A good lens to use for photographing butterflies is a long reach super zoom lens, and I have to say this is my lens of choice for a few hours in the field snapping photos of butterflies and, in my experience if you want to capture frame filling shots of butterflies without having to get too close to the butterfly and risk spooking it (and causing it to fly off) a super zoom lens is the lens to use. Okay, you won’t get any macro shots or extreme close up photos but it is easily possible to get some nice close ups of butterflies.
Using a super zoom lens makes butterfly photography easy. With a super zoom lens you can find the butterfly, get it in frame (using a short focal length and wide field of view), zoom in to get a frame filling shot (without having to move towards the butterfly and scaring it away) and take the photo. Using a macro lens for butterfly photography can be a real faff whereas using a super zoom lens it isn’t.
If you want to capture great photos of butterflies hassle free a super zoom lens is the lens to use, and the ones you may want to take a look at include:-
CANON EF 100MM - 400M F4.5 - 5.6 L IS
Focal Length – Full frame/APS-C:- 100mm - 400mm/ 160mm - 640mm/ Aperture:- 4.5 - 32 / 5.6 – 38/ Min focus:- 38.4"/ Dimensions:- 3.7" x 7.6"/ Weight:- 56.1oz/ Image stabilization:- Yes/ Price (approx.) $USD/£GBP:- $2,000.00/ £1,950.00
The super zoom lens I use for all my butterfly photography is the Canon 100mm – 400mm f4.5 – 5.6L IS lens. This professional spec L series lens is, like all of Canon’s L lenses, made from the best materials and uses the best optics. This makes a tough and durable lens (I can only describe it as bulletproof) with awesome image quality. The 4 stop image stabilisation is useful to ensure sharp hand held shots at slower shutter speeds than is possible with other super zoom lenses without the image stabilisation technology.
The Canon 100 – 400L lens is expensive, but it is an awesome lens that will provide years of trouble free service. I have had my Canon 100 – 400L for several years now and I have had no problems with it. Over the years I have given it some abuse (perhaps a bit more than I should have) and whilst it is a little battered and worn (I like to refer to the blemishes as war wounds) it performs as well today as the day I first picked it up.
Buy the Canon 100 – 400L IS lens from Amazon.com (US citizens) or buy from Amazon.co.uk (UK citizens).
TAMRON 16 – 300 F3.5 – 6.3 Di
Focal Length – Full frame/APS-C:- 16mm – 300mm/25.6mm – 480mm/ Aperture:- 3.5 – 22/6.3 - 40 / Min focus:- 15.4”/ Dimensions:- 2.95” x 3.92”/ Weight:- 19oz/ Image stabilization:- Yes / Price (approx.) $USD/£GBP:- $499/£385
If you don’t have the budget for the Canon 100 – 400 lens a more affordable alternative is the Tamron 16mm – 300mm f3.5 – 6.3 Di lens. This lens is considerably cheaper than the Canon L series lens therefore the fact it is not as tough and sturdy and the image quality isn’t so good is no real surprise.
All things considered the Tamron 16 – 300 lens is a very good lens. I wouldn’t describe the build quality as “bombproof” but it is a well-constructed lens that feels sturdy in the hand. If you take a bit of care and don’t give this lens too much abuse you won’t have any issues with the build quality.
Given the cost of this lens the image quality is also very good. You won’t be capturing butterflies at the 16mm wide end, and will not be able to benefit from the f3.5 maximum widest aperture. In the real world you are most likely to be using this lens at its full stretch, i.e. 300mm and will be stuck using apertures of f6.3 or narrower. This shouldn’t be too much of an issue in bright light, but when the light starts to fade you may well have to push the ISO to get the shutter speed fast enough for a sharp shot. Fortunately, this lens has vibration control (“VC”) which is Tamron’s equivalent of image stabilization so this helps to get sharp hand held shots at slower shutter speeds.
This lens is perfect for those on a budget or those who can’t justify dropping several hundred bucks on a lens but still want a long reach lens to snap photos of butterflies.
