How to Choose Lenses for Wildlife Photography
These best camera lenses for wildlife photography are expensive, but if you intend to pursue wildlife photography, they are well worth the investment. The focal length you need to photograph wildlife depends on your prey.
If you’re going to photograph birds that are fairly tame, you can get by with a focal length of 150mm to 200mm. If your goal is to photograph wildlife like deer, bobcats, or grizzly bears, you’re going to need more reach — a lens with a focal length of 300mm or greater.
When you’re looking for lenses, you may find a breed of lens known as a mirror reflex lens. These lenses have a fixed aperture and are shorter than conventional zoom lenses with the same focal length. Mirror reflex lenses are also less expensive because they don’t use as much glass as conventional telephoto lenses do.
Keep in mind that the quality of a mirror reflex lens does not compare to a conventional lens and is not suitable for serious wildlife photography.
A telephoto zoom lens can be a different breed of cat. The majority of telephoto lenses have different maximum apertures depending on the focal length. For example, a Nikkor (Nikon lens) 70–300 AF-S zoom lens has a minimum f-stop value of f/4.5 at 70mm and a minimum f-stop value of f/5.6 at 300mm.
You can also purchase a telephoto zoom lens that has a fixed minimum f/stop value across the entire focal length range. These are more expensive than a lens with a variable minimum f-stop value, but they are worth considering if you want a zoom lens that has the same maximum aperture at all focal lengths.
Use a tele-extender to increase focal length
Telephoto lenses are expensive, especially when you get into the longer focal lengths. You can, however, purchase a device known as a tele-extender that increases the range of your telephoto lens. You attach a tele-extender to your camera in the same manner as a standard lens, and then attach your lens to the tele-extender.
Tele-extenders are available in the following strengths: 1.4, 1.5, and 2.0. Multiply the power of the tele-extender by the focal length of the lens you’re using it with to determine the combined focal length.
The tele-extender decreases the aperture by the same amount as it increases the focal length. For example, if you add a 2.0X tele-extender to a 200mm lens with a maximum aperture of f/4.0, you end up with a 400mm f/8.0 lens. If you decide to invest in a tele-extender, get the best you can afford to minimize the loss of image quality that is inevitable when you use a tele-extender.
First-party versus third-party lenses
You can purchase lenses that are made by the same company that manufactured your camera (first-party lenses) or purchase third-party lenses that are made by other companies. When you decide to purchase any lens, look for reviews online. The old adage that you get what you pay for applies here.
Camera manufacturers and third-party lens manufacturers have prime lenses that have more elements and better glass than their less expensive brethren. And remember, if the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. There are, however, some excellent third-party lens manufacturers if you’re on a budget. Tamron and Sigma have some excellent lenses in their lineups.
The best way to find out whether a third-party lens will live up to your standards and expectations is to find an authoritative review of the lens in a magazine or on the web.