The smaller the bird, the more reach you need to fill the frame effectively. Simple. You can take convincing (and satisfying) shots of Herons at close range (under 50 feet) with the 800mm end of a super-zoom P&S camera…but shots of sparrows and other Little Brown Jobs at that same range are not very satisfying. Sometimes, of course, you don’t have a choice. I would not take a digiscoping rig with tripod out on the boardwalk at Magee Marsh…just would not do it…so there the P&S super-zoom has to work…and does…see P&S 4 Wildlife. Part 2. Wicked Warblers. The saving grace at Magee is that the birds are close…sometimes within 12 feet…rarely over 20…and the birds are bright…so any reasonable capture is going to be satisfying…even if you can’t see the inner details of the individual feathers.
Still, given the choice, for sparrows and other LBJs, I would always choose a digiscoping rig.
This is a shot of a Song Sparrow at 45 feet with the Nikon Coolpix P500 at full (810mm equivalent field of view) zoom…and cropped down from full frame at that!
If you run the zoom up into the digital range, at 1600 mm this is what you get, again, cropped from full frame. Not bad for digital zoom, at that.
This is the same bird as the first image, from the same spot, using the Canon SD4000IS behind the 20-75x Vario eyepiece on the ZEISS DiaScope 85FL, first at just over 2200mm equivalent, and then at about 3500mm equivalent…full frame…uncropped…10 mp images.
Clearly, there is no comparison between the level of detail captured by the P&S and the digiscoping rig from the same distance, nor should anyone expect there to be. That reach is one of the primary advantages of digiscoping after all…and it is why we are carrying the scope in the first place.
Now, of course, if you live on the west coast, where some of the Song Sparrows are the size of Robins, you could probably get away with just the super-zoom most days