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Pelagic camera setups


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I'm not able too swing it this year, but I'm planning on it for next year out of Hatteras.  I'm going to go for probably 3 days.  I'm assuming my Sigma 150-600mm on 7D MK II isn't going to cut it.  I'm trying to weight my options right now.  

  1. Keep 7D MK II and one of the following
    1. 100-400mm MK II
    2. 400mm f/5.6 (had this lens and loved it for the most part)
    3. 300mm f/4L
  2. Make the switch to Nikon D850 and pair it with the 500mm f/5.6 (my concern with this is the birds up close to the boat will be an issue)
  3. Step up to a Canon Mirrorless and the 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1L
  4. Other options I'm not thinking of?  More than likely whatever setup I get will be my primary/only birding setup going forward.  

Michigan isn't exactly known for great light, so I've wanted to move up to a Full-frame at some point.  I've seen some amazing shots from the Canon R5/100-500mm combo.  A lot of investment there though, which given over a year to prepare, may not be out of the realm of possibility.  Lots of beans and rice and selling off some stuff.  

Open to hear all thoughts and opinions.  Thank you.  

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2 hours ago, Charlie Spencer said:

You expressed concerns about the Nikon / 500 combo at close range.  If you’re selecting your “primary/only birding setup going forward”, that would seem to argue against that option. 

I spend 99% of my 150-600mm, at 600mm around here.  Only time I can recall zooming out was a Barred Owl 20 feet away, and trying to get flock shots for counts.  I know Nikon also has a 200-500mm option that pairs with the D850.  Should have listed that.  

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13 hours ago, chipperatl said:

Step up to a Canon Mirrorless and the 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1L

As much as I loved the 100-400mm MKii paired with the 7D MKii, I think I will be going with the mirrorless 100-500mm for my next upgrade, I'm not sure I'd pair it with the R5 though. 45MP sensor would be nice to have but I'm not sure I'd want to work with such huge file sizes. There'd definitely be lots of room for cropping, if it was necessary, but I'm not sure it'd be worth the extra $2000. Then again....

I feel for you @chipperatl, major upgrade purchases are not easy decisions to make, nor are they cheap decisions to make. I have been resisting spending more money on camera gear, but I am always window shopping and waffling back and forth about what I might purchase. It'd be so much easier if someone else made those tough decisions and bought and paid for our camera gear, don't you think?  🤔

 

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Well, there is a lot to consider here. First and foremost, I don't know of anyone who has specific pelagic camera setup. I'm sure some people with lots of resources (lenses, camera bodies, etc.) do, but everyone I know simply uses their regular birding setup on pelagics. So, if this is going to be your primary setup after the pelagic, I would simply recommend the best setup you can afford. I am seeing some really amazing results from the Canon R5/100-500mm combo. If you can slang it, I'd probably go that route since it will cover all your bases, both on land and at sea. 

Specifically with regards to a Cape Hatteras pelagic, a few things to consider. Do they chum? If so, you may want a zoom lens. If not, I would recommend the most reach possible at the highest quality you can afford. Really, the only scenario where you will be too zoomed in is if they chum and there are birds sitting on the water right by the boat. Out here in Northern CA, we can't chum, and therefore most birds are farther off, and zipping by the boat. There are always exceptions, but in general, It's rare to be too zoomed in on a bird  during a pelagic. Also, weight is something to consider. You will be carrying this camera for a 10-12 hours trip. Weight matters.

Lastly, for pelagics, you really want the options that are going to have the fastest autofocus and something that performs well at high shutter speed, The swell can be significant (maybe more-so out here than in NC), and pelagic birds move surprisingly fast. Sometimes you encounter a bird for mere seconds before it is just a speck disappearing between waves on the distant horizon. Speed in many ways will be your best friend on a pelagic.

