Zoom Lens For Wildlife Photography - Reviews & Guide

While wildlife photography is a fun hobby to a lot of people around the world, it is also a profession to many people. This hobby/profession has a special set of rules for those who are serious about it. Whether you are new to wildlife photography or not, you should know one thing for certain; not many wild animals will let you come close to them, not to talk of being comfortable with the knowledge that you’re around.

Hence, you need to device a way to get up close to them while being far away. The way to achieve this is getting a quality zoom lens that is able to give you the perfect shot no matter how challenging the conditions.

A zoom lens is going to provide you with the required flexibility to make adjustments on the image in case the wild animal leaves their position or goes far away from you. Also, in situations where the animal doesn’t even move, but you are unable to move as you don’t want to the animal spooked, a zoom lens will give you a little flexibility to have a good shot of the animal.

So, now that we have established why you need a zoom lens, aren’t you wondering which lenses are the best? Don’t worry because we got you covered. Here, we will guide you through the entire buying process and through lens reviews, we will find what is the best zoom lens for wildlife photography you can get in 2018. Are you ready? Let’s go!

The 8 Best Zoom Lenses for Wildlife Photography of 2018 (+ Bonus)

Canon EF 70-300 mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens

Most affordable lens of my selection, the Canon 70-300 mm has seen great improvements from its previous version and offers an excellent value for money. Wildlife lenses are expensive – if you budget is tight, you should definitely consider this lens.

While it is not a professional-class lens, it still has a good image quality and the image stabilization works well. The autofocus does a great job with fast and precise focusing, without the annoying AF motor noise thanks to the Nano USM technology.

If you are looking for a good and affordable lens capable of shooting nice hobby-class wildlife pictures without bearking the bank, look no further!

 Quick Specifications

  • Size: 3.15 x 5.73 in / 8 x 14.6 cm
  • Weight: 1.57 lbs / 0.71 kg
  • Focal length range: 70-300 mm
  • Max. aperture: f/4 – f/5.6
  • Compatible mounts: Canon EF
  • Compatible formats: Full frame, APS-C

Pros

  • Lightweight & compact
  • Affordable
  • Good and silent autofocus
  • Image stabilization
  • Lens information display screen

Cons

  • There has been some problems with visible particles floating inside the lens – If you decide to buy it, check it well when you receive it

Tamron SP 150-600 mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD Lens

With its amazing focal range going all the way to 600 mm, this Tamron lens offers a very good value for money and is a direct competitor of the Sigma lens below that is a 150-60 mm as well.

This lens is a very good first telephoto lens if you are not ready to invest larger sums of money. The image quality and sharpness are good, but slightly softer after 450-500 mm (but still usable).

A great feature of this lens is a remarkable vibration compensation system, somehow making up for the quite average maximum aperture. The variable aperture is not ideal but you can easily deal with it if you master your camera settings.

All in all, it’s a very good option for a budding wildlife photographer, allowing to zoom very far and shoot decent quality images.

 Quick Specifications

  • Size: 4.17 x 10.16 in / 10.6 x 25.8 cm
  • Weight: 4.3 lbs / 1.95 kg
  • Focal length range: 150-600 mm
  • Max. aperture: f/5 – f/6.3
  • Compatible mounts: Canon EF, Nikon F, Sony Alpha
  • Compatible formats: Full frame, APS-C

Pros

  • Amazing focal range
  • Affordable
  • Good autofocus
  • Strong build
  • Efficient vibration reduction system

Cons

  • Slightly less sharp after 500 mm
  • Quite heavy

Sigma 150-600 mm 5-6.3 Contemporary DG OS HSM Lens

With a ridiculous focal range of 150-600 mm, this zoom lens from Sigma is the perfect option for people who are just starting out and aren’t really ready to invest heavily in a zoom lens. This lens is well-made and is weather resistant, which means you can use it regardless of the weather conditions.

However, while the variable aperture on this lens isn’t really perfect, it still delivers sharp images if you know your way around it. With a great image stabilization system, excellent build quality, fast autofocus, this zoom lens can make a great purchase. However, it is worth mentioning that the weight on the lens isn’t evenly distributed, which means it’s best used with a tripod.

Compared with the Tamron above, it is heavier and costs $200 more, but offers a generally better image quality.

