Selecting the Ideal Lens for Wildlife Photography


In wildlife photography, the right lens can greatly impact your ability to capture the shot, while the wrong one may hinder your success. Wild animals often appear at challenging distances and in difficult lighting conditions. So, how can you find the perfect lens to overcome these challenges?

Fortunately, compared to landscape photography lenses, there are relatively fewer options that excel in wildlife photography, and they can be categorized quite distinctly. Once you grasp these categories, selecting the most suitable lens for your wildlife photography needs becomes easier.

Is There a Definitive Best Wildlife Photography Lens? Even disregarding price, I would argue that there is no singular best lens for wildlife photography, mainly because wildlife encompasses a vast range of subjects. While birds often come to mind when discussing wildlife, there is a diverse array of mammals, insects, and reptiles, among others. Therefore, while a 600mm f/4 lens may be ideal for capturing birds, it may not be the right choice for larger mammals at closer distances (unless you plan on using the lens to defend yourself).

However, there are “best lenses” to suit certain circumstances or budgets in the field of wildlife photography. In the sections to follow of the guide I’ll discuss various kinds of lenses for wildlife and tell you which lens is suitable for you.

The Budget Long Zoom Lens

I would say that for the majority of people, the zoom with a budget (which extends to at 500mm at) will be the ideal lens for wildlife. The lenses begin at 100mm, and then end at around 400mm-600mm. Certain brands offer two choices, such as 100-400mm and a 200-600mm. They could differ in cost as well as weight or aperture.

Below I’ve listed the longest-running zooms for every major mount of today including first-party lenses. This isn’t a comprehensive list of all budget-friendly zooms (that list will become extremely long after third-party and old optics are added) but it will give you an idea of choices available:


Mount Lens Price
1Nikon includes a 200-600mm lens on their list of priorities
Nikon Z 1 Nikon 100-400 f/4.5-5.6 $2697
Nikon F Nikon 200-500 f/5.6 $1396
Canon RF Canon 100-500 f/4.5-7.1 $2899
Canon EF Canon 100-400 f/4.5-5.6 $2399
Sony E Sony 200-600 f/5.6-6.3 $1998
Fuji X Fuji XF 100-400 f/4.5-5.6 $1899
Fuji X Fuji XF 150-600 f/5.6-8 R $1999
Pentax K Pentax 150-450 f/4.5-5.6 $1997
Micro 4/3rds (Panasonic) Panasonic 100-400 f/4-6.3 $1797
Micro 4/3rds (Olympus) Olympus 100-400 f/5-6.3 $1500
Panasonic/Leica/Sigma L Sigma Sport 150-600 f/5-6.3 DG DN $1499

In the category of third-party options some of the more well-known budget zooms available today is that of the Tamon 150-600 G2 and the Sigma 150-600mm Contemporary that cost $1400 and $990 respectively.

Nikon D500 + Tamron 150-600 G2 @ 600mm, ISO 6400, 1/640, f/7.1

Long zooms like these generally have three advantages: they’re more nimble than huge primes, they offer an extensive zoom range and are inexpensive. This zooming range can be among the best attributes of these lenses. they’re perfect if are looking to capture a variety of wildlife including dinosaurs to butterflies. The majority of these lenses come with acceptable minimum focus distances that means you can also take advantage of smaller animals, such as Frogs.

However budget telephoto zooms do have two drawbacks. One is the quality of images: Particularly when they are at their highest lens lengths, these zooms can’t capture as much detail like prime lenses. If you mostly shoot with the largest apertures, such as f/5.6 and f/5.6, you could be able to see some softness in close-ups regardless of what you shoot.

However, with the recent advancements in zooms this gap is becoming smaller. I was surprised by some of the photos taken with the Sony 200-600mm lenses from my other fellow photographers of wildlife. This is also the case with Canon’s 100-500mm and could be the case for Nikon’s 200-600mm lens that is coming out in the near future. In the event that you opt for the low-cost zoom option with a more modern lens, one such as this one will provide the most minimal compromises.

The second disadvantage of a longer zoom is its speed by two means. They have smaller apertures like Canon’s 100-500mm, which is f/7.1 at the longer end. This means less light hitting the sensor, which results in less quality of images in low light circumstances. With modern sensors and intelligent post-processing, this issue isn’t too bad however there is no way to capture less light.

Additionally, the smaller aperture can make the focusing process a bit slower when in comparison to primes. This is particularly true for certain DSLRs with a phase detection feature that is slower following f/5.6. But, if you’re shooting with a modern camera, specifically a top-of-the-line mirrorless camera, the difference won’t be so dramatic.

You’ll want an affordable long zoom If…

  1. You’re looking to photograph a range of species of wildlife with different dimensions and distances
  2. You would like to take wildlife photography with an affordable cost


The High-End Zoom

Contrary to the budget lens I mentioned earlier, high-end zoom lenses have a constant aperture high-end lenses. An excellent example is the mighty Nikon 180-400 F/4E that comes with an integrated the teleconverter.

