This lens can offer a very versatile combo for any wildlife photographer.





Sony 1.4x Converter 

As is the case with the Canon and Nikon  teleconverters this lens lets you get 1.4x closer to the subject and costs you one stop of light.

A must have item for any bird photographer.





300mm f/4 IS

For larger subjects, when photographing in a blind, for flight shots or when 500mm is simply too much lens this is a great lens to have. The lens is very light and its close focussing distance of 1.5m makes it a great tool for macro photography as well.

A great used lens if you can find one in good shape!



300mm f/4 PF

 

Ridiculously small and light. What a versatile lens to have in your kit! These Nikon PF lenses are just incredible and I really wish Canon made something similar.




Sony 2x Converter 

Like the 1.4x above this 2x gets you even closer to the subject. But it costs you two stops of light.





100mm f/2.8 Macro

When you want to get up close and personal with your subjects this is the lens to do it. For insects, amphibians and any other little critters this is lens awesome and it allows 1x magnification.





105mm f/2.8 VR Micro

Once again very similar to its Canon cousin this is a great choice for macro work.





100mm f/2.8 Macro 

When you want to get up close and personal with your subjects this is the lens to do it. For insects, amphibians and any other little critters this is lens awesome and it allows 1x magnification.




Sigma 150-600 DG OS Contemporary 

A great choice for Canon or Nikon shooters that dont want to break the bank is this Sigma superzoom. It is very sharp and is a great bang for buck choice!




Sigma 150-600 DG OS Contemporary

A great choice for Canon or Nikon shooters that dont want to break the bank is this Sigma superzoom. It is very sharp and is a great bang for buck choice!




Kenko Extension Tubes 

Extension tubes are designed to enable a lens to focus closer than its normal set minimum focusing distance. Getting closer has the effect of magnifying your subject (making it appear larger in the viewfinder and in your pictures). They are exceptionally useful for macro photography or when photographing small birds inside of the minimum focussing distance of telephoto lenses.


Canon 1.4x Converter

When it comes to wildlife, and especially birds, it is often a case of the more focal length the better! As a result I find myself using the 1.4x converter very often with my 500mm lens. The converter features a multi layer lens coating and lens design that reduces flare and also creates an optimum color balance.





Nikon 1.4x Converter III

As is the case with the Canon teleconverter this lens lets you get 1.4x closer to the subject and costs you one stop of light.

A must have item for any bird photographer.





     

Canon 2x Converter

The 2x converter is a very valuable accessory for the nature photograpger. Since converting to mirrorless and the R5 I have been using this more an more with great results!





Nikon 2x Converter III

Nikon users finally got an upgraded 2x converter that apparently works quite well with super telephotos. I would definnitely own one if I used a full frame body.





     

Kenko Extension Tubes

Extension tubes are designed to enable a lens to focus closer than its normal set minimum focusing distance. Getting closer has the effect of magnifying your subject (making it appear larger in the viewfinder and in your pictures). They are exceptionally useful for macro photography or when photographing small birds inside of the minimum focussing distance of telephoto lenses.



Kenko Extension Tubes

The exact same as the Canon version.

Very useful and an inexpensive addition to any wildlife photographers camera bag.



     

 



Nature photographers generally prefer the warm tones of direct, low-angle sunlight over the use of artificial lighting provided by an external flash. Often however, direct low-angle sunlight is often simply unavailable. In these situations it pays to have an external flash unit to provide the much needed fill-light and to create a catch light in the subject’s eye. Both Canon and Nikon produce at least two models of external flashes. The higher cost units are designed to be more powerful and will also have the ability to control additional “slave’ flash units through a built-in wireless transmitter.

Note that for bird photography I strongly recommend the use of a flash bracket (see support section).

 

 

 

EL-1

This is Canon's new top of the line flash. The main advantage is faster recycling time but it also has some other cool features. But its a bit on the pricey side!





SB-5000

Nikon's top of the line flash. If you are a Nikon shooter and are going to buy one flash only then this is the one for you.





HVL-F60RM2

Sony's top of the line flash. If you are a Sony shooter and are going to buy one flash only then this is the one for you.




600 EX-RT II or 470 EX-RT

This is Canon's former top of the line Speedlite. Its got plenty of power and I have always been pleased with its performance.

 





SB-700

If I shot Nikon these would be used for backup / multi-flash hummingbird work.





HVL-F45RM

A bit less powerful and a bit less expensive. If you dont use flash much this might be a good option.




Canon Radio Transmitter

I've given up on cables. This transmitter used AA batteries and connects easily to any of Canons RT flashes. 





Off Brand - Off Camera Shoe Cord

To connect your flash to a flash bracket. The off-brand ones are just as good as the name brand ones but cost WAY less!



     

Off Camera Shoe Cord

To connect your flash to a flash bracket. The off-brand ones are just as good as the name brand ones but cost WAY less!


Nikon Off Camera Shoe Cord

The same as the canon version. Although I would say that the Nikon cables seem to be better designed and more durable.

A must have for flash work on birds.



