Capturing great photographs of wildlife isn’t just about having a quality camera, it’s just as important to have the correct lens. There’s no point splashing out on the most expensive camera body if you don’t have one of the best lenses for wildlife photography to back it up.
There are hundreds of different lenses on the market though, with a range of different features, focal lengths, and designs. You need to consider the aperture of your lens, its speed, range and importantly, its durability.
Luckily, this diverse range of best lenses for wildlife photography also ensures that there is something for every photographer, no matter what your budget and no matter how experienced or inexperienced you are.
To help you to decide which are the best lenses for wildlife photography, here’s our technical guide on what to consider and look for before making your purchase.
Top 5 Best Lenses for Wildlife Photography
|Canon EF 800mm Super Telephoto Lens |
-Part of luxury lens series
-Two fluorite lens elements
-Weather resistant gaskets
-One Super UD glass element
-Weight under 10 lbs
|Canon EF 100-400mm Lens |
-9 Blade circular aperture
-Three mode Optical Image Stabilizer
-Rotation type zoom ring
-Weight: 3.46 lbs
|Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-300mm Lens |
-16.7x wide angle to super-telephoto zoom
-Extra low dispersion glass elements
-Maximum magnification of 32x
-Lens construction of 16 elements
-Weight: 1.21 lbs
|Sigma 18-250mm Lens|
-Lens construction of 16 elements
-13x high zoom ratio
-27-375mm equivalent focal length
-Micromotor-type AF motor
-Weight: 1.04 lbs.
|Tamron 18-270mm Lens|
-15x optical zoom ratio
-Water and oil repellant
-Internal Autofocus drive
-Weight: 1 lb
|Sony FE 200-600mm Lens|
- Outstanding lens resolution
- 5x ED (extra-low dispersion) glass elements Reduces flare & ghosting
- Direct drive Supersonic Wave Motor for fast, quiet, precise focus
- Aspherical lens element dramatically reduces spherical aberration
- Weight: 4.66 lbs
Quick Answer: Top Lenses for Wildlife Photography
- Best for Extreme Focal Lengths: Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 600mm
- Best for Long Range: Sigma 150-600mm 5-6.3 Contemporary DG OS HSM Lens
- Best for Speed: Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 300mm F4.0 PRO Lens
- Best for Zoom: Canon EF 100-400mm Lens
- Best for Macro: Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5X Macro Lens
- Best for Weather Resistance: Sony 200-600mm Lens
Tips for Choosing the Best Lenses for Wildlife Photography
Considering a Prime vs. Zoom
You’ll often hear the technical term ‘Prime’ thrown around in photography circles when it comes to lenses, and choosing between a ‘Prime’ and a ‘Zoom’ lens will be your first major consideration.
A Prime lens has a fixed focal length, meaning that you can’t zoom in on a subject, the only way to get closer is to actually, physically get closer. A zoom lens, on the other hand, has the ability to zoom in on your subject.
Zoom lenses come with various degrees of range.
Picking between a Prime and a Zoom lens will depend on what you are photographing and how. For many wildlife photographers then, this is an easy decision.
You don’t want to have to walk any closer to that lion in the African Savannah to get a shot, you want a huge telephoto zoom lens that will allow you to sit back in the safety of your vehicle and still get that great picture.
Prime lenses though, while unsuitable for this type of photography, are great in more controlled environments.
They are often known as portrait lenses because prime lenses have a low aperture (more on that below), meaning you can get that great blurred (Bokeh) effect, behind your clear, sharp subject.
Some telephoto lenses have this ability too, but others can distort your subject and not be quite so clear at extreme lengths.
For wildlife photographers who are taking shots at zoos, or taking portraits of family pets, a prime lens may well be a better option.
What is the Aperture range?
Aperture is the technical term that essentially refers to the size of the hole (‘The Aperture’) on your chosen lens that lets in the light, to then form your picture. It’s an important consideration for photographers.
If you have a low aperture (eg. an f/1.8 lens), then you can let in more light. This gives you several advantages.
For starters, a lower aperture gives you a shallow depth of field, allowing you to produce those beautiful ‘Bokeh’ portraits of animals, with the subject in focus and the background blurred, which immediately draws your attention to the wildlife.
Low aperture also helps in low light conditions too, for the simple reason that you can let in more light. Higher apertures though, ensure that your picture is sharper and clearer, but also darker, as you let in less light but have a wider depth of field.
