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10 Best Telephoto Lenses for Wildlife Photographers

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Choosing the perfect telephoto lens for wildlife photography can be a struggle. There are so many options – and so many factors to consider!

After reading our article, you will know what to look for in a telephoto lens for wildlife photography purposes. You will also discover which lens fits your needs the most.

A photographer holding a telephoto lens in nature

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The Best Lenses for Wildlife Photography

Wildlife photography requires you to check some specific aspects that you might not need for any other niches.

You need a focal length that allows you to capture wild animals without getting too close. You also have to consider how fast your lens is. The faster it can catch movement (especially in low-light situations), the better.

It is also an advantage if your lens has weatherproof sealing. This will ensure that your equipment does not get destroyed in the challenging environment that you have to endure as a wildlife photographer.

With his information in mind, we have collected our best-recommended lenses for wildlife photography.

A wildlife photographer shooting with a super telephoto zoom lens

1. Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM

This is the first super-telephoto lens from Sigma’s contemporary line. It is lightweight (1930 grams), making it possible to shoot handheld.

The HSM (Hyper Sonic Motor) offers fast and accurate autofocus, compared to the wide focal range it has to cover. It has a strong optical performance on shorter focal lengths, which decreases towards the higher end of the focal range.

The dust and splash-proof mount make it possible to shoot in almost any outdoor condition. The lens is also water and oil repellent.

There is also extra flare reduction added to the build of this lens, which ensures that you take high contrast images even in backlight.

Due to it being inexpensive compared to its competitors, this lens is an affordable and easy-to-carry choice for wildlife photographers.

Pros:

  • Low cost
  • Lightweight
  • Weatherproof mount
  • Wide range of focal length

Cons:

  • Sometimes inaccurate autofocus
  • Optical performance decreases above 500m

Image of the Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM super telephoto lenses

2. Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS

This Sony lens is every bird photographer’s dream. It weighs 2115 grams and is suitable for shooting handheld.

The image quality is outstanding, retaining sharpness and contrast throughout the zoom range. Even though the aperture is somewhat slow, this lens excels at sport and wildlife photography.

The autofocus is fast and accurate in decent lighting. You will not have any problems dealing with energetic wildlife.

This super-telephoto zoom lens also comes with a built-in optical image stabiliser. This helps shooting both static and moving subjects even at the longest focal length.

Pros:

  • Amazing image quality
  • Fast and accurate autofocus
  • Fairly light

Cons:

  • Slow aperture

Image of the Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS super telephoto zoom lens

3. Canon 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x

This is Canon’s ultimate wildlife photography lens. It offers incredible image quality – and it is sharp across the board.

The autofocus is very strong – working well with fast-moving subjects. But that is not its main feature. The real selling point of the Canon 200-400mm f/4 is its focal length range.

This super-telephoto zoom lens is a powerhouse, going from 200 to 400mm (and offering incredible image quality along with the entire range). And even more exciting is the built-in 1.4x teleconverter.

With the flick of a switch, you can go from 400mm to 560mm. Yes, your maximum aperture goes back to f/5.6. But that is a minor drawback compared to the total value of the lens.

Consider the flexibility that this brings to your wildlife photography. You can start by shooting some wider shots, then a few tighter portraits, then some intense close-ups – the opportunities are endless.

Pros:

  • Incredible focal length range
  • Superb image quality
  • Fast autofocus

Cons:

  • Price
  • Long and heavy

Image of the Canon 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x super-telephoto zoom lens

4. Nikon 200-400mm f/4 VR II

The Nikon 200-400mm f/4 is a monster of a lens in more ways than one.

Let’s start with the biggest drawback: this lens is heavy at 7.4 pounds (3.3 kgs). If you are a wildlife photographer who values portability, go with a different option. But if you do not mind the weight, then there is much to be excited about.

First, the focal length: 200 to 400mm is perfect for photographing wildlife. And the zoom range allows for some serious flexibility in the field.

Not to mention the amazing image quality. This lens is sharp throughout its entire focal length range. It is also sharp at f/4 – which means that you can appreciate the wider maximum aperture.

Finally, the VR is impressive, allowing you to handhold at shutter speeds four stops slower than normal.

All in all, this is a great lens. But the weight may be prohibitive for those with a more travel-oriented photography style.

Pros:

  • Fantastic focal length range
  • Amazing image quality
  • Vibration reduction

Cons:

  • Quite heavy

Image of the Nikon 200-400mm f/4 VR II

5. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II

Are you looking for a lens for larger wildlife – one that is easy to handhold and relatively portable? Then check out the Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II. This lens is one of Canon’s most popular telephotos.

The 400mm maximum focal length is perfect for photographing bigger creatures. Bears, elks, deers, and bigger birds will all be within your reach. You will also have a fair shot at smaller wildlife, especially if they are tame.

The 100 to 400mm focal length offers a tonne of flexibility. You can shoot some close-ups of an animal and then zoom out for an environmental portrait.

This lens is decently light. And I am still a big fan of the IS, which makes handholding this lens, even at lower shutter speeds, relatively easy.

When it comes to zoom lenses, one thing to worry about is the image quality. Fortunately, the Canon 100-400mm is impressive. It is very sharp, even at 400mm, which you cannot say about most such zooms.

The autofocus is also Lightning-fast.

One unique thing about this lens is its close-focusing distance. This lens focuses up to 3.3 ft (1 m) in front of the camera. So you can use it for all sorts of close-up shots, even of tiny critters.

This is a relatively inexpensive lens, which means that there will be a tradeoff or two. In this case, it is the maximum aperture which is f/4 at 100mm, and f/5.6 at 400mm. So you will be somewhat limited in low light.

