Things I Recommend

I’ve set up this area to collect some of the things I recommend in various areas of the site like my camera gear page or my birding and bird photography recommendations.

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| Camera Bodies | Lenses |

Camera Bodies

Fujifilm X-T3

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The Fujifilm X-T3 is my primary camera body. I upgraded to it from the Fuji X-T2 shortly after release. Initially, I was unsure if the X-T3 was enough of an improvement to warrant the upgrade, but having worked with the camera, it was more than worth it. The primary reason we upgraded was that my wife wanted to upgrade her X-T1, and so she got the X-T2 and I moved to the new body — and we’re both really happy with those upgrades.

Two things really stand out to me in the changes from the X-T2 to the X-T3: the upgrade of the sensor from 24 megapixels to 26 seems relatively minor, but in practice, I find the added pixels and improved detail I see in images a big plus. As someone who’s photography often requires some cropping, it also gives me more flexibility in the crop without losing detail, which can effectively extend the range of the system when photographing distant birds.

The other big improvement is the Autofocus system, which is significantly faster and more accurate than the X-T2, which I really liked. I find there’s a lot less hunting, and once it locks on to a moving subject, it’s much better at staying locked.

Overall, this is a great, no-compromise camera body that is equally capable of doing long-telephoto birds-in-flight action photography and slow shutter landscape work. I really love it.

Fujifilm X-20

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This is my second body. The sensor and internals are essentially the same as the Fuji X-T2 with some of the advanced features limited or removed — one card slot and a reduced maximum burst speed and image buffer, for instance. I bought this to act as my backup camera and to take the video I was planning for a now-cancelled project, but in practice, my X-T3 often has my big birding lens on it, and this camera has a wide angle lens. Since this camera body is smaller and lighter than the X-T2 or X-T3, I’ll often use it as the default camera when out working with the wide angle lenses in street or landscape work, because it’s just easier being carried on a strap and it looks less like a “pro” camera so I feel it’s safer to wander around with.

Given that it’s effectively an X-T2 inside, there’s very little compromise in image quality using an X-T20, I’m more than comfortable using it as my primary camera, and when my X-T3 was out for repair after I dropped it (ouch), I used the X-T20 and was quite happy with the results. My take is most people could use happily use an X-T20 or the newer X-T30 as their primary camera and never notice the missing features, while saving themselves a lot of money.

How much? I paid about $900 for the X-T20 with the 18-55 lens. The X-T30 with that lens is currently about $1300, while the X-T3 with that lens will set you back $1900. For the cost difference, I suggest most people take a close look at the X-T30 before deciding to buy it’s big brother the X-T3. The 18-55 is the “kit” lens, but I like it, and it’s small and light, so for a good carry-around system, it makes a good combo to have handy.

Lenses

Fuji XF 100-400 Zoom Tele

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The Fuji 100-400 is my long-telephoto birding and wildlife lens. When paired with the 1.4x Teleconverter (see below) I have the equivalent of about a 140-560mm F8 super-telephoto. It’s tack sharp, the autofocus is fast and accurate, it has really good image stabilization, and it’s easy to hand hold and use in the field.

That said, this is a big, heavy lens, like all super-telephotos. It’s not cheap: it’s close to $1900 at Amazon, and when you combine it with the teleconverter (another $500), this is an expensive lens combo that’s definitely not for the beginner bird photography.

And while it’s heavy — the equivalent setup I used when I was still shooting Canon (a 7DmkII and a Sigma 100-600 Sport) cost about the same, but weighed over 8 pounds compared to the Fuji setup checking in around 3.5. That’s the difference between slinging it on your side and carrying it around and attaching it to a gimbal and hauling it and the tripod with you. That’s a huge reason why I made the switch to mirrorless gear, and I regret it not one bit.

Fuji XF 50-140 Zoom Tele

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This is the Fuji equivalent of the 70-200 F2.8. Like all of Fuji lenses, it’s tack sharp, it has good image stabilization and the autofocus is fast and accurate with little hunting. Like any 70-200 F2.8 lens, it’s built like a tank, it’s big, it’s heavy and it’s not cheap at about $1600, but it’s become my preferred lens for landscape work in this zoom range. I haven’t used it a huge amount yet, but when I have, I’ve been happy with the results.

