Binoculars are the most important and fundamental tool in a birder’s toolkit. Without these, birding just isn’t the same. Other equipment like spotting scopes, cameras and audio recording devices are not quite as important but they add to the quality of your experience.
Here are some useful optics, cameras and electronic equipment that I use, or have used, for birding, ornithological fieldwork and nature exploration. I have given my honest review for each item and links where you can get them.
I’ve been using a pair of Visionking binoculars for over a year now and I must say I am quite impressed by the quality, especially considering its very low cost. These binos are cristal clear and very durable. Also very light and comfortable to carry on your neck for long periods of time.
Get a pair on Amazon: Click here
I have been using this particular spotting scope for over two years now. It is very high quality, light and strong. It has a sun shield that you can extend to reduce the sun’s glare on a bright day. The eyepiece is angled, which I find much more comfortable than using a scope with a straight eyepiece.
The eyepiece is also detachable, which allows you to attach your DSLR camera to the scope using a digiscoping adaptor (additional accessory you must purchase separately). There are also adapters available for smartphones (like this one).
There are two options for the objective lens diameter: 65mm and 82mm. I use the 82mm version and I highly recommend it. This scope has been especially handy for me when scanning cliffs for nesting raptors, and observing waders, ducks and other waterbirds along a shorelines. For a higher cost, there are some better scopes out there, but this one is definitely good value for your money.
Click here to check it out and see the specifications plus more details and reviews.
Anyone who has used a scope knows that a tripod is simply the scope’s necessary extension. Otherwise it would be extremely difficult to use it in the field. I use an aluminium Manfrotto scope. Being aluminium, it is quite light and easy to carry around on foot for several hours in the field. It is also quite durable, although admittedly not the best in extremely windy condition, where a heavier tripod might be better. All in all, this is a high quality tripod and one that I would recommend to any serious birder.
More details and reviews: Click here
I find this camera incredibly handy for a birder who spends many hours on foot, especially in rough and rugged terrain. Being compact with an in-built zoom lens, it can easily be carried around without the heavy extra lenses of a DSLR. With an 83x zoom (second most powerful of any Nikon camera), it is excellent for ID shots, especially of distant birds such as a high-flying soaring raptor. You also don’t need to switch lenses to shoot landscape or wide-angle shots, unlike a DSLR. One drawback however is that, it has a fairly small sensor (16MP) which gives it a limited ISO range (max ISO 6400). It also does not shoot in RAW, so not the best option for anyone thinking of professional photography. Despite this, the photo quality it produces is impressive and I highly recommend it for any birder or nature enthusiast unless you are keen on selling your photographs commercially. With this said, I have managed to produce some decent photographic prints on canvas with photos shot using this camera (although a DSLR is still the best option for this sort of thing!).
More details and reviews on this camera: Click here
PS: There is now a new COOLPIX model (Nikon COOLPIX P1000) with the strongest zoom of any Nikon camera and a few extra features that the P900 doesn’t have. I have not used it yet but it’s worth checking out: Click here
Anyone who likes birding and outdoor photography knows that one of the things that is almost a constant in the field is dust. Getting dust onto your camera lens not only reduces your photo quality but can damage the lens in the long run. A UV lens filter offers excellent protection from dust and other things that can damage your lens like stones, drops of water or scratches from thorns. It is quite cheap and yet the protection it offers is priceless. It also reduces UV light and glare on your lens, which further enhances your photo quality. I use the 67mm version, which fits my Nikon P900 camera, but there are several size options that you can choose from depending on the camera you use.
Get it on Amazon: Click here
I used this camera for a few months when a friend briefly lent it to me. I used it with a 70-300mm lens and was happy with its performance. Like most DSLRs, it has a decent-sized sensor and quite a high ISO sensitivity (ISO 12800). It shoots in both JPEG and RAW, as you would expect, and it overall a decent camera.
You can buy the camera body alone (if you already have some lenses) or with an accompanying lens: Click here
This is the lens I used with the Canon camera above. 70-300mm is a good standard range for shooting large mammals on safari and medium to large birds, but for smaller birds it is not the best as you have to get quite close to get a decent shot. It’s also not the best for landscape or wide-angle shots and you need to change to a smaller lens for those. Regardless of this, I really enjoyed shooting with this lens for the few months that I did. I think it’s a good one to begin with if you’re just starting out in bird/wildlife photography and are a little tight on cash.
You can get it with or without a polarizer: Click here
It’s also a good idea to have special lens cleaning cloths for your camera and optics. These are made specifically for cleaning lenses. Their microfiber material leaves no scratches on your lens (unlike a normal cloth which may scratch and damage your lens). A lens cloth comes in handy when cleaning dust, fingerprints, and other dirt from your lens. The quality of your photographs, or how well your optics perform when birding, can be greatly impacted if your lens is dirty.
Here are some good quality lens cloths: Click here
An audio recorder is a valuable tool to have as a birder. It allows you to record the calls, songs and other vocalizations of birds, which you can later use as callbacks or simply to identify birds that you hear but don’t see. There are several app nowadays with the vocalizations of birds, but they do not capture the full range of a bird’s vocal repertoire. Even the most seasoned experts will be occassionally challenged by a new sound they do not recognize, only to later find out it was being produced by a bird they thought they knew well. With an audio recorder, you can continually build up a library of calls and songs that you have recorded. Smartphones can also do this but a proper audio recorder produces much higher-quality sound, both in volume and clarity. These are sounds that can also upload to citizen science websites like Xeno-canto, and can be used to produce histograms for detailed analysis in scientific studies. There are several good audio recorders out there to choose from. I use an Olympus PCM Recorder and I’m quite happy with how it performs. It’s also small and easy to carry in your pocket.
Grab one on Amazon: Click here
It’s also useful to get a wind muff along with your audio recorder, to reduce the effect of wind blowing as you record sounds: Here’s one
For reviews and recommendations on field guides (guidebooks), reference books, and other books for learning about birds/wildlife/nature, visit the BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS page.