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7 minutes ago, lonestranger said:

As much as I loved the 100-400mm MKii paired with the 7D MKii, I think I will be going with the mirrorless 100-500mm for my next upgrade, I'm not sure I'd pair it with the R5 though. 45MP sensor would be nice to have but I'm not sure I'd want to work with such huge file sizes. There'd definitely be lots of room for cropping, if it was necessary, but I'm not sure it'd be worth the extra $2000. Then again....

I feel for you @chipperatl, major upgrade purchases are not easy decisions to make, nor are they cheap decisions to make. I have been resisting spending more money on camera gear, but I am always window shopping and waffling back and forth about what I might purchase. It'd be so much easier if someone else made those tough decisions and bought and paid for our camera gear, don't you think?  🤔

 

I’d really have to get in a habit of being more picky on what files to keep.  😉  A $7K upgrade to R5/100-500mm has me thinking “Are you nuts?”  The shots I see from those though…mind blown.  

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3 minutes ago, chipperatl said:

A $7K upgrade to R5/100-500mm has me thinking “Are you nuts?”  The shots I see from those though…mind blown.  

Exactly. The photos people are turning out with that combo are simply stunning. I am invested in Sony, and would love the a1, but it's like at least $2k overpriced, in my opinion. Unless you are a professional photographer, it's hard to justify spending that much money. That being said, I'm not too proud to admit that I'm saving for a Sony prime lens, likely the 600mm f4. Granted, we will all probably be living on Mars by the time I can afford it.

Don't forget to check used inventories on site like KEH and forums such as Fred Miranda. With enough time and patience you can find some really good deals, especially on forums when someone invests in a pricey setup and then changes their mind.

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6 minutes ago, DLecy said:

Well, there is a lot to consider here. First and foremost, I don't know of anyone who has specific pelagic camera setup. I'm sure some people with lots of resources (lenses, camera bodies, etc.) do, but everyone I know simply uses their regular birding setup on pelagics. So, if this is going to be your primary setup after the pelagic, I would simply recommend the best setup you can afford. I am seeing some really amazing results from the Canon R5/100-500mm combo. If you can slang it, I'd probably go that route since it will cover all your bases, both on land and at sea. 

Specifically with regards to a Cape Hatteras pelagic, a few things to consider. Do they chum? If so, you may want a zoom lens. If not, I would recommend the most reach possible at the highest quality you can afford. Really, the only scenario where you will be too zoomed in is if they chum and there are birds sitting on the water right by the boat. Out here in Northern CA, we can't chum, and therefore most birds are farther off, and zipping by the boat. There are always exceptions, but in general, It's rare to be too zoomed in on a bird  during a pelagic. Also, weight is something to consider. You will be carrying this camera for a 10-12 hours trip. Weight matters.

Lastly, for pelagics, you really want the options that are going to have the fastest autofocus and something that performs well at high shutter speed, The swell can be significant (maybe more-so out here than in NC), and pelagic birds move surprisingly fast. Sometimes you encounter a bird for mere seconds before it is just a speck disappearing between waves on the distant horizon. Speed in many ways will be your best friend on a pelagic.

They do chum.  I’ve been reading through their blog, trying to get a feel.  Very random on birds hanging around, getting close, or just flying by.  Definitely feeling a zoom would be better for that, and for normal birding.  I always go frustrated with the 400mm f/5.6 trying to get insects when I wanted to while out in the field.  

I’m definitely leaning more toward at least doing an upgrade to full-frame.  In Michigan seems like we are mostly cloudy and dark, so trying to ID stuff I usually end up with photos that are too noisy to get a good read on something.  Biggest gull flocks stay about as far away as they can, on the biggest lake in the area.  

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2 minutes ago, DLecy said:

Exactly. The photos people are turning out with that combo are simply stunning. I am invested in Sony, and would love the a1, but it's like at least $2k overpriced, in my opinion. Unless you are a professional photographer, it's hard to justify spending that much money. That being said, I'm not too proud to admit that I'm saving for a Sony prime lens, likely the 600mm f4. Granted, we will all probably be living on Mars by the time I can afford it.