Fuji XF 16-55 Zoom Tele

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Like the lens above, this is the Fuji equivalent of the 24-70 F2.8. Like the 40-150, it’s large, built like a tank, has good autofocus and is tack sharp. it lacks Image Stabilization but in this lens I don’t miss it.

It’s not inexpensive at around $1200, but for wider angle landscapes, it’s top quality and I love working with it.

Fuji 60mm Macro

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This is Fuji’s Macro lens, roughly equivalent to a DLSR 90mm F2.4. It will focus to 0.5x without extension tubes. I find it nicely sharp, and it can be combined with a set of extension tubes to reduce it’s minimum focus distance and bring it closer to a 1:1 macro.

This isn’t a lens I’ve used a lot yet, but I’m starting to work with more and it seems a good, solid macro lens.

Rokinon 8mm Fisheye

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This is my toy that I play with at times. It’s cheap (about $250), it’s manual focus. It’s a super wide fisheye so the look is funky, but it can give you some nice creative effects. To make it work on a Fuji body you need to enable “shoot without lens”, since there are no electrical hookups between the lens and the camera. I have been playing with this along with the macro in some of my experimental flower photography recently, and while I’m still getting used to how to best use it, I’m finding I like the results. And at this price, you can afford to take a flyer and leave it in your bag for when you what to try something different or you’re blocked and want to experiment to try to get some inspiration.

Fuji XF 1.4 TeleConverter

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This teleconverter pushes the 100-400 to a 560mm F8, making the combo an amazing birding and wildlife lens. Mine is effectively permanently attached to that lens. I find the results quite sharp, and with the ability to boost to boost ISO on the new Fuji bodies, it’s not unusual for me to be shooting at 560mm at F/8 or F/11, handheld, in fading light without having to worry about noise in the images. That is sort of nirvana for bird photographers where ideal lighting is often aspirational and you are making do with what you have.

I have experimented with the 2.x Teleconverter, and while I know friends who really like it, especially on the 55-200mm lens, I always found it softer than I liked, and I rarely have a situation where I can’t get a shot with the 1.4x and a bit of cropping, so these days, the 2.0x TC is sitting in my drawer waiting for me to have a reason to use it again.

| Tripods | Bags | Accessories | Support Kit |

Tripods

Induro CT-113 Tripod

I’ve used the Induro CT-113 tripod legs since 2013, and I expect to use them for many more years. They are big, rock-solid carbon fiber legs with a 60″ max height, and they handle strong winds with a nice reliably rigidity.

These are no longer made and I don’t have a formal recommendation, but the current equivalent from Induro would be the CLT104 at about $300, and while I haven’t tested it, it seems like it has the same capabilities as mine at slightly reduced weight.

Induro BHL2 Ballhead

Like my tripod legs, my primary tripod head is from Induro. The BHL2 has been with me and trouble-free since 2013 and I’ve never felt like I need to replace it or upgrade it. I don’t have a specific recommendation for this, but the current equivalent is the Induro BHD2, and if I were looking for a new ballhead, this would be one of the first I’d try.

Opteka GH1 Gimbal

When I decided I wanted to invest in a gimbal for my long lens, I wasn’t willing to pay the $500 for a Wimberly. At around $200, I instead bought the Opteka GH1.

If I were in the market for a gimbal today, I’d be considering either the Movo or the Neewer as choices to test.

Neewer tripod

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I often need a second tripod, either so I can put my second camera on it for video or timelapsing, or for my birding spotting scope. I’ve experimented with some of the inexpensive, smaller travel tripods and destroyed a couple when they didn’t hold up to use, but I’ve been using the Neewer for about a year and for the price I like it. At $99, it’s not as stable as my big tripod and it isn’t as rigid in a wind, but for what I use it for, I don’t see any reason to spend more money on a tripod to solve those issues.

My one criticism is that, like so many inexpensive tripods, the ballhead can struggle to lock down when a larger camera is on it. You have to be pretty careful to balance the weight when putting a camera on it, or you’ll get slippage, which can be frustrating, and there’s more flex in the head, meaning that when you aim and lock down, you often see your target shift out of the center of the composition, so sometimes getting the aiming just right can take a few tries.

