Click and Learn Photography rounds up the X best lenses for wildlife photography, covering all the major camera manufacturers.
When it comes to wildlife photography, the glass on your camera makes a massive difference in terms of both image quality and working distance between yourself and the animals.
There’s a lot to consider when it comes to wildlife photography lens choice. Do you want a zoom lens or a prime lens? What are you photographing and how does that impact the focal length needed? What’s your budget?
In any case, our list of the best wildlife photography lenses should cover all the bases:
Best DSLR lenses for wildlife photography
Nikon AF-S 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR
Best Nikon zoom option
- Super telephoto zoom in FX format: offers a flexible range of focal lengths of 200-500mm (equivalent in DX format: 300-750 mm); ideal for wildlife shooting, birds, airplanes or sports events with fast actions
- Steady f/5.6 aperture: ensures smooth speed and smooth depth of field control over the entire zoom range
- Constant f/5.6 aperture
- Cheaper than Nikon 200-400mm
- Slow(ish) autofocus
Nikon’s very own budget offering, the 200-500mm f/5.6 is miles cheaper than their flagship 200-400mm f/2.8 and, while it doesn’t offer quite the same level of performance as its more expensive brother, it’s a fantastic lens.
Autofocus is slower than some competitors but still very respectable and the constant f/5.6 aperture is appealing to those wildlife photographers who don’t like their aperture unexpectedly changing when reaching the far end of the zoom range.
It’s 2.3kg weight is slightly heavier than some others on this list, but its worth mentioning that it’s actually a kilogram lighter than the 200-400mm and is by no means cumbersome.
Other bells and whistles include a VR system that allows for 4.5 stops of optical stabilisation and 100mm more reach than the Canon counterpart. Image quality is excellent across the board, even when reaching towards 500mm where many telephoto lenses drop off a cliff.
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM
Best Canon zoom option
- Compact, high performance L-series super-telephoto zoom makes it ideal for sports and wildlife photography
- Rotation-type zoom ring allows for more precise composition and excellent balance when handholding
- Excellent image quality
- Three modes of IS
- Limited focal range
- Fairly expensive
Canon’s offering in this market differs slightly from the Nikon 200-500mm. It has a more limited focal range that only reaches 400mm, but it comes with some upsides of its own.
The autofocus is lightning fast, for example, and the new Air Sphere Coating on the lens really does help to minimise flaring and ghosting when shooting backlit wildlife.
It also has three modes of image stabilisation to choose from, rather than the norm of two. The additional mode is similar to the panning mode but applies stabilisation only during exposure.
Image quality, as with pretty much every lens in the Canon L series, is fantastic, and it clocks in at around 600 grams lighter than the Nikon.
It might not have the same reach, but it’s portability and excellent image quality make it perfect for shooting larger animals.
Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2
Best third-party zoom option
- New FLEX ZOOM LOCK mechanism enables the locking of the zoom ring at any position
- Fluorine Coating and improved Moisture-Resistant Construction
- Weather sealed
- Excellent focal range
- Sharpness suffers at low end of focal range
Tamron and Sigma have really upped their game over the last five years or so, regularly releasing high-end lenses that compete in quality with Canon and Nikon while also offering more bang for your buck.
The Tamron 150-600mm is no different. The focal range goes up to an impressive 150-600mm and it comes with all the features you would expect from a four-figure lens. The image stabilisation system offers up to 4.5 stops of stabilisation and, like the Canon above, three separate modes.
Autofocus has also been upgraded in the G2 version and the new autofocus system is faster and more accurate than the G1 iteration. Not only that, but it weighs in lighter than the Nikon 200-500mm as well.
Sharpness at the longer end of the zoom range is excellent, although it’s worth noting that it’s a rather mediocre performer up to about 250mm.
Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary
Best budget zoom option
- Lightweight and compact in construction for higher useability
- Water and oil repellent coating on front glass element makes maintenance of the lens surface
- Light compared to Sigma Sport range
- Not fully weather sealed
While Sigma do offer an upgraded and more expensive Sport version of this lens, the 150-600mm Contemporary is well worth considering for its price alone.
It’s significantly cheaper than the competition but compromises very little in terms of image quality, and in most real-life cases you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.
