Looking for the best lens for wildlife photography? Take a look at the 10 best Canon & Nikon lenses for wildlife photography.
Wildlife photography is a lot more than capturing wildlife using a camera. It involves a balancing act where photographers need to balance between the preparation, and their timing and act with patience.
A number of external influences can come into play when you are out in the wild, trying to capture some best shots like bad weather conditions or proximity. This is what makes it important to have the best lens for wildlife photography.
When equipped with the right lens, you can quickly capture the most amazing moments of wildlife without much hassle. Be it the snuggle between the lion and the cub or the powerful strike of an eagle; you can capture it all when you know all about the lens you hold in your hand.
When into wildlife photography, one of the most important factors to keep in mind while choosing a lens is the focal length. Unlike other types of photography where you can use a moderate lens to capture great shots, wildlife photography needs a very high-quality telephoto lens that has a large aperture.
In the guide below, we review some of the best Canon and Nikon lenses that are apt for wildlife photography. We start with the best lenses available – their prices and the results obtained by using them reflect the same.
If you are a professional photographer or care about the quality of the wildlife photos taken, these are the lenses you must consider using.
We have also included some photography tips and a buyer’s guide to assist you with your lens purchase online.
Best Canon Lens for Wildlife Photography
1. Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM Lens
Known as a dream lens for wildlife photographers, especially those who are into bird photography, the Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM Lens offers the best when it comes to sharpness and autofocus speed.
The lens uses the 2nd generation image stabilizer, and Canon has introduced the 3rd image stabilize mode via this lens. The lens senses when mounted on a tripod and disengages the stabilization when the shutter speeds are more than 1 second.
The Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM is of an excellent build quality, where it uses 16 elements in the 12 groups. This includes the use of two fluorite elements and two ultra-low dispersion glasses. Also, the lens weighs 3.2 lbs less when compared to its predecessor.
The handholdable lends has a tripod lens that can be turned smoothly and has a 90 degree stop that helps with the framing.
The autofocus of the lens is pretty fast and accurate, thanks to the use of Ultrasonic motor. The sharpness of the lens has been improved too, and it makes this the sharpest lens after Canon 300mm f/2.8 L IS II USM. The Canon 600mm is sharper when compared to the Canon 800mm f/4 L IS USM and can be made better by the use of 1.4x Extender III.
The Canon 600 L is the highest recommended lens for wildlife photography as it enables you to shoot from a tripod or a monopod or even using other support.
2. Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Ext 1.4x Lens
An incredible addition to the Canon telephoto lens family, the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM is known for its incredible image quality and image stabilization. The lens was launched in the year 2013 and was met with great fanfare as it was a lens on the wishlist of many photographers.
The Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L is an L series telephoto lens that has an immaculate build quality. The body of the lens is made using magnesium alloy and is also weather sealed to protect against dust and moisture. Also, the lens is strong enough to hold up the wear and tear of professional use.
The external area of the lens, near the lever, is sealed well and thus prevents dirt and water from entering into the lens.
The Canon lens has a number of button sets that are placed across various regions on its barrel. The set of buttons that deal with focus are placed close to the mount of the lens. Like in other Canon lenses, the users can switch to manual focus anytime. The power focus is also designed to provide controlled and smooth focus, which comes in handy when shooting videos.
The Canon EF 200-400mm is an excellent lens for wildlife photography, which is easy to handle and intuitive to use.
3. Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens
If the price is not a problem, the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM is a perfect lens for wildlife photography. The lens has impressive features, and it is one of the most incredible lenses that are available today. The lens is widely used for shooting wildlife and action sports.
The EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM is a strong lens that is known for the excellent image quality it provides. With wide open apertures and fast autofocus, the lens is just what you might need to click stunning wildlife pictures.
The 5th generation lens introduced by Canon, the EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM has successfully replaced the EF 200mm f/2.8 IS USM lens. The lens is widely preferred by professional photographers. Due to the maximum aperture and a good focal length of the lens, it is ideal to be used for wildlife, sports, and photojournalistic shooting.