Buy the Tamron 16 – 300 f3.5 – 6.3 Di from Amazon.com (US citizens) or buy from Amazon.co.uk (UK citizens)
If you want to take extreme close up photos of butterflies there is only one lens to use and that is a macro lens. The focal lengths of macro lenses vary from 60mm – 180mm and the mid-length 100mm focal length is the best compromise between working distance (subject to lens distance), size (and more importantly, weight) and cost. At the end of the day the 60mm macro lenses don’t have the working distance required for butterfly photography, and the 180mm macro lenses are big and heavy (and hence a struggle to use). The 100mm macro lens is, as already stated, the best compromise and is the macro lens I would recommend.
CANON EF 100MM F2.8L IS
Focal Length – Full frame/APS-C:- 100mm/ 160mm/ Aperture:- 2.8 - 32/ Min focus:- 11.8"/Dimensions:- 3.1" x 4.7"/ Weight:- 22.1oz/ Image stabilization:- Yes/ Price (approx.) $USD/£ GBP:-$800.00/£685.00
When I feel the need to take macro photos of butterflies this is my go to lens. Being an L series lens the build quality is second to none, and this lens is built like a tank. Given butterfly photography is an outdoor pursuit, this is ideal as this lens can deal with the outdoor environment as well as whatever Mother Nature decides to throw at it.
L series lenses are made with the best optics, and this lens is no different. The image quality of this lens is superb and photos are bright, crisp and colourful. Diffraction, pin cushioning fringing and the like is non-existent.
I am fortunate enough to own a bag full of lenses, the majority of which are Canon L series lenses, and I have to say that this is the sharpest lens I own. This lens is tack sharp from the centre to the edges of frame each and every shot. This lens also records an astounding amount of detail, far more than the naked eye can see, and you have to see what this lens can do to believe it.
The 4 stop image stabilisation is useful to get sharp hand held shots at slower shutter speeds and this, together with the weather sealing, is the reason I sold my previous macro lens (the Canon 100mm f2.8 macro lens) and bought the L series.
This macro lens isn’t cheap, and it is almost twice as much as the next best macro lens, but it is worth every penny. If you want to capture the best quality macro photos and be the owner of the best macro lens the Canon 100mm f2.8L IS macro lens is the lens to buy.
Buy the Canon 100mm f2.8L IS macro lens from Amazon.com (US citizens) or buy from Amazon.co.uk (UK citizens).
CANON EF 100MM F2.8 MACRO
Focal Length – Full frame/APS-C:- 100mm/ 160mm/ Aperture:- 2.8 - 32/ Min focus:- 12.2"/ Dimensions:- 3.06" x 4.84"/ Weight:- 21.2oz/ Image stabilization:- No/ Price (approx.) $USD/£GBP:-$600.00/£385.00
The Canon 100mm f2.8 macro lens is a great lens and one that is well worth buying. The build quality of this lens is good, and it feels sturdy in the hand, but it is not as tough and durable as the 100mm L series macro lens. Given that this lens is almost half the price of the L series macro lens, the difference in build quality is to be expected. I owned the Canon 100mm f2.8 lens for several years and I never had any problems with the build quality and it worked as well the day I sold it as the day I bought it.
The image quality of this lens is superb. This lens is sharp, and not far behind the L series macro lens. In reality you will only see the difference in sharpness between the two lenses by going pixel peeping or by creating super large prints, and even then the difference is only slight. There really isn’t too much difference in image quality between this lens and the L series macro lens.
For the money this macro lens is the best value macro lens for the money and outperforms lenses costing several times more. If you are on a budget, or can’t justify spending a lot of money on a macro lens but want to be able to capture stunning macro photos this is the lens for you. If you don’t want/can live without image stabilisation this is the lens for you.
Buy the Canon 100mm f2.8 macro lens from Amazon.com (US citizens) or buy from Amazon.co.uk (UK citizens)
Since the release of the Canon 100mm f2.8L IS macro lens the price of the Canon 100mm f2.8 macro lens has gone through the floor and you buy a second hand or used version for very little money. If you want to save yourself a shed load of cash and buy a used lens there is only one website to go to, and that is eBay. There is always a big choice on eBay, and it is a buyers’ market so use the search box below and see what deals there are on used Canon 100mm f2.8 macro lenses.
What are you waiting for? Go and grab yourself a bargain
Keen photographer addicted to cameras, lenses and everything photography related. Feel free to follow me in my photography ramblings, and if you have any thoughts, comments, queries or anything else to add I would love to hear from you.