When you’re staying at home as much as possible, you can soon run out of things to shoot. After all, there’s a limit to the number of family portraits, bowls of fruit and vases of flowers you can photograph before your creative mojo starts to diminish.
But step outside and, if you’re lucky enough to have a back yard or garden, you can join the growing number of domestic bird photographers.
Naturally, these creatures are small and you need to shoot them from quite a distance, otherwise you’ll scare them away before your finger has even made it as far as the shutter button. Powerful telephoto reach is the order of the day.
However, extra-large lenses generally come with similarly out-sized price tags. That’s no use when we’re needing to cut costs and keep the spending down, so here’s our pick of smart telephoto zooms at reasonable prices.
Best Lenses for Bird Photography
Below are the best budget lens for wildlife photography, specially birds, which includes some big names like Canon and Nikon
- Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM
- Fujinon XC50-230mm f/4.5-6.7 OIS II
- Nikkor AF-P 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6E ED VR
- Panasonic PZ 45-175mm f/4-5.6 Power OIS
- Pentax 55-300mm f/4.5-6.3 DA PLM WR
- Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM | C
- Tamron SP 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC USD
- Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD
1. CanonEF 70-300mmf/4-5.6 IS II USM
So for the best canon lens for bird photography. The original edition of this lens had a sluggish ultrasonic micro-motor autofocus system, mediocre image stabilisation and poor handling, due to the front element rotating during focusing. Image quality was a bit underwhelming as well.
The Mark II addresses all of these issues with a super-fast and near-silent Nano USM autofocus system, an upgraded four-stop stabiliser, and a completely revised optical path that features UD (Ultra-low Dispersion) elements.
The lens works a treat on Canon’s APS-C format cameras, where the 1.6x crop factor gives it an effective zoom range of 112-480mm.
Performance: Autofocus is rapid and highly accurate, while the electronically coupled manual focus ring enables fine and precise adjustments. Image quality is impressive in all respects.
Sharpness: Apart from lacklustre edge-sharpness at 70mm, it’s impressive throughout.
Fringing: Short 1.78 Long 1.39, There’s minimal fringing at both ends of the zoom range.
Distortion: Short -1 .78 Long 1.9, barrel distortion can be a little noticeable at 70mm.
Summary: Designed for Canon DSLRs, this also works really well on EOS M and R-series cameras, via the relevant mount adapters. The optional hood is shockingly expensive.
2. Fujinon XC50-230mmf/4.5-6.7 OIS II
Are you looking for telephjoto lens for birds on flight? look no further, the most affordable X-mount tele. From Fujifilm’s relatively low-cost and lightweight XC line-up, this lens takes over neatly from the XC16-50mm standard zoom. The aperture rating is quite narrow, enabling a more compact construction.
As such, it has pocketable 70 x 111mm dimensions and weighs in at just 370g, barely more than half the weight of the Canon 70-300mm on test. Part of the weight-saving is due to a plastic rather than metal mounting plate.
Autofocus is courtesy of a quick and ultra-quiet stepping motor, and the lens also features a 3.5-stop optical stabiliser. The optical path includes one aspherical element and one ED (Extra-low Dispersion) element.
Performance: Colour fringing and distortion are automatically corrected in-camera, so there are no issues there. However, sharpness is underwhelming.
Sharpness: The lens isn’t a particularly great performer in terms of sharpness.
Fringing: Short 1.0 Long 0.43, corrected colour fringing is of a very low order indeed.
Distortion: Short 0.12 Long 0.16, automatic corrections enable distortion-free images.
Summary: With an effective zoom range of 75-345mm in full-frame terms, this Fujifilm lens is just about long enough for bird photography. It’s compact, but sharpness is mediocre.
3. Nikkor AF-P 70-300mmf/4.5-5.6E ED VR
If you have a DX-format DSLR, you might well be tempted by Nikon’s AF-P DX 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3G ED VR: a solid performer, and good value at £329/$397. If you can stretch the budget, though, this FX-format lens is far superior.