There are compromises elsewhere though. The Sigma 150-600mm Contemporary isn’t fully weather sealed like its bigger brother, although it does have dust and moisture resistance seals to provide some level of protection. One additional advantage is that it’s much smaller and lighter than the Sport version.
This is one of the few good wildlife photography lenses that can be had for under four figures, so it’s definitely worth considering.
Nikon AF-S 300mm f/2.8G ED VR
Best Nikon prime option
- Fast-aperture f/2.8 NIKKOR Super Telephoto. Wide aperture, professional telephoto performance
- Nikon VR II (Vibration Reduction) Image Stabilization. Vibration Reduction is engineered specifically for each VR NIKKOR lens.
- Wide aperture
- Stunning image quality
- Very expensive
- Limited focal length
If you’re looking for a super high-quality wildlife photography lens, prime lenses often trump their zoom counterparts when it comes to image quality.
The same can be said of the Nikon 300mm f/2.8. Honestly, it’s pretty much excellent in every department. Image quality is absolutely sublime, autofocus is blindingly quick and offers pinpoint accuracy, the build quality is tremendous and it’s fully weather-sealed.
However, the focal length is rather limiting and it will only really be suitable for large animals or bold wildlife that allows you to get up close. It also weighs in at almost 3kg, so it’s a hefty beast. The price is a sticking point too. A big sticking point!
Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM II
Best Canon prime option
- Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM II Super Telephoto Lens for Canon EOS SLR Cameras
- Max. Diameter x Length, Weight:5.0 x 9.8 inches, 82.9 oz
- Wide aperture
- Stunning image quality
- Very expensive
- Limited focal length
Pretty much everything I wrote about the Nikon 300mm f/2.8 above can be reiterated for Canon’s version.
Image quality is beautiful, the wide f/2.8 aperture opens up low-light opportunities and the likes of the autofocus system, the image stabilisation and the build quality are all on point. It’s also around 500 grams lighter than the Nikon, which is an advantage when shooting handheld.
But, as with the Nikon, price is the major sticking point.
Best Mirrorless lenses for wildlife photography
Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS
Best Sony option
- Outstanding g lens resolution throughout the Zoom range
- 5x ED (extra-low dispersion) glass elements Reduces flare & ghosting
- Long focal length
- Excellent quality all round
- Fairly slow aperture
If you’re shooting on the Sony mirrorless range, this is the lens you want. It’s as simple as that.
Considering the overall cost of Sony lenses this isn’t actually too expensive and the long 200-600mm focal range makes it the perfect fit for wildlife photographers.
All the bells and whistles you might want are present, including accurate and near-silent autofocus, extra low dispersion elements to reduce flare, an internal zoom mechanism and optical stabilisation.
As with all Sony lenses, the image quality is superb throughout the zoom range and the build quality is fantastic.
The only downside is the relatively narrow aperture, with the minimum being a quite slow f/5.6 at the shorter end of the focal range and dropping to f/6.3 by the time you hit the maximum 600mm.
Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG DN OS Contemporary
Best budget Sony option
- INCLUDES: Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG DN OS Contemporary Lens for Sony E + AirBag Packable Bag and Camera Insert + SanDisk 64GB C10 Ultra UHS-I SDXC Memory Card + Altura Photo Mini Tripod with Pistol Grip + Altura Photo Rapid Fire Wrist Strap + Altura Photo Hard-Shell Case + Altura Photo Cleaning Kit + 3 Sizes MagicFiber Microfiber Lens Pouch
- PRESENTING impressive reach in a relatively compact design, the Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG DN OS Contemporary lens, is a versatile telephoto zoom mixing a hand-holdable design with apt optical performance. A series of low dispersion glass elements are used to achieve high clarity and color accuracy throughout the zoom range, and to suppress chromatic aberrations and color fringing.
- Better performance than DSLR equivalent
- Incompatible with Sigma teleconverters
Sigma originally launched their 100-400mm telephoto lens for Nikon and Canon a few years back, but more recently they’ve revamped their offering and released a model compatible with Sony E-Mount cameras.
The newer DN version is slightly more expensive than its DSLR counterpart, but it’s far cheaper than Sony’s first-party option and the slight bump in price is made up for by an improvement in the overall build quality and performance.
