Wildlife Lenses: telephoto-zoom round upBy Kevin Carter - Wednesday February 13 2013 Lens Recommendations
With the vagaries of photographing wildlife, the flexibility of a telephoto zoom would appear to be an attractive solution. However, image quality is often a compromise at the maximum aperture and longest focal length, typically the most crucial settings. We’ve pulled some lens data from our database and put together a round up of popular zoom lenses over the years (and made some comparisons with high performance primes). Read on to find out which models have the best image quality.
Wildlife photography: what do I need?
Photographing wildlife successfully doesn’t necessarily depend on having the longest and fastest super-telephoto lens available in a manufacturer’s list, in fact it requires a good deal of skill and patience, but there are some lenses that can help improve your chances. A telephoto can be of benefit when photographing shy and small creatures/animals, but while offering high image quality, a fixed focal length telephoto can be restricting.
A zoom lens, however, is much more flexible and by carrying fewer lenses, can save weight and be real blessing while travelling on airlines and public transport not to mention allowing considerable freedom in the field. The trade-off for this convenience is often lower- lens speed and -image quality. Having a lens with a wide maximum aperture is often essential to prevent subject blurring but high-speed telephoto zooms are pricey and fixed focal length telephoto lenses aren’t really any more affordable either.
We’ve put together a review of telephoto zooms and fixed focal length lenses that encompass a focal length of at least 300mm. However, bear in mind, even when used on an APS-C cropped camera this focal length is considered too short for smaller animals, birds especially. Lenses that exceed that focal length are fewer and more expensive but where possible we’ve included them (from our database of 22 lenses and more than 400 camera/lens combinations).
Lenses that fall firmly into this particular category in our test database include:
- Canon EF 100-300mm f/4.5 56 USM (1990/06/01)
- Canon EF 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L IS USM (2004/06/01)
- Canon EF 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 DO IS USM (2004/06/01)
- Sigma 120-400mm f/4.5-5.6 DG APO OS HSM Nikon (2008/01/01)
- Tamron AF 28-300mm f/3.5-6.3 XR Di LD Aspherical IF Macro Sony (2004/08/01)
- Panasonic LUMIX G VARIO 100-300mm f/4.0-5.6 MEGA OIS (2010/09/01)
- Pentax smc DA Star 300mm F4 ED IF SDM
- Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM (2010/08/01)
- Canon EF 75-300mm f/4 5.6 III USM (1999/04/01)
- Canon EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM (1995/09/01)
- Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 APO DG MACRO Canon (2008/01/01)
- Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 DG OS Canon (2009/09/01)
- Tamron AF 28-300mm F/3.5-6.3 XR Di VC LD Aspherical [IF] Macro Canon (2007/01/01)
- Tamron AF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 LD Canon (2000/01/01)
- Nikkor AF-S Nikkor 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6 ED VR (2010/09/01)
- Nikkor AF-S VR Zoom 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF ED (2006/08/01)
- Nikkor AF Zoom 70-300mm f/4-5.6D ED (2003/09/01)
- Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 APO DG MACRO Nikon (2008/01/01)
- Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 DG OS Nikon (2009/09/01)
- Tamron AF 28-300mm F/3.5-6.3 XR Di VC LD Aspherical [IF] Macro Nikon (2009/01/01)
- Sony 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G SSM (2008/05/01)
We are also aware that lenses like the high-end, full-frame Nikon AF-S Nikkor 200-400mmm f/4G ED VR II (and the to be released Canon equivalent) are rightly popular (especially on an APS-C camera, where it becomes a 300-600mm f/4 in effect) and so this review will be updated when we’ve had a chance to put them through our labs.
Other lenses that are not yet included in our tested database but should also be considered include;
- Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 300mm f/2.8G ED VR II
- Canon EF 600mm F/4L IS II USM
- Canon EF 500mm F/4L IS II USM
- Sony 500mm F4 G SSM
- Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM
- Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM
- Kenko Tokina 400mm F8 Mirror Lens
- Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM
- Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 DG OS HSM
- Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM
- Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6D ED VR AF
- Canon EF 300mm f/4 L IS USM
- Nikon 300mm f/4 AF-S
- Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM
- Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS USM
- Nikon 400mm f/2.8 AF-I
- Sony 70-400mm F4-5.6 G SSM II