We pick the best lenses for photographing wildlife, available for the most competitive prices
Image by Zdeněk Macháček
In wildlife photography, as with so many genres, lens choice is everything. A good wildlife photographer needs something with plenty of reach – there’s really no getting around that. Granted, wide-angle wildlife photography certainly has its place, but for the vast majority of subjects you’ll not be able to get too close, and that means picking a lens that can shorten the distance a little.
But what exactly to choose is still a tough question. How long do you want to go in terms of focal length? Will 100mm do or do you need the power of a 500mm optic, or even more? Do you want the flexibility of a zoom lens or the sharpness and resolving power of a prime? What system are you using, and what kind of optics does it offer?
We’ve put together a guide of some of our favourite lenses across all different systems, with different types and focal lengths included. Don’t be afraid to explore for yourself and find the lens that works for you – photography is all about experimentation. Take a look and let us know which lenses catch your eye!
A generous telephoto zoom like this Canon lens gives you a good deal of flexibility that’s great for catching wildlife. Its optical image stabiliser also helps with using the lens handheld, while the Zoom Touch Adjustment ring allows you to customise the feel of the zoom control to your liking, making the shooting experience more intuitive and tactile. Canon promises superb image quality right across the frame of an image, while the multi-layered sphere coating helps to reduce backlit flare and ghosting. Focusing is quiet and accurate, with full-time manual focus available in case you need to do some fine tuning.
Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens
Save £250, was £1,999
The Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM Lens is a worthy success to the well-received MK I. Featuring a newly redesigned optical system for excellent sharpness; rotating zoom design; an improved minimum focusing distance of 0.98m; and a 3-mode Image Stabiliser, this solid, super-telephoto lens will perform to the highest of standards in a variety of photographic genres. This includes sport, wildlife, travel, and portraiture. When working with APS-C sized image sensors the lens delivers angles of view that are equivalent to a 160-640mm on a full-frame camera. Furthermore, the lens is weather sealed, offers compact dimensions and is relatively lightweight so that it can be taken anywhere.
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If you need still more reach then consider this super-telephoto for Nikon users, a stalwart 200-500mm lens that includes Nikon’s Sport VR mode that’s specifically designed to track fast-moving subjects. The Silent Wave Motor ensures fast autofocus that’s also ultra-quiet, with seamless manual override if necessary. A useful tripod foot helps stabilise the large lens when it’s mounted on a tripod, while the electromagnetic diaphragm ensures consistent and precise exposures even when shooting in burst mode. All in all, this is a perfect lens for capturing elusive, fast-moving subjects – also known as wildlife!
Nikon 200-500mm f5.6E ED VR AF-S Lens
The Nikon AF-S 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR FX lens delivers super-telephoto versatility for sport, wildlife, and aviation enthusiasts. This compact lens includes Nikon's Electromagnetic Aperture to ensure consistent exposures, and the latest Vibration Reduction (VR) system. Additional features include Sport VR mode for tracking fast-paced subjects, and Nikon's Silent Wave Motor (SWM) for high-speed AF.
If you’re looking for something a little less bulky, a lens like this zoom for Sony E-mount might fit the bill. A 24mm-240mm lens, it can be used with full-frame or APS-C cameras (the latter of which will extend its reach), and it has a dust- and moisture-resistant design that makes it ideal for extended outdoor shoots. There’s also built in Optical SteadyShot stabilisation, and a seven-bladed aperture that ensures smooth transition to defocused areas of an image. Blending portability and style, this all-in-one optic is a fantastic choice for any wildlife photographer using Sony E-mount cameras.
Sony FE 24-240mm f3.5-6.3 OSS Lens
The Sony FE 24mm-240mm 10x zoom range allows this lens to cover an extensive variety of shooting situations, making it ideal for travel where reducing luggage is a priority. This all-in-one zoom allows you to switch between wide angle and telephoto without having to change lenses, so you'll never miss a moment. Handheld telephoto shots and low-light photography are facilitated by built-in Optical SteadyShot (OSS) image stabilisation, and the design is dust and moisture resistant for reliable operation in challenging conditions.
Pentax DSLRs and lenses have a well-earned reputation for being hardy and outdoorsy, and this durable telephoto zoom is no exception. Not only will it stand up to the rain and wind, but when it’s mounted on an APS-C Pentax DSLR, its focal range extends to 84.5-460mm, so you’ve got plenty of latitude for capturing wildlife on camera. Its internal construction incorporates extra-low dispersion (ED) elements, ensuring it produces pin-sharp images free from distortion, and despite all this, it weighs just 442g, meaning it’s no hardship to carry the lens around for a day’s shoot.
Pentax-DA HD 55-300mm f4.5-6.3 ED PLM WR RE Lens
The Pentax-DA 55-300mm f4.5-6.3 PLM WR is a compact, weather-resistant telephoto lens designed for use with Pentax KAF4-mount DSLRs, such as the K-70, K-1, K-3 II, K-S2 and K-S1. It provides focal lengths of between 84.5-460mm when used on an APS-C sensor camera, and has an upgraded AF system that assures quiet, high-speed AF operation, particularly when used with the new Pentax K-70. At just 89mm in length and an approximate weight of 442g, it is entirely weather-sealed, making it a convenient lens to use when shooting outdoors. Incorporating extra-low dispersion (ED) elements in its optics, the Pentax 55-300mm f4.5-6.3 WR Lens is guaranteed to deliver high-resolution, fine-detailed images with rich contrast.
If the generous focal length of many telephoto lenses still isn’t enough for your wildlife-photography needs, why not consider a teleconverter? A great example is the 1.4x teleconverter included with this Fujinon telephoto zoom, which when attached bumps its focal range up to 140-560mm, or 213-853mm in 35mm equivalent terms. As you can imagine, this gives you some real range for far-off shots! The lens itself is excellent too, fully capitalising on the resolving power of Fujifilm’s X-Trans APS-C sensors, and with its weather- and dust-resistant design, you can be sure it’ll pair well with more robust Fujifilm cameras like the X-Pro series.
The advantage of using smaller Micro Four Thirds lenses like the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 300mm f4 IS PRO Lens is the significant reduction in size and weight – you get the equivalent of a 600mm lens, but without the bulk. There are loads of fantastic cameras for wildlife in the Micro Four Thirds system, and this lens will pair brilliantly with any of them. Its sophisticated internal construction ensures pin-sharp images, and if you use it with an Olympus camera, you also get the benefit of 5-axis optical image stabilisation. Its fully prepped for inclement weather, thanks to hermeticl sealing in 17 locations, and it fits well in carry-on luggage so is also perfect for travel.
Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 300mm f4 IS PRO Lens
At one-third the size and weight of typical 600mm DSLR lenses, the M.Zuiko 300mm f4.0 IS PRO lens (600mm equivalent) is nimble enough for hand-held shooting and compact enough to carry on even the most arduous expeditions. Industry-first 5-axis Sync IS technology employs in-body and in-lens stabilisation harmoniously to deliver six steps of shutter compensation and incredibly crisp, detailed photographs.
About the Author
Jon Stapley is a professional journalist with a wealth of experience on a number of photography titles including Amateur Photographer, Digital Camera World and What Digital Camera. See more of his writing on Jon's author page.