For wildlife photographers, using higher apertures can help you capture fast-paced action in more detail, and if you get the right balance between aperture and composition, you can even still create that bokeh effect.
Generally speaking, with the exception of certain prime portrait lenses on the market (the Canon 50mm f/1.8 being the best example of a cheap, quality lens), a lower aperture will see you paying more, and in some cases, a lot more, for that extra usability.
Lens Speed Consideration
Having a low aperture on your lens, also ensures that you have a ‘faster’ lens, as you can let more light in while also having a fast shutter speed.
This means you can produce sharper images with little blurring.
This is particularly important for wildlife photographers shooting at a distance at high speed, looking to capture all the action. Many telephoto lenses specifically aimed at wildlife photographers will have low apertures for this reason, but they also cost more of course.
Maximum Focal Length
For many, the most important deciding factor when choosing the best lenses for wildlife photography will be the maximum focal length. This is a feature that is described on your lens in millimeters and both the minimum and maximum focal length will be given (for example, 70-200mm).
The focal length essentially describes how far in you can zoom, with a 400mm focal length giving you a longer range than a 200mm lens.
For wildlife photographers shooting at a distance then, a greater focal length will always be an advantage, allowing you to capture your subject from further away. Generally speaking though, having a greater focal length will cost you more money.
Some of the best telephoto lenses, will also only be good as zoom lenses because they will also have a large minimum focal length (such as 70mm or even 100mm).
That means they are only good for shooting at distance, as you are essentially already ‘zoomed in’, and they can be useless at capturing wide features or shooting at close range.
If you are not shooting on a full-frame camera, you will also need to add in the crop factor. If you have an APS-C camera (most entry-level cameras have these sensors), then you automatically have a crop factor of at least 1.5.
This means that if you purchase a 70-200mm lens for your APS-C camera, then actually, your maximum focal length is not 200mm, but 300mm, meaning you can, in fact, zoom in further than someone with the same lens attached to a Full Frame camera.
Size and Weight of the Lens
A big factor in choosing the best lenses for wildlife photography can also be the size and weight. Some of the ‘best lenses’ on the market, will also be the biggest and heaviest.
The longer your focal length, the heavier your lens is likely to be. Many professional-level telephoto lenses can be enormous, and just completely impractical for the average user, requiring tripods and suitcases to protect them.
If you travel a lot, then you may have to compromise and try to find a suitable lens that can work as an all-rounder, while also being not so hefty to carry around with you.
Durability & Weather Proofing
Durability will also be a consideration when it comes to picking the best lenses for wildlife photography. Professional level lenses are generally better made and are able to withstand shocks and drops in a way that entry-level lenses just can’t.
They are designed better and are made from better materials, whereas most entry-level options are just glass cased in plastic, and won’t survive for nearly as long.
The better made a lens is though, the more you are going to pay for it, so again, you may need to compromise depending on your financial limits, but investing in quality lenses that are durable can be better value in the long run, especially if you are serious about wildlife photography.
It’s also important to consider weatherproofing. Not all lenses are manufactured equally and shooting wildlife will inevitably put you out into the elements and subject your camera gear to a whole host of things like dust and moisture.
Lenses are a big investment, on any level, so be sure you do your research and select lenses that will stay functioning and protected while you are shooting wildlife in the field.
Best Lenses for Wildlife Photography: Our Recommendations
Canon EF 800mm Super Telephoto Lens
Canon’s EF 800mm f/5.6L IS USM Autofocus Lens is a sensational lens with exceptional capabilities for long-distance applications. As one of the longest lenses in Canon’s line-up, it uses a refined optical design.
It has two fluorite lens elements, one UD element, and one Super-UD-glass element, for outstanding correction of color fringing and superb contrast and sharpness.
Whether you’re shooting outdoor sports, wildlife or news events, the EF 800mm f/5.6 IS will optimize your shooting power. Weighing under 10lbs, this lens is also lighter than you would expect while, at the same time, featuring a magnesium-alloy barrel construction for durability.
- Part of luxury lens series
- Two fluorite lens elements
- Weather resistant gaskets
- One Super UD glass element
- Weight under 10 lbs
Check Canon EF 800mm Super Telephoto Lens price at Amazon
Canon EF 100-400mm Lens
The EF 100–400mm f/4.5–5.6L IS II USM lens is my go-to lens for wildlife photography and I take it with me everywhere.
It delivers a superb combination of cutting-edge performance, compact construction and brilliant resolving power that’s great for sports and wildlife photography.
