Wildlife photography is no walk in the park—it is a constant balancing act between timing, patience, and preparation. Many external influences come into play when capturing wildlife with a camera, from weather conditions to natural lighting and proximity, so being prepared with the best lens for wildlife photography is one of the most crucial elements of the craft.

Our aim here at The Adventure Junkies is to educate our readers on the features of a lens that make it successful in the field and ideal for various types of wildlife photography.

When equipped with the correct glass, there is very little you cannot capture. Whether it’s a nuzzle between lioness and cub or powerful downstroke of an eagle’s wing, successfully capturing that moment is dependent on the lens you have in your hand and knowing how to use it.

 

THE BEST LENS FOR WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY – QUICK ANSWER

  1. CANON EF 800mm ƒ/5.6L IS USM
  2. CANON EF 600mm ƒ/4L IS II USM
  3. NIKON AF-S NIKKOR 600mm ƒ/4E FL ED VR
  4. PENTAX HD DA 560mm ƒ/5.6 ED AW
  5. NIKON AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm ƒ/5.6E ED VR
  6. NIKON AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-300mm ƒ/3.5-6.3G ED VR
  7. CANON EF 200-400mm ƒ/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x
  8. NIKON AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm ƒ/4.5-5.6G ED VR
  9. OLYMPUS 300mm ƒ/4 IS PRO
  10. SIGMA 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM

 

 

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THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO FIND THE THE BEST LENS FOR WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY

PICTURE
LENS
BEST USE
FOCAL LENGTH
APERTURE
PRICE
RATING
PICTURE
LENS
BEST USE
FOCAL LENGTH
APERTURE
PRICE
RATING
CANON EF 800mm ƒ/5.6L IS USM
Long Range
800mm
5.6
$$$
4.8
CANON EF 600mm ƒ/4L IS II USM
Long Range
600mm
4.0
$$$
5
NIKON AF-S NIKKOR 600mm ƒ/4E FL ED VR
Long Range
600mm
4.0
$$
5
PENTAX HD DA 560mm ƒ/5.6 ED AW
Long Range
560mm
5.6
$$
5
NIKON AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm ƒ/5.6E ED VR
Zoom and Long Range
200-500mm
5.6
$
4.8
NIKON AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-300mm ƒ/3.5-6.3G ED VR
Speed and Zoom
18-300mm
3.5
$
4.6
CANON EF 200-400mm ƒ/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x
Zoom and Long Range
200-400mm
4.0
$$$
4.6
NIKON AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm ƒ/4.5-5.6G ED VR
Zoom
80-400mm
4.5
$$
4.6
OLYMPUS 300mm ƒ/4 IS PRO
Speed
300mm
4.0
$$
5
SIGMA 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM
Zoom
120-300mm
2.8
$$
4.4
CANON MP-E 65mm f/2.8 (with twin flash)
Macro
65mm
2.8
$
4.2

 

 

LENSES FOR WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY 101

 

6 THINGS TO CONSIDER TO FIND THE BEST LENS FOR WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY

 

1. BEST USE

Are you planning on snapping intense macro shots of colorful tree frogs in the Amazon Rainforest, or are you looking to close the gap between you and that bull elk bugling one ridge over? From speed and fast focusing, to long focal lengths that easily fill the shot with your subject, the type of wildlife you plan to capture will help dictate which features you need. The type of wildlife you shoot will also dictate common photography scenarios you’ll find yourself in, making it easier to determine your need for either prime or zoom lenses.

Some good questions to ask yourself to identify your shooting needs are:

  • What focal length do you anticipate needing?
  • What weight can you easily maintain in various handheld situations?
  • Will you have a great distance to travel on foot to reach your subject?
  • Are you shooting from a moving vehicle or unstable platform?
  • Is the wildlife you’re shooting flighty or are they comfortable with approaching people?

These questions will help you narrow down the most important features for your specific style of wildlife photography.

 

2. FOCAL LENGTH

A lens with a long focal length is one of the most popular, and vital, lenses for wildlife photographers. The longer focal length can help you capture distant subjects (over 100 yards) without losing them in the background.

Such lenses can range from 300mm to 800mm and are often compatible with extenders to help boost your reach–and reach is essential for most wildlife photography. However, super long telephoto lenses can lead to depth of field issues among other challenges. PhotographyLife offers solutions to such scenarios when working with extremely long focal lengths.