Pros:

  • Very flexible focal length
  • Light and easy to handhold
  • Strong image quality
  • Low price

Cons:

  • Small maximum aperture
  • Focal length does not allow for shots of smaller birds

Image of the Canon 100-400mm IS II

6. Nikon 300mm f/2.8 VR II

The Nikon 300mm f/2.8 is one of the shortest lenses on this list. This lens offers one of the fastest autofocus systems out there. It focuses in milliseconds, and it is fast enough to track running animals or birds in flight.

The image quality is amazing. The lens is ultra-sharp across the board. The wide maximum aperture is fantastic for low-light wildlife photography. You can take photos of wildlife at dusk. And you do not have to worry about camera shake.

Another positive: This lens is light enough to comfortably handhold, and the vibration reduction is icing on the cake.

With the VR plus the f/2.8 aperture, you will be able to capture sharp shots in dark conditions.

A 300mm focal length can get you some gorgeous wildlife shots. But only if you are in the right location. 300mm is too short for most wildlife, especially if it is skittish. 300mm is also too short for most birds. Even with a 1.4x teleconverter, you are only getting to 420mm.

Pros:

  • Ultra-fast autofocus
  • Stellar image quality
  • Easy to handhold
  • f/2.8 aperture

Cons:

  • 300mm is too short for a lot of wildlife photography

Image of the Nikon 300mm f/2.8 VR II

7. Fujifilm XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR

This lens is one of Fujifilm’s best telephoto lenses for wildlife photography. It is small (1400 grams) compared to other lenses with similar focal lengths. You can handhold it if you need to – and you can take it on hiking trips without too much difficulty.

The autofocus system is accurate and silent, focusing from infinity to the closest focus in a second.

The water and dust-resistant mount make this lens suitable for every outdoor condition that you may encounter.

The lens provides excellent image quality at any range, with a wide aperture range. This helps to create a decent bokeh and a shallow depth of field at longer focal lengths.

I also love the flexibility that the huge focal range provides. It means that you do not have to worry about lugging along several lenses. You have it all in one.

Bottom line? This lens comes with minimal compromises and is perfect for those looking for a budget telephoto lens for wildlife photography.

Pros:

  • Affordability
  • Focal length range
  • Great handheld capabilities

Cons:

  • The build has a plastic feeling
  • AF tracking is sometimes slow

Image of the Fujifilm XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR telephoto zoom lenses

8. Nikon 400mm f/2.8E

For serious wildlife photographers, the Nikon 400mm f/2.8E is incredible. For one, it has an incredible maximum aperture of f/2.8. This gives you an extra stop of light, which is critical when in the field.

The f/2.8 aperture also means that this lens will work with all Nikon’s teleconverters. This allows for some focal length flexibility. You can shoot larger wildlife at 400mm. Then, slap on a 1.4x teleconverter and photograph birds at 560mm.

Optically, this lens is superb. At f/2.8, it is also very sharp, which does not change across its range. And at f/2.8, bokeh is gorgeous.

This lens also has some impressive build quality. It is moisture and dust-resistant, and it is built to last.

The autofocus is both fast and ultra-quiet. So you can easily capture photos of moving wildlife (even birds in flight).

The main downside is the price. But if you need an ultra-fast wildlife lens, the 400mm f/2.8 is the way to go.

Pros:

  • Amazing image quality
  • Gorgeous bokeh
  • Fast autofocus

Cons:

  • The lens is big and heavy

Image of the Nikon 400mm f/2.8E wildlife telephoto lens

9. Canon RF 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1L IS USM

This is the first mirrorless Canon super-telephoto lens on the market. Compared to the EF (electronic focusing) mount, RF lenses are smaller and lighter while providing the same optical performance.

The focal length range is suitable for wildlife photography. At 500mm, this lens is well placed to handle smaller wildlife, including birds. And the lens is light enough (1530 grams), which allows for some portability and handholding in the field.

The lens offers almost silent and completely accurate autofocus, with an intelligent animal photography autofocus mode.

The Optical Image Stabilizer is a nice final touch. This adds to the ease with which you can handhold this lens.

This lens is excellent for those wildlife photographers wanting to reach 500mm without breaking the bank.

Pros:

  • Wide range of focal length
  • High image quality
  • Easy to handhold

Cons:

  • Very expensive
  • Slower focus on older camera bodies

Image of the Canon RF 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1L IS USM

10. Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD

This Tamron lens is not the flashiest one on this list. But it is still a noteworthy option, especially for those looking for their first wildlife telephoto.

The main benefits include high image quality throughout its whole range. There is some slight decrease in sharpness at 600mm, though it would not tremendously affect your images.

Autofocus speed is fast, with the ability to capture moving subjects, which makes it perfect for wildlife photography. But, there is some noticeable focus lag on older camera bodies.

The 150-600mm focal length makes for a lot of shooting options. You can include a close subject in the frame, but you can also shoot impressive close-ups at 600mm.

This could be the right choice for those looking for more of a ‘walk-around’ wildlife lens.

Pros:

  • Strong image quality
  • Bargain price
  • Long focal length

Cons:

  • Loss of sharpness at 600mm
  • Slower focus on older camera bodies

Image of the Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD wildlife telephoto lens

Conclusion

Choosing the best lens for a specific niche of photography is always a tricky process. From focal length to speed or size, there are many factors to consider. It is not different when it comes to photographing wildlife.

We hope that our article has helped you pick the right lens for your wildlife photography needs!

Now that you know the best telephoto lenses for wildlife photography check out our Wonderful Wildlife course and put them to good use!

Want More? Try Our Wildlife Photography Training

Have you ever dreamt about photographing wild animals in their natural habitats?

Birds in your garden, bears in the woods, elephants in Botswana, tigers in India…

You can shoot animals in their natural habitat anywhere in the world, all you need is the right approach.

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