The lens boasts of the longest focal length available in any Canon lenses that have f/2.8 aperture. This is one feature desired by wildlife photographers. Using this, one can easily shoot a subject at f/2.8 by keeping the background completely blurred.
The lens though strongly built is very light and can thus be handheld for a good amount of time. Though all the features are amazing, the IS is of utmost importance to many professional photographers. As wildlife is active more during the nights or low light hours, photographers who wish to capture the low active subjects will have good use of IS provided in the lens.
Like the other Canon telephoto lenses, the EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM also has the feature of FTM available. The lens also has the feature of Focus Present, which can be used to set the focus at a said distance. This can be done by turning the spring-loaded playback ring provided at the end of this lens.
The manual focus ring of the lens is of good size and is damped well. The lens also provides a nice adjustment rate and is smooth when used.
If you are looking for the best lens for wildlife photography, the EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM is indeed a go-getter.
4. Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II USM Lens
If you are looking for a fixed focal length telephoto lens for wildlife photography, the Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS USM is the one to choose. The lens works well for professional as well as amateur photographers who are quite enthusiastic about capturing the best shots. The lens is known for its amazing optical quality and compactness.
The EF 400mm f/4 DO IS USM features DO Designation, which stands for Diffractive options and the same can be known by the green colored ring provided around the lens barrel. These are special elements made of glass and have a “sawtooth cross section” which allows the user to focus even at tighter angles.
Another advantage of using the lenses that have diffractive optics is reduced chromatic aberrations.
The lens also features the Ultrasonic Motor Autofocus system and Power Focus which provide quieter and smoother transitions while recording videos. The lens is lightweight and can be handheld when the light conditions are good. The lens is made of magnesium alloy and is resistant to moisture and dust.
The lens also has a fluorine coating which provides resistance from smudge resistance and raindrop beading.
In simple terms, the EF 400mm f/4 DO IS USM is one stunning telephoto lens. The lens uses high-end optical technology and provides amazing image quality with absolutely no distortion.
5. Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens
A professional telephoto lens, Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens that is perfect for full frame and APS-C DSLR cameras, the lens has a zoom range of 4x and includes a four-stop three mode stabilizer.
Other known features of the lens are ultrasonic focus motor, the nine-blade circular aperture and it is resistant to dust and moisture. The lens also has a high-speed autofocus system, and all these features make it the ideal lens for wildlife photography.
The lens also has a rotating zoom ring that helps with proper adjustment between the focal lengths and also has an adjustment ring that allows the user to adjust the zoom ring.
The Canon EF 100-400mm is a capable lens that appeals to wildlife and sports photographers who are in the lookout for lightweight and a versatile telephoto lens.
Best Nikon Lenses for Wildlife Photography
1. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 300mm f/4D IF-ED Lens
An all-time favorite lens of many, the Nikon 300mm f/4 AF-S is a popular pro-level lens that boosts of great options and quick autofocus. The lens is considered as a better option when compared to the Nikon 70-200mm and Nikon 70-300mm but is close to another lens from the same brand, the Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR II.
The lens is loved by many as it is lightweight and compact. It is also known for the high-quality sharp images it provides along with a very beautiful Bokeh. The lens works well with a number of camera bodies, and photographers can also use the Nikon TC-14E II 1.4x teleconverter along with it.
The lens is perfect for wildlife photography, though there is no rear element and this is why one needs to be careful when shooting in dusty conditions. One can avoid this by keeping the teleconverter mounted.
The lens is perfect for wildlife photography and is perfect for carrying along, thanks to its compactness and lightweight. If you are looking for the best lens for wildlife photography at a good price, this is the one to choose.
2. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 300mm f/2.8G ED VR II
The Nikkor 300mm f/2.8G ED VR II is an excellent telephoto lens that users the excellent feature of vibration reduction technology, and this makes it easy for wildlife photographers to shoot by holding it by hand and by using good shutter speeds. The all-new A/M focus is indeed worth a mention.
The lens is created keeping the requirements of the photographers in mind and boasts of an excellent optical system, just like its predecessor. Photographers who love to work with good speeds and quiet autofocus and shutter can opt for this lens as it a built-in silent wave motor. Any wildlife action that photographers want to capture will no longer be disrupted.
