Wildlife Lenses: telephoto-zoom round up

By Kevin Carter - Wednesday February 13 2013

Lens Recommendations
Wildlife photography: what do I need? | Wildlife lens image quality overview | Image quality ranking | Lenses delivered overview

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:

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;