High-end zooms aren’t as common than you’d think among photographers who shoot wildlife. They typically don’t have as much in terms of focal and are generally huge expensive lenses. The focal lengths they have and their constant aperture are great for large wildlife and natural shots. I typically only recommend lenses to people who is passionate about this genre.

A notable exception is one exception would be the Olympus ED 150-400mm f/4.5 for micro four-thirds cameras. It’s not tiny however it is smaller than the majority of constant-aperture high-end Telephotos (although it’s not significantly less costly). It’s got a wide reach of approximately 800mm and will put a good amount of pixels onto your subject. It’s a very popular lens for wildlife photographers using the Micro Four Thirds camera OM-1.

You’ll want the highest quality zoom…

  1. You’ll want to concentrate on larger shots or animals.
  2. Shoot in less light, and a zoom that isn’t budget will cause excessive noise
  3. Still, you need the ease of zoom
  4. You’re looking for uncompromising image quality across the entire width


The Wide Aperture Prime Lens

One of the most “traditional” primary lenses that are suitable for shooting wildlife are 500mm aperture or 600mm F/4 lenses. There are also larger 300mm and 400mm lenses available from virtually every manufacturer. Nikon recently launched Z 400 f/2.8, which is Nikon’s Z400 f/2.8 with a built in 1.4x convertor, which makes this sought-after focal length more adaptable.

In comparison with zoom lens (even the most expensive ones) Primers tend to be a minimum of a half a stop faster. They are generally more focused and are able to resolve more accurately. The two drawbacks of these lenses, besides the loss of flexibility from zoom lenses – are cost and weight.

The weight of the lens in particular blocks out wide-aperture, long primes for those who want to carry them over long distances, and shoot in a hurry. It’s generally not feasible to hold these lenses in your hands longer than couple of minutes at one time. So, if you own the lens you want to use you should make use of a tripod equipped with an Gimbal head (or at the very least, the monopod) for the majority of your photography.

Because these are prime lenses you’ll need to establish a subject in your mind before you start and be able to stand at the proper distance from it. The 300mm and 400mm lenses are ideal for subjects that are larger and closer as anything that goes beyond 500mm beyond is a favorite for smaller birds and distant mammals.

You should be able to get the traditional prime in the event that…

  1. It’s not necessary to hold your lens often or if you’re the Hulk
  2. It is common to photograph small creatures, such as birds.
  3. Sharpness of your razor (or bragging rights) is one of your top priorities.


Narrower Aperture Primes, Especially Canon’s DO and Nikon’s PF Lenses

A type of long lens which has been gaining popularity lately is the telephoto with a longer focal length prime, which has a narrower aperture. A majority of the lenses in this class feature the Fresnel lens element to reduce weight, such as Nikon’s PF lenses as well as Canon’s DO lenses.

The most successful and first model of this could be the Canon 400 F/4 DO II. It’s a great performer, though it’s an expensive lens that retails for $6900. A majority of PF as well as DO models stand out due to the fact that they’re well balanced in weight, aperture and focal length as well as cost.

In this regard, Canon has two intriguing lenses that merit mentioning including the 600mm f/11 and the 800mm f/11 both with DO elements. These lenses are light-weight and affordable, as well as sharp, despite the expense of having a tiny aperture. I’m not saying that F/11 is a possibility however I wouldn’t consider these lenses general-purpose. Instead they are Canon’s 600mm and 800mm f/11 lenses Canon 600mm or 800mm lenses are great for those who want to include wildlife images in their portfolios without breaking the bank.

From the Nikon side there are two unique PF lenses specifically designed specifically designed for wildlife photography: the 500mm f/5.6 lens and the Z 800mm f/6.3 lenses with PF. These lenses offer exceptional optical quality and are less heavy and more affordable than conventional primes. They have apertures that are large enough for these types of lenses. isn’t as broad like f/2.8 and f/4 lenses that is available on marketplace, yet they’re sufficient for the majority of wildlife photography.

Its Nikon Z 400mm f/4.5 falls in the same category as lighter-weight however it does not have PF elements. The Nikon 300mm F/4 PF is an additional suitable choice for this type of lens, though (at at least, without the Teleconverter) not a lengthy enough focal length to be suitable for birds photography or distant wildlife.

Nikon Z6 + 500PF @ 500mm, ISO 3600, 1/640, f/5.6

Prime lenses with a narrower aperture are among the top balanced lenses for wildlife photography in the absence of the ease of zoom. The idea is to take something like 200-500mm f/5.6 eliminating the longer focal lengths which will result in an image that is sharper, lighter and lighter (although it’s not always cheaper).

It is recommended to get the lens with a narrower aperture If…

  1. You’re looking for top quality image quality
  2. If you don’t mind shooting with a slower lens when compared to f/2.8 or F/4 primes.
  3. Light weight is of crucial importance for your photography


Something to Think About: Minimum Focus Distance

A lens’s minimum focal distance lenses is the point that the lens will stop be in focus when the subject gets any further. For instance my Nikon 500mm f/5.6 has an minimal focus distance of three meters (9.8ft). If a bird gets close to that distance then I won’t be able get the image.