If you’re considering using a teleconverter, or tele-extender, to increase your focal length, then there are a few important points you should keep in mind. A teleconverter can increase your lens’ focal length by 1.4x or 2x, but as a result they decrease the amount of light reaching your sensor. You can adjust for this limitation with longer shutter speeds and by cranking up your ISO.

Unfortunately, the use of a teleconverter will also impact your AF performance and slow your lens down. According to Outdoor Photography, many lenses will completely loose their autofocusing capability when combined with a teleconverter that slows you to around ƒ/5.6. They take it a step further by pointing out that many lenses combined with converters will cause the image quality to suffer due to the addition of elements to the original optical system.

 

3. APERTURE

 

MAX APERTURE

Having a large aperture adds incredible versatility to any lens and is often the deciding factor when picking a lens with longer focal lengths.

Most creatures come to life during what is called the golden hour, either the hour following sunrise or the hour right before sunset. The warm light is soft and ideal for wildlife photography conditions. However, shooting during this hour also means you’ll often be shooting in low light conditions and a max aperture a perfect way to combat such a challenge if your subject is within a shallow depth of field.

 

VARIABLE MAX APERTURE

If you are using an extreme telephoto lens for your wildlife photography then you’re going to notice two things right away, weight and cost. The more reach you want from your lens, the more it’s going to weigh and the more it’s going to cost. Luckily, a lens with a variable max aperture will allow it to change with the focal length making the lens more compact, lightweight, and cost efficient.

 

4. AF SPEED & USM

Accurate and fast AF is a desirable feature for most scenarios but it’s a requirement when shooting fast moving objects like spawning salmon or a sprinting cheetah. A faster lens will allow you to use a faster shutter speed in a wide range of lighting scenarios, however the faster the speed of the lens the heavier your setup is going to be.

When shooting in the field it’s vital to consider how often you will be moving or hiking, the gear you plan to bring, the amount of shots you can take before resting your arms, or if using a tripod will even been possible at all.

When shooting wildlife, many photographers appreciate a quieter lens when shooting wildlife so the focus of the lens doesn’t alert or scare off their subject. Silent Wave motors make for extremely quiet and fast lenses that offer the ability to manually override AF without having to switch focus modes so you never miss that action shot because your lens won’t focus properly.

 

5. IMAGE STABILIZATION & VIBRATION REDUCTION

The bigger your lens, the heavier it is to handle making it hard to stabilize quickly without the use of a tripod. Enhanced image stabilization, or vibration reduction, is a vital consideration for any handheld wildlife lens. Image stabilization and vibration reduction will allow you to shoot an impressive four stops slower of a shutter speed than a lens without this feature.

Many different shooting conditions will benefit from image stabilization and vibration reduction, you can be in a moving vehicle or rocking boat or have a subject that is slow moving or at a standstill, either scenario will benefit from image stabilization or vibration reduction and produce a sharper, high-quality image.

 

6. WEATHER RESISTANCE

Mud, rain, dust, hail… all of it is out of your control when you’re in the field, and none of it is good for your camera equipment. If you’re not a fair-weather photographer, then make durability and weather-sealing a top priority when choosing your wildlife lens.

In fact, many professionals, like those over at FStoppers, advise looking into gear insurance for your camera and equipment to avoid any major loss in investment. You should also consider purchasing a LensCoat, a protective neoprene covering for your lens reducing inevitable bumps and dings while also adding a layer of protection from the elements.

 

ideal lens for wildlife photography

Photo by istockphoto.com/portfolio/marc-andre_letourneux

 

LENSES FOR WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY REVIEWS

 

1. BEST LENSES FOR LONG-DISTANCE SHOTS

CANON EF 800mm ƒ/5.6L IS USM

Check out the latest price on:
Amazon

BEST FOR: Extreme focal length lens

FOCAL LENGTH: 800mm

APERTURE: ƒ/5.6

STABILIZATION: Up to 4 stops of correction with tripod detection

PROS: Weather-resistant gaskets with a magnesium-alloy barrel construction

CONS: Vignetting at f/5.6

 

 

 