I may well replace the ballhead at some point, but 95% of the time it’s fine for me, and the legs seem solid and well built and overall, for a $100 tripod, it works fine for what I need it for.

Bags

Tom Bihn’s Maker Bag

My primary camera bag these days is not a camera bag. I’ve been trying to lighten the amount of gear I carry and so I now use the Tom Bihn Maker bag ($140) as my primary carry around kit. It has no internal compartments, no foam separators, it’s a nice, wide, open space with a couple of zippered pockets.

This both allows me and in some ways forces me to put my gear away at the end of a shoot (my lenses live on a shelf in my office) and also makes me consider what I am going to need and pack the bag based on that before I go out. It’s large enough to carry two bodies with my 16-55F2.8 and 50-140F2.8 attached, or the 100-400 with a second lens, but when fully packed like that it can get a bit heavy.

To protect the gear while in the bag I usually wrap them in some nice, fluffy microfiber towels, which can also clean gear off as needed. If I think they need more protection, I have a set of Altura Neoprene Pouches I can put the lenses in.

Because I don’t have a camera bag with 97 pockets to store gear, I’ve instead created what I call a support pouch, which I’ve packed my basic set of necessary tools and other useful items in, and it goes in the bottom of the bag when I pack it out. The contents of this support pouch is below, but it includes things like first aid items, flashlights, hand warmers and a multi-tool. This also means when I do pack out my bigger bag, I can simply drop in this kit rather than worry about having to pull everything out and repack it when I switch bags.

This was an experiment for me in trying to teach myself to see not carrying everything I own as a positive change rather than a worry about missing a shot, and so far, I’m quite happy with the results and the bag, and I’m glad I’ve made this change from the classic camera bag and the “hoarder” mentality I found it brought to me.

Lowepro Pro Runner BP 450 AW II

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There are times when I need to carry a lot of gear, and for that I use my Lowepro 450 backpack. it carries everything, and when fully loaded is still comfortable to wear. These days, though, I mostly use it to pack for a multi-day trip, and then when I get to the destination I’ll pull the day’s gear out of it and pack out the Tom Bihn bag from it, rather than carry this one myself.

I’ve used this bag since 2016, and if you’re looking for a photo backpack that can carry a lot of hear, it’s quite a nice bag. It’s not a bag I’d consider using if your goal is to “go light”, but it’s not intended to do that. It’s held up quite well given my tendency to be hard on gear, and it’s a really good choice for the right situations.

Accessories

Having the right accessories can make or break your photography. There’s nothing quite like losing an image because something failed at a key time, or because you didn’t have what you needed to fix a problem in the field.

I tend to be a bit of an accessory hoarder, but I’ve been working to pass along things I don’t use, and find the things that best work for me and work reliably when I’m pushing to get a shot made before the light fades. Below is a list of the items I use and feel I can recommend to you.

Camera Strap

I currently don’t recommend any camera strap. I am using a Black Rapid sling strap, which puts the camera down near my hip, rather than a strap that wraps around the neck, because I find the sling a lot more comfortable to wear for periods of time than a neck strap, especially with heavier lenses that I carry around a lot.

That said, my current strap is okay, but not awesome, and I’m planning to investigate options at some point and see if I can come up with one I really like, rather than tolerate. For now, other than saying “stop wrapping cameras around your neck” and to use a sling strap, I don’t have a specific suggestion.

Remote Shutter Release

Remote shutter releases, or intervalometers, are another item on my list of “I find most of them kinda suck in some way or another”. I’m currently evaluating a new set of options, and just as quickly rejecting them. So for right now, while I think you really need something like this, everything I’ve run into I don’t like for some reason. Until I do decide on something, all I can really do is wish you luck…

And suggest that manufacturers PLEASE stop using random weird batteries in their units that have to be special ordered (AA or AAA please), or make them USB rechargeable but give me no way to see they’re about to run out of juice until it fails in the field on me. again.

Just sayin’. It’s almost like these people build things they never actually use themselves.