     

 



Once nature photographers have invested in high quality telephoto prime lenses they should immediately begin use a sturdy tripod. After all, it does not make sense to spend thousands of dollars on a lens that is capable of razor sharp images and then be unable to achieve them because you are not using a tripod!

Tripods are heavy and cumbersome and most nature photographers are reluctant to use them at first. The difference in image quality however once you commit to using a tripod is well worth the burden. Whatever tripod you choose, make absolutely sure that it can support the weight of your longest lens, tele-converters, flash and camera body. If you think that you may upgrade to a bigger and heavier lens in the future you may want to factor this into your purchasing decision. You should also make sure that the tripod will extend up to your eye height without any extension post.

When it comes to selecting a tripod head there are two popular options for the tropical nature photographer – either a ball head or a gimbal type head. Generally speaking, if you have a lens up to the size of a 300mm f/2.8 lens you will likely choose to use a ball head. If you are using a 500mm, 600mm or 800mm lens you will almost certainly want to purchase a gimbal type head for your tripod.

Gitzo 3540XLS

Gitzo GT3543 XLS

When shooting with a 500mm lens a sturdy tripod is an absolute must. The Gitzo tripods are the strongest and most stable available on the market. I finally got this carbon fiber model and I love it! The beauty of this tripod is that with just 2 sections extended it is the perfect height for me. Yet with the 3rd section extended it goes well over head height. This can come in handy when the birds are up high. 

    

Induro or Benro Mid Range Tripod

These two brands are a nice less expensive alternative to the Gitzos. They are not as good. But are 1/3 the price. A great started tripod!

Make sure that for telephoto shooting you have a tripod that gets up to eye height without a center column. This is crucial!

    

Gitzo 0532

A great little backpacking tripod for landscapes. Super light and sturdy.

    

Wimberly

Wimberly Head Version II

The Wimberley Head is a specialized tripod head for telephoto lenses. Its gimbal-type design allows you to rotate your lens around its center of gravity and thus easily manipulate very large lenses. The Wimberley Head has is prety much the industry standard for serious nature photographers using super-telephoto lenses.

    

Flash Bracket

Wimberley Flash Bracket

There are many occasions in nature photography where flash is best used off camera. In telephoto applications, raising the flash higher minimizes red or "steel" eye in wildlife photos, since the directional lighting is on a different plane than the lens. This also helps reduce shadows from flash use by casting the shadow downward behind the subject where it less apparent.

    

Wimberley Flash Bracket - Extension Post

In addition to the flash bracket I like to use an extension post. This gets the flash up even higher off camera.

    

Induro BH Ball Head

Great value for the money. If you need a solid ball head give this one a look!

    

Wimberly Lens Plates

These plates allow me to connect my various lenses to either of my quick release style tripod heads.

Be sure to select the appropriate size for your lens / camera.

    

 



With all of this expensive and heavy gear to lug around you will definitely need some kind of backpack. There is probably no perfect case for all occasions. You may choose a rolling bag for flights and a backpack for in the field use. Just make sure that whatever bag you buy will fit your biggest lens and all of the stuff taht you will need in the field.

 almost certainly want to purchase a gimbal type head for your tripod.

Lowepro Pro Trekker 450 or 550 AW

This backpack is my go to camera backpack. It easily fits my 600mm lens, 2 bodies, 100-400mm, 17-40mm, 2 flashes, laptop, and a tonne of accessories. It is where my equipment lives when I am not travelling and is my everyday bag when travelling by air.

       

Lowepro Pro Roller x300 AW

When I need a rolling bag this is the one I use. Very sturdy and holds a lot of stuff!

       

 

Lowepro Whistler

This is a sweet little hiking camera pack for landscape work. It has a nice system of seperating and storing your camera gear from your clothes, food, etc. and has a nice harness system. For day hikes and landscape shooting I really like this pack.

       

 

CottonCarrier

The Cotton Carrier

This harness system is fantastic to hold your gear steady when walking around or in between shooting opportunities.

   

 



In addition to the basic equipment needed for nature photography there are several useful accessories that many tropical photographers carry with them in the field.

NEC 27" Desktop Display 

A good monitor is essential to a photographer. Ideally you want something that shows at least 90% of the RGB colour space (not just the sRGB colour space). This monitor is pretty amazing and it is a treat to edit images on it. Especially knowing that the colours are so accurate!

    

Vallerret Photography Gloves

These gloves are a fantastic solution for every day mild to cold weather shooting. When not in absolute EXTREME cold these are my go to photography gloves.

Photography Gloves for the adventurous cold weather photographer. Designed in Norway by fellow Winter-loving Photographers.

    

c

This is the device I use to calibrate my monitor. It is essential to have some kind of external monitor calibration tool.

For more info on calibrating your screen - CLICK HERE

    

Camo

Quick Camo Blinds

Kwik Camo photography blinds are designed to cover you and your camera gear—from a telephoto setup on a tripod to handholding a flight lens. A mesh camo window allows you to vew wildlife without disruption, or you canunzip across the top of the window for a totally unobstructed view. Adjustments under the blind are concealed from your subjects and you can use a left and right slot in the blind for easy access outside the blind. A slot on top of the blind allows use of a flash unit externally.