The lens features one fluorite and one super UD element to help provide impressive contrast and resolution with reduced chromatic aberration across the entire zoom range.
Canon’s new Air Sphere Coating (ASC) helps significantly reduce backlit flaring and ghosting, while fluorine coatings on the front and rear lens surfaces help lessen smears and fingerprints.
A 9-blade circular aperture renders beautiful, soft backgrounds and a 3 mode (standard, panning and exposure only) Optical Image Stabilizer provides up to 4 steps of image correction.
The new inner focusing AF system helps ensure fast and accurate focus down to 3.2 ft. with a .31x maximum magnification.
- Focal Length & Maximum Aperture: 100–400mm 1:4.5–5.6
- Lens Construction: 21 elements in 16 groups
- Diagonal Angle of View: 24°–6°10′
- Focus Adjustment: Inner focus system / USM
- Closest Focusing Distance: 3.2 ft. / 0.98m
- Filter Size: 77mm diameter
- Zoom System: Rotation Type
Check Canon EF 100-400mm Lens price at Amazon
Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-300mm Lens
Capture all of your photos beautifully with a single lens, the outstanding all-in-one telephoto zoom AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3G ED VR.
Surprisingly compact and lightweight for a 16.7x zoom lens, the AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3G ED VR draws great performance from Nikon DX-format D-SLRs and is a highly versatile second lens.
Shoot wide-angle scenic landscapes and group photos, portraits with softly blurred backgrounds, super-telephoto close-ups and everything in between—if you can see it, the AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3G ED VR can capture it.
Optimized for shooting both stills and HD videos, it features specialized Vibration Reduction technology for tack-sharp photos and steady videos, even when your hands are a bit shaky.
- 16.7x wide-angle to super-telephoto zoom
- Extra low dispersion glass element
- Maximum magnification of 32x
- Lens construction of 16 elements
- Weight: 1.21 lbs
Check Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-300mm Lens price at Amazon
Sony 200-600mm Lens
For those that are looking for something with a longer native range than the 100-400mm, the Sony 200-600mm G OSS lens is a fantastic option for wildlife photography.
This flexible zoom is perfectly suited for nature, wildlife, and sports applications. Its long reach pairs with a modest maximum aperture range to render to a relatively lightweight and portable design, which benefits handheld use. (Something I LOVE)
The optical design incorporates a series of low dispersion and aspherical elements, which suppress a variety of aberrations, color fringing, and distortion in order to produce well-corrected imagery with high sharpness, color fidelity, and accurate rendering.
It is also completely weather-sealed, meaning you don’t have to stress so much when you’re out in the elements.
Check Sony 200-600mm price on Amazon
Sigma 18-250mm Lens
By revolutionizing the optical and structural design of the Sigma 18-250mm F3.5-6.3 DC OS HSM, this new lens achieves a compact size and a minimum focusing distance of 13.8″.
New material, Thermally Stable Composite (TSC) maintains its structure and has little contractility especially in varying temperatures, is incorporated into the lens barrel.
It is convenient when you wish to keep your equipment to a minimum and yet still be prepared for all opportunities and situations, such as travels.
Covering wide-angle 18mm to telephoto 250mm, this versatile lens designed exclusively for digital SLR cameras, is suitable for all-purpose photography including landscape, sport, and macro photography.
It is convenient when you wish to keep your equipment to a minimum and yet still be prepared for all opportunities and situations, such as travels. What’s nice about Sigma is that you can purchase to either Canon or Nikon bodies.
- Lens construction of 16 elements
- 13x high zoom ratio
- 27-375mm equivalent focal length
- Micromotor-type AF motor
- Weight: 1.04 lbs.
Check Sigma 18-250mm Lens price at Amazon
Tamron 18-270mm Lens
If you are looking for a lens that won’t break the bank and that is incredibly versatile, then look no further than the Tamron 18 – 270 mm.
This is aimed at mid-range photographers and is designed for APS-C cameras, meaning your focal length is actually much greater than 270mm, while you can also use it at close range.
You can pick different models for different price ranges and they make for excellent travel lenses, being fairly light and compact. This is a great all-rounder at a great price.
As with Sigma, you can purchase Tamron for either Canon or Nikon bodies.
- Compact lens
- 15x optical zoom ratio
- Water and oil repellant
- Internal Autofocus drive
- Weight: 1 lb
Check Tamron 18-270mm Lens price at Amazon
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