ND Filters and Circular Polarizer

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I’m doing more slow shutter photography work, and to do that, you need to have a good set of ND filters. I recently upgraded to a new set from Breakthrough Photography that I quite like. My set current includes a 3 stop and 6 stop ND filter, a Circular Polarizer, and step-up rings for 58->77mm and 72->77mm.

The largest diameter lens I use regularly with filters is 77mm, so I bought my filters at that size. I then use the step-up rings to let me attach them to my lenses with smaller filter diameters. Before you buy ND filters, you need to decide what size to buy and what step-up rings you’ll want, since they will differ depending on what lenses you have. Buying step-up rings is a lot cheaper than buying a set of filters for each diameter lens you own, so it’s a smart way to leverage these accessories on all your gear.

I’m particularly impressed with the lack of color cast and the optical quality of the glass, as well as the machining of the the filter housing, with nice, serrated edges that make it a lot easier to attach and detach these filters.

I’m going to be adding a 10 stop filter soon, and I’m looking forward to testing it out and seeing if it’s as free of color cast as it’s less dense siblings are. These aren’t inexpensive filters, but I think if you are getting serious about slow shutter work, these are a great set of tools to have handy.

Memory Cards and Batteries

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With the larger sensor size of modern cameras and the increasing use of them for video, good, reliable and large SD cards are a must. If you’re someone who shoots in burst mode or who is shooting 4K video, your cards need to be fast enough to not be a bottleneck that causes your camera to freeze while data is being written to the card.

My current preference for an SD card is the Transcend 64Gb 700S, which I’ve found is big enough for a single card to hold my entire shoot for a camera even on days where I’m heavily depending on fast burst to try to capture a moving bird. I’ve yet to have one error out or fail on me, except in those situations where I do something silly like dorp it in a puddle or run it through the washing machine.

To carry my memory I use the Pelican 915 card case. It holds 12 cards, more than enough for my needs, and it’s waterproof and shock resistant to give the cards protection in rough handling.

The other thing you need are batteries, and if there’s one negative difference between mirrorless systems and DLSRs, is that mirrorless batteries don’t hold out as long as DLSR batteries usually did. I’ve gotten used to carrying a enough batteries that I don’t worry that I’ll run out of juice, and carry chargers that let me get them all recharged in the evening for the next shooting day.

With the Fuji X-T3, you have to be careful with 3rd party batteries because the X-T3 wants an upgraded version of the battery for longest life — the older batteries that work with the X-T2 will work with it, but because of the power draw, they run hotter and run out of juice faster, so you need to look for batteries that are compatible with the X-T3 — known as the NP-W126S vs the older NP-W126. When I was shopping for batteries few third party manufacturers had upgraed their batteries for the change, but I found some batteries from OAproda that claimed to be at a price that didn’t annoy me like buying extra batteries from Fuji does. My testing indicates they last more or less the same as the Fuji batteries do, and I’m paying $25 for two instead of $65 for one. I now have 7 batteries in my collection, and I typically use 3-4 in a given shooting day.

In researching chargers, I found that a lot of the lower-cost chargers don’t do a good job of regulating their charging voltages and can cause excess heat in batteries, reducing their useful life. I ended up buying the Watson Duo Charger which can charge two batteries at ones, gives me a status of the charging cycle, and which manages its charging voltages to protect the battery. It uses plates to configure for a battery, so you can buy other plates if you need to charge multiple types rather than needing to buy extra chargers, and it can run on both AC power and a 12 volt car charging connection.

To carry batteries I use two different cases: The ThinkTank Photo Battery case 4, which holds four batteries, and the Thinktank Photo Battery 1, which holds a single battery and a single SD card. I keep the latter in my pocket when I’m out wandering around in case I need to swap out either on the fly, and I keep the other batteries in my bag for when I need them.

Cleaning gear

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You need to keep your camera and lenses clean. Most of the time this is pretty straightforward and requires little more than a good, clean microfiber cloth. I carry lots of these and stuff them everywhere, so one is always handy. I think it’s important to remember to change them out every few months, because over time, they’ll be picking up dirt from the cleanings, as well as oils and other “stuff” from your hands and from surfaces they’re on. This “stuff” can then be deposited back on the camera lenses, and if a piece of grit gets stuck in a cloth, even damage the lens. They’re cheap enough that replacing them all every six months so you always have clean cloths really shouldn’t cause much angst. When I run into something that refuses to be removed from a lens, that’s when I bring in the lens cleaning fluid. I use a product from Zeiss and it works nicely and I’ve never seen any evidence of it damaging the lens coatings. That said, I don’t use it routinely on my cameras, just when I need a bit of extra help cleaning them off. I also use this on my prescription glasses and it gets everything really nice and clean.