To top off all the features, the lens is also resistant to dust and moisture, and this helps photographers to shoot in any weather condition without the worry of damage.
3. Nikon 400mm f/2.8G VR
The Nikon 400mm f/2.8G VR is an excellent telephoto lens that has a strongly built body and has the ideal weight. If you are looking for lenses that will help you reach 800mm at f/5.6 by using a 2x teleconverter, this is the lens you need to use.
The lens has an aperture of f/2.8 and includes some glass element that transmits the needed amount of light. This is helpful when you have to shoot in low light conditions, like most wildlife photographers. The lens like the Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR II can be used with various camera bodies as well as teleconverters.
The lens is large and hence needs the setup and support of a good tripod. Not ideal for handholding, the lens is impressive with the optical features and delivers what it promises. If you wish to capture some excellent images, with a maximum aperture, this is the lens for it.
4. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/4E FL ED VR
The Nikon AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/4E FL ED VR can be called a sweet middle lens between the Nikon 400mm and the 600mm lenses. The lens has a slower aperture of f/4 and is a super telephoto lens that is ideal just for wildlife photography.
The lens is lightweight and can be handheld for a short duration without much hassle. The lens is lighter when compared to the Nikon 400mm f/2.8G VR and a little heavy when compared to Nikon 200-400mm f/4 VR II. The lens is pretty sharp and has perfect options and is loaded with features.
The lens also has FX sensor coverage with some subtle enhancements from the brand. The lens has an E designation that denotes the electromagnetic diaphragm of the lens, which helps maintain a constant exposure when using high speeds to capture some fast action. The front element of the lens also has a fluorite coating, and this keeps away dirt, smudges, and dust.
The lens has three ED glass elements that reduce chromatic aberration and flares and also boost sharpness and enhance color accuracy. The lens has vibration reduction, with a sport mode and this feature is what you need if you want to capture the animals or birds in action.
If you need a lightweight yet an excellent performer, it is time you go right ahead and add Nikon AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/4E FL ED VR to your existing gear.
5. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4G ED VR Lens
Known among the experts as the Cadillac of the Nikon telephoto lenses, the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 600mm f/4G ED VR lens is the longest and the best lens for wildlife photography. Though the lens comes with a price tag, it is worth every penny spent. If you are a professional wildlife photographer and are looking for a professional lens for wildlife photography, this is the lens you must own.
As the lens is bulky and heavy, you certainly need to have a good supportive tripod. This gives the best when combined with a professional camera body like the D3s from Nikon.
The super telephoto lens features the VR II, a vibration reduction system that helps you capture crisp and clear images. The lens also has quick autofocus which is very quiet, thanks to the use of Silent wave motor of Nikon. The lens is also resistant to dust and moisture.
Buyers Guide to Choose the Best Lens for Wildlife Photography
Choosing the best lens for wildlife photography is not an easy task. As most of us are aware, it is an investment as most of the lenses are expensive when compared to other lenses. If you are a beginner you certainly need a guide – that would help you choose the right lens.
In this buyers guide, we are going to discuss the features you need to look out for when you want to buy the best lens for wildlife photography. So, let’s see what they are.
Before you choose a lens, you need to know how to intend to use it. Do you wish to use the lens to capture the pictures of birds flying free against the backdrop of the clear blue sky, or if you wish to capture some shots of the wild free frogs from the Amazon rainforest?
The kind of photography you plan to pursue will help you decide on the features you might need in the lens. There are a few questions you can ask yourself before you start as the place you intend to choose will also help you understand the most common scenarios you will be in.
This way you will know if you need a prime lens or a zoom lens or like in wildlife photography, a telephoto lens.
Some of the questions you can ask yourself are
What is the focal length you might need?
The weight of the lens – this is important if you might find yourself in more of handheld situations.
Will you travel a lot of distance by foot in order to reach the subject?
Do you plan to shoot from a moving vehicle or will you use a stable platform?
These are a few questions that will certainly help you narrow down some of the most important features you need to look for when choosing a lens for wildlife photography.
