In my last post, I described the Nikon D3300 and while I was pleased with the camera and kit lenses, I found that the 200mm lens just did not have the reach and sharpness that I needed for bird photography. As a consequence, I upgraded to the D7100 kit from Costco. The company allows returns for any reason so I got full credit for the D3300 kit towards the new kit. So what was so great about the new kit? It featured an AF-S DX NIKKOR 55-300MM F/4-5.6G ED VR ZOOM Lens which is frankly very sharp and focused faster than the 55-200mm lens in the other kit. I have read that it is not a fast focusing lens compared to the supposedly superior NIKKOR 70-300 mm but in my hands, I was able using back button focus, to get some spectacular bird in flight shots.
This is a Great Blue Heron in flight at the Tualatin Wildlife Refuge.
Now, this new camera also has the feature of being able to crop in on the center of the frame by a factor of 1.3x which then allows the camera to shoot 7 fps. Given that birds in flight rarely fill the frame, this feature makes the shots really come fast and they are still 16 mp. How great is that!
I can go on and on about the benefits and features of the Nikon D7100 but the upshot is that it is spectacular. So much so that I can buy used D series lenses that use an In Camera focusing motor. They are typically great lenses and are available for low cost used. In this vein, I bought a Tamron SP AF200-500MM F/5-6.3 Di LD (IF) lens and here is an example of this magnificent lens:
This shot is a Red Tailed Hawk at about 200 feet above me. Now, it must be said that this lense requires a ball head mount on a monopod for most shots as it doesn’t have vibration reduction. However, at 1/2000th of a second, the issue is moot. Again, the D7100 has a feature that allows the ISO to float with a fixed aperture and shutter speed so this makes my images mostly come out properly exposed. And in addition, even at ISO 6400 the images are typically superb with noise reduction in Lightroom or if necessary Topaz Denoise.
All in all, this gear is what I need for serious bird photography. As a confirmation, I have since learned that some professionals use this exact configuration for bird in flight photography.