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9 Best Nikon Lenses for Bird Photography in 2024

Last updated: March 20, 2024 - 14 min read
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Capturing the beauty birds in their natural habitats is that much easier when you have the best Nikon lenses for bird photography. With a variety of lenses available, it’s important to find one that offers the best combination of reach, image quality, and handling to suit your bird photography needs.

Our top two choices are the Nikon Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S and Nikon AF-S 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR for their impressive focal lengths and quick autofocus systems. Both lenses stand out for their specific advantages in bird photography.

Additionally, we have identified seven other lenses for both mirrorless and DSLR cameras. There’s a bird photography lens for any Nikon user in this article. 

Our Top 2 Nikon Lenses for Bird Photography
Nikon NIKKOR Z 100-400mm F/4.5-5.6 VR S
Nikon NIKKOR Z 100-400mm F/4.5-5.6 VR S
Nikon NIKKOR Z 100-400mm F/4.5-5.6 VR S
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm F/5.6E PF ED VR
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm F/5.6E PF ED VR
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm F/5.6E PF ED VR

What Is the Best Nikon Z Lens for Bird Photography?

Selecting the best Nikon Z lens for bird photography involves considering focal length, image stabilization, and weight for fieldwork. The Nikon Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S leads with its versatile zoom, while the Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 VR S excels in bringing distant subjects close.

Each lens offers unique advantages, from the lightweight Nikon Z 400mm f/4.5 VR S to the budget-friendly Nikon DX Z 50-250mm f/4.5-6.3 VR, ensuring sharp, detailed captures of avian life.

Our Top Pick
Nikon NIKKOR Z 100-400mm F/4.5-5.6 VR S
Nikon NIKKOR Z 100-400mm F/4.5-5.6 VR S
Nikon NIKKOR Z 100-400mm F/4.5-5.6 VR S
  • Versatile zoom range for dynamic framing
  • Robust build, weather-sealed for durability
  • Impressive sharpness, minimal chromatic aberration
  • Effective 5.5-stop image stabilization
  • Quick, accurate autofocus system
Best Telephoto Prime
Nikon NIKKOR Z 400mm F/4.5 VR S
Nikon NIKKOR Z 400mm F/4.5 VR S
Nikon NIKKOR Z 400mm F/4.5 VR S
  • Exceptional sharpness, even at maximum aperture
  • Lightweight design enhances portability
  • Professional-grade weather sealing for reliability
  • Fast, accurate autofocus with quiet operation
  • Pleasing bokeh with nine rounded aperture blades
Best APS-C Zoom Lens
Nikon DX NIKKOR Z 50-250mm F/4.5-6.3 VR
Nikon DX NIKKOR Z 50-250mm F/4.5-6.3 VR
Nikon DX NIKKOR Z 50-250mm F/4.5-6.3 VR
  • Ideal for versatile sports and wildlife photography
  • Lightweight, easy to handle for extended periods
  • Effective Vibration Reduction for sharp handheld shots
  • Fast, precise autofocus with stepping motor
  • Affordable entry into telephoto zoom photography
Best Super-Telephoto Prime
Nikon NIKKOR Z 800mm F/6.3 VR S
Nikon NIKKOR Z 800mm F/6.3 VR S
Nikon NIKKOR Z 800mm F/6.3 VR S
  • Unmatched reach for wildlife and sports photography
  • Exceptional clarity with minimal aberration
  • Lightweight design for its focal length
  • Effective Vibration Reduction for stable shots
  • Compatible with Nikon Z-mount mirrorless cameras
 

Our Favorite Nikon Z Lenses for Bird Photography

Let’s take a closer look at our favorite Nikon Z lenses for bird photography. From versatile zooms to powerful primes, there’s a lens here for any bird photographer. Whether you’re in the jungle or your back garden, these options promise to elevate your bird photography to the next level.

1. Nikon Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S

Our Top Pick
Nikon NIKKOR Z 100-400mm F/4.5-5.6 VR S
Brand
Brand
Nikon
Lens Weight
Lens Weight
1355 g
Maximum Aperture
Maximum Aperture
f/ 5.6
Focal Length Range
Focal Length Range
100-400 mm
Image Stabilization
Image Stabilization
Yes

The Nikon Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S stands out for bird photography due to its impressive focal length range and magnification. This range is crucial for capturing detailed shots of birds from a distance.