It is interesting to note that budget zooms usually come with a greater minimal focusing distance than the higher-end primes and zooms. However, it differs quite a little from lens to lens. For instance, if encounter a dragonfly on a rock, I usually must move back slightly in order for the lens of my Nikon 500mm PF lens can focus on it. However, Nikon’s 300mm lens f/4 is, in contrast, widely acknowledged for its short focus distance and is an extremely popular choice among dragonfly photographers.

If you intend to capture tiny, close-up subjects such as butterflies, lizards and dragonflies, pay pay attention to the minimum focus distance and the maximum magnification of a lens’s specifications. Make sure you choose an lens that has at the minimum of 1:5 (0.2x) or more for these types of subjects.

Another Thing to Think About: Weight

Many buyers purchase a lens, and then return it to sell later because it’s heavy. Every person has a different tolerance to weight, however I prefer to think of three types:

  1. Camera and lens under 2500g (under 5.5 pounds) This camera is so comfortable that it’s enjoyable to use
  2. A combination of 2500g and 3200g (5.5 to 7lbs) It can be carried around However, a day of photography is like a workout in the gym.
  3. Combination of more than 3200 g (over 7 pounds) typically the “big glass” that is able to be used handheld for brief periods but requires a tripod or monopod in a lot of cases.

On the basis of these types This table will provide you with an idea of what you can do for wildlife photographers:

Camera and lens Weight (grams) Weight (pounds)
The more comfortable ones
Olympus OM-1 + 300 f/4 2074 4.6
Canon R5 + 100-500 f/4.5-7.1 2103 4.6
Nikon D500 + 500mm f/5.6 PF 2320 5.1
Olympus OM-1 + 150-400 f/4.5 2474 5.5
The slightly more uncomfortable ones
Nikon Z9 + 100-400 f/4.5-5.6 S 2775 6.1
Sony A9II + 200-600 f/5.6-6.3 2793 6.2
Nikon D500 + 200-500 f/5.6 3160 7.0
The hefty sharp, ultra-sharp machines
Sony A9II + 400 f/2.8 3573 7.9
Sony A9II + 600 f/4 3718 8.2
Z9 + 800mm f/6.3 S 3725 8.2
Canon R5 + RF 600 f/4 3838 8.5
Nikon D500 + 600 f/4 4670 10.3
Nikon Z9 + FTZII + 600 f/4 5275 11.6
The 500mm f/5.6 PF gives a very long focal length in a relatively light and compact package

Pure numbers aren’t the only thing that counts. For hand-holding, it’s preferable to have the majority of the weight centered on the camera’s body, which puts less leverage on the other side of your camera. For example Nikon Z9 plus Nikon Z9 plus 800mm f/6.3 weighs nearly similar to the Sony A9 II and 600mm f/4, yet it has more weight close towards your physique. In comparison, the Z9 combination will be more comfortable to hold for extended lengths of time.

The Macro Lens?

Micro photography is often thought to be a distinct category than wildlife photography, however because it’s also about taking pictures of life-like things, I see them closely connected.

As compared to the 10 thousand or so bird species that are known, there are one million insect species as well as millions of others which have not been identified. A macro lens, which provides at least a an inch of magnification can allow you to snap pictures of these creatures.

Leopard Frog – Panasonic G9 + Laowa 2X Macro @ 50mm, ISO 2000, 1/160, f/2.8

This is why I believe that all wildlife photographers should carry a macro lens in their bags. The most commonly used macro lenses usually have a 100mm in equivalent focal length like:

  1. Nikon Z (mirrorless): Nikon 105mm f/2.8 VR S
  2. Nikon F (DSLR): Nikon 105mm f/2.8G
  3. Canon the RF (mirrorless): Canon RF 100mm f/2.8 L (does 1.4x instead of the standard 1x)
  4. Canon EF (DSLR): Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L
  5. Sony FESony FE 90mm f/2.8 G
  6. Fuji X: Fuji XF 80mm f/2.8 R
  7. Leica L: Sigma 105mm f/2.8 DG DN Art
  8. Micro Four Thirds: Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 60mm f/2.8
  9. Pentax K: Pentax SMC D FA 100mm f/2.8

There are a lot of macro lenses made by third parties which are excellent and there are a couple of longer 200mm and 150mm macro lenses available on the market.

In a few cases, for those who require more than 1x magnification you must use third-party lens (or tools such as extension tubes or Teleconverters). An example of this is the specially-designed Venus Optics Laowa 25mm f/2.8 2.5-5x lens that Spencer examined just a few days ago However, the lens is only macro-focused and isn’t able to focus on non-macro objects.

It is recommended to purchase an optical zoom in the event that…

  1. You’re looking to snap photos of flowers, insects and other tiny creatures
  2. You’d like to create stunning photos from all over the world, including your backyard, using easily portable equipment
  3. You’re secretly worried about taking pictures of birds, but are unable to admit it.



The decision to purchase a lens for wildlife isn’t easy. It’s quite expensive but you’ll need an item that can be able to meet your expectations the difficult subject matter of photography. This guide has given you an idea of the ideal wildlife lens to suit your needs!