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The Best Lenses For Bird Photography


Bird watching has been the favourite pastime of millions around the world. According to Forest and Bird, there are over 200 native species of birds in New Zealand, and with the NZ Garden Bird Survey coming up, there’s plenty of opportunities to get outside and look for your favourite birds. If you’re a beginner, you might want to start with a pair of binoculars for bird spotting, but there’s nothing better than getting a great photo of a favourite or even a rare bird.


Our guide covers a broad range of telephoto and super-telephoto lenses that are ideal for bird photography. We will give you some tips on the kinds of lenses you need that will help you get those shots worthy of a New Zealand Geographic cover story. It’s time to grab your camera and head outdoors to make our birds count!



How To Choose The Best Lenses For Bird Photography

With bird photography, your subjects are usually on the move and far away. That’s why you need a suitable bird photography lens with unique characteristics and features. 


Telephoto and Super-Telephoto

A telephoto lens has a focal length between 70 and 200mm, making them suited to bird photography. And a super-telephoto lens has a focal range of 300mm and more. Some super-telephoto lenses have a focal range of 600mm, 800mm and even 1200mm. For bird photography, a super-telephoto lens between 300mm and 600mm is ideal. 


Zooms and Primes

A zoom lens has a variable focal length allowing you to zoom in and out to photograph subjects. Zoom ranges such as 150-500mm provide a lot of flexibility to photograph birds up close and far away. A prime lens has a fixed focal length such as 300mm, meaning you have to walk to zoom. 


Aperture

A lens aperture is determined by how wide a diaphragm opens inside the lens when taking photos. Telephoto and super-telephoto lenses have the widest aperture between F2.8 and F4.5. As a result, enough light enters the lens with the bird in focus and the background blurry. 


Autofocus 

You need a lens (and camera) with a fast autofocus system to capture stunning bird photos. Autofocus ensures your bird is in sharp focus when you press the shutter button. To keep up with birds, you need a lens rated with fast focus performance. 


The Best Bird Photography Lens For Sony E-mount


Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Lens

The Sony G Master lens range is incredible, and the Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Lens is no exception. With a fast maximum aperture and precision lens construction, it guarantees image quality. The lens features Optical SteadyShot image stabilisation to avoid camera shake. The weather and dust sealing on this lens make it ideal for birds photography – plus, it is fast, quiet and highly accurate.



Recently, Steve, from our Wellington branch, took this lens out from our rental department and headed to the beach on the hunt for some birds. 


“Luckily, there were two Torea-Pango (variable oystercatchers) hunting for an afternoon meal. I used a big piece of driftwood to rest my camera on and fired off a few quick shots. Even though I was close to them, I found that 400mm would be the minimum amount needed if you want to fill the frame-up. Also, when trying to get shots of a fast-moving subject, you definitely will want a zoom lens. The Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS Lens would be an even better choice for getting those closer shots. The aperture is a bit smaller than the 100-400mm lens, but would still make a great addition to your lens kit.”



Alternatives include the  Tamron 150-500mm F5-6.7 DI III VC VXD and the Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary Lens For Sony E-mount. You can pair all of these lenses with the Sony Alpha a7R IV with blisteringly fast autofocus, image stabilisation and 10fps. It also features Sony’s Animal Eye Autofocus system to lock focus on a bird in flight. 


A Pair Of Bird Photography Lenses For Canon


Canon RF 600mm f/11 IS STM Lens

Canon RF mount bird photographers shooting with the Canon EOS R5 cannot go past the Canon RF 600mm f/11 IS STM Lens. The lens is a perfect example of a full-frame prime lens suited to bird photography. Thanks to its F11 fixed aperture, you have the perfect balance between depth of field and image sharpness in a compact body. The lens extends like a telescope and locks in place. It features optical image stabilisation, a Configurable Control Ring and STM stepping motors for fast, accurate and smooth autofocus performance. The RF 600mm is also compatible with the Extender RF 1.4x and 2x teleconverters for greater focal length. 


Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens

If you are shooting with a DSLR such as the Canon EOS 6D Mark II, the best full-frame bird photography lens is the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens. This winning combination is ideal for bird photography enthusiasts and pros. The weather-sealed super-telephoto lens features Optical Images Stabilisation modes, including panning for tracking fast birds in flight. The featured tech to drive lighting fast and accurate autofocus includes a high-speed CPU, AF algorithms and an Ultrasonic Motor. 



Fujifilm’s Best Bird Photography Lens


Fujifilm XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR Lens

Fujifilm shooters using the outstanding Fujifilm X-T4 have several great telephotos and super-telephoto lens options for bird photography. By far, the most popular choice is the Fujifilm XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR Lens – it’s a Red Badge premium zoom. The weather-resistant lens features a fast F4.5 aperture and a 35mm equivalent focal range of 152-609mm. For bird photography, the lens boasts optical image stabilisation to manage camera shake and low light shooting. It employs a linear motor autofocus system to drive super fast and near-silent performance tracking birds in flight. 


Alternatively, Fujifilm bird photographers would never miss the beat of a wing with the Fujifilm XF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 R LM OIS WR Lens. It is a great all-purpose lens with a flexible focal range and precision optics.



The Best Nikon Lens For Bird Photography


Nikon NIKKOR Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S Lens

The Nikon Z series of mirrorless cameras is proving super popular, and bird photographers love them too. The Nikon 7Z II is the latest and greatest high-spec mirrorless camera ideal for bird photography. And the Nikon NIKKOR Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S Lens is the perfect match. It’s a versatile lens with a maximum F2.8 wide aperture ensuring gorgeous subject separation between a bird and its natural surroundings. If shooting with a full-frame DSLR like the Nikon D850, we recommend looking at the outstanding Nikon AF-S 120-300mm f/2.8E FL ED SR VR Lens.


A Micro Four Thirds Bird Photography Lens For Olympus 


Olympus M.Zuiko 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO Lens

If you are shooting with an Olympus camera such as the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III, you can access one of the best lenses for bird photography. The Olympus M.Zuiko 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO Lens is a top of the line telephoto lens. It has a full-frame equivalent of 80-300mm that pushes it into the super-telephoto territory. The wide F2.8 aperture and precision optics deliver stunning image quality and subject separation. It is dust, freeze and splash-proof and pairs with the M.Zuiko Digital MC-14 1.4x Teleconverter for a 112-420mm range. 


Final Thought On The Best Bird Bird Photography Lenses

The New Zealand Garden Bird Survey is an ideal opportunity to get out with your camera and a super-telephoto lens. Bird photography is a fascinating and fun genre that presents lots of challenges and plenty of learning opportunities. At the same time, you’re helping the Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research.


Also, if you’re looking for a brilliant pair of binoculars for bird spotting, check out our companion article on The Best Bird Watching Binoculars.


Head over to Rubber Monkey today and check out our massive range of bird photography lenses.