The other thing that needs to be cleaned at times is the camera sensor, which can attract dust which shows up in your final image. I know a lot of photographers get squeamish about cleaning sensors, but I think once you’ve done it once or twice, you’ll realize it’s not that big a deal, as long as you’re careful. If you have a place you have your sensors cleaned, see if they’ll let you watch a cleaning so you have an idea what’s up, or find one of the cleaning videos on Youtube.

To clean your sensor you need various tools and fluids. This sensor cleaning kit from Movo is a good way to get the basics at little cost. You should make sure you get the right sized swabs for your sensor, whether APC or full frame. One reason I like this kit is it includes a sensor loupe, which you need to take a close look at your sensor and verify it’s really clean (or not). I’ve used one from VisibleDust for over a decade and it works fine, but it’s way more expensive compared to other products on the market these days, so I can’t recommend it.

Monitor Calibration

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To get the best, consistent results in post-processing your images, your monitor really needs to be calibrated. Modern monitors (especially those with LED backlights and IPS screens) are really good at being close to calibrated from the factory and staying on calibration — but you still need to tweak that calibration for your environment and lighting in the place you work on your images.

I use the Datacolor Spyder5 to calibrate my monitors. I typically check them quarterly, or whenever I change the lighting setup in my office. It’s inexpensive — under $150 — and it’s easy to use, with pretty good software to help you get the calibration locked in.

Support Kit

When I moved away from the idea of a “camera bag” with lots of pockets and zippers and pigeonholes stuffed full of stuff you forgot was in there, I knew I needed some way to make sure I was carrying all the stuff I might need if something unexpected cropped up. At the same time, the idea of needing a written checklist of items and spending 30 minutes packing and unpacking them into bags made me shudder, so I decided to build out a kit of that stuff that is already ready and can be stuffed in any bag I happen to be heading out with.

I call it the support kit, and what’s in it? Basically, everything you might need but don’t tend to think about until you need it. What’s that mean? It’s where I keep first aid supplies, a flashlight, my multi-tool, gaffer tape, and that sort of thing.

Here’s the contents of my pouch right now. Since this is a fairly new concept for me, it may change as I get experience and find stuff I wish I had stuck in it…

The Storage Pouch

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This is a small admin pouch by OneTigris, also sometimes called a tactical pouch. It is about 5x8x3 inches, has a zipper on one side, opens up but doesn’t fold flat, and inside it’s full of empty space and little pockets. It also has one flat pocket behind a zipper. There’s also a tiny divider that has more tiny pockets in it I removed and stuck into a drawer.

It is just big enough to hold what I need, not so big that it wastes space, and it keeps things in place so I can quickly open it up and find what I’m looking for without rummaging. And it fits nicely in all my carry around bags if I want it.

So, yeah. I am kind of a nerd about storage and organization. Why do you ask?

First Aid

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To fit out the first aid bits, I picked up this small but nicely stocked first aid kit, and then pulled things out of it until I had what I wanted (the rest has gone in a drawer to keep the admin pouch divider company). For my needs in this kit, that included Tweezers, an Emergency Blanket, Q-tips, various bandages, safety pins and a splinter remover (basically a sterile single use pushpin). For most simple issues that might come up if I’m an hour’s hike from my car, this should take care of the common ones, which is what I wanted. I promise the first time it doesn’t, I’ll change it and admit I was wrong leaving something out. But for splinters, blisters, or perhaps tripping and falling into a bush and not seeing the masses of thorns until you land? This’ll help. Um, yeah, I did that. In the dark on a photo workshop, no less. And for the record, I shot the dawn and didn’t realize my scalp was bleeding until I got back into the car. But it’s why I feel you need some basic first aid and generally don’t think about it until it’s too late. Don’t be me.

