If you’re an avid birdwatcher who wishes you could capture the beauty of birds and share it with the world – photography is the way to go.
But, you will find that it’s not just a matter of point and click. To catch the essence of birds in photos, you will need an excellent camera, but more importantly, a high-quality lens!
It’s intimidating shopping for the perfect lens. Many will buy lens after lens without ever finding one that is worthwhile.
Before you lose a lot of money, read on for a list of eight of the best lenses for bird photography.
What To Look For When Buying A Lens For Bird Photography?
When selecting a lens for bird photography, the adequate focal length is the most important thing to look for.
This will be shown as either a fixed measure (400mm) or as a range (150mm-600mm) on the lens.
For excellent photos of birds, you will need a lens 300mm or higher; the higher the focal length, the easier to spot the bird.
Although a high focal range is vital for bird photography, quality autofocus and IS systems, as well as the glass properties of the lens also play a role.
You must be thinking about the price, right? Here are some price points and what you can expect.
- Minimal focal length (300mm or less)
- Low-quality glass elements
- Focal length ranging from 150mm to 600mm
- Glass elements of better quality
- Lens will offer better autofocus and stabilizing capabilities
$3000 and higher
- Professional grade
- Finest glass elements
- Best autofocus motors
- Top IS systems
If you’re working within a certain budget, make a list of lenses in your price range and then assess which lens is the best quality for money.
Of course, you will want to purchase a brand that is compatible with your camera, so keep that in mind when deciding.
Top 8 Lens for Bird Photography
1. Tamron – Auto Focus Macro Zoom Lens with Built-in Motor for Nikon Digital SLR
This lens has been on the market for quite some time, chiefly due to its low price tag. Made from plastic, the lens feels pretty solid and looks nice.
Intended for sports and wildlife photography, it’s ideal for photographing birds. The focal length of 300mm is perfect for capturing shy bird species, granted, you may at times need even higher focal length.
Although it has a popular focal range, the fact that there is no image stabilizer is problematic.
This lens is best used on a tripod if you’d like to use the long end of the focal range. Alternative support, such as bean bags will work equally well.
The AF 70-300mm F/4-5.6 Di LD MACRO 1:2 has its ups and downs when it comes to image quality.
The focal plane is straight, and corner shadows are minor, but distortion will increase dramatically as you move the focal length higher than 70mm.
Since other focal lengths require high f-stops to gain sharpness, this lens is lacking in that area.
Another weakness of the lens is the color fringes and inconsistent focus on parts of the image.
- One of the lowest-cost lenses available
- Focal length range of 180-300mm
- ‘Macro switchover’ mechanism allowing minimum focus distance of 0.95m
- Low dispersion (LD) glass elements for greater sharpness
- Slow autofocus
- Lens motor is loud
- No image stabilizer
- Loss of sharpness as range increases
- Color casting
This is not a lens to buy for image quality but to be able to extend your focal range and capture that bird at an acceptable quality. It’s compact in size and very affordable in price.
2. 47th Street Photo – Super Manual Telephoto Lens for Canon
This classic refractor-style T-mount lens is a first-rate addition to a birdwatcher’s photography kit.
The lens is housed in a full metal body and rear mount, which makes it hardy and able to withstand wear and tear better than plastic lenses.
The Super 500mm/1000mm f/8 Manual Telephoto Lens can be set to manual exposure mode or aperture-priority mode only. When shooting at maximum f/80 aperture, a tripod or other such support is necessary for stability.
- Good value for money
- Metal body
- Includes manual exposure mode and aperture-priority mode
- Only 500mm and 1000mm setting – nothing in between
- Will need a tripod
- Difficulty in focusing
Budget-friendly lens but problems to focus may leave you readjusting, focusing, missing the shot, readjusting, etc. until you give up on bird photography altogether.
3. BIG MIKE’S ELECTRONICS – High-Power Manual Telephoto Lens for Canon
This powerful telephoto zoom lens will provide you with the accuracy needed to take your photos to the National Geographic level.
It offers the perfect combination of precision and ease of use that will make you capture that perfect shot every time.
The High-Power 500mm/1000mm f/8 Manual Telephoto Lens comes with high index, low-dispersion multi-coated optical glass that will decrease flare. It also has a built-in tripod collar for those shots where you will need extra stability.
- A high-powered zoom lens that doesn’t break the bank
- A great lens to go from point-and-shoot photography to a more advanced level
- Excellent definition in photos if a tripod is used
- No image stabilization
- No autofocus
- Tripod needed
- Shutter remote recommended preventing camera shake
- Focusing ring jagged and hard to turn
The fact that this lens is fully manual may scare off newbie photographers. But, with some practice, anyone can master this lens and take high-quality photos with an inexpensive lens.
4. Sigma – Contemporary DG OS HSM Lens for Nikon DSLR Cameras + Sigma USB Dock with Altura Photo Complete Accessory and Travel Bundle
Getting a 600mm lens without having to pay an arm and a leg is a big ask, especially for birdlife photographers on a budget.
The latest and greatest 600mm lenses can cost you as much as $12k. With that high price, comes a hefty and big chunk of glass to transport.
Luckily, the 150mm-600mm offers excellent performance in a light-weight package and a price point that won’t make you sweat.
It is a super attractive lens for sports and wildlife photographers – and yes that includes you, bird lovers!
The vast range between 150mm and 600mm makes this lens versatile in bird photography, and you will be able to capture even the shyest of feathered friends.