Don't forget to check used inventories on site like KEH and forums such as Fred Miranda. With enough time and patience you can find some really good deals, especially on forums when someone invests in a pricey setup and then changes their mind.

I looked at Sony as an option, but was seeing responses that the A7r was not an action camera.  

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12 minutes ago, chipperatl said:

I’d really have to get in a habit of being more picky on what files to keep.  😉  A $7K upgrade to R5/100-500mm has me thinking “Are you nuts?”  The shots I see from those though…mind blown.  

Would you keep your current setup or will you be selling it to help offset the high price? Your$7K upgrade might come in a lot lower if you can get a decent price for your current gear. Myself, I currently have the full frame 5Diii and the 7Dii and I think I would have to buy and try the mirrorless setup before deciding if I want to keep the DSLRs and lens or sell some of them off to recover some of the expense involved in the change over to mirrorless. Decisions, decisions....

 

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Any Sony with an "R" in the name is a resolution camera (good for landscape) The fast cameras would be A7III being the cheapest,A9 series is next, then the  AI.
I think A7III is the best for the price.....but still not cheap.

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3 hours ago, chipperatl said:

I looked at Sony as an option, but was seeing responses that the A7r was not an action camera.  

 

1 hour ago, Chris Clem said:

Any Sony with an "R" in the name is a resolution camera (good for landscape) The fast cameras would be A7III being the cheapest,A9 series is next, then the  AI.
I think A7III is the best for the price.....but still not cheap.

I tend to agree, however this guy is really good and shoots with the A7rIII.

https://ebird.org/media/catalog?sort=rating_rank_desc&userId=USER1169884&user=Derek Hameister

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3 hours ago, lonestranger said:

Would you keep your current setup or will you be selling it to help offset the high price? Your$7K upgrade might come in a lot lower if you can get a decent price for your current gear. Myself, I currently have the full frame 5Diii and the 7Dii and I think I would have to buy and try the mirrorless setup before deciding if I want to keep the DSLRs and lens or sell some of them off to recover some of the expense involved in the change over to mirrorless. Decisions, decisions....

 

More than likely trade/sell my 7D MK II and Sigma 150-600mm C.  I think it is a good idea to keep the 7D until I know for sure the mirrorless is what I want.  I think I target getting all this done by end of Q1 2023, and give me a couple of months with the new setup before going on the boat.  If I have the $$ sooner, I’ll pull trigger sooner.  

I have some “collectables” that I could likely sell to cover most if not all the costs.  Retirement is probably ~<10 years down the road, and I’ll need to downsize for a move to the U.P., at some point anyway.  So they will have to go eventually.  

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1 hour ago, Chris Clem said:

Any Sony with an "R" in the name is a resolution camera (good for landscape) The fast cameras would be A7III being the cheapest,A9 series is next, then the  AI.
I think A7III is the best for the price.....but still not cheap.

Thank you.  Wasn’t aware of that difference.  I’ve not looked much at the Sony, as I’ve been Canon for 20 years.  I saw stuff from a YT I watch when he got the Nikon D850/500mm combo and really liked that at the time it came out.  

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I’ve been out many times with Brian and Kate out of Hatteras. 
 

In my opinion, you’re focusing on the wrong thing here. If you’ve never been on a pelagic, you’re probably going to be so focused on even seeing and identifying some of the birds that you won’t have time to photograph them. For newcomers, it can be overwhelming. 
 

Kate does the chumming off the back of the boat, but the birds zip by quickly, usually far away. Not to mention pelagic identification is difficult. This, coupled with the chop/weather, potential sea sickness, etc makes for a difficult photography environment. It’s hard enough to keep your balance!

Generally, the seas are rougher out of Hatteras than on the West Coast. 

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43 minutes ago, blackburnian said:

I’ve been out many times with Brian and Kate out of Hatteras. 
 

In my opinion, you’re focusing on the wrong thing here. If you’ve never been on a pelagic, you’re probably going to be so focused on even seeing and identifying some of the birds that you won’t have time to photograph them. For newcomers, it can be overwhelming. 
 