 Quick Specifications

  • Size: 4.1 x 10.2 in / 10.4 x 25.9 cm
  • Weight: 6 lbs / 2.72 kg
  • Focal length range: 150-600 mm
  • Max. aperture: f/5 – f/6.3
  • Compatible mounts: Canon EF, Nikon F, Sigma SA
  • Compatible formats: Full frame, APS-C

Pros

  • Outstanding resolution
  • Color rendition
  • Great Image stabilization
  • Fast autofocus

Cons

  • Quite heavy

Sigma 70-200 mm f/2.8 APO EX DG HSM OS FLD Lens

This lens may not have the most impressive focal length range but it is still an interesting lens that can be a real game changer in your photography. The most interesting feature is that very wide f/2.8 aperture that considerably reduce the risk of blurry images due to camera shake. If you shoot wildlife in a dark forest or at dawn, this wide aperture can really save your pictures and avoids using very high ISO and getting noisy pictures.

Another effect of the f/2.8 aperture is the depth of field. You can shoot animals with beautiful blurred backgrounds and bokeh effects that take your images to the next level and can really rival pictures shot with super expensive professional lenses. The autofocus is not the fastest but works very well and images are very sharp.

If you shoot with an APS-C sensor, the 200 mm become 300 mm, but the image quality is better with a full frame. If you are not a professional and still want a mid-range budget, quality lens for wildlife, you should take a closer look at this one.

 Quick Specifications

  • Size: 3.39 x 7.76 in / 8.6 x 19.7 cm
  • Weight: 3.15 lbs / 1.43 kg
  • Focal length range: 70-200 mm
  • Max. aperture: f/2.8
  • Compatible mounts: Canon EF, Nikon FX, Pentax KAF3, Sony Alpha, Sigma SA
  • Compatible formats: Full frame, APS-C

Pros

  • Great f/2.8 aperture
  • Strong build
  • Good sharpness
  • Various mounts available
  • Beautiful bokeh
  • Image stabilization
  • Good autofocus

Cons

  • Quite heavy
  • No weather sealing

Nikon AF-S FX Nikkor 200-500 mm f/5.6E ED VR Lens

This is the most fairly priced camera lens ever from Nikon. It comes with an outstanding focal length that makes it perfect for wildlife photography, and with a vibration reduction, outstanding image quality, and a fixed aperture, this zoom lens might just be all you will ever need.

While the f/5.6 fixed aperture is quite not perfect for low light settings, provided the great low light performance of contemporary bodies, the fixed aperture should work quite alright. Besides, the maximum aperture means you are limited in the usage of teleconverter because a televonverter of 1.4x could be the longest you will fit on the lens, and it is likely that the auto focus will slow down a little as you will hit f/8.

 Quick Specifications

  • Size: 4.2 x 10.5 in / 10.8 x 26.8 cm
  • Weight: 5.07 lbs / 2.3 kg
  • Focal length range: 200-500 mm
  • Max. aperture: f/5.6
  • Compatible mounts: Nikon DX, Nikon FX
  • Compatible formats: Full frame, APS-C

Pros

  • Great value for money
  • incredible focal length
  • Fixed aperture
  • Great bokeh
  • Vibration reduction

Cons

  • Auto-focus is good, but slow
  • It can be difficult to hold on when extended

Canon EF 100-400 mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM LensOur Top Pick

Canon is a company known for always producing top quality cameras, and it is not surprising that they are making lenses to match. This zoom lens from Canon is yet another great lens with incredible performance in wildlife photography. With a silent, accurate, and very fast autofocus system alongside a good image stabilization, this zoom lens is no flop.

While its variable aperture, which means you will have to be changing settings all through the focal range so as to retain a steady exposure, is a drawback, it is still a little trade-off for the compact size, fairly lightweight and excellent image quality provided by this lens. If you are looking for a zoom lens with real value for money, then this is it.

For its excellent performance and relative light weight, it is my top pick.

 Quick Specifications

  • Size: 3.7 x 7.6 in / 9.4 x 19.3 cm
  • Weight: 3.46 lbs / 1.57 kg
  • Focal length range: 100-400 mm
  • Max. aperture: f/4.5 – f/5.6
  • Compatible mounts: Canon EF
  • Compatible formats: Full frame, APS-C

Pros

  • Excellent focal range
  • Effective Image stabilization system
  • Great value for money
  • Compact size
  • Lightweight

Cons

  • Variable aperture isn’t ideal

Nikon AF-S FX Nikkor 80-400 mm f.4.5-5.6G ED VR Lens

While there are lots of good things about this zoom lens, the fact that it has a great 400mm range is our favorite. This range is ideal for wildlife photography. Besides, the 80mm is excellent as well when you are looking to include more scenes in your frame. You will also find the autofocus fairly impressive.