The lens’s optical design features six ED and two Super ED glass elements, which work together to minimize chromatic aberration. This ensures sharp, clear images of birds in their natural habitats.

However, its variable aperture of f/4.5-5.6 might limit its performance in low light. But the built-in Vibration Reduction (VR) system gives you 5.5 stops of exposure compensation, helping to reduce camera shake. This is especially useful when shooting at the longer end of the zoom range or in less-than-ideal lighting conditions. 

Its autofocus system is quick and accurate, which is essential for tracking fast-moving birds. The lens is relatively lightweight at 3 lb (1.4 kg), making it easier to handle during long photography sessions.

Compared to the Nikon Z 400mm f/4.5 VR S, the 100-400mm offers more flexibility with its zoom range. However, the 400mm f/4.5 might have a slight edge in image sharpness and low-light performance due to its fixed focal length and wider aperture. 

With a wide telephoto zoom range and reliable stabilization, the Nikon Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S is the best Nikon lens for bird photography. 

 

2. Nikon Z 400mm f/4.5 VR S

Best Lightweight Prime
Nikon NIKKOR Z 400mm F/4.5 VR S
Brand
Brand
Nikon
Lens Weight
Lens Weight
1160 g
Maximum Aperture
Maximum Aperture
f/ 4.5
Focal Length Range
Focal Length Range
400 mm
Image Stabilization
Image Stabilization
Yes

The Nikon Z 400mm f/4.5 VR S is the best telephoto prime for bird photography if you have a Nikon mirrorless camera.

With a 400mm focal length, this prime lens captures distant birds in sharp detail. Optically, the lens impresses with minimal chromatic aberration and distortion, thanks to its ED and Super ED glass elements. This ensures that bird photos look natural with vibrant colors and clear edges. 

An f/4.5 max aperture isn’t the fastest on the list. But it’s still sufficient for daytime shooting. And the VR system gives you an extra 5.5 stops to help you out in low light. 

A 9-blade aperture helps create a smooth background bokeh, isolating your subject in a busy background. 

Its fast and accurate autofocus is key for snapping quick-moving subjects. Weighing 2.74 lb (1.2 kg), it’s lighter than many alternatives, making it easier to carry in the field. It also has comprehensive weather sealing, so you can use it outdoors in any weather. 

While not as versatile as the 100-400mm zoom lens, the Nikon Z 400mm f/4.5 VR S delivers telephoto magnification with exceptional image quality. You’ll be able to bring distant birds into sharp focus for stunning bird photography results. 

 

3. Nikon DX Z 50-250mm f/4.5-6.3 VR

Best Budget Telephoto Zoom
Nikon DX NIKKOR Z 50-250mm F/4.5-6.3 VR
Brand
Brand
Nikon
Lens Weight
Lens Weight
405 g
Maximum Aperture
Maximum Aperture
f/ 6.3
Focal Length Range
Focal Length Range
50-250 mm
Image Stabilization
Image Stabilization
Yes

The Nikon Z DX 50-250mm f/4.5-6.3 VR is the best bird photography lens for Nikon APS-C mirrorless cameras. It offers a flexible zoom range, making it a practical choice for bird photography. Its ability to quickly adjust from standard to telephoto focal lengths allows photographers to capture detailed images of birds.

The variable maximum aperture of f/4.5-6.3 means that photographers might need to increase ISO settings in dim lighting. 

However, the inclusion of VR technology is a key feature, providing up to 5 stops of stabilization. This is especially useful for shooting at the longer end of the zoom range, helping to keep images sharp even in lower light conditions.

The lens’s optical performance has good control over chromatic aberration and provides a pleasing bokeh. This makes it a good option for amateur bird photographers looking for a versatile and affordable telephoto zoom lens.

Weighing 14.3oz (405 g), this lens is light and easy to carry, ideal for photographers who spend long hours in the field. Its plastic construction contributes to its portability, although it lacks weather sealing.

The autofocus system, powered by a stepping motor, is quick and quiet, ensuring that fast-moving birds are captured with precision.

