The key to photographing birds, in addition to a quality SLR camera , is a lens or objective specifically designed for the conditions in which these shots are taken.
Are you just starting out or are you an expert? I have prepared an analysis of the best objectives to take photos of birds and all those questions to choose the one that best suits your needs and budget.
Telephoto lenses for beginner and amateur birds
Next, we are going to show you three lenses that could well be used by beginners or amateurs with little experience in bird photography, since they do not require a very high investment and offer the possibility of taking very good shots.
Tamron 18-400mm f / 3.5-6.3 DI II VC HLD
It is known as an ‘ all in 1 ‘ because it allows you to adjust the focal length from 18mm to 400mm , which translates into high quality images. The best thing about this lens is that it has autofocus technology (for professionals, it can be somewhat limited) and adjustable aperture , as well as being resistant to moisture , which is essential when working in high humidity environments.
Panasonic LUMIX G II Vario 100-300 MM
Lightweight option for its weight and dimensions with a great zoom capacity for those who work with a Panasonix Lumix GX85 .
It has an improved support for adverse weather conditions, mainly for wind. Although the image stabilization is not very good, if you need a lens with a high focal length or you travel a lot , keep that in mind because it is very reasonably priced.
Sigma 100-400mm f / 5-6.3 DG OS HSM
Telephoto lens that, combined with a good SLR camera (available for Canon, Nikon and Sigma), provides great versatility when photographing moving birds.
Its features include the focal length, which varies from 100 to 400mm , the built-in autofocus function and the dust-proof seal .
However, it is somewhat heavy and does not include image stabilization. It is the ideal if you are starting to photograph nature or wildlife scenes, both for its quality and its price.
Professional telephoto lenses for photographing birds
These models have a higher cost because they are advanced telephoto lenses indicated for experts and / or professionals. Even with this, you can find some cheaper than others; This depends on the quality and benefits they offer.
Canon EF 100-400mm f / 4.5 – 5.6L IS II USM
It is one of the most used lenses by experts and professional bird photographers because it provides great versatility and functionality. Its price is high, but the quality of the photos made with it are far superior.
This high-performance lens delivers crystal-clear bird shots with image stabilization, compatible with Canon SLR cameras . It is not suitable for close-ups, but it is suitable for long distances, which is normal for wildlife photography and in dusty or rainy conditions.
Sony FE 100-400mm f / 4.5-5.6 GM OSS
If you have a big budget, this goal is for you. Although the focal length does not reach a wide length, the quality of the images cannot be better.
Not surprising, because it’s a high-end telephoto lens with premium features capable of overshadowing more expensive options like the more advanced Nikon and Canon models.
Sigma 60-600mm f / 5-6.3 Sport
The Sport version of the Sigma lens is designed for professional photographers who are going to use it continuously and intensively in adverse environmental conditions .
It is, therefore, a high-end telephoto lens with a high price, but very reliable, versatile with its large focal range and with qualities that make it one of the best today.
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200–500mm f / 5.6E ED VR
This telephoto lens is one of the most used by Nikon camera users because, although it loses some focal range (at short and long distances) compared to the previous model, it gains in maximum aperture, being constant throughout the focal length.
It is suitable for photographs of flights of animals or planes and for nature and sports competitions, since the lens has a high optical performance with reduction of vibrations. This lens also features ultra-fast and very quiet autofocus .
Superzoom for bird photos
For the tightest budgets there are a series of compact cameras with superzoom known as ‘bridge superzoom’ or ‘compact superzoom’.
They are characterized by having a zoom range from 20x , which is very good if we compare it with SLR lenses, which are around 3x or 4x. However, this makes them more limited when lighting conditions are not perfect as the sensor is quite small and cannot deliver the quality that specific lenses provide.
Even with this, these cameras are a very interesting alternative because they have acceptable optics, focal lengths greater than 600mm and they are easy to use, light and very cheap .
We recommend that you take a look at these models.
Key points when choosing a lens for bird photography
There are a number of issues that your telephoto lens for bird photography should have, here you will know them all :
Fixed focal vs variable focal
The most common thing in this mode of photography is to always use the highest possible focal length. In most cases, whether you are a beginner or not, to make a close-up of the bird you will have to cut the image, due to the complexity of approaching these animals at a distance that allows an optimal framing.