The latest in a highly acclaimed series of full-frame compatible 70-300mm Nikon zoom lenses, it has stronger, weather-sealed build quality than its sibling, and an incredibly rapid yet silent stepping motor-based autofocus system.
Further highlights include an upgraded 4.5-stop VR system. Nikon’s Sport VR mode enables you to track erratically moving birds more easily in the viewfinder.
Performance: The autofocus and stabilisation systems work brilliantly well for bird photography, and image quality is excellent in all respects.
Sharpness: We tested only yielded average scores, but it does better in real-world shooting.
Fringing: Short 1.46 Long 1.74, there’s very little fringing at either end of the zoom range.
Distortion: Short -1 . 3 4 Long 0.17, distortion is very slight at either end of the range.
Summary: A great lightweight telephoto zoom for both DX and FX-format SLRs, this also makes an excellent choice for Z-series bodies like the Z 50 via Nikon’s FTZ mount adapter.
4. Panasonic PZ 45-175mmf/4-5.6 Power OIS
This tiny lens lets you see double. The Micro Four Thirds system gives a real boost to bird photography, thanks to its 2x crop factor, or ‘focal length multiplier’. This Lumix G Vario lens is the baby of the test group, measuring just 62 x 90mm and tipping the scales at an unfeasibly light 210g – despite having a metal mounting plate.
It delivers a 90-350mm effective zoom range in full-frame terms and comes with optical image stabilisation. A good choice for shooting movies as well as stills, the lens has a stepping motor autofocus system that’s quick yet enables smooth focus transitions. It also features a power zoom mechanism for similarly smooth zoom transitions.
Performance: The optical stabiliser is a bit of an under-achiever by the latest standards, giving a three-stop benefit in reducing camera-shake. Sharpness is mediocre.
Sharpness: Levels of sharpness are somewhat uninspiring at any focal length.
Fringing: Short 0.74 Long 0.44, there’s practically no colour fringing in evidence.
Distortion: Short -0.09 Long 0.01, distortions are taken care of by in-camera corrections.
Summary: This certainly fits the bill if you’re looking for a compact, lightweight telephoto lens for MFT, and the power zoom is handy if video capture of garden birds is high on your agenda.
5. Pentax 55-300mm f/4.5-6.3 DA PLM WR
A shrink-to-fit telephoto zoom. This Pentax lens has a neat retractable design, enabling it to shrink down to a length of just 89mm. That’s even shorter than the Panasonic lens on test, despite the Pentax giving a more generous maximum focal length. As it’s designed for APS-C format K-mount cameras, the effective zoom range is an impressive 82.5-450mm.
It’s quite light for a DSLR lens, at 442g, although the aperture rating narrows to f/6.3 at the long end.Unlike some Pentax lenses that have rather noisy and sluggish autofocus systems, this one enables fast autofocus performance in near-silence. Build quality is very good, with a ‘weather-resistant’ construction.
Performance: Sharpness is a little better than from the competing Fujifilm and Panasonic lenses, at least in the mid-sector of the zoom range.
Sharpness: It’s pretty good at short and mid-range, but drops off noticeably at the long end.
Fringing: Short 1.83 Long 2.26, fringing can be a little noticeable at either end.
Distortion: Short -1.68 Long 1.29, there’s a small swing from barrel to pincushion.
Summary: This lens performs well, but long-zoom sharpness could be better. The lack of optical stabilisation isn’t a problem, thanks to sensor-shift support in Pentax DSLRs.
6. Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM | C
Filling the gap between conventional 70-300mm telephoto lenses and chunky 150-600mm super-telephoto zooms, this Sigma lens goes into direct competition with the Tamron 100-400mm. Weighing in at just over a kilogramme, it’s entirely manageable for even long periods of handheld shooting.
There’s a big step up in onboard control options, compared with 70-300mm lenses. The fast, ring-type ultrasonic autofocus system can be switched to give priority to autofocus or manual override. There are also two switchable optical stabilisation modes, for static and panning shots.