The Nikon Z DX 50-250mm f/4.5-6.3 VR is the best bird photography lens for beginners. It’s compatible with APS-C mirrorless cameras and is more budget-friendly than most alternatives. It’s a great option if you want to photograph birds in your back garden or local park. 

 

4. Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 VR S

Best Super-Telephoto Prime
Nikon NIKKOR Z 800mm F/6.3 VR S
Brand
Brand
Nikon
Lens Weight
Lens Weight
2385 g
Maximum Aperture
Maximum Aperture
f/ 6.3
Focal Length Range
Focal Length Range
800 mm
Image Stabilization
Image Stabilization
Yes

The Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 VR S gives you phenomenal magnification and tack-sharp optics. It’s a pro-level prime lens with a pro-level price tag. But it’s the best super-telephoto prime for bird photography. 

Its 800mm focal length brings distant birds into sharp focus, making it perfect for bird photography where the birds are easily startled.

You might expect some optical problems from a lens with such a large focal length. But that’s not the case with this prime. Thanks to the high-quality glass within, you get edge-to-edge sharpness. 

The lens’s built-in Vibration Reduction (VR) is a standout feature, offering up to 5 stops of stabilization. This compensates for the slow-ish f/6.3 max aperture. It gives you extra exposure control, allowing you to work in lower light. 

Weighing 5.26 lbs (2.3 g), the lens is heavy and cumbersome. That’s to be expected with an 800mm lens, but it’s worth noting if you have to hike a long way to your favorite birding locations. 

The AF system is surprisingly quick for a lens this size. It’s also very quiet, helping you keep a low profile. Two custom function buttons also give you a more personalized user experience. 

The Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 VR S is a specialist lens with a hefty price tag. But if you need incredible magnification and breathtaking image quality for bird photography, this could be the lens for you.

 

What is the Best Nikon F Lens for Bird Photography?

We now turn our attention to the best Nikon F lenses to help you can find a bird photography lens for you Nikon DSLR camera.

Selected for their superior image quality, quick autofocus, and effective image stabilization, these lenses are ideal for capturing birds in their natural habitats. The list includes options for all types of photographers, ensuring bird enthusiasts can find exactly what they need.

Our Top Pick
Nikon AF-S 200-500mm F/5.6E ED VR
Nikon AF-S 200-500mm F/5.6E ED VR
Nikon AF-S 200-500mm F/5.6E ED VR
  • Versatile 200-500mm zoom range for dynamic framing
  • Constant f/5.6 aperture across zoom range
  • Vibration Reduction enhances handheld shooting stability
  • Swift, silent autofocus with Silent Wave Motor
  • Durable build with weather-sealing protection
Best Telephoto Prime
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm F/5.6E PF ED VR
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm F/5.6E PF ED VR
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm F/5.6E PF ED VR
  • Exceptional sharpness, even wide open
  • Compact, lightweight design for portability
  • Fast, accurate autofocus with Silent Wave Motor
  • Effective Vibration Reduction up to 4 stops
  • Weather-sealed for challenging outdoor conditions
Best for Low Light
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 300mm F/2.8G ED VR II
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 300mm F/2.8G ED VR II
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 300mm F/2.8G ED VR II
  • Unmatched sharpness at f/2.8 aperture
  • Durable, weather-sealed construction for harsh conditions
  • Fast, precise autofocus with Silent Wave Motor
  • Exceptional bokeh for subject-background separation
  • Vibration Reduction for stable handheld shooting
Best Super Telephoto Prime
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 600mm F/4E FL ED VR
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 600mm F/4E FL ED VR
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 600mm F/4E FL ED VR
  • Superior reach with 600mm focal length
  • Bright f/4 aperture for low-light shooting
  • Advanced Vibration Reduction for sharp handheld images
  • Robust, weather-sealed construction for outdoor reliability
  • Exceptional image quality with minimal aberrations
Best APS-C Telephoto Lens
Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 55-300mm F/4.5-5.6G ED VR
Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 55-300mm F/4.5-5.6G ED VR
Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 55-300mm F/4.5-5.6G ED VR
  • Versatile zoom range for diverse shooting scenarios
  • Effective Vibration Reduction for sharp handheld shots
  • Compact and lightweight design enhances portability
  • Excellent value for versatile telephoto shooting
  • Quick, silent autofocus with Silent Wave Motor
 

Our Favorite Nikon F Lenses for Bird Photography

Let’s take a closer look at our favorite Nikon F lenses. Whether you’re capturing birds in flight or at rest, these lenses provide the versatility and quality required for stunning bird photography. 

