Depending on the type of photography you are doing, you may find your camera’s best friend is a long focal length (telephoto) lens! Especially for nature, wildlife, birds, and even landscapes, having a really good telephoto lens in your arsenal of camