Capturing Images and Video of Wildlife
Recently I have been experimenting with various methods to capture images and video of birds and other wildlife in my garden. I would like to share with you what I have learned and show you some ways to accomplish this.
There are a few manufacturers who make cameras dedicated solely to the task of capturing images and video of birds and other wildlife. One of the better known is Wingscapes. Wingscapes makes a number of cameras ranging in price between $100 and $200 depending on model. I found an older unused model on eBay and set up the camera on one of the feeder poles using the adjustable camera arm that is available as an accessory. The image shows my set up.
The built in motion sensor allows capture of still and video images. There is a built in flash for night photography and the camera also has a time-lapse feature.
Overall, this camera works well. However, it is quite large, requires four D-cell batteries (the current Birdcam Pro uses six C-cells), and the video quality on my model was SD only. The video specs for the current Birdcam Pro are listed as AVI - 640 x 480 at 30FPS. The current specs for still images are listed as 8.0 MP, JPEG, Low 640 x 480, WideHD 1920 x 1080, High 2592 x 1944, Max 3264 x 2448.
A number of accessories are available for the cameras, including straps for mounting on a tree or post, the camera arm mentioned above, and power supplies for extended operation. The camera is also threaded for mounting on a camera tripod. The most recent model, the Birdcam Pro, is described as having the capability to use an optional WiFi SD card to send images and video to your computer. For those wanting to capture images of wildlife the Wingscapes Birdcam is an acceptable solution.
My son has been able to capture very good bird images using his GoPro Hero camera. These cameras tend to be expensive so I looked at a variety of the other cheaper action cameras that have been produced recently by various companies. The marketplace for these can be quite confusing in terms of sorting out the various models and their capabilities. I started off with a camera made by EKOO. One of the main features I wanted in selecting a camera was the ability to control the camera using WiFi at a range of anywhere from 20 to 25 feet.
Control of the camera is made possible by apps for IOS and Android devices. My assumption at first was that these would work in conjunction with my WiFi network. In fact, the cameras produce the WiFi signal. The EKOO camera WiFi worked OK at shorter ranges but tended to drop out at the longer distances I wanted.
Further research led me to the SJCAM 4000 action camera. My tests using this camera and its associated app have been successful. Using the app provided by the manufacturer on my iPhone I have been able to control the camera over a distance of about 25 feet with line of sight through a window to capture still images and video. The WiFi connection remains stable at this range.
A nice feature is that I am also able to change the camera settings through the WiFi link. The camera can also be set in various automatic modes including using motion sensing and taking images at specified intervals. While the Wingscapes camera produces its best results in bright direct light, the SJCAM 4000 allows adjustments for cloudy skies and it is also possible to increase or decrease exposure settings.
The SJCAM 4000 ranges in price from approximately $80 to $100 depending on source and comes with a range of accessories including a water resistant case and many different attachments for connecting the camera to bicycles, bike helmets, etc. The water-resistant case and another attachment for holding the camera are
threaded to accommodate a standard camera tripod connector. This allows me to mount the camera on the arm attached to my feeder pole.There are many potential uses for the SJCAM 4000, including as a car dash cam, and as an action cam. I like the versatility this provides over a single purpose camera.
Note: I have no commercial interest in any of these products. There are probably several other products and methods that would produce satisfactory results. I set out with certain goals in mind and looked for products that would let me accomplish them. This blog post shares my process of discovery.
The SJCAM 4000 field of view extends across 170 degrees. Both cameras can achieve very good levels of clarity and resolution. Each has features and capabilities that the other does not. Both will continue to find a use in my photography. The SJCAM 4000 does have the edge on video given that it
is capable of HD quality video. If you plan to use the SJCAM 4000 for extended periods of image and video capture I recommend getting a couple of spare batteries and a charger.
Point and Shoot Cameras
I also use point and shoot cameras to capture wildlife images. They are more portable and have a wider range of uses than DSLR cameras with telephoto lenses. The sensor size, of course, is smaller but image quality is still very good. Recently I started using a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ300. This is an update to their FZ200 model.
There are numerous technical reviews available for this camera online so I will focus on the user experience. I have shot several hundred images with this camera. The
camera focuses easily and, although the rich variety of features does require a certain learning curve, it is possible to acquire good images without a lot of experience. I also like the camera's performance in overcast and low light conditions.
For my main purpose of getting good images of birds with a camera that is portable and comfortable to handle the Lumix FZ300 is remarkably good. With good image stabilization and the ability to shoot 4K video, for me, this is currently the go to camera for bird and wildlife photography for the average user or wildlife enthusiast. I also like the natural colors this camera is capable of capturing. I have included some images that I obtained using the Lumix FZ300 as examples.The low resolution required for the Internet does not properly convey the quality of the images.
To see better quality images and video samples for both cameras go to my Photography Page . All images in this post and on Flickr are copyright Murdo Morrison and may not be used without permission.