Most wildlife photographers are always looking for versatile lenses and this lens from Nikon might just be the perfect fit. Besides, this means that it would be needless for you to carry several lenses when going on a trip or hike. Nevertheless, this lens is quite heavy, thanks to its large zoom range. While the fixed aperture is not as wide as you might have wanted, but considering the affordable price of this lens, it is fair.

 Quick Specifications

  • Size: 3.78 x 7.99 in / 9.6 x 20.3 cm
  • Weight: 3.46 lbs / 1.57 kg
  • Focal length range: 80-400 mm
  • Max. aperture: f/4.5 – f/5.6
  • Compatible mounts: Nikon DX, Nikon FX
  • Compatible formats: Full frame, APS-C

Pros

  • High quality image
  • Image stabilization
  • Large zoom range
  • Quiet and fast AF
  • Flare and ghosting doesn’t affect it much

Cons

  • Heavy

Nikon 70-200 mm f/2.8G ED VR II AF-S Nikkor Zoom Lens

If you are not concerned about carrying a somewhat bulky lens that produces the impeccable shot every time, the ideal lens for you might be the Nikon 70-200 mm f/2.8G Zoom lens.

With an f/2.8 maximum aperture, then lens will be able to take exceptional images notwithstanding while utilizing a fast shutter speed. You will be greatly surprised by the quality of the pictures.

Furthermore, this Nikon zoom lens has a vibration reduction which will enable you to capture images while being handheld with no image stabilization issues. While the focal length of 70-200 mm isn’t the highest around, you can work with it easily by mounting it with a teleconverter.

 Quick Specifications

  • Size: 3.43 x 8.23 in / 8.7 x 20.9 cm
  • Weight: 3.4 lbs / 1.54 kg
  • Focal length range: 70-200 mm
  • Max. aperture: f/2.8
  • Compatible mounts: Nikon DX, Nikon FX
  • Compatible formats: Full frame, APS-C

Pros

  • Sharp all through zoom range
  • Does not extend when zooming
  • Comes with a tripod collar
  • Focus limiter button
  • Vibration reduction

Cons

  • Some little distortion

BONUS – Canon EF 200-400 mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x

This one of a kind lens is one of our undisputed top choices as a result of its incorporate teleconverter. Ideal for wildlife photography and sports, a 1.4x teleconverter was built into the lens directly, so that there would be no need for you to be swapping or switching anything when out in the field. With just a turn of a switch, your 400 mm f/4 instantly turns to 280-560 mm f/5.6.

With this, a huge range will be covered without you having to switch lenses and there will be no issues of comparability and no loss of picture quality. If this lens is something you can afford, it is one of the best lenses money can buy for wildlife photography. Relentless f/4 aperture is great, then you have a comfy constant f/5.6 when you turn the teleconverter on.

At more than 10,000 dollars, this lens is a true jewel that can only fully satisfy you, if you have this kind of budget.

 Quick Specifications

  • Size: 5.04 x 14.41 in / 12.8 x 36.6 cm
  • Weight: 7.98 lbs / 3.62 kg
  • Focal length range: 200-400 mm
  • Built-in extender: 280-560 mm
  • Max. aperture: f/4, f/5.6 with extender
  • Compatible mounts: Canon EF
  • Compatible formats: Full frame, APS-C

Pros

  • Built-in teleconverter
  • Unbelievable focal length
  • Outstanding quality
  • Image stabilization
  • Fairly compact for the range
  • Fixed aperture

Cons

  • Very expensive

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s a Good Zoom Lens for Wildlife Photography? – Factors to Consider

We know you don’t want to buy the wrong zoom lens and that is why we implore you to carefully read this section. You should understand that wildlife photography is clearly different to regular photography as you wouldn’t expect animals to pose for you to take their pictures. In order to buy the best lens, consider the following factors:

Focal length: The focal length is perhaps the most important consideration when selecting the best lens for wildlife photography. It is sure that you wouldn’t be able to get really close with the wild animal when you utilize a short lens. This is why lenses made for wildlife photography usually come with a 300mm focal length or even higher.

