Chiara Talia

My bird photography gear journey

Hello everyone!

It has been a while, and it is time for me to properly re-start taking care of this blog space! And what better way than answering the most common question I receive?

Which gear do you use?

This is perhaps the most common question me as many other wildlife photographers normally get. So I will outline here my path into gradual gear upgrade! This is not intended as a in-depth gear review, but more of a description of my gear journey and the reasons behind my choices.

When everything started...

My first camera was a Canon EOS1300D (also known as Rebel T6). It is an entry-level DSLR, ideal for photographer newbies moving their first steps. I bought it in 2017, just before I moved to Scotland from Italy – because I thought I could not move to such a beautiful country without a proper camera! Unfortunately I ended up using it only a few times (and of course in Automatic mode!). The camera was equipped with a kit lens (Canon 18-55mm). It was only a few years later, in January 2020, that I decided to start photography seriously, using the camera I had. But in the meantime I also got another lens: the Canon EF 55-250 mm. It was with this beginner combination that I moved my first steps in photography – learning all the basics and finally abandoning the Automatic Mode. It was a busy period spent reading photography books, the camera manual, watching lots of YouTube tutorials and googling many, many questions! During my beginner phase, with this entry-level combination, I took some photos which I am quite proud of and that are still among my favorites! And from the examples below you will easily understand who was my main subject during those early days… the European Robin!

Time for my first upgrade!

After getting more familiar with birds around me and confident with my camera and lens, I started to face one of the main challenges a bird photographer encounters: not having enough reach! In general, birds can be very small (some of them weigh only a few grams!), they live in places not easily accessible (for example a waterbird in the middle of a lake!) and they tend to hide as humans are normally perceived as threats. This means with our gear we always want to cover a big distance, in order to “get closer” to our subject and make sure it can fill the frame. For this reason, I decided to purchase my first super telephoto lens – the Tamron 100-400 mm F/4.5-6.3. There are two main reasons why I got this lens. The first one is of economic nature. It is well known that nature photography is a very expensive activity – with pieces of equipment costing more than a car! At that point, I was still considering myself a beginner and although I wanted an upgrade, I didn’t feel ready to make a big investment yet. The second reason is that I am a strong supporter of a gradual learning curve. Jumping from a 55-250 mm lens to an expensive super telephoto lens just didn’t feel right, even if I was already really involved in the activity. I wanted to give myself more time to learn – especially because handling a super tele-lens is very different – and to continue exploring this world. Below a selection of photos taken with the Canon EOS1300D + Tamron 100-400 mm combination.

But seriously...lenses are never too long!

In January 2021, after 1 year into birding and photography, I decided I was ready to upgrade. It was now clear I found my greatest passion in life. But this decision came only after I realized I had outgrown the capabilities of my setup. I started to feel the limitations of my entry-level 1300D and I opted for a Canon EOS90D. The 90D places itself in the mid-range of enthusiast/semi-professional level cameras, very capable with a good price tag. It is able to offer good quality images, with a fast focus, fast frame rate and good resolution. When decided to upgrade I decided to go for a crop sensor camera, because after gaining more experience in the locations around my area – which became my usual spots for photography – I came to the conclusion that I definitely needed more reach.

Based on the same reason, I also decided to take a longer tele-lens. I decided to upgrade to a Tamron 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2. It is a solid lens, with a good stabilization system and auto-focus, weighing just below 2 kg. The weight of the lens was a critical element for my decision, since I normally handhold the camera and at the same time I don’t have lots of strength in my arms. I am indicating this since I strongly believe that the gear you choose should be based on what you really need – there is not one that can fit us all. When looking at third-party cameras, photographers are normally split between Tamron and Sigma. The latter produces also a super tele-lens in two versions (Sport and Contemporary). My relationship with my Tamron lens had a rocky start – as I had my lens to be substituted less than one month after buying it, due to issues at the auto-focus system (not caused by me). After sending the lens back for repair, apparently the damage was considered not a fixable one so I actually received a brand new lens! I was unlucky but that misadventure partially impacted my trust in the lens, which anyway I kept using after that with lots of satisfaction.

Below a small selection of photos taken with the Canon EOS90D + Tamron 150-600G2 combination.

What about next steps?

I have now been using my current set-up for 1 year and a half now and since a few months I have been thinking about next steps. Why? I think my photos look ok – but I think I achieved the maximum results obtainable with this combination, based on their specifications. Also I have been paying close attention to the evolution of the mirrorless world.

For this reason I tested on a couple of occasions another set-up: the Canon R5 combined with the Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM. My thoughts on this combination are for another time 😉

As a final remark, I would like to remind everyone to watch out for symptoms of the so-called “Gear Acquisition Syndrome”. Truth is there will always be excuses to buy a new camera or a new lens, the point is… Do you really need it? Did you really make the most out of your current gear? If you don’t like your results is it because of limitations of your set-up or perhaps there might still be aspects you can work on?

At the end of the day, camera and lens are just tools. What it truly matters is the person behind it!

Hope you enjoyed this first come-back post. Next posts are already planned so watch out this space 🙂 And for everyday’s updates, I will wait for you on instagram! Chiara

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