Birdwatching telescope recommendations

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TomatoTomahto
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Birdwatching telescope recommendations

Post by TomatoTomahto » Sun Dec 16, 2018 11:58 am

I searched and didn’t find a thread for this topic.

We recently purchased a house that is tucked in the woods. We have many birds (and other wildlife) on or near our land. We do have good binoculars, but I’d like a steadier telescope to watch them.

I have a Manfrotto 502AH Pro Video Head with Flat Base on a tripod, which I find good for still photography even though it’s technically a video head, and it would be a big plus if I could mount it on this.

Additionally, I have Nikon DSLRs, so something that connects to Nikon mount is another massive plus.

Cost is less of a consideration than a quality lens and ergonomics.
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Teague
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Re: Birdwatching telescope recommendations

Post by Teague » Sun Dec 16, 2018 12:09 pm

Well, you could always try to find one of these: The Nikon 1200-1700

Image

"Weighing in at 16kg/35lbs, and 888mm/35 in long, it was a behemoth by any stretch of the imagination. When it was released in 1990, it had an asking price of around $60,000-$75,000, and required a unique, two-section lens barrel. Introduced in 1990, this behemoth of a lens was first used at Koshien Stadium, where Japan holds its annual huge high school baseball tournament. The lens was developed especially to shoot from the photographers seats, and still capture all the action."

From https://www.popphoto.com/gear/2012/07/i ... 0mm#page-2

OP, I'm afraid I don't have a legitimate suggestion for you, but thought you and other long-lens buffs might find this interesting.
Semper Augustus

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TomatoTomahto
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Re: Birdwatching telescope recommendations

Post by TomatoTomahto » Sun Dec 16, 2018 12:21 pm

Haha. That other lens he’s carrying looks like it just jumped into cold water and got shrinkage.
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Austintatious
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Re: Birdwatching telescope recommendations

Post by Austintatious » Sun Dec 16, 2018 12:32 pm

I've used spotting scopes a bit for wildlife watching in the south Texas brush country and they can work well, as long as one has a stable, solid mounting setup. Of course, they're not as portable or convenient as a pair of binoculars but they can offer a remarkably closer and more detailed study. It's been years since those outings and I'm not familiar with the scopes mentioned in this article discussing the " Best Bird Watching Spotting Scopes 2018".

http://www.birdwatching-bliss.com/bird- ... copes.html

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ram
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Re: Birdwatching telescope recommendations

Post by ram » Sun Dec 16, 2018 2:02 pm

Last year we visited yellowstone park and our tour operator had something like this on a 5 foot tall tripod. Worked very well for observing bears, elk etc in the evening light.
https://www.amazon.com/Nikon-16101-Mona ... ting+scope
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Re: Birdwatching telescope recommendations

Post by TomatoTomahto » Sun Dec 16, 2018 2:12 pm

This is much more expensive than I thought. So, I’ll research a bunch more. Apparently, there’s a mismatch between the curvature of an eye looking through the eyepiece and the flat field a camera expects to photograph. A good optical resolution of that difference is an additional expense.

I’m leaning toward a ~$500-$700 spotting scope with a cellphone adapter. Reasonable?
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Re: Birdwatching telescope recommendations

Post by bhsince87 » Sun Dec 16, 2018 3:41 pm

I live in the woods, and have spent thousands of hours photographing birds and other wildlife.

If birds are your main objective, you will find that there are no good cheap options.


A spotting scope/cell phone is a good way to get started. It will be OK for just watching. But you will find two major downsides for photos: focus speed, and light availability. Focus speed will also be an issue if you are just trying to watch an active bird like warblers.

Ultimately, if you really enjoy this, you will want to spend the money for a good camera lens. I'm a Canon shooter, and don't know much about Nikons options. My most frequently used lens is a Canon 100-400mm zoom with a 1.4X adapter. This is good for birds and animals. However, it's auto focus struggles a bit on low light days in the woods.

I also have a Sigma 150-600 mm "contemporary" lens. These can be bought occasionally for $750 or so. It's available in a Nikon mount, and this might be a good way to start. However, its autofocus performance is poor in low light situations. But even so, manually focusing this lens would be faster than a spotting scope.

Of course, you would need to have your camera attached to do "watching". But if you have a live view display, this can be kinda nice. Especially if your camera has a video output that you can feed to an external monitor. Other people can then see what you're seeing too!
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Re: Birdwatching telescope recommendations

Post by TomatoTomahto » Sun Dec 16, 2018 4:12 pm

Thanks bhsince87,

I do have a very good 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. My camera bodies are full frame, so I don’t get any additional “reach.”