Maximum aperture: This is a very important aspect as well. The larger the aperture (the smaller the f-number), the faster the shutter speed, and the sharper the images. Wildlife photography often implies shooting in difficult lighting conditions and larger apertures will enable you to keep reasonably fast shutter speed that will both avoid camera shake blur and will freeze the animal’s movements. See the next FAQ for more details about the aperture.

Autofocus: When you’re capturing a flying bird or an animal in motion, you must ensure that your lens is capable of keeping up. If you are spending time focusing every time the wild animal makes a movement, you wouldn’t be able to capture the animal because it would be long gone before you are done focusing. Therefore, remember to check the autofocus speed of your potential zoom lens.

Image Stabilization: Zoom lenses for wildlife are often large and heavy and it’s not always easy to hold them without moving too much. Luckily, they often feature a good image stabilization system and it’s really a big plus when your maximum aperture is not optimal or you can’t bump up the ISO too much to avoid noisy images.  That’s why you need to make sure that you future lens does have a good and efficient stabilization.

What’s That “Variable Max. Aperture” About and What Difference Does it Make?

The maximum aperture represents the maximum amount of light the lens is able to let in. That’s a big deal – From an f-number to the next, the amount of light is doubled! So getting an f/4 lens instead of an f/5.6 for example, makes a significant difference.

The problem here is that we are dealing with lenses offering a very broad focal length range, and it’s difficult for the lens to keep the same large aperture all the way to the zoom. Often, the more you zoom, the smaller the aperture gets.

For example, if we take the Canon EF 70-300 mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens, it means that when you are shooting at 70 mm the maximum aperture is f/4, and if you are shooting at 300 mm the maximum aperture is f/5.6. The maximum aperture gradually goes from f/4 to f/5.6 as you zoom from 70 to 300 mm.

It’s not the end of the world, but it’s less convenient than a fixed aperture because if you need to change your focal length, your aperture will change and you will need to adjust your other camera settings to keep a proper photo exposure.

Shooting Wildlife With a Full Frame or an APS-C Sensor, What’s The Difference?

This has more to do with the camera than the lens, but since I am precising for each lens if they are compatible with full frame or APS-C cameras, you might be wondering what difference it makes.

There is an advantage and an inconvenient to each. APS-C sensors are smaller than full frame, and often called “crop sensors”. The crop factor defines how smaller it is, compared to a full frame sensor. This crop factor is often around 1.5x. What does it mean?

To shoot wildlife, we often need to zoom as much as possible and thanks to the crop factor it’s easier with an APS-C sensor. With a crop factor of 1.5x, a picture shot as 200 mm will actually be the equivalent of 300 mm! APS-C cameras can lead to really incredible focal lengths.

That said, there is still an advantage to shooting with a full frame camera, and that’s higher image quality and better low light performance. A full frame sensor has bigger pixels, resulting in better low light images with less noise. And wildlife photography often takes place in rather low light…

If I were to choose, I would prioritize the quality of the sensor and choose a full frame camera.

Why Don’t You Show Lens Prices Directly on This Page?

It’s a bit tricky to display product prices because they can change at any moment, and I would then be displaying erroneous information… Instead, I give you a convenient link for you to check the latest, up-to-date price of the lens you like.

How Did You Select Your Top Pick?

My top pick is the lens that offer the best quality and the best performance, for a price that is justified. I have selected the Canon EF 100-400 mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens because it combines top quality and reasonable weight and size, for a mid-range pricing. Unfortunately, this lens is for Canon and if your camera is not a Canon you won’t be able to use this lens.

If you have a Nikon DSLR, my top pick would be the Nikon AF-S FX Nikkor 200-500 mm f/5.6E ED VR Zoom Lens, for its good quality and great focal length range. If you camera is of another brand, I would get a Sigma lens with the proper mount.

The top pick tag is rewarding the value for money of the lens, but if money isn’t a problem and you want the absolute best, the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x is what you need! I put is as a “bonus” in the list here, because at more than 10,000 dollars, few people can actually afford it.

Final Thoughts

To be a good wildlife photographer, you need more than techniques and skills. You need equipment that can match your skills. Buying a zoom lens for wildlife photography often requires a fairly large investment, and it’s important to get it right to get the images you long for and not be disappointed.

I believe that we have listed here the best wildlife lenses you can get today in 2018, and I hope that this guide will help you make your choice!

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If you purchase an item on Amazon through the affiliate links in this page, this website will earn a small commission, at no extra cost to you. This helps us keeping this site ad-free, and it helps you say thank you if our content is useful to you 🙂


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