Bird Gear


Gearing Up for Birding

I like gear and I’ve got fly rods and reels, chef’s knives, rock hammers, etc. to prove it. The need to acquire birding gear did not put me off birding, but rather that contrary. A good pair of binoculars is, of course, a necessity. I have a pair of older Pentax 8x32s. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with these, (or ‘this’ — I guess it’s a binocular) but I decide I need a wider lens so I search for 8x42s. I pick the Leica Trinovid, the step below the premium model, the Ultravid. For a week or two, I consider 10×42’s but know they still won’t not take the place of a spotting scope. They have a smaller field of view too.

Testers rank the Trinovid very high with some unable to see a real difference in what you see and how you see it between the two models. That’s good enough for me. There’s a thousand dollar difference between the two. I always try to get the best of whatever from upper mid-range, which is where I think the value is. The same goes for sound equipment or anything else that depends on one’s sense acuity to really appreciate the difference. Some maintain that you have to have the top model from the top maker, and it may be true generally. Not for me though. I’ve got rock and roll damaged ears and I’m myopic with astigmatism. Average good is the best I’m going to get out of even top level, hyper expensive stuff. It’s not the output, which I’m sure is superb; it’s the input, which is not.

I’ve been happy with my choice, although I do look with longing, sometimes, at the premium Leicas, Swarovski and Zeiss binos that others carry. I like their fancy scopes too. I do that for the same reason I drool over Lamborghinis and Maseratis. They’re really, really, really nice (they sound great too). The thing is — I’m not going to get my money’s worth out of these jewels, even if I could afford one. I’d drive my beautiful Maserati at, or around, the speed limit and I’d fret about getting a scratch on it.

After a few months of birding I can’t put off buying a spotting scope any longer. I’m missing too much. I go through the same pleasant ordeal — checking reviews, looking for bargains, imagining. I pass on the luxury glass and settle on an Alpine 20×80 and mount it on a used carbon-fiber tripod I picked up online for half the price of that item new. The whole kit sets me back six hundred dollars. It works fine and, while I’m careful with it, I don’t treat it like it’s made of porcelain either.

Half the time I use my camera as a spotting scope. I bought a mirrorless Panasonic DMZ200 and put a lens converter and extender tube on it. Now I’m good for, oh, a long way off (I’ve never really mastered the technicalities of photography). Using the focus functions also challenges me mostly because I forget what I did in similar circumstances the last time. The thing is I’m not that interested in photography and its ephemera don’t dazzle me. But I am interested in birds and a camera makes everything easier.

I shoot a lot of pictures and hope for the best. Sometimes I get very, very lucky. I’ve got the full version of Photoshop so I can bring out details that I might otherwise miss and I resist the temptation to put in others that aren’t there in the first place. A person could use Photoshop to create pretty well any rare bird they wanted. Getting it past ebird is another matter entirely.

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