Performance: Helped by the deployment of four SLD (Special Low Dispersion) elements, the lens produces good sharpness, with minimal fringing. Stabilisation gives up to a four-stop benefit.
Sharpness: Sharpness chart scores are unimpressive, but real-life performance is rather better.
Fringing: Short 1.82 Long 1.01, colour fringing is only slightly noticeable at 100mm.
Distortion: Short 0.91 Long 1.75, pincushion distortion increases at longer zooms.
Summary: It’s not quite as sharp as some of the lenses on test, but delivers very good image quality overall. Handling is refined, and the solid build includes weather seals.
7. Tamron SP 70-300mmf/4-5.6 Di VC USD
Although 70-300mm zooms have been highly popular for decades, this category of lens has been strangely absent from Sigma’s line-up for a few years now.
Tamron’s most recent offering is still going strong, with an appealing feature set and good build quality. Launched around a decade ago, this was the first Tamron lens to feature ring-type ultrasonic autofocus.
It also has a four-stop optical stabiliser. Although designed for DSLRs, the lens works well on Canon EOS M and R-series mirrorless cameras, via the relevant mount adapter; but autofocus doesn’t really work with Nikon Z-mount bodies via an FTZ adapter.
Performance: Image quality is very good for such a budget-friendly telephoto zoom, but it’s not as sharp as the latest own-brand 70-300mm lenses.
Sharpness: Sharpness is good overall, but drops off noticeably at the long end.
Fringing: Short 1.12 Long 2.23, colour fringing is pretty low at short and long zoom settings.
Distortion: Short -0.34, long 1.97There’s only minor barrel distortion at 70mm.
Summary: This older lens is a good low-budget option for Canon and Nikon SLRs, with speedy autofocus and good stabilisation. Long-zoom sharpness could be better.
8. Tamron 100-400mmf/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD
A powerful telephoto zoom. Pretty much the same size and weight as the competing Sigma 100-400mm, this Tamron was launched a little earlier, creating a new category of relatively compact, light and affordable 100-400mm zooms.
Handling feels more intuitive for Nikon shooters, as the zoom ring operates in the same direction as own-brand Nikon lenses, whereas the Sigma follows Canon’s lead.
There aren’t as many switchable control options, as in the Sigma lens but they’re well-implemented. For example, the autofocus range limiter can operate at any focus distance, simply by switching it on at that point.
Performance: Center sharpness is excellent throughout the entire zoom range, even when shooting wide-open, and the lens is impressive in its control over colour fringing and distortion.
Sharpness: Center-sharpness is excellent at all focal lengths, but edges and corners are average.
Fringing: Short 1.58 Long 1.11, there’s only minor fringing at both ends of the zoom range.
Distortion: Short 0.7 Long 1.54, there’s minimal pincushion distortion at 100mm.
Summary: This Tamron delivers excellent image quality and performance for such a light 100-400mm lens. It’s well-built too, with extensive weather-sealing.
The Tamron 100-400mm takes the overall prize, giving great telephoto reach on Canon and Nikon full-frame DSLRs and venturing into effective super-zoom territory on an APS-C format body.
It’s a little sharper than the competing Sigma 100-400mm and is more comprehensively weather-sealed, although the Sigma lens has wider-ranging controls and custom options, and is better value in the US.We’re really impressed by the latest 70-300mm lenses from both Canon and Nikon.
Their maximum telephoto reach is a bit limited for garden bird photography on a full-frame body, but they’re very good options for APS-C format bodies. Considering that there aren’t yet any lightweight telephoto zooms for Canon and Nikon full-frame mirrorless cameras, these lenses also make good budget-friendly options via respective mount adapters.
The Tamron 70-300mm zoom is a good low-budget option for Canon and Nikon DSLRs, as well as Sony A-mount cameras. The Nikon edition is the only lens here that’s fully compatible with older Nikon DSLRs.