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For photographing small birds in the field, essential gear usually includes long focal length lenses which auto-focus quickly. These lenses are always bulky and heavy, often requiring a sturdy tripod and a gimbal-type tripod head. Many bird photographers find that a fixed location, such as a blind, is much more productive and less work than trying to carry & hand-hold long, heavy lens. Bird feeders and perches can be arranged to the convenience of the photographer. Typical distances for small bird photography range from 15 to 40 feet. Even with a 500mm lens, a substantial post processing crop is often required.
Subject illumination is also an issue. Not every day, nor every time of day, is ideal for bird photography. Sometimes weather or natural lighting conditions are not sufficient for short shutter durations needed for sharp photos, nor smaller apertures needed for proper DoF. Even in strong, natural sunlight, harsh shadows can hide wanted bird detail. This is when a speedlight is as essential, but even the most powerful strobe often does not adequately light the subject, nor reduce the lighting ratio.
An inexpensive device, called a Better Beamer (image #1), attaches on a speedlight head, incorporating a wide Fresnel lens to focus the light into a narrow beam, closely matching the Field-of-View, typical of long lenses. This narrowed light pattern can add two stops of light, and dramatically reduce sunlight light ratio of 4:1 to 3:1 or even 2:1 (image #2), adding much detail in previously shadow-darkened areas. And closer distances require less power, resulting in shorter recycle times. Speedlight with Better Beamer is recommended in manual mode, so exposure can be easily adjusted to photographer's preference.
The Better Beamer works nicely at 50-mm zoom setting, with a 300mm lens (image #3), or with the speedlight zoom to most narrow setting with very long focal lengths (image #4). With focal lengths shorter than 300-mm, the light will be concentrated to the center of the photo. If you crop, this is not a problem. Also, many sophisticated speedlights have an adjustment for wider illumination width, which can help for shorter focal length lenses.
One fellow Hogger observed that his Yongnuo was aimed at about 20-feet out. Shooting at a subject farther away resulted in the upper Field-of-View being poorly illuminated. This was corrected by adding a thin shim under the speedlight head, to raise it just a tad.
Better Beamer 'flash extender'
Nikkor 300-mm lens with Nikon SB-900 speedlight & Better Beamer
Nikkor 500-mm lens with Nikon SB-900 speedlight & Better Beamer
Dusk or night photography possible with Better Beamer
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