Even the biggest birds are small creatures, and if you want to capture frame filling photos of birds you are either going to have to be extremely close to them or have the ability to get close to them. Getting close to birds, even tame garden birds is difficult and more often than not they scarper and fly off before you get a chance to take a photo. Consequently, the only way to get close enough is to use a long reach tele photo lens. Even if you can get reasonably close to the birds I wouldn’t recommend a lens any shorter than 100mm because less than this the field of view is too wide and the bird will get lost in the background.
We have established we need a long focal length for bird photography, but the question is just how long a focal length do we need? Unfortunately, there is no clear cut answer here and the focal length needed for frame filling shots of birds will vary. There will be times when 100mm is all that’s needed, there will be times when 150mm is all that’s needed, there will be times when 300mm is needed…… and there will be times when even an 800mm lens isn’t long enough for a frame filling shot. Choosing the best lens for bird photography isn’t easy.
One option is to have multiple lenses for bird photography to cover a variety of focal lengths, but unless you have multiple cameras you will have to keep changing the lens which is not ideal. Changing lenses takes time, during which the birds may fly off resulting in a missed shot. Another issue with changing lenses is that every time you do this the camera’s internals are opened up to the elements increasing the chances of dust entering the camera, and the lens, which will ultimately ruin the photos.
Rather than having multiple lenses I would recommend using a single lens for bird photography. There are lenses available with a focal length of 150mm – 600mm, which is vast. This does sound awesome on paper but in reality it is a different story. These lenses are slow, they are soft and the image quality is simply awful. The focal length range is too vast on these lenses for them to be any good.
Fortunately there are compromises and these lenses are cover focal lengths of 28mm – 300mm, 100mm – 400mm and 80mm – 400mm. These lenses don’t have the same reach as the 150mm – 600mm lenses but these lenses are faster and have far better image quality. Using these shorter lenses you can capture high quality sharp photos that are good enough to sell and make money with.
If you want a lens for taking photos of birds please don’t touch the lenses with super long focal lengths, unless you are spending several thousand bucks on them of course, and instead opt for the lenses with slightly shorter focal lengths. It is worth remembering 400mm on a crop sensor camera has an effective of 640mm, which isn’t too shabby at all.
THE LENS I USE FOR BIRD PHOTOGRAPHY
"The awesome Canon 100 - 400L IS"
The lens I use for bird photography is the Canon 100 – 400L IS lens, and I have to say it is perfect for my needs. Before I bought the Canon 100 – 400L lens I also considered the Canon 400mm prime, but zoom lenses are more versatile and zoom lenses allow for different framing and composition, which is very important. With a zoom lens I can zoom in nice and tight and isolate a specific part of the bird or I can pull back and include not only the bird but also some of the background too.
The Canon 100 – 400L lens is made out of the best materials and is also weather sealed. This makes it tough, durable and pretty much bombproof. It also means this lens can deal with anything Mother Nature has to throw at it, which is crucial for outdoor photography.
The image quality of the Canon 100 – 400L IS lens is superb and I have no complaints there whatsoever. Photos taken with this lens are sharp, crisp, bright, vibrant and vivid but not overly saturated.
The Canon 100 – 400L lens has image stabilisation technology and whilst Canon claim it is 4 stop, I am not too sure about this. I have never managed to reduce the shutter speed by 4 stops and managed to get sharp shots. On a good day I can get a 3 stop advantage, however I consistently get 2.5 – 3 stops, so it’s pretty cool. The image stabilisation of this lens is very good and I have no complaints at all.
Overall the Canon 100 – 400L IS lens is a great lens for bird photography and one I highly recommend.
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Since the launch of the Canon 100 - 400L IS MKII the used/secondhand cost of the Canon 100 - 400L IS MKI has gone through the floor and there are loads of deals and bargains to be had. If you don't mind buying used lenses (and there is nothing wrong with this) you could save yourself a ton of money if you buy the discontinued Canon 100 - 400L IS lens. The best place for used and secondhand lenses has to be eBay. If you want to see the current selection of used and secondhand Canon 100 - 400L IS lenses use the search box below.
What are you waiting for? Go grab yoursef 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.