I have covered the use of superzoom Point and Shoots for wildlife, and birds in particular, in some detail not too long ago, in a two part article…the second part of which focused on small birds…warblers in particular. (See…Wicked Warblers.) Warblers, kinglets, sparrows and the other small passerines are not easy to photograph at the best of times. I have had some success with my digiscoping rig when birds are resting or feeding in a predictable pattern, but for most small birds you need something faster. Most people carry a DSLR with 300mm f2.8 or one of the 100-300mm or 100-400mm zooms…and then crop heavily to get image scale and fill (what is left of) the frame. I carry an advanced P&S with a long zoom.
Over on my Point and Shoot 4 Landscape site, I have detailed my latest superzoom, the Canon SX40HS (in comparison to my previous superzoom, the Nikon P500). The Canon is a clear advance in image quality over any other existing superzoom (with the possible exception of the Panasonic FZ150 which is also getting good reviews) and I am loving it for general photography. This weekend I had a chance to give it a workout as a Point and Shoot 4 Wildlife camera.
The shot above was taken at full zoom on the SX40HS. That is 840mm optical. But Canon has built in a digital tel-extender…not to be confused with any incarnation of digital zoom you have experienced in the past. The Canon DTE is not continuous…it can only be set to 1.5x or 2x, but, through the magic of the new Digic 5 processor and the super fast Back-Illuminated CMOS sensor, Canon has managed to nurse pretty amazing image quality out of the system. As you see above the DTE goes well beyond simply blowing up the pixels.
So, the shot was taken with 2x DTE on, which gives it the equivalent field of view of a 1680mm lens! Here is another shot, taken when the bird was a foot closer.
At any normal display or print size this shot looks pretty fine. At full resolution, viewed 1 to 1 pixels on the screen you can easily see the digital artifacts. What is interesting is that they disappear totally in normal viewing. Canon has calculated very well for human perception and matched the output at reasonable sizes to what we want to see.
Now, consider that the top image is at ISO 320, and the bottom image, which is more bird and less background, is at ISO 640. And, further, consider that both are handheld…at 1680mm, the first at 1/200th and the second at 1/400th. Between the super efficient image processing in the Digic 5 engine, and the amazing hybrid image stabilization system in the Canon lens, you can achieve some amazing results.
Here is a House Wren at 1.5x DTE plus full optical.
and a Catbird at the same settings.
All these shots are in Programmed Auto, with iContrast and auto focus. I keep continuous auto focus on and set the focus frame to the smallest rectangle in the Flexfocus setting. The SX40HS will lock on focus very quickly almost every time. Though I have not had much chance to try it…it will even lock on flying birds. This Osprey was at regular 840mm optical zoom, and then cropped slightly for image scale.
And of course the Canon SX40HS works on non-feathered wildlife too.
Yes, you might say I am having fun with the SX40HS. Great camera for landscpes. Great camera for macro. Great camera for wildlife and birds.