A friend asked if it’s possible to make nice pictures of birds with her Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H300 bridge camera. I already knew the answer to that question but I wanted to illustrate my point. Spoiler alert: The answer is yes. I have a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ47 that’s similar so I setup a demonstration.
The light was awful. It was 1:00pm on a sunny day — perfect for the demo. I wanted to compare the results with a selection of professional cameras. This included a Canon 7D Mark II with a 70-200mm f/2.8, a Canon RP with a RF 24-105mm f/4 and a Canon EOS R adapted with a Sigma 150-500mm. I metered for 1/640s, f/5.6 and ISO 200.
The Panasonic Lumix has manual control and a histogram that displays in the viewfinder — very handy. I set some bird seed on a rock about 20 feet away and waited. Eventually a blue jay dropped in for a snack.
As a rule of thumb you need the inverse of the focal length for a photograph to be acceptably sharp when hand-held. At full extension this is the rough equivalent field of view of 600mm on a full-frame camera. That meant 1/600s or faster.
In reality, the sensor is the size of a Chiclet so a little faster is even better. I made these pictures in the bridge camera’s manual mode. Yes, it can be done.
Set your expectations
It’s a JPEG camera so there’s almost no latitude for boosting shadows or recovering detail in the highlights. I’m taking fun pictures of birds with a bridge camera that I bought for $400 in 2011. Can it be done? Yes. Is it pro quality? No, but the goal is to enjoy. It means knowing how to achieve that goal, but it can be done.
Canon 7D Mark II
This is my outdoor sports camera. It gets a lot of shots per second, is good quality, and it’s built like a tank. The crop sensor gives the impression that the focal length is longer than it really is. The results are an improvement over the Panasonic Lumix. I setup differently for this camera because I had the 70-200mm at f/2.8. The resulting shutter speed is much faster but the idea is the same.
I included my Canon RP for giggles. I wanted to see how it did with the RF 24-105mm. It’s a much shorter focal length but it did fine when I crop the image. The jay is in there, honest.
Canon EOS R
Now The Big Kahuna: my Canon EOS R with the adapted Sigma 150-500mm. The sensor is much larger and the actual focal length is much longer. The results are of course oodles different. I’m taking nice pictures of birds with a 10 year old $400 JPEG bridge camera and a two year old $1799 mirrorless Canon. All things considered, the bridge camera held up really well.