As you would expect from a top wildlife photography lens, the Sigma 100-400mm boasts a fast and quiet autofocus system, optical stabilisation and upgraded lens element, with the Fluorite Low Dispersion element added in delivering improved image quality.
The only downside is that the DN version is incompatible with teleconverters and Sigma’s USB dock, but apart from that it’s a stellar performer at a bargain price.
Fujifilm XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR
Best Fujifilm option
- Focal length : XF100-400mm (152-609mm - 35mm Format Equivalent)
- 21 elements 14 groups (includes 5 extra low dispersion elements and 1 super extra low dispersion element)
- Excellent build quality and image quality.
- Fully weather sealed.
- The only wildlife suitable lens in Fuji’s lineup.
Unfortunately, Fujifilm is sorely lacking in options when it comes to wildlife photography lenses, but they do have one gem that is a must for any Fuji-loving wildlife enthusiasts.
The Fujifilm XF 100-400mm is pretty much the only suitable lens for wildlife photography in the entire Fuji lineup. There are a number of shorter telephoto options such as the excellent 55-200mm, but that focal length doesn’t really cut it when it comes to serious wildlife photography.
Fortunately, the 100-400mm is a superb performer. It unsurprisingly boasts the excellent build and image quality that we’ve come to expect from Fujifilm, along with very effective weather sealing, image stabilisation and autofocus.
There isn’t really any downside to this lens, although if you are looking to get into wildlife photography it might be worth considering a different system that has more suitable lenses in their lineup.
Panasonic DG Vario 100-400mm f/4-6.3 Apsh Power OIS
Best Micro 4/3 option
- Experience a Mirrorless Micro Four Thirds camera lens design with a significant reduction in size and weight; Up to two thirds smaller and one fifth the weight of comparable DSLR 35 millimeter long zoom lenses
- 100 to 400 millimeter F/4.0-6.3 LEICA VARIO ELMAR high performance lens for nature photography (200 to 800 millimeter 35 millimeter camera lens equivalent), Closest Focusing Distance : FULL:1.3 meter /4.27 feet, LIMIT:5.0 meter/16.4 feet, Maximum magnification : Approx. 0.25x / 0.5x (35 millimeter camera equivalent)
- Massive effective focal length
- Excellent image stabilisation
Micro Four Thirds systems are often overlooked when it comes to photography but, while the sensors may be small, they’re capable of producing some fantastic images.
When it comes to wildlife photography, they also benefit from having double the effective focal length. That makes this 100-400mm effectively act like a 200-800mm lens, offering huge reach for even the most distant of animals.
Both build and image quality are excellent as well, although that is also one of the very few downsides. The Panasonic DG Vario 100-400mm f/4-6.3 feels very sturdy and well made, but it weighs in at nearly a kilogram! That can make your whole setup feel a little unbalanced when mounted on a tiny Micro 4/3 body.
That really is the only downside to this lens, which also boasts Panasonic’s class-leading optical stabilisation system.
Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS Pro
Best Micro 4/3 prime option
- World's most powerful 6 steps of compensation synchronized in lens and in body Image Stabilization
- Closest focus of 1.4 meters gives a 0.48X (35mm equivalent) telemacro photography, Focal Length : 300mm
- Fast maximum aperture
- Incredibly sharp
If you’re more interested in the super high performance prime options for wildlife photography lenses, once again you’re covered in the Micro Four Thirds department.
The Olympus 300mm f/4 is part of Olympus’s professional standard range of lenses, delivering incredible sharpness across the whole frame even at the fast maximum aperture of f/4.
It has a 600mm equivalent forcal length and features excellent build quality and full weather sealing but, while you certainly can’t fault performance, you can find downsides in other areas.
It’s expensive for one, although that’s not exactly surprising given the fantastic performance. It also weighs in at over a kilogram, which does put it out of balance with the tiny Micro 4/3 bodies. That being said, it weighs under half that of the Canon 600mm f/4L.
If you’ve got the budget, you certainly won’t be disappointed by this.
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Alex is the owner and lead writer for Click and Learn Photography. An avid landscape, equine, and pet photographer living and working in the beautiful Lake District, UK, Alex has had his work featured in a number of high profile publications, including the Take a View Landscape Photographer of the Year, Outdoor Photographer of the Year, and Amateur Photographer Magazine.