Tuesday 23 July 2013

Kestrels, Grasshoppers and Camera Trial

July 22, 2013 Boundary Bay, Delta.  Between the Pilings and 112 St.

An American Kestrel hovers above the Boundary Bay dyke pathway. From one perch to another the female Kestrel makes its way along a hundred or so metres of hedge, eagerly looking for any movements in the tall grass below. Even barking dogs, walkers and the sudden movements of passing cyclists cannot deter the bird's concentration.  There are scores of grasshoppers everywhere. After a few sideway glances, a menacing stare and a little bobbing of the head the hunter suddenly swoops down on another juicy meal. Not every hunt is successful but during the time I spent observing at least five large grasshoppers were dispatched.
As the setting sun waned and the cool breeze off the Boundary Bay brought to close yet another day in paradise I wondered if could life be any better for a BC birder.

American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)
The Hunt is on.

Another grasshopper is caught.
 Camera Test. Canon SX50 HS Superzoom
I have always wanted to test an inexpensive super zoom point and shoot to see if it would be useful addition to my already heavy camera bag. Below are some examples.

The two pictures (above) and (below ) were taken with the $400 Canon SX50 HS. The first three hunting pictures in this blog were taken with my trusty Nikon D3s and 500 F4 lens and 1.4 converter mounted on a Gitzo tripod at ISO 1000. The high ISO helped me catch the flight shots using 1/2000 sec shutter speed.  The Canon ain't gonna do that for you but...
The SX50 is point and shoot APS censor camera 12 Megapixel with a 24-1200 zoom. I had always wanted a little lightweight camera to take on organized bird walks etc where carrying a tripod and big lens just slows everyone up. The big question was, would I be happy with the results ? The answer is Yes and No.  The shots above were taken hand held while the bird was perched. A tripod  would help although not too many birds are stationary long enough. Although the images looks fine on a web blog they wouldn't be suitable for printing bigger than 4x6 or 5x7. The first three images on the other hand could be made into 16x20 prints without too much trouble. In conclusion it all depends on your end use. Apart from selling large prints I also give presentations where a certain clarity is required. If however you are blogging, Flickring, Facebooking or other inter webbing use and you don't require action shots I think the Sx50 is a decent choice for the person just wanting record shots and that coming from a Nikonian is high praise!
Oops! I forget to mention that it takes great scenics and video to complements your record photos and for that purpose alone I think its perfect and money well spent.

 If the  main purpose is to add a simple inexpensive easy to use camera to back up your bins or just to take record shots I think the Sx50 is a good choice. I tried out other brands but felt the Canon was the best build and buy. The fact I could hand hold the camera at 1200 mm and get these shots was I felt really useful. Forget about action flight shots as the shutter has a slight lag and sometimes it is easy to hit the video record button by accident but overall it was fun to use. Whenever I want a powerful zoom I'll defiantly carry this camera especially for concerts and other long distance situations.


  1. John, Great shots! Thanks for the camera advice. I've been reading about the SX50 with interest.

  2. Hi Robin,
    The Sx50 is not the answer to all situations but it would be very handy for those times when lugging around 20-30 lbs of gear isn't possible. I suppose the other option is the Sigma 150-500 but that isn't that lightweight either. The biggest problem is the shutter lag which for birds is so important. Anyway the SX50 has found a place in my camera bag for those unexpected moments.

  3. I have seen Kestrels in the vicinity for the past three years but never so tame and pre-occupied with hunting. I heard about the bird on VANBCBIRDS and went down a few days later and it was exactly where it had been reported. The tide was high so there were no other birds around except one Mallard, three Greater Yellowlegs and one North-western Crow. I'm glad you enjoyed the pix.