Wildlife photography is a fun hobby (and in some cases, profession) that has a unique set of requirements for those who are looking to do it seriously. One thing also remains the same, be it for photographing small animals like birds and squirrels in your backyard, to bull elk or elephants out in the wild – in wildlife photography, range is the name of the game.
This fact is true to varying degrees, but very few wild animals are going to allow you very close to them, much less feel comfy knowing you are there. Simply put, for wildlife photography you need to be able to close the distance between your subject and yourself without moving your feet. Obviously, that means your tool of choice should be a long zoom lens.
A zoom lens will give you the flexibility to adjust your framing on the subject and adjust your image if the animal changes their position and ends up closer or farther away from you. As well, even if the animal doesn’t move, in a case where you are unable to move without spooking the animal, a zoom lens gives you a bit of flexibility to get more than just 300 variations of the same image. You can have a little more leeway in terms of composition and such.
So now that we have established the why, let’s talk about the what. In our opinion, what are the best zoom lenses out there for wildlife photographers? Well, obviously when you get into longer telephoto ranges the $$$ start to add up quick, so your budget will be really dependent upon that here. Ideally, since you will be out in the elements with this lens, even if you live in a nicer climate that rarely gets bad weather, chances are that at some point you will be caught less than ideal weather. So weather sealing of some kind is great, as is some sort of tripod connection so you can take the strain of a likely large and heavy lens off your arms and shoulders and onto a tripod when you are being stationary for an extended period of time.
Anyway, we have broken our list here up into two categories; the Best of the Best, and Best Bang for the Buck.
Best of the Best
These are the best wildlife photography zoom lenses for you to choose from and they are compatible with various systems. These lenses will not be cheap, they will not be lightweight, and you should honestly be really serious about wildlife photography (and other related niches, like sports) in order to invest in one of these lenses.
- Canon: EF 200-400mm F4 IS USM (with Built-in 1.4x Teleconverter)
- Nikon: Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6 ED VR
- Sony: FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS
- Fujifilm: XF 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR
- Third-Party: Sigma 150-300mm F2.8
Bang for the Buck
These are the best options out there for the rest of you. The person taking that vacation to Yellowstone and wanting to get some great wildlife images, or the person who simply enjoys grabbing their zoom lens and heading to the local wildlife reserve, but also doesn’t have the budget or desire to spring for that expensive lens with all the bells and whistles.
- Canon: EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM
- Nikon: AF-S 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED VR
- Sony: FE 24-240mm F3.5-6.3 OSS
- Fujifilm: XC 50-230mm F4.5-6.7 OIS II
- Third-Party: Tamron 150-600mm F5-6.3 VC G2
So there you have it folks; the best zoom lenses for wildlife photography from a couple of perspectives. Hopefully, this was helpful in your quest to add the ideal wildlife photography lens to your kit. One thing we definitely recommend, especially if wildlife photography is more of a temporary thing for you (like a one time vacation), would be to consider renting a lens. This way you can get the benefits of a nicer lens without having to spend much money on it. But also if you are even just considering actually dropping lots of money on an expensive wildlife lens, try various options out with rentals and make sure the one you end up pulling the trigger on is the right choice for you.
Good luck and happy hunting!