      

Topaz Labs Software

To be honest I've never been ahuge fan of aftermarket plug ins for Adobe Photoshop. I simply havent found such software to be necessary or worth the cost. But these guys changed my mind. Their AI programs are simply incredible. The noise reduction software especially is mind blowing. Download a trial and see for yourself!

Visit Toapz Labs - HERE and use the code "BARTLEY15" for 15% off your order.

Lenscoat

Lens Coat Lens Cover

LensCoat  telephoto lens covers offer your valuable equipment some protection from scrapes and bumps, preserving its resale value. They also help break up the shape of your lens, making it less noticeable to wildlife.

Covers are available for most lenses in a variety of patterns.

     

DXO Pure RAW Software

I think we have entered in to the world of AI enhanced software. Topaz Labs denoise and sharpen AI were the first programs to make me aware of this potential. DXO Pure RAW is equally impressive. The VERY poor handling of RAW files from the Canon R5 in Adobe made me seek out alternatives and this software meets my needs. Simply drop your RAW files in to the program and let it do all the work. It will shoot out a DNG file that you can then process as you would normally using Lightroom or Adobe Camera RAW and then Photoshop. The enhanced RAW file needs to be seen to be believed. It is awesome!

Visit DXO - HERE to download a free trial or purchase the software

 

Lenscoat

Lens Coat - Hoodie Lens Cap

The LensCoat Hoodie helps protect the front element of your lens from dirt, dust, moisture and impact. The neoprene Hoodie fits easily and snugly around your lens hood or shade in either the shooting position or reversed.

The Hoodie features a reinforced removable front element protection disc made from rigid plastic and firm foam to further protect your glass from damage. Great for travel and storing your lenses.

     

Batteries

Eneloop Pro AA Batteries

These PowerEx Imedion 2550mAh NiMH batteries can be stored for an extended period of time without substantial loss of power. They are rechargeable up to 500 times and have a 2550mAh ultra high capacity rating.

    

Lens Coat - Camera Pouches

The LensCoat Camera Pouches are a great way to protect your camera bodies when they are in your bag. With these on you dont have to worry about scratches or dirt getting on them. Well worth the $20!

     

Charger

Powerex 8 Cell Charger

The PowerEx MH-C801D battery charger features eight independent circuits that charge 1 to 8 AA or AAA NiHM or NiCD batteries in any combination. Embedded with a high-rate battery conditioner, this unit will charge, deep-discharge and recharge batteries automatically for maximum rejuvenation. A new eight cell (0.001V resolution) microprocessor will charge batteries to their maximum capacity without overcharging or undercharging, providing maximum battery longevity.

    

Lens Coat - Travel Coat

The LensCoat Travel Coat wraps around teh outside of your lenses adding protection when in transit. Note that if you invest in the Lens Coat protective pouches/sleeves that you can actually take the dividers out of your backpack and fit a lot more stuff in!

     

Travel Power Plug Converter

With this small device you can be sure that you can always find a place to plug in when overseas. 

    

Storm Jacket Rain Cover

There are some pretty fancy rain covers out there on the market. But for me simple is good. This one packs down very small and is easy and convenient to always have with you. I have never had any issues with leaks. Two thumbs up from me!

   

Binoculars - Swarovski NL Pure 10x42 - THE BEST OF THE BEST

These are about as good as it gets as far as binoculars go. I absolutely love mine.

The view is astounding and the handling is superb - glassing through the NL 10x42 SwaroVision Binocular from  Swarovski  brings the cutting edge of optical performance to a new level. While the original EL series set the benchmark for clarity, color accuracy, and handling comfort, The NL Pure binoculars raise the performance bar even higher.

       

Canon Remote Switch

This remote works with my Canon Cameras. I use it primarily for scenic shots and occasionally for macro work.

   

Binoculars - Nikon Monarch 5 or 7 - GREAT VALUE

Great quality and value. They are not as good as the Swarovski's of course. But they cost 80% less.

       

Wise Advanced CF Express Cards & Readers

These cards from Wise Advanced are super fast and a great value compared to the bigger name brands.

They also have a nice and speedy little card reader for CF Express and SD Cards

     

Circular Polarizer

Light rays which are reflected by any surface become polarised and polarising filters are used to select which light rays enter your camara lens. Polarising filters allow you to remove unwanted reflections from non-metallic surfaces such as water, glass etc. They also enable colors to become more saturated and appear clearer, with better contrast. This effect is often used to increase the contrast and saturation in blue skies and white clouds. Note that good quality polarising filters do not affect the overall color balance of a shot.

         

Wise Advanced SD Cards

I've recently switched over to the Wise Advanced SD cards and have been very happy with them. They write as fast as I ever need and I have never lost a single file while using them.

I also use some of the Sandisk and Lexar Professional Series cards.

     

 

 

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