The equipment for bird photography can be very expensive. Part of this is the nature of the business, photographing small moving objects requires long telephoto lenses and effective autofocus systems Beginning bird photographers would be well served with a good cropped sensor camera body and 400 mm f/5.6 lens or a 300 mm f/4 lens with a 1.4x teleconverter. By applying several common sense strategies you can acquire such a system at a reduced cost. For Nikon, currently available suitable camera bodies are the D7000 and the D7100, for Canon the similar camera bodies are the EOS 7D and the EOS 7D Mark II.
Strategies for Reducing Equipment Costs
There are several strategies for reducing the cost of such a system. These include:
1. Buying Refurbished Equipment 2. Buying Last Years Model 3. Buying Used 4. Buying Grey Market 5. Renting
Buying Refurbished Equipment
The two major camera system manufacturers used in bird photography, Nikon and Canon, both offer equipment that has been returned and then repaired and resold as refurbished equipment. I frequently use this strategy and the savings are significant. Often the testing performed on refurbished equipment exceeds that done on new, I’ve purchased my last three camera bodies refurbished, and numerous refurbished lenses and I've have never had a problem. However, one downside to this strategy is the length of the warranty, typically 90 days rather than the 1 year for new equipment, in some cases a camera store will supplement the warranty with one of their own, but I’m not sure how well this works. I make sure I do a thorough job of testing any equipment purchased in this way as soon as I receive it to reduce the risk of a problem. Here are links to sources of refurbished equipment:
I have purchased refurbished equipment from Nikon directly, B&H, and Camera Camera.
For example right now Cameta Camera has a refurbished D7100 for $699, it has a 1 year warranty, however note the warranty is from the store not Nikon USA. A new D7100 is going for $996 on the same site. Nikon has a refurbished D7100 for $899 (90 day warranty) and a new one at $999. It pays to shop around.
Buying Last Years Model
Both Nikon and Canon have recently released new cropped sensor cameras, the EOS 7D Mark II and the Nikon D7100. Both are excellent for bird photography. However, they replaced very good bird photography cameras, the EOS 7D and the D7000. B&H lists the EOS 7D Mark II at $1,799 and the EOS 7D at $999. There is a small difference in resolution (20 versus 18 Megapixels) and a shooting speed of 10 FPS versus 8 FPS, but for $800 less you get nearly the same camera body. Amazon has a D7100 for $996.95 and a D7000 for $508.85. Again one is a 24 megapixel camera the other a 16.2 megapixel camera and the 7100 has a slightly better Autofocus system. So you can save a lot by going with the previous version and get nearly the same results.
Another example is the Canon EF 100-400 f4.5 - 5.6. The newer IS II model lists for $2199 and the older lists for $1,699 with a $200 rebate, so it’s a full $700 less than the newer lens.
When new equipment is released often people sell their older models to partially finance the new equipment. For example Nikon has just announced a new 300 mm AFS lens. The older model is a very good lens (I’ve frequently used one on my photo tours). The newer lens lists for just under $2000. The older lens is available at KEH camera in excellent condition for $999. While the newer lens is much smaller and has VR (Vibration Reduction), on a budget the older 300 f4 produces excellent images at half the price. I’ve frequent bought (and sold) equipment at KEH.
Another source of used equipment is of course eBay. However, I’m very careful about purchases on eBay. If something looks too good to be true, it probably is. Check the seller ratings carefully and stick to one that has a high rating and a large number of sales. Usually you’re better off going to someone like KEH or the used department of B&H.
Buying Grey Market
Another strategy is buying “imported” or “Grey Market” equipment. Stores often purchase equipment outside of the country at a lower cost and then sell them in the US for less. The downside of this is that Nikon and Canon in this country will not honor the warranty or even service the equipment. I’m very careful not to buy any expensive Grey Market products. However, for low maintenance items, for example a teleconverter, I would certainly consider Grey Market if the price were right.
One strategy for a one time equipment need, such as for an assignment or to do a photo tour, is to rent the equipment. There are several good rental companies that rent appropriate equipment. Two I’m familiar with are:
Lens Rental is also associated with Lens Authority which sells used equipment and Lens Rental offers a rent to buy option where you can try the equipment and then covert it to a purchase after you rent. One caution make sure that you either have insurance or purchase their insurance in case something goes wrong.
You can put together a good beginners bird photography system with roughly equivalent Canon and Nikon equipment as follows:
Refurbished EOS 7D from Canon directly $679
Used in excellent+ condition EF 100-400 f/4.5-5.6L IS USM $1082 KEH Camera
- D7000 New on Amazon.com $506.85
- Nikon 300MM F/4 AFS used excellent condition at KEH $999
- Nikon TC-14EII Teleconverter Used LN- at KEH $342
So for under $2,000 you can get a good starter kit. All pricing was done January 2015. I have no affiliation with any of the equipment sources mentioned.