CANON EF 600mm ƒ/4L IS II USM

Check out the latest price on:
Amazon

BEST FOR: Lightweight telephoto lens

FOCAL LENGTH: 600mm

APERTURE: ƒ/4

STABILIZATION: Up to 4 stops of correction

PROS: Resistant to dust and water and high image quality at a wide open aperture

CONS: Slight barrel distortion with Extenders

 

 

 

NIKON AF-S NIKKOR 600mm ƒ/4E FL ED VR

Check out the latest price on:
Amazon

BEST FOR: Extreme focal length lens

FOCAL LENGTH: 600mm

APERTURE: ƒ/4

STABILIZATION: VR image stabilization counteracts camera shake and vibration up to 4.5 stops

PROS: Weather-sealed lens, flare resistant, and low distortion

CONS: Very bulky and heavy for handheld use

 

 

 

PENTAX HD DA 560mm ƒ/5.6 ED AW

 

 

Check out the latest price on:
Amazon

BEST FOR: Long Range

FOCAL LENGTH: 560mm (859mm in 35mm format)

APERTURE: ƒ/5.6

STABILIZATION: No

PROS: Part of the All Weather series and a drop in filter holder

CONS: No autofocus on older bodies (D series)

 

 

 

NIKON AF-S FX NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR

Check out the latest price on:
Amazon

BEST FOR: Speed and Long Range

FOCAL LENGTH: 200-500mm

APERTURE: ƒ/5.6E

STABILIZATION: Vibration Reduction up to 4.5 stops

PROS: Long telephoto reach with quality image stabilization

CONS: Not weather proof and poor image quality at 200mm

 

 

 

 

2. BEST LENSES FOR ZOOM AND SPEED SHOTS

NIKON AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-300mm ƒ/3.5-6.3G ED VR

Check out the latest price on:
Amazon

BEST FOR: Zoom and Speed

FOCAL LENGTH: 18-300mm

APERTURE: ƒ/3.5

STABILIZATION: Built in VR II (vibration reduction)

PROS: Resistent to flare and distortion

CONS: Not weather proof, chromatic aberrations and fringing at 300mm

 

 

 

CANON EF 200-400mm ƒ/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x

Check out the latest price on:
Amazon

BEST FOR: Zoom and Long Range

FOCAL LENGTH: 200-400mm

APERTURE: ƒ/4L

STABILIZATION: Optical Image Stabilization offers up to 4 stops of correction

PROS: Resistant to dust and water and three image stabilization modes for standard, panning, and exposure shots

CONS: Not very fast so it would benefit from use of a tripod

 

 

 

NIKON AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm ƒ/4.5-5.6G ED VR

Check out the latest price on:
Amazon

BEST FOR: Zoom and Long Range

FOCAL LENGTH: 200-400mm

APERTURE: ƒ/4.5

STABILIZATION: Vibration Reduction up to 4 stops

PROS: AF is very fast considering the zoom range

CONS: Not weather proof, lens collar is sub par and should be replaced

 

 

 

OLYMPUS 300mm ƒ/4 IS PRO

Check out the latest price on:
Amazon

BEST FOR: Speed

FOCAL LENGTH: 300mm

APERTURE: ƒ/4

STABILIZATION: Synchronized in-lens and in-body Image Stabilization

PROS: Notorious for sharp, colorful images

CONS: No weather sealing or back lens element to protect from dust

 

 

 

SIGMA 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM

Check out the latest price on:
Amazon

BEST FOR: Speed and Zoom

FOCAL LENGTH: 120-300mm

APERTURE: ƒ/2.8

STABILIZATION: Optical Stabilization

PROS: Remarkable image quality throughout range

CONS: Not weather proof, loud OS motor and considerably heavy

 

 

 

 

3. BEST LENSES FOR MACRO SHOTS

CANON MP-E 65mm ƒ/2.8 1-5x

Check out the latest price on:
Amazon

BEST FOR: Macro

FOCAL LENGTH: 65mm

APERTURE: ƒ/2.5

STABILIZATION: None

PROS: Water resistant coating and razor-sharp images at 5x magnification

CONS: No focus confirmation

Top 10 Best Lenses For Wildlife Photography – Outdoor Photography Tips and Ideas  - Photography Equipment – Hiking Photography Articles – Nature, Wildlife and Landscape Photography Posts
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