- It doesn’t cost $12K
- Perfect for the average shooter
- Images are clear and sharp
- Hand-holding for extended periods will be difficult due to weight
- Fixed aperture lens
An amazing lens that will give you the results you desire without wiping out all your savings.
5. Lightdow – Manual Zoom Super Telephoto Lens + T-Mount for Canon
One of the sticks in the mud with this lens is the fact that it is manual focus only. So, point and shoot are out with this bad boy, but if you’re up to experimenting with different settings, you’ll like this lens.
Boasting with a list of goodies like advanced optics, super-zoom and a full metal casing, the Lightdow 420mm-800mm f/8.3 Manual Zoom Super Telephoto Lens is a low-cost lens perfect for bird photography.
You can get fairly decent photos, but it’s not the sharpest lens on the market. But then again, you get what you pay for – in a good way.
The only real complaints about the lens are the fringe distortion at maximum zoom, as well as being a bit soft. But hey, nothing you can’t fix in Lightroom.
- Metal casing
- Good quality photos
- Manual mode
- Although the quality of the photos are good, they’re not sharp
- Fringe distortion at max zoom
- Color is somewhat dull
If your aim is to take photos of birds and post them online, this lens will do. However, if you want to print your photos and sell your work, this lens lacks the necessary power.
6. Opteka – HD Telephoto Zoom Lens for Canon
An advanced lens for less. The Opteka 420mm-800mm lens joins the list of full manual mode lenses, so you may want to get a tripod and a remote to make your life a little easier.
The unfortunate fact is, the bigger the lens, the more the camera shakes – even when you press the shutter!
Another thing to keep in mind with manual mode is that it’s not meant for birds in flight since it takes such a long time to focus and all you’ll end up with is a blur.
But, even though there is some compromise on quality and ease of use due to the low price, it is extremely powerful and versatile. It offers long-range performance with unparalleled consistency at this price range.
- Advanced lens for less
- Powerful lens
- Easy to pack and travel with
- No autofocus
- Tripod needed
- Remote shutter suggested
- Some purple fringing on max zoom
- Focus ring hard to use
If you’re an amateur or even serious photographer, but you have a budget to consider, then this lens is for you.
It packs a powerful punch and is ideal if you plan to take photos of stationary birds up in a cliff.
7. JINTU – Telephoto Zoom Camera Lens for Canon
This lens features a super HD multi-coating and a lens hood that helps suppress lens flare, ghosting and surface reflections in strong lighting conditions.
Part of the manual mode club, this lens takes a bit of finagling to get the right conditions.
If you’re looking for a lens to use often, one that you want to use to capture semi-motionless birds in the distance with excellent quality, you found the lens for you.
The only thing you will need to master is finding the correct speed and f-stops to take the perfect photo.
It is a little bit more on the expensive side but still does not come close to the truly costly telephoto lenses on the market.
- HD multi-coating
- Fairly inexpensive
- Impressive optics
- Light enough to use without a tripod
- Manual mode only
- Tripod suggested
- Remote shutter recommended
The JINTU 420-800mm f/ 8.3-F16 Telephoto Zoom Camera Lens is a skillful inexpensive telephoto lens wonderful for wildlife photography.
8. Canon – USM Lens Bundle with Manufacturer Accessories & Accessory Kit
This is one of Canon’s most popular wildlife and sport lenses for serious photographers the company sells. It’s solidly-built but still considered light-weight and easy to travel with.
One of the best features – that doesn’t come with any of the cameras listed above – is the image stabilization function.
As you can imagine, this plays a very important role in the ability to hold your camera in your hand and still take photos that are in focus.
The 400mm is long enough to capture distant birds with extreme sharpness. It is one of the most popular Canon lenses under wildlife photographers and one that is most frequently recommended by the experts.
- Solidly-built but still light-weight
- Image stabilization
- Popular among wildlife photographers
- Fast and accurate focus
- Amazing picture quality
- A bit on the pricey side
This is the big kahuna of wildlife photography lenses in the Canon range. The selling point is the image stabilization that is hard to find in other lower-cost manual mode lenses.
BONUS: VIVREAL – Monocular Telescope 12X50 High Power with Smartphone Holder & Tripod IPX7
Let’s throw something else into the mix for fun! Who wouldn’t want a12x magnification and 50mm object lens you can use on your smartphone.
This monocular telescope provides clear, bright, and high-resolution images.
But why buy one instead of a lens for your camera. Well, firstly, the size. It fits in your pocket and is easy to carry around and take out if you want to inspect something far away.
Secondly, with its 12x magnification, it’s perfect for activities such as bird watching and other outdoor activities.
It has all the key elements of an optical device that will make your view brighter and clearer.
It also offers you the ability to fast focus – using only one hand!
- Easy access
- Comfortable to carry
- One-handed fast focus
- Well priced
- It’s hard to think of one other than the fact that it’s not an actual camera so you will lose out on certain functionalities.
See the world through a Monocular Telescope – it will be brighter, crisper and clearer. Best of all, it fits in the palm of your hand.
Final Thoughts: Which Product Is The Best?
It’s clear to see that you have a world of lenses to pick from to take your passion for bird photography a step forward.
Which is best, largely depends on you – and your budget. But if we’re pressed to choose a winner from the list above, the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L wins hands down.
It has some impressive specs, but more than that has been tried and tested by various wildlife photographers who have given it their nod of approval.
Also, it would be amiss to ignore the fact that it comes with image stabilization. Something that even the most amateur of photographers knows plays a vital role in the quality of your images.
There you have it, eight of the best bird photography lenses of 2020. We’ll leave you to do some more research before you decide on a lens and head out into the wild.