Tools

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I carry some basic tools in the kit. That includes a nice, sturdy folding pocket knife, which might not take down a charging bear, but will let me die with honor. It also includes the inevitable Leatherman Multi-Tool, a tactical flashlight, and tripod hex wrenches to fix tripods with.

Amusingly enough, I was out on a shoot this morning (as I write this) and had both of my tripods randomly eject parts onto the ground as I was setting them up to use. With the multi-tool, I had both of them re-assembled and working in about five minutes, where without the pouch, I would have been trying to hand hold a spotting scope. I don’t recommend that.

Random Useful things

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The rest of the pouch is filled with what I call randomly useful things. That includes spare batteries, both AA and AAA, some gaffer tape in small 2″ rolls in crazy neon colors, some paracord, in case I need to tie something to something or run into an opportunity to capture a terrorist and need impromptu handcuffs, a safety whistle, so I can express my displeasure loudly as I slowly die of exposure lost in the forest, Purell Wipes, because you simply don’t know the last time that latrine was disenfected, Chemical hand warmers, because I don’t know about you, but at 5AM, my hands usually want to defect to the nearest Starbucks, and the inevitable lens cloths and lens wipe packets.

Pack this pouch in your bag, and you’re now ready for any emergency. Or at least some emergencies. More emergencies than you were ready for before you packed it, that’s for sure.

Here are the different products I recommend to people who are looking at getting into birding, or getting more serious about it. For more details on why I recommend these items, please see Gear Kit: What to carry when you go out and bird.

My Binoculars

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My Binoculars are the Zeiss 8×42 Terra ED, which I bought in 2017 for about $325. They have great optics and show good detail and color in poor light. I’ve had zero issues with them and I expect to keep them for a good long time. I do think they’re best for a more experienced birder, you can get almost the same optical quality for less and much of the difference is something that won’t matter to a newer birder. If these aren’t available when you shop, I think the Nikon 7576 Monarch 8×42 is a good and less expensive alternative.

Beginner Binoculars

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The Celestron Nature DX 8×32 binoculars are my favorite beginner set these days. Priced at $99, they’re a great bargain with good quality and nice optics. Being 8×32, they are smaller lenses than my 8×42 so they pull in less light and they won’t be quite as good in poor conditions, but for the price, it’s a great way to get started and you can go a long way with them before feeling like it makes sense to upgrade.

Travel Binoculars

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Looking for something you can pack in a day pack or in a suitcase for a trip? consier the Nikon Travelite 8×25. They’re smaller so they won’t perform as well in poor light, but at about $100 you get good performance in a small, compact and light package.

Spotting Scope

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If you’re looking for a spotting scope, the one I use today is the Celestron 52304 Regal. At about $380 it’s not but I’m quite happy with the performance. I get good, clear images at 16X and while the zoom allows you to go all the way to 48X, all zoom eyepieces get soft as you zoom out, and I’ve never found one by any company that works well at maximum zoom. This one does okay up to about 30X, which is good for a scope in this price range. It comes with a nice soft case that allows you to put the scope on a tripod and use it without removing it from the case.

Beginner Spotting Scope

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Looking for a less expensive scope? Before I dropped it and broke it, I used the Celestron 52250 Ultima. At $145 it’s a lot cheaper than my current scope, but it won’t get you quite as much reach and it won’t work quite as well in poorer light, but it’s still a good, solid spotting scope.

Spotting Scope Tripod

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A scope requires a tripod. I use and recommend the Neewer Carbon Fiber, which at $99 isn’t the cheapest, but it’s light and easy to carry, and it’s rigid enough to be usable even in moderate winds. You can spend less, but if you buy a tripod that bounces around in light winds because it’s not rigid, you will hate using the scope. A solid, basic tripod is worth spending a bit more on.

Beginner Birding Camera

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It’s really easy to spend a lot of money on a camera if you want to get started in bird photography. I recommend everyone starts with something less expensive until they know they want to get serious. My current recommendation is the Nikon Coolpix P900, which at about $600 has a good zoom to bring in distant birds and turns out good pictures. It won’t work as well in poor conditions as a more expensive camera, but that’s an acceptable tradeoff for the investment. There’s a newer version of this camera: the Coolpix P1000, but most of the changes involve features a bird photographer doesn’t care about, like video, and so I don’t recommend spending the extra money unless you also want those features. the P1000 is a good camera, but more than you need for bird photography. Another option to consider would be Canon’s SX70 Powershot at about $550.