The Focal Length
This is one of the most essential features you need to consider in a lens for wildlife photography. A lens that has a longer focal length will help you capture images of the subjects that are located at a distance more than 100 yards, and you will not lose them in the background as well!
The ideal lenses for wildlife photography have a focal length of about 300mm – 800mm and most of them are pretty compatible with extenders. Use of extenders boots the reach of the subject and is needed when you are into wildlife photography.
But when you are using long telephoto lenses, you might face some depth of field issues along with a few other challenges. If you are planning to use a teleconverter to increase the focal length of the lens, there are a few points you must note.
Though a teleconverter can increase the focal length of the lens, it also decreases the light that reaches the sensor of the lens. But, this can be adjusted by using longer shutter speeds and by increasing the ISO.
Also, when you use a teleconverter, it also impacts the autofocus performance, and the lens tends to slow down. So, if you wish to capture some stunning images, you need to look for lenses that have a good focal length and have quick autofocus.
Canon and Nikon have excellent lenses that have excellent focal length. This way you need not suffer from the image quality.
A number of lenses built for wildlife photography have large aperture as it adds versatility to the lens. This is one of the factors professionals use when they pick a lens that has a long focal length.
It is a known fact that a number of animals or creatures are in action during the golden hour, which is just an hour after the sunrise or an hour before the sunset. Even though the warm light during this hour is ideal for photography, you would mostly shoot in low light conditions.
Using a lens with a maximum aperture is ideal in such conditions as it allows a good amount of light to reach the sensor.
The telephoto lens that you intend to use for wildlife photography might be heavy, bulky and expensive. It is important to understand that the more features you want in the lens, the more the weight and the cost.
If you have a limited budget, you can still opt for a lens with a variable max aperture. Such a lens will allow the aperture to change as per the focal length making the lens compact, and cost-efficient.
Autofocus Speed and USM
Another important factor you must consider is the autofocus. You certainly need a lens with accurate and quick autofocus when you are into wildlife photography. This is one of the most important requirements when you shoot fast-moving subjects like a cheetah or a salmon.
By using a faster lens, you are sure of a faster shutter speed that can be used during various lighting situations. But, it is also important to know that the faster the speed of the lens, the heavier the overall setup will be.
When you are shooting within the field, you also need to consider if you will be moving from one place to another. If you have to hike, the gear you take along needs to be lightweight and compact. If you plan to move around the field in a vehicle, you might as well consider carrying a tripod as handholding most the lenses for long durations is not ideally possible.
You might appreciate a lens that is quiet to make sure that even the slightest sound does not alert or scare away your subject. You can choose lenses from Nikon as they feature a Silent wave motor and all their lenses are quiet and have excellent auto-focusing.
Most of the lenses also have a feature where the user can easily override the autofocus feature and use the manual focus instead.
Image Stabilization and Vibration Reduction
If you are choosing a bigger lens, it is certainly going to be heavier, making it hard to hold or stabilize. This holds true when you are planning to handhold the lens without using a tripod.
Lenses with excellent image stabilization or feature like vibration reduction are a must when you are into wildlife photography. Photographers can shoot at faster shutter speeds when they have a lens with vibration reduction. If you wish to use a lens without these features, you might as well shoot using slow shutter speeds.
If you want to shoot a fast-moving subject or capture pictures from a moving vehicle or a boat, features like image stabilization and vibration reduction are a must. You can be assured of a sharp and high-quality image.
When you are out in the field, you cannot control external factors like rain, dirt, hail and more. None of the above mentioned are good for your camera lens or the body you are using.
As wildlife photography needs the photographer to shoot in various terrains and weather conditions, it is important to choose a lens that is weather resistance. This increases the durability of the lens.
The best lens for wildlife photography should also be resistant to dust, dirt, and moisture. One can also purchase a lens coat that provides additional protection to the lens and helps reduce any accidental bumps or digs.
Wildlife photography enables photographers to capture the animals when in their natural habitats. Wildlife photography is all about capturing the power of nature in just a split second, and this happens when the animal behavior comes together with the light conditions.
Capturing an emotional image is harder than said, but can be achieved when you have the right lens with you. With the right gear, wildlife photography is breathtaking and enticing!