1. Nikon AF-S 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR

Best Versatile Zoom Lens
Nikon AF-S 200-500mm F/5.6E ED VR
Brand
Brand
Nikon
Lens Weight
Lens Weight
2300 g
Maximum Aperture
Maximum Aperture
f/ 5.6
Focal Length Range
Focal Length Range
200-500 mm
Image Stabilization
Image Stabilization
Yes

The Nikon AF-S 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR is the best F-mount lens for bird photography. Its wide telephoto focal range provides excellent magnification and flexibility, ideal for bird photography where you can’t control you’re subject’s movements. 

The constant f/5.6 aperture isn’t the fastest. But it is constant from 100mm to 400mm, helping keep exposure steady as you zoom in and out. The lens’s Vibration Reduction (VR) is a big help, making it easier to shoot in less light without losing sharpness.

Weighing about 5 lb (2.3 kg), it is a heavy lens. This makes long handheld shooting sessions challenging. Yet, its build is sturdy, offering some protection against dust and moisture. This makes it a good option for outdoor shoots.

This lens delivers sharp images with minimal color fringing, thanks to its extra-low dispersion glass elements. And the autofocus is quick in good light and makes very little noise.

For bird photographers looking for flexibility and good image quality without the high cost of prime lenses, Nikon AF-S 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR is the best choice for your Nikon DSLR. 

 

2. Nikon AF-S 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR

Our Top Pick
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm F/5.6E PF ED VR
Brand
Brand
Nikon
Lens Weight
Lens Weight
1460 g
Maximum Aperture
Maximum Aperture
f/ 5.6
Focal Length Range
Focal Length Range
500 mm
Image Stabilization
Image Stabilization
Yes

The Nikon AF-S 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR is the best prime lens for Nikon DSLR cameras. It’s the perfect blend of magnification and image quality.

Weighing just 3.21 lbs (1.4 kg), it’s surprisingly lightweight for a super-telephoto prime lens. This is a big advantage for photographers who spend long hours waiting for the perfect shot. Its Phase Fresnel (PF) element significantly reduces the lens’s size and weight without compromising image quality.

Extra-low Dispersion (ED) elements also improve picture quality, eliminating chromatic aberration. That’s why you get such sharp images with excellent magnification. 

The lens’s f/5.6 aperture isn’t the fastest, but you can still work comfortably in daylight. It also has Nikon’s VR system to give you more shutter speed compensation if light is on the low side. 

Autofocus speed is another strength. The lens quickly and accurately focuses on fast-moving birds, capturing them in sharp detail. This is crucial for bird photography, where even a slight delay can mean missing a shot. 

With advanced weather sealing, you’ll have no issue using the Nikon AF-S 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR outdoors. It’s a brilliant piece of equipment and one serious bird photographers should definitely consider. 

 

3. Nikon AF-S 300mm f/2.8G ED VR II

Best for Low Light
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 300mm F/2.8G ED VR II
Brand
Brand
Nikon
Lens Weight
Lens Weight
2900 g
Maximum Aperture
Maximum Aperture
f/ 2.8
Focal Length Range
Focal Length Range
300 mm
Image Stabilization
Image Stabilization
Yes

The Nikon AF-S 300mm f/2.8G ED VR II excels in bird photography, offering a prime lens’s sharpness and a wide f/2.8 aperture. This combination is perfect for capturing birds in flight or at rest with stunning detail and beautiful background blur, making the subject stand out.

A 300mm focal length might be too short for some bird photographers. But the optical quality is sensational. Three ED elements combat chromatic aberration and distortion, giving you edge-to-edge sharpness. 

The f/2.8 max aperture is a brilliant feature, giving you excellent low-light performance. This helps you keep you shutter speed fast, keeping your bird images sharp. The built-in VR system also gives you another few stops of compensation, helping you shoot in low light. 

Its fast autofocus is a boon for tracking quick-moving subjects, ensuring crisp images even in action-packed moments.