In any case, it is one of the first characteristics that you have to consider when buying a lens, so we are going to briefly explain which are the two types of lenses that exist:
- Fixed focal length lenses : They offer more freedom in low-light or dark environments because they have a wider aperture and higher optical quality, but on the other hand, you need to be physically close to the bird, since they reduce flexibility when framing.
- Lenses with variable focal length : they are the most used in bird photography because they allow the scene to be zoomed in and out without having to move, avoiding movements or noises that can make the animal in question frighten.
Large focal length
It is essential to capture these types of images, but you have to bear in mind that this characteristic does not imply that the shots are exceptional, since in a good photograph (contest winner, so that we understand each other) other important issues come into play, such as the knowledge you have about the bird, how to approach it and the environment, among others.
As we mentioned, it is not easy to take a snapshot of a bird in flight from miles away. For this reason, we recommend at least that you choose lenses from 300mm because, although they are not perfect, they are more than enough to start with.
If you want to get sharp and detailed images, you will need a high speed shot of at least 1 / 1000s as a minimum , because the birds are in continuous movement, even when they are at rest. You can read more about shutter speed in this article and learn how to master it.
If the lens has a good aperture , you can reduce the exposure time and therefore the jitter when taking a moving image.
It is true that in good light conditions it is not a matter to take too much into account, but if the lens you choose does not have a good aperture , you will have difficulties when focusing in automatic mode; although this depends on other issues such as the quality of the camera and its sensor.
If you shoot hand-held or without a stable tripod, the Image Stabilizer achieves an additional margin of 2-3 light stops , which can save a photograph of a bird in flight that, without this function, would be blurred. You can always get a tripod with a ball head .
Teleconverters, an interesting accessory
Buying a lens with good aperture values offers an additional advantage that is none other than the use of teleconverters, also known as ‘ multipliers ‘.
This optical element cannot be adapted in all models for physical reasons or for compatibility, since it is an element that is located between the lens and the camera . Its function is to increase the focal length, although this directly affects the overall quality of the photograph, which can lose sharpness.
The most common is to find two types :
- 1.4x teleconverters : increase the focal length by 1.4x (thus the 300mm angle of view becomes 420mm) and decrease the aperture to 1 light step (on an f / 4 lens this would translate into an aperture of f / 5.6).
- 2x teleconverters: in these cases, the focal length is increased by a factor of 2 (continuing with the example from before, 300mm would become 600mm) and the aperture is reduced by 2 steps (that is, an f / 4 would become like an f / 8).
In addition to the fact that the lens you choose has good optical quality and fast autofocus , it is interesting that it is built with robust materials , but that at the same time does not compromise its dimensions, portability and use.
Most importantly, a must-have feature for outdoor photography is sealing ; This matter will guarantee its use in rain or environments with dust or other particles and its durability.
Advantages and disadvantages of using a telephoto lens
If you have just started in this modality or have only been around for a short time, you should know that photographing with telephoto lenses is not easy , since, as you increase the focal length (which in the case of this discipline is usually quite high), they become evident issues that are not noticeable in short focal lengths.
The focal length is usually increased because the birds are usually very far away, in addition, external factors such as air quality and shake come into play, that is, the vibration of the camera that will be reflected in the photograph as loss of sharpness. Even when the shutter speed is adequate and a tripod is used.
This translates into first shots that will not have the quality you are looking for, especially at the beginning, not only because of your level of experience and the limitations of the equipment but also because of the environment.
Even with all this, using a specific lens to photograph birds has a number of benefits, including:
- A reach of the bird at a great distance
- Good image quality in less than optimal light situations
- Fast or automatic focus
- Image stabilization.
As a drawback, only one should be highlighted: the price.
In general, these photography accessories have a high price , but it is totally justified given their characteristics and qualities. So, let’s see which lenses are the best for photographing birds in value for money according to your level of experience.
As you have seen, choosing a good lens for bird photography is essential to get good shots. A good starting point could be one with a focal length of at least 300mm , without forgetting other important issues, so that the lens you acquire is not only useful but also capable of offering you the quality in the images you want.