Canon 100-400mm F/4-5.6 Mark II Lens
Unlike it's much softer, unsatisfying predecessor, the newly designed 100-400mm is sharp and fast focussing. It's a great travel lens, giving you the reach for birds and the wider angles for larger animals, people, and more. Add to that it's ridiculously close focus--a major advantage over the fixed 400mm f/5.6--and its ability to match that lens in focus speed and lock, and it's become our new go-to favorite lens for all around birding and nature.
Canon 400mm F/5.6 Lens
This was our go to, best-bang-for-the-buck lens until the 100-400 Mark II came out. Yes, it has a slow 5.6 aperture. Yes, it's $1500. BUT, it's super sharp, it's light, and for the quality you get, it's a bargain (aside from the 100-400 Mark II, the next lens up from here is $5K or more). Combined with a 5D Mark III or a 7D II, this is a killer flight shot lens, and a good all-day carry lens. Many of the shots in our book were shot with either this lens or the 300mm f/4.
Canon 300mm f/4 Lens
Your other choice in sub-$5K lenses is the versatile 300mm f/4 - the Canon version has image stabilization, unlike Nikon's current lens. Sharp as a tack with exceptionally close focus, so it's great for insects and flowers as well as birds. We recommend getting the new Canon 1.4x - III teleconverter with it to get a little extra reach. Not as fast for birds in flight as the 400, but a little more flexible if you shoot more than just birds.
Canon 300mm F/2.8 Lens (Latest version)
If you've got some extra money in your pocket...okay, a LOT of extra money...then this is a pretty sweet way to spend it. The new 300 f/2.8 is light for its size, sharp and fast, and the 2.8 aperture gives you lots of light to play with...those extra stops make more of a difference than you might think in many real-life bird photo situations. Scott frequently goes out with this lens, a 1.4x Teleconverter III, and a 5D Mark III/IV, a setup that's hard to beat.
Canon EOS 7D II
Flawed but effective, the 7D II is a workhorse camera for action, including birds. Sensor quality could be better - Scott especially hates the grain pattern at ISOs over 1600 - but it's still better than most less expensive SLRs, and it shoots and focuses fast, especially with the 100-400mm f/4-5.6 Mark II. That combination is the one of the fastest affordable setups for birds in flight. Add a 1.6x magnification factor, and it's a great value for for bird photography.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III (soon to be updated to Mark iV)
As poor as the 7D is in low light, the 5D Mark III is exceptional. Great at speeds up to 3200 and beyond, it takes beautiful images. Of course there's a catch - it's a full frame sensor, so you lose some reach of the 7D (partially mitigated by the 5D's larger megapixel count, which lets you crop in a little more), it costs more than twice as much, and the buffer is not as good as the 7D (you get about 20 full-speed shots before the cameras high-speed shutter slows down). That said, if you get close enough to the bird, this is the camera to have.
The best boots for stomping through the wet...waterproof, comfortable, and a necessity if you're in wet wood or marsh.
Senheisser ME 66 Shotgun Microphone
It costs a bit, but this mic is a great portable solution for getting good bird recordings in the field. Shotgun mikes are similar to telephoto lenses, and let you focus in on a specific sound . Pair this with the Iphone Connector Cable and an iPhone, and you have a nifty, portable setup for getting great audio recordings. Note that you need to pair this mic with a power source, the Senheisser K6.
Other Apps We Recommend
- Sibley Guide App - currently the best guide on the iphone for North American birds
- Bird Tunes - a good collection of bird songs and vocalizations for North America
- Weather Bug - our favorite weather app from wunderground.com
- BirdsEye - a useful way to find local birds, powered by eBird
- eBird BirdLog - great for creating on-the-fly ebird lists in the field
- BigRadar - Shows and overall view of radar in the US - useful for looking at migration at night
- RadarNow! - Shows local radar in realtime, good during migration
- Rode Rec - A great app for recording audio, either with the iphone mic, or with an external mic like the Senheisser ME 66