Weighing in at around 6.4 lbs (2.9 kg), it’s hefty but manageable, especially with a tripod or monopod. The lens’s robust build and weather sealing make it reliable for outdoor shoots. 

This lens is a good option for professionals who need top-notch image quality, fast autofocus, and effective stabilization. With outstanding low-light performance, the Nikon AF-S 300mm f/2.8G ED VR II is the best lens for shooting at dawn or dusk. 

 

4. Nikon AF-S 600mm f/4E FL ED VR

Best for Wildlife Photography
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 600mm F/4E FL ED VR
Brand
Brand
Nikon
Lens Weight
Lens Weight
3810 g
Maximum Aperture
Maximum Aperture
f/ 4.0
Focal Length Range
Focal Length Range
600 mm
Image Stabilization
Image Stabilization
Yes

The Nikon AF-S 600mm f/4E FL ED VR is a powerhouse for bird photography, offering unparalleled reach and image quality. This lens’s sharpness is unmatched, ensuring every feather and color is accurately rendered.

Its 600mm focal length brings distant birds closer, allowing you to capture them in stunning detail. The f/4 aperture allows for fast shutter speeds to freeze motion, which is essential for capturing birds in flight.

An f/4 aperture is decent for a lens with a 600mm focal length. You’ll have more than enough light intake for daytime shooting. And the VR system gives you a helping hand when you are struggling for light. 

There’s no denying this lens is large and heavy, but that’s to be expected with a super-telephoto prime. The lens’s robust build and weather sealing make it reliable in various outdoor conditions, from dusty plains to humid forests.

The Nikon AF-S 600mm f/4E FL ED VR is a big investment but offers professional bird photographers the best in super-telephoto performance. Its combination of reach, speed, and optical excellence makes it a useful tool for capturing birds in their natural habitats.

 

4. Nikon AF-S DX 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR

Best Budget Telephoto Lens
Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 55-300mm F/4.5-5.6G ED VR
Brand
Brand
Nikon
Lens Weight
Lens Weight
530 g
Maximum Aperture
Maximum Aperture
f/ 5.6
Focal Length Range
Focal Length Range
55-300 mm
Image Stabilization
Image Stabilization
Yes

The Nikon AF-S DX 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR offers a versatile zoom range, making it a good choice for bird photography beginners. Its ability to zoom from standard to telephoto focal lengths allows photographers to capture detailed images of distant birds without disturbing them.

You might experience some lens distortion when working at the extremes of the focal length. But generally, the lens gives you sharp, clean images. This is in part thanks to the ED and High Refractive Index (HRI) glass elements. 

A variable aperture is never ideal. And a maximum of f/5.6 at 300mm does present some limitations if light is low. However, the Vibration Reduction (VR) helps keep images sharp at long focal lengths, especially in low-light conditions where camera shake can be a problem.

Weighing just over 1 lb (580 g), this lens is relatively lightweight. Its autofocus is quick and mostly accurate, ensuring that fast-moving subjects are captured with clarity. 

The Nikon AF-S DX 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR is a very useful option for bird photographers looking for a budget-friendly, versatile lens. It’s the best bird photography lens if you’re using a Nikon APS-C DSLR camera. 

 

Conclusion: The Best Nikon Lenses for Bird Photography

Bird photography is a difficult discipline. But when you’re equipped with the best Nikon Lenses for Bird Photography, you can photograph sparrows, kingfishers, or red kites in all their splendor.

We reviewed nine lenses, highlighting their strengths for capturing all types of bird images. We considered key features like focal length, image stabilization, and weight to help photographers find the best fit for their needs.

The Nikon Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S and Nikon AF-S 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR are the top picks for bird photographers. They both give you the perfect blend of magnification, flexibility, and image quality. There are seven other outstanding lenses, but these two are the best of the best for bird photography. 

Our Top 2 Nikon Lenses for Bird Photography
Nikon NIKKOR Z 100-400mm F/4.5-5.6 VR S
Nikon NIKKOR Z 100-400mm F/4.5-5.6 VR S
Nikon NIKKOR Z 100-400mm F/4.5-5.6 VR S
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm F/5.6E PF ED VR
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm F/5.6E PF ED VR
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm F/5.6E PF ED VR