Exciting News! 

The results are in as we search for the "perfect" camera to take on a birding trip.

We heard from over 300 birders of all skill levels - and quite a few professional photographers as well!  We thought you would like to see the results.

Three weeks ago we sent out a survey asking which camera Pete Thayer should take on his upcoming trip to Uganda. The original question was:

Shoebill in Uganga - photo by Olaf Oliviero Riemer - Wikimedia
Shoebill in Uganda.
Photo by Otto Riemer

"Which is the BEST digital camera to take on a birding trip today? I will soon be going to Uganda for three weeks with my wife Roz. We want a camera that is lightweight, easy to carry and easy to use but that can quickly zoom in on the animals and birds. It would be nice if the cost were under $1,000. I know that professionals use DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) cameras, often with huge lenses, that weigh six or more pounds and cost over $5,000. That is not what I want. Lately I have seen many folks carrying smaller "super-zoom" cameras that weigh about a pound and that can zoom 24x-50x. This seems idea for someone who wants to post images to Facebook or on their web site. I would like a point-and-shoot camera that can also be manually adjusted to take photos of a bird in a vine tangle. What should I get?"

Well, we received over 300 responses and the results were very interesting!! There were three cameras matching this description that were highly recommended. The Nikon CoolpixP520 ($330) and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 ($550) were each recommended by 14% of the respondents.


But the overwhelming winner was the Canon SX50 HS ($400) with 37% recommending this camera.


One person said "I should get a commission on all the SX50's that birder's have bought after seeing my pictures."



Our friend Lillian Stokes had this to say: "The first thing I would take would be my Canon SX50 HS. It is relatively inexpensive and light and is great for traveling. Many people have told me they have taken this camera on trips overseas. Since I wrote about my experiences with the Canon SX50 on my blog, over 40,000 people have read that blog post and I have influenced many, many birders to get one. Most are very happy with it and it has introduced many people to birding. Yeah! I think I would also take a Canon DSLR, maybe the new 7D Mark II coming out soon, and most likely the 100-400 lens, or maybe the 300 mm plus the 1.4 teleconverter."


Final Decision: After reading all the responses I ended up buying the Canon SX50 HS and I am very happy with it... but I still have a lot to learn. My advice: READ THE USER'S MANUAL AND TAKE 1,000 PHOTOS BEFORE YOU GO ON A TRIP.


Note that we do not sell cameras or make any money on these recommendations - we wanted to ask real birders, not salespeople, to find the right product for us - and thought we'd pass along what we found!

But it does not end there!

Many excellent photographers besides Lillian STRONGLY suggested that I should also take a DSLR (Digital Single-Lens Reflex) camera to Africa. Dan Tallman (one of South Dakota's top birders) said "If you are going to Uganda, you should buy the best camera you can afford, even a heavy one. The Cannon 100-400 lens with stabilizers is a thing of beauty, especially with a 1.4 tele-extender. It can be hand held. Buy a light-weight monopod so you can carry it over your shoulder."


Another reader said "I know you said you didn't want a DSLR, but I think you will be disappointed with anything less." Yet another reader said "In my opinion, any of these cameras are NOT up to the task. Birds are small and fast moving and at some distance making them hard to capture with a slow to respond shutter time. Spend the money!"


For me the final straw was listening to Kevin Karlson, professional bird photographer, Kevin Karlson - photo by Jean Hoogackerauthor and lecturer who said "You have to get a DSLR camera to take to Uganda." He strongly recommended the Canon EOS 7D and the 100-400 lens combination. The camera body weighs 2 pounds and the 100-400 lens weighs 3 pounds. As a professional, he did not consider this "heavy" at all and the price is under $3,500 (Camera body plus 18-135mm lens $1,600 and 100-400 lens $1,700.)



To me this seems very heavy, but I found the solution. The SpiderPro  Single Camera System ($135)Spider Pro lets you attach the camera to a special belt and carry it at your side. When you are ready to shoot, the camera unclips in an instant and is ready to use - you feel just like a gunslinger in the old west. I first saw this in action in Colombia a few years ago and I have been looking for an excuse to buy one ever since!


Canon EOS 7D Camera
Canon EF 100-400mm
f/4.5-5.6L IS USM Lens


Alert: The upgrade for the Canon SX50 (called the SX60) and the upgrade for the Canon 7D (called the 7D Mark II) are both coming out in the fall - maybe.


Below is a photo of a Lewis's Woodpecker taken with the Canon SX50 by Bonnie Clarfield-Bylin (WildBird magazine birder of the year.)

Thanks so much to everyone who participated in our survey! Perhaps this information will help those of you who might be considering adding a new camera to your own birding toolbox.


Good Birding,

Pete Thayer


Thayer Birding Software 



Like us on Facebook     Find us on Pinterest