Before upgrading to a DSLR, I spent two years shooting with a Canon SX50. This little camera taught me so much about bird photography and I think it’s one of the best options out there for anyone starting out. Here are my suggestions for the best Canon SX50 settings for bird photography! These tips will also apply to other superzoom cameras.
If you don’t own a superzoom yet, read my article: Why Superzoom Cameras Are Great for Bird Photography
Program C1 With My Recommended Canon SX50 Settings For Bird Photography
You won’t be able to get consistently fantastic pictures with the Canon SX50 using automatic or sports mode. One of the great features of the Canon SX50 is being able to save whatever settings you want to “C1” and “C2” on the dial at the top of the camera.
I program C1 for bird photography using the following settings:
- Shutter Priority Mode with a starting shutter speed of 1/800. I adjust the shutter speed for every shot and the camera chooses the appropriate aperture.
- Center Weighted Average Metering
- Automatic ISO with a max ISO of 640
- Continuous burst
- Zoom set to 1200mm
*I never shot using RAW format, but the Canon SX50 has this capability and I would recommend trying it (I use this with my DSLR and love it!).
When I first started using the manual features of the camera I was overwhelmed and afraid that I would miss a great shot if I didn’t get the settings right. Programming all these settings to C1 made the difference for me. I could just turn the dial to C1 and know that everything was set up for me to start shooting.
This video shows you how to program C1. He uses slightly different settings than me, but it’s a great starting point:
When you’re learning it’s easier to focus on one manual setting at a time, so shutter speed is where I started. For every shot I take, I choose the shutter speed and the camera chooses the appropriate aperture.
The faster the shutter speed, the more the camera can freeze fast-moving action. For birds flying overhead, I crank the shutter speed as high as I can. But, you need to be careful because at high shutter speeds the camera isn’t letting in as much light. On a dark day, too high of a shutter speed will mean dark pictures. My default setting is a shutter speed of 1/800 and I find this is a good place to start.
For lower light situations, you will need to reduce the shutter speed to allow more light into the camera. Be careful as the slower your shutter speed, the higher the risk of blurry shots! I’ve been able to get away with handheld shots as low as 1/60 without blur. However, this will depend on how steady you can hold the camera (a monopod can help) and how quickly your subject is moving!
It’s incredibly easy to change the shutter speed on the Canon SX50 – you just spin the serrated circular dial. My suggestion is to do some practice rounds with easy backyard birds. Get to understand what happens when you reduce or increase the shutter speed and then you’ll be ready to go when you’re out in the field.
Exposure Compensation +/-
I use this one a lot! Once you’ve tweaked the shutter speed, but the shot is still too dark or too bright then I start playing with the exposure compensation. + to brighten it up, – to darken it. For white birds in the sun, I always use some negative exposure compensation to avoid blown highlights. For low lighting, I almost always use positive compensation so that I don’t have to turn the shutter speed down too low. It’s so easy to adjust, you feel like you’re cheating!
ISO is how sensitive the camera is to the available light. The higher the number, the more sensitive the camera will be. On a cloudy day if you’re using automatic mode, the camera will want to increase the ISO so that it can make the most use of the available light.
This is okay, but higher ISOs add “noise” to your pictures, making them look grainy. On the flip side, if you turn the ISO down too low your pictures may end up being dark.
How do you deal with this? Rather than having to choose the ISO for every shot, I set it on automatic with a maximum value of 640. I find that at 640 the shots are still good quality and I like the ease of keeping ISO on automatic.
The Canon SX50 performs best in full sunlight and I guarantee you will be surprised by how great the results will be in these conditions! Although I started on automatic mode, I quickly realized that Shutter Priority Mode gave me the control I needed to get the most out of the Canon SX50. With a bit of practice, it’s easy to master this mode!
Looking to buy a Canon SX50? Unfortunately Canon discontinued this model, but you can still buy refurbished and used ones on Amazon (click photograph):
For other superzoom options, read the buying guide in my article: Why Superzoom Cameras Are Great For Bird Photography