As long as some basics are applied, choice of actual camera equipment is not particularly important at the end of the day.
Arguments on the Internet over the merits of one camera over another give the impression that the wrong choice will be a huge handicap and that you will be lucky to get any sort of image. When choosing a camera, it is fair to weigh up the pros and cons and you don't want to settle for second best for your money, but don't get too worked up about it. Quite honestly, almost any dslr camera from the last few years can produce results that will produce a front cover and have the photography world green with envy. It's the photographer that counts.
So my recommendations, in no particular order, for a camera for bird photography are;
NEW Canon EOS 50D the expected replacement for the EOS 40D. The new Canon 50D has a 15.1 Megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor at the usual 1.6x crop, 6.3fps continuous shooting speed and ISO speeds ISO 100-3200, expandable to 12800. improved Self Cleaning Sensor Unit with a new fluorine coating – increases protection of image quality by helping to reduce, repel and remove unwanted dust from the sensor.
Canon EOS 40D 10mp Dslr is to be released at the start of October 2007. This has many of the benefits of the EOS 1D MkIII cameras, including 3 inch monitor, higher performance AF, lower image noise and various other improvements. If you thought the Canon 30D wasn't a great improvement over the 20D, then this should get you interested, as it is a major leap.
Canon EOS 450D (Rebel Xsi) announced. 12mp pixels and 3 inch monitor and 3.5fps . This does look slightly larger and more rounded than the 400D and appears to be a great budget camera for aspiring bird photographers. It looks less of a toy than Canon's previous entry level dslr cameras. As with the Canon 40D, the new Canon 450D looks like a more substantial leap in technology than the previous model.
Canon EOS 400D : The replacement for the EOS350D, with 10mp sensor and a dust removal system. 2.5 inch monitor and 3 fps for up to 27 Jpg photos. A small camera but looks to have much of what is needed for the bird photographer. Lack of spot metering again, so it could be better for bird photography, but with experience of exposure situations, this won't be too much of an issue
NEW Nikon D90 12.3mp with 1.5x crop factor and a competitive price. 4.5 frames per second, which is ample for the bird photographer despite other cameras having faster..
Nikon D200 Not cheap and an image issue with some early models, hopefully now rectified. High resolution sensor, great build quality and feel. A 10.2mp sensor in a substantial body. Very speedy in operation and on the face of it, an ideal bird photography camera.
NEW Nikon D300 12mp Dslr camera replaces the D200. This looks to be a tremendous bird photography camera and a good competitor to Canon's 40D. Noise at higher ISO settings looks very much better than Nikon's earlier efforts.
Nikon D80 Nikon's latest camera, more of a high performance D50 budget dslr. A 10.2mp sensor in a body the size of the D50, which means very small. Well featured with many of the features of the mid-range dslrs, but it's speed of shooting is a rather disappointing 2- 3fps maximum (depending upon size of image). Proof of the pudding will be noise levels above ISO400, as this is so vital for the bird photographer in being able to gain an f-stop of acceptable use. Nice looking 2.5inch monitor on this camera, as well as a very nice control layout
Price looks to be close to £700 in the U.K. market, which seems a little high when compared to the prices seen for a Canon EOS 30D.
Nikon 70S The improved version of the tried and trusted Nikon D70, feels substantial and very well designed layout of controls
Nikon D50 Nikon's miniature dslr alternative to the Canon 350D. Small, plasticky but good images and dirt cheap. Not as small and fiddly as Canon 350D.
Lenses are a more important aspect than the camera, they are the source component and what they deliver to the camera's sensor will determine the result. Having said that, other than really cheap and unbranded lenses, most lenses, old or new, are capable of resolving detail that you will never appreciate.
If you are starting out in bird photography, you may have to ask yourself the question 'am i going to sit it out for hours waiting for a bird' or 'am i going to wander around looking for birds'. You will be looking at buying a single lens to start off with, and if you intend being a 'roving bird photographer' you will be best looking at a fairly lightweight lens, probably with image stabilization to negate the need for a tripod.
My lens suggestion for anyone starting out on a fairly tight budget, particularly with songbirds in mind are the Sigma 500mm zoom lenses, notably the Sigma 50-500mm F4-6.3 EX APO. Another contender that is receiving good reviews and producing some fine shots is the Tamron AF 200-500mm F5-6.3 Di LD , this is lighter in weight than the Sigma 50-500mm and many believe it produces sharper images when used at it's widest aperture. The Sigma older Sigma 170-500mm can be picked up quite cheaply but it is very slow in autofocus operation.
Sigma Recently Announce:
New 150-500mm f5 - f6.3 O.S. lens. An image stabilised Bigma!! Sounds interesting. it is slighlty longer and heavier than the current Bigma. With HSM and image stabiliastion, this sounds like a very nice walkaround lens.
New 120-400mm f4.5 - f5.6 O.S. lens. This replaces the current 80-400mm O.S. lens.
These lenses will need some good support but are capable of excellent images. I believe that many are likely to get a bit disillusioned starting with a 400mm or less lens and rarely get close enough without spooking the subject. Buy a 500mm lens and you will still need to work on your skills at approaching birds without disturbing them, but you should be o.k. for a number of subjects. These lenses are fairly large and heavy but not too large to be inappropriate for the roving photographer, though without image stabilization (SEE LATEST NEWS) you will have to endure a tripod or find suitable support out in the field (brace yourself against tree trunk, fences, car roof).
Remember, you do not have to buy a new lens. The used lens market is thriving and you can pick up a real bargain, not quite as much of a bargain if you buy from a used dealer but you will get some guarantee for the extra price. Lenses are fairly reliable to purchase secondhand, but do check them in person if buying privately. If you are in the U.K. Buy a copy of Amateur Photographer magazine and look at the adverts at the back for the used dealers, many have their used lists updated daily on their websites. Check for compatability with your camera, some of the older Sigma lenses may need modifying to work with modern digital cameras.