I haven’t liked using 1.4x adapters, since they were too dark for hockey shooting, but they’d probably be fine for daylight bird photography. Maybe even a 2x.
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Re: Birdwatching telescope recommendations

Post by Murgatroyd » Sun Dec 16, 2018 4:21 pm

We also live in the woods and take a lot of photos from both inside and outside the house. The key issue is light, especially in summer. We have a Nikon and the 80-400 lens which has a 3.5 aperture at 80 and 5.6 at 400. In winter we get whatever we want. But in summer we need to dial the ISO up to 1200 or more. That’s fine but if you have to crop a photo it can get grainy.

A lot of bird photography is done with the fixed 600. They’re big $ but don’t be afraid of used.

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Re: Birdwatching telescope recommendations

Post by TomatoTomahto » Sun Dec 16, 2018 4:51 pm

I will consider a used 600. My go-to body is a D4, and I’ve gotten good results (hockey) at high ISO and fast shutter speeds.

But, a spotting scope is something my wife would also use, whereas she doesn’t use the D4.
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Re: Birdwatching telescope recommendations

Post by malabargold » Sun Dec 16, 2018 4:55 pm

Astro-Physics Stowaway F5

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Re: Birdwatching telescope recommendations

Post by jebmke » Sun Dec 16, 2018 5:07 pm

We do a lot of birding.

It is critical to look at a lot of different spotting scopes [I took your OP to refer to spotting scopes, not camera lenses] to find one that works with your eyes. Regardless of quality, the optical designs are not the same and some simply may not work for you.

The two we looked at quite closely were Leica and Swarovsky. Both have excellent glass. We finally settled on a Leica.

Vortex and Kowa are also quite good -- I think a slight notch below L & S but excellent devices nonetheless.
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Re: Birdwatching telescope recommendations

Post by TomatoTomahto » Mon Dec 17, 2018 8:03 am

jebmke,

On paper, the Vortex looks like it's our speed, as entry-level birders. As a photographer, I've always been a fan of Leica, but holy smokes, they don't give them away.

We will go to a store that has them on hand. If we follow our usual trajectory, we will buy an "affordable" scope, and then, if we stick with the hobby, upgrade to top shelf. That's what happened with my photo equipment.
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Re: Birdwatching telescope recommendations

Post by Bruce » Mon Dec 17, 2018 7:09 pm

http://www.vortexoptics.com/category/spotting_scopes

Vortex is the company Eagle Optics referred their lifetime warranty customers to for any service or issues, when they closed up shop after 30 years.

Looking at the above website, the Vortex scope product looks like a reasonable choice in your price range.

Years back, bought a Leica spotting scope from Eagle Optics, still have it and have not regretted it.

BH photo is another long time retail source of optics.
https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/buy/Spot ... 4083534116

Looking at a scope inside a store just is not all that helpful in deciding how it works for you outside.

If there is a birding event or festival in your area, that may be the best way to check out multiple options outside and see what works for others.
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Re: Birdwatching telescope recommendations

Post by TomatoTomahto » Mon Dec 17, 2018 7:36 pm

If there is a birding event or festival in your area, that may be the best way to check out multiple options outside and see what works for others.
Good idea Bruce. I’ll look into it.

ETA: I’ve been a long term customer of BH. Back in the day, I went to their store, but now it’s only online.
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Re: Birdwatching telescope recommendations

Post by jebmke » Mon Dec 17, 2018 11:03 pm

Bruce wrote:
Mon Dec 17, 2018 7:09 pm
Looking at a scope inside a store just is not all that helpful in deciding how it works for you outside.
I agree. We went up to the NJ Audubon center at Cape May NJ and tried a number of scopes in the wild. You also have to think through how it will be used. We decided to go with a 65mm objective lens to lighten up the weight since we often trek across large properties to get to water to look at waterfowl. Some people are drive and peep types or are younger and don't mind carrying the weight of a 85 or 88mm barrel.
When you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.

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Bruce
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Re: Birdwatching telescope recommendations

Post by Bruce » Tue Dec 18, 2018 12:43 am

What is also amazing is you can spend as much or more on a carbon fiber tripod as you do on the scope itself
https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/ ... ripod.html

Not saying you need to do that, but apparently some people do.
Trade off of weight for dollars has marginal returns, best judged by the person who has to carry the scope and tripod.
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Re: Birdwatching telescope recommendations

Post by TierArtz » Tue Dec 18, 2018 1:48 am

+1 for anything made by Vortex. They've won most of my optics business in the past few years. This year, I bought an angled 27x60X85 Razor HD spotting scope from Vortex (via Expert Voice; their military/LE discount front).

The same scope is also marketed to birders: https://redstartbirding.com/products/vo ... d-27-60x85

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