Kate does the chumming off the back of the boat, but the birds zip by quickly, usually far away. Not to mention pelagic identification is difficult. This, coupled with the chop/weather, potential sea sickness, etc makes for a difficult photography environment. It’s hard enough to keep your balance!

Generally, the seas are rougher out of Hatteras than on the West Coast. 

Thank you for feedback.  I'll be doing 3 days, assuming I have no gastric issues after day 1.  I'm wired to take pics, so I know I will be giving it my best shot out there.  I just didn't want to get say a fixed 500mm lens and find out I'm clipping off every other bird.  I know there is massive size differences between the the smaller petrels, and say a skua.  Of the 20 most common birds they get out there, I've seen 3.  Only 1 of the Top 10.  I realllllllly want photos of lifers.  I think any of the setups I am looking at will help me with regular birding, just didn't want to regret the setup on the pelagic.  

Going to be doing a lot of homework over next year in the Seabird ID books for prep.  I know flight characteristics are best bet for ID, but hard to find videos of those to study.  I've done a couple whale watching trips off Long Beach and San Diego.  I was going to do San Diego Birding Festival Pelagic in 2018, but it was cancelled.  I've never had any issues with motion sickness, but have had some vertigo from time to time.  I've got a year plus to focus on strengthening knees and legs, and have decent balance already (BOSU ball!!).  

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34 minutes ago, chipperatl said:

Thank you for feedback.  I'll be doing 3 days, assuming I have no gastric issues after day 1.  I'm wired to take pics, so I know I will be giving it my best shot out there.  I just didn't want to get say a fixed 500mm lens and find out I'm clipping off every other bird.  I know there is massive size differences between the the smaller petrels, and say a skua.  Of the 20 most common birds they get out there, I've seen 3.  Only 1 of the Top 10.  I realllllllly want photos of lifers.  I think any of the setups I am looking at will help me with regular birding, just didn't want to regret the setup on the pelagic.  

Going to be doing a lot of homework over next year in the Seabird ID books for prep.  I know flight characteristics are best bet for ID, but hard to find videos of those to study.  I've done a couple whale watching trips off Long Beach and San Diego.  I was going to do San Diego Birding Festival Pelagic in 2018, but it was cancelled.  I've never had any issues with motion sickness, but have had some vertigo from time to time.  I've got a year plus to focus on strengthening knees and legs, and have decent balance already (BOSU ball!!).  

I agree that a fixed 500 is not the way to go. I’ve seen Jaegers and such very close on the water. I think you’re overthinking it a little. There’s not really a specific setup needed for pelagic birding. Most of the people on the boat shoot with what they shoot with on land.  A fast camera with a 100-4/500 will do the trick. You’ll have a ton of fun. There’s nothing like pelagic birding! 

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16 minutes ago, blackburnian said:

I agree that a fixed 500 is not the way to go. I’ve seen Jaegers and such very close on the water. I think you’re overthinking it a little. There’s not really a specific setup needed for pelagic birding. Most of the people on the boat shoot with what they shoot with on land.  A fast camera with a 100-4/500 will do the trick. You’ll have a ton of fun. There’s nothing like pelagic birding! 

I haven’t read every post here yet, but I’d de birds can clearly be at a variety of distances, what’s the harm of using the 150-600?

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Just now, IKLland said:

I haven’t read every post here yet, but I’d de birds can clearly be at a variety of distances, what’s the harm of using the 150-600?

The 150-600mm Sigma I have, I don't trust the speed on it for focus on a boat.  I had the 400mm f/5.6 and got spoiled on how quick it got focus.  

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Just now, chipperatl said:

The 150-600mm Sigma I have, I don't trust the speed on it for focus on a boat.  I had the 400mm f/5.6 and got spoiled on how quick it got focus.  

Yeah, I also have the sigma 150-600mm. I use it on my 70d. The sharpness is great, but the AF isn’t too good. I see why you want something else.

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