Wednesday 11 May 2016

BIG ZOOMS Bridge Camera vs DSLR - Bird Photography (Part 1)

Technology advancements in the photography industry are astonishing. As a wildlife photographer, one of the most important aspects of the capability of equipment is the FOCAL LENGTH of the lens/camera; birds are nearly always 'too far away' for that perfect shot - the number of times I've had a bird too close to photograph/compose can probably be counted on one hand. Bridge cameras are increasing massively in popularity, particularly amongst people with an interest in wildlife photography; they are affordable, versatile, fairly compact and usually have colossal zoom ranges. I'm primarily a DSLR user, but do have an old bridge camera which is used occasionally. This post will compare bridge cameras vs DSLR cameras in terms of the focal length only - it is not 'as simple as that' due to there being other influences on images, but this will provide an understanding of the two in this specific field.

I have a big lens - a Canon 600mm F4. This is currently THE wildlife lens to have if using DSLR cameras, assuming you can physically lift it up. Silly as this may sound, it usually involves 'training' (I've been into weightlifting for many years) to be able to handle one all day without struggling with the weight. A lot of the local birders can vouch for that - they've asked to hold this lens out of curiosity and simply not been able to lift it up into a position to be able to take a photo. It is HEAVY. Here is a size comparison between my DSLR arrangement and my bridge camera:

Now for the part which I can almost guarantee will be a surprise to you. Which one has the longer focal length (zoom)?

...and by a very significant margin.

My lens is a 600mm f4. The 'f4' notation refers to the aperture of the lens and it is primarily because of this aperture that the lens is physically so large. Does this aperture affect focal length? No, the two properties are not related.
Bridge cameras are currently available with focal lengths as high as 2000mm. Let me put that into perspective for you...

This first image is what I would get from my professional 600mm lens:

And this second image represents the same photo taken from the same position at 2000mm on a bridge camera:

It is plainly obvious just how much more magnification the bridge camera offers. The lesson here is that if you think a big lens always means big/close images, then you are very, very wrong.

I'll do another post on bridge cameras vs DLSR cameras at some point as the focal length is just one of many factors that is of importance to wildlife photographers. The DSLR system really comes into its own if you like playing around with settings manually and being creative, but then again that isn't always necessary depending what you want to achieve with your wildlife photography. Despite the obvious advantages of getting so much closer to the action with bridge cameras, I will not be changing away from DSLR cameras any time soon. I will reveal why soon...

(There will probably be a 'bird' post or two before the next 'photography' post).


  1. I also have a bridge camera, a Nikon P900 with 83x zoom. I find that unless it is on a tripod it's fairly difficult to get the image in focus at full zoom. Even my heart beating affects the focus. I prefer my dslr and my 100-400mm lens, even though I can't get as much zoom. Bridge cameras definitely have their place, but sadly not for me.

    1. Yes steady hands is a must but as you say that can be quite difficult at 2000mm on the P900. Ledges and windows in hides are always useful if you don't like using a tripod :)

  2. Did you ever make a part 2 for this article?

    1. Hi Keith. No I didn't, but I really should so thanks for reminding me! The game has changed even more now with other types of camera systems really taking off. I'll make an effort to write something up soon...

    2. I would love a follow-up post as well. I am trying to make a decision about my next birding camera.

    3. Sorry for the hideously late reply Amy, I inadvertently missed your comment! There is a follow-up post here: