The Best Lens for Bird Photography: What To Look For When Shopping for a Lens

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Taking photos of birds can be a wonderful way to gain a much deeper understanding and knowledge of the beautiful species around us. In bird photography, the right camera lens can make all the difference in getting that perfect picture.

This guide will help you make the right choice, no matter your level of expertise or what type of bird photography you enjoy.

Product Name
Best Budget Lens
Sigma 150-600mm 5-6.3 Lens
Best Choice
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens
Best Zoom Lens
Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED Lens
Image
Sigma 150-600mm 5-6.3 Contemporary DG OS HSM Lens for Canon
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens, Lens Only
Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED Vibration Reduction Zoom Lens with Auto Focus for Nikon DSLR Cameras
Customer Rating
Lens Type
Telephoto Lens
Telephoto Lens
Telephoto Lens
Maximum Aperture
Maximum Aperture: f/5
Maximum Aperture: 40
Maximum Aperture: f/5.6
Maximum Format Size
Maximum Format Size: Full Frame
Maximum Format Size: 35mm full frame
Maximum Format Size: Full Frame
Weight
Weight: 4.25 Pounds
Weight: 3.46 Pounds
Weight: 5.07 Pounds
Best Budget Lens
Product Name
Sigma 150-600mm 5-6.3 Lens
Image
Sigma 150-600mm 5-6.3 Contemporary DG OS HSM Lens for Canon
Customer Rating
Lens Type
Telephoto Lens
Maximum Aperture
Maximum Aperture: f/5
Maximum Format Size
Maximum Format Size: Full Frame
Weight
Weight: 4.25 Pounds
Best Choice
Product Name
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens
Image
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens, Lens Only
Customer Rating
Lens Type
Telephoto Lens
Maximum Aperture
Maximum Aperture: 40
Maximum Format Size
Maximum Format Size: 35mm full frame
Weight
Weight: 3.46 Pounds
Best Zoom Lens
Product Name
Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED Lens
Image
Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED Vibration Reduction Zoom Lens with Auto Focus for Nikon DSLR Cameras
Customer Rating
Lens Type
Telephoto Lens
Maximum Aperture
Maximum Aperture: f/5.6
Maximum Format Size
Maximum Format Size: Full Frame
Weight
Weight: 5.07 Pounds

Last update on 2022-08-08 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Do You Need Expensive Lenses for Bird Photography?

First and foremost, you don’t need expensive cameras, lenses, or specialized equipment for simple bird photography. Like any other hobby, you can start with the basics and even take terrible photos while still having a wonderful time.

The truth is that people have taken lovely pictures of birds, even on the most basic smartphone camera. So when starting out, you certainly don’t have to be obsessed with the tech or the specifics of lenses or camera technology.

Of course, as you progress in the hobby, you may begin to feel that a simple camera phone or digital camera just isn’t cutting it anymore.

If you are interested in the photography itself, rather than just having a simple day out enjoying birdwatching and the natural environment around you, you might start researching which camera and additional lens or lenses you need to get the results you are looking for.

What Type of Lens is Best for Bird Photography?

You might find numerous lenses useful to get the shots you want in bird photography. But when choosing a lens, you will first need to consider your camera’s characteristics, such as the sensor size and shutter speed.

Of course, you will also have to consider the types of pictures you want to take and the situations and environments in which you will likely take them.

There is no one simple answer regarding determining the best lens. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. So before spending your hard-earned money, you will need to ask yourself some other simple questions.

How To Choose a Lens for Bird Photography

Best Lens For Bird Photography

Think About Your Subject and Your Goals

First of all, ask yourself what exactly you want to photograph and what exactly you want to achieve.

Our first and most important tip for choosing a lens for bird photography is to consider your goals and intentions. Do you like taking landscape shots with birds in the distance? Are you trying to shoot close-ups? Do you want to capture a specific behavior or photograph a bird in flight? The situation you are shooting is as important as the subject itself.

You will also need to consider how professional or pristine you need the shots to look. For many amateurs, an aesthetically pleasing photo is the primary goal – you won’t necessarily be looking for an award-winning result. But someone more serious about bird photography may be trying to create images that are a cut above.

Determine Your Budget

Of course, another key consideration, whether you like it or not, will be budget. Your final choice might be the best lens you can afford rather than the best lens on the market.

Remember, bird photography can get very expensive if you take the hobby further or want to make it a profession – but even beginners with limited equipment can still have a lot of fun and even take some great shots.

Do Your Research

Reading articles (like this one) can be a part of your research when trying to find the best lens for bird photography for you. But I always recommend taking your research further and actually speaking with other keen wildlife photographers.

Some of the best information will come from those actually using lenses day in and day out in the same environments as you. While generic guides can impart some knowledge, there is no substitute for speaking with a birdwatcher or professional photographer in your area. A lens that might work very well in one locale won’t necessarily be the best choice in another.

What Size Lens is Best?

Once you begin to zero in on how and where you wish to use your lens or lenses, you can start to research the specifics, such as which lens size might be best.

Is 600mm, 500mm, 400mm, or 300mm enough for bird photography?

Generally speaking, experts tend to advise that lenses in the 400-600 millimeter range are the most useful for bird photography. But remember, in certain circumstances, a 300-millimeter lens might be acceptable.

The best focal length for a lens depends on the camera you are using. For example, a 300-millimeter lens might work well on a full-frame camera for birds in flight but is likely too short for perched songbirds. However, if you are shooting with an APS-C or micro 4/3rds camera, a 300- or 400-millimeter lens might be more than enough.

Choose the camera before the lenses and understand how different camera choices will affect the focal length of a lens.

Which Lenses Do Professional Wildlife Photographers Use?

Many keen hobbyists will ask which lenses professional wildlife photographers use. But just as birdwatchers have a range of different approaches and amateurs have varied interests and priorities, professionals will vary significantly in the lens choices they make.

Many professional bird photographers opt for big 500- or 600-millimeter lenses. But this is not always the case. Those for whom weight is a concern will often opt for smaller lenses and combine lenses with lower focal lengths with different cameras and perhaps teleconverters to get the best combination of focal range, stability, weight, and size.

The Best Lenses To Consider

The Best Sigma Lens for Bird Photography

Sigma is a third-party telephoto lens manufacturer for Canon, Nikon, and Sony cameras.

Sigma 150-600mm 5-6.3 Contemporary DG OS HSM Lens for Canon
  • Lightweight and compact in construction for higher useability
  • Water and oil repellent coating on front glass element makes maintenance of the lens surface
  • Filter Size: 95mm

Last update on 2022-08-08 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

The Sigma 150-600mm 5-6.3 Contemporary DG OS HSM Lens is one of the best options for beginner bird photographers and is a good budget lens choice. It offers excellent focal length at a reasonable price and is also a user-friendly zoom lens.

The Best Tamron Lens for Bird Photography

Tamron also produces lenses for Canon, Nikon, and Sony cameras.

Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 for Canon Digital SLR Cameras
  • New FLEX ZOOM LOCK mechanism enables the locking of the zoom ring at any position
  • Fluorine Coating and improved Moisture-Resistant Construction
  • Lightweight and easy-to-hold tripod mount is compatible with an Arce-Swiss style quick release plate

Last update on 2022-08-08 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

The Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 is very light and reasonably reliable even at maximum aperture right up to the upper end of the focal range. It has responsive AF and a good image stabilization system, making it easy to use even in the mountains or other challenging terrain.

Though it’s suitable for beginners, more experienced photographers may soon become frustrated by the loss of image quality at the higher end of the focal length range.

The Best Canon Lens For Bird Photography

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens, Lens Only
  • 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
  • Improved zoom torque adjustment ring allows easy setting of zoom tension, Focal Length & Maximum Aperture:100-400mm 1:4.5-5.6,...

Last update on 2022-08-08 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

The Canon 100-400mm IS II Lens is also an excellent choice for bird photography. It is probably the most widely used lens by many bird enthusiasts who use Canon equipment and is used as a backup lens by more experienced bird photographers.

The Best Nikon Lens for Bird Photography

Sale
Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED Vibration Reduction Zoom Lens with Auto Focus for Nikon DSLR Cameras
  • Compact super telephoto zoom lens for birding, wildlife, motorsports, events and more
  • 500 millimeter of zoom power on fx format DSLR; 750 millimeter equivalent on dx format DSLRs, minimum focus distance: 7.2 feet (...
  • Fast f/5.6 constant aperture for beautiful out of focus backgrounds and low light performance

Last update on 2022-08-08 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

The Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED Vibration Reduction Zoom Lens with Auto Focus for Nikon DSLR Cameras is a popular Nikon lens for bird photography.

The Best Fujifilm Lens for Bird Photography

Fujifilm XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR
  • 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)
  • Focus range : 1.75m, Max.magnification : 0.19x (Telephoto)

Last update on 2022-08-08 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

For excellent image quality, bird photographers have recommended the higher-end Fujifilm 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR. There is virtually no chromatic aberration, and sharp images can be produced throughout the focal range.

The Best Olympus Lens for Bird Photography

Sale
OLYMPUS M.Zuiko Digital ED 300mm F4.0 PRO Lens, for Micro Four Thirds Cameras
  • 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
  • Splash, Dust, and Freeze proof design

Last update on 2022-08-08 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

The Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 300mm F4 IS PRO is another highly regarded option. Almost a macro-lens, this lightweight piece of equipment has amazing optical quality throughout, with good stability and clarity.

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Elizabeth Waddington

Elizabeth Waddington is a conservation, rewilding, organic gardening and sustainability specialist who loves everything nature-related. She loves helping others around the world connect with the wildlife and wonders around them. When not creating wildlife-wise, eco-friendly designs, or writing about the topics that inspire her, she loves spending time watching the birds on and around her own rural property, or heading out on camping or hiking adventures to spot birds and other wildlife in a range of habitats.