Birding Camera Upgrade Pick

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Willing to spend more on a camera upgrade but not go all the way to a full DLSR/Mirrorless birding camera system (which can run more than $2500)? Consider the Sony RX10 IV, which at about $1600 is more money than the P900 but much less than a full pro-caliber rig. You’ll get better pictures and better performance in poor light than the Coolpix, and everyone I know who’s used one really likes the results they get.

If you’re really interested in a “no compromises” camera setup for bird photography, see my camera page of this store, but it’s going to cost you at least twice the cost of this Sony bridge camera.

My hat

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A hat may seem like a silly thing, but a good hat solves many problems. I prefer the Tilly type canvas hat over a baseball cap because the bill is wide and floppy instead of stiff. That means I can pull it down over my eyes to cut glare, and pop it high and out of the way when using binoculars or a camera. With a baseball cap, I have to remove or rotate the cap to get it out of the way, and you don’t get glare protection from the sides, just the front.

The other reason to wear a hat? You’ll know that first time you’re on the ground under 30,000 geese flying overhead…

Here are a few books I highly recommend. For a complete list of the books I’ve been reading, please see my 2019 Reading list and it’s brother from 2018.

Within the Frame, 10th Anniversary Edition

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Within the Frame by David DuChemin was the first photography book I read that got me thinking about the what of taking photos rather than the how. It’s about the concepts of composition and how to build a compelling image through use of light and shadow and placement of items within the frame, rather that shutter speeds or F/stops or how many megapixels.

To me, it was the start of a new phase in my photography, one I’m still working through, of trying to create interesting images by controlling the content and light within them. The nerdy details are still crucial in photography to master it, but they should be tools used to implement a vision rather than, as they seem today, the primary thing a photographer thinks about. This is a great book to start that journey beyond thinking that the camera gear is what’s most important in your photography.

The Bayern Agenda

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The Bayern Agenda is Moren’s second book (his debut novel, The Caledonian Gambit, is also on my recommended list). I consider it a likely book to make my hugo nomination list this year. I don’t say that lightly (or because I know Dan’s listening, either). it’s a fascinating and complicated plot full of interesting characters. If I had to elevator speech it, it really hit the same kind of buttons LeCarre’s George Smiley books does, although there are aspects of it that have a feel of “If LeCarre wrote Smiley into a farce”, but the dark and bleak aspects of Smiley’s world are never far away, and that was solidly reinforced by the way Dan wound the book down after the climax.

Yeah. It’s really good. I thought his first book was seriously good, especially for a first novel, and showed a lot of potential both in the writing and in the story/universe, but 2nd novels often step back a bit because authors can spend a long time polishing up the first book, but the 2nd is where they learn to write on deadline. This book shows me an author that has really matured into his voice and boy, do I want to see book 3 now. (dan, if you ever want a beta reader…).

The Consuming Fire

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The Consuming Fire is the 2nd book by John Scalzi in his Interdependency series and a sequel to The Collapsing Empire, also recommended. You can read my full review, but in general this is a high energy book with a lot of action. It is also a book with more adult themes than other Scalzi’s works like the Old Man’s War series, and these might not be to your taste.

The best way to define this is that at one point Scalzi got tweeted by someone asking if he really needed to use the F— word so much in this book, and Scalzi responded that yes, he did need to. And in the context of the story and how it was part of his defining the characters and their reactions in the world, he’s absolutely right.

The Calculating Stars: A Lady Astronaut Novel

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Mary Robinette Kowal’s story of a slightly alternate history to our current reality where an asteroid hit possibly puts the globe into an extinction event, and humanity gathers together for an all or nothing space race to get people settled elsewhere in the solar system as a way to protect the species. Within this large story, she tells the story of some of the women involved in the project as they battle the systemic sexism and racism of the 1950’s to be part of the project and make an impact on its being a success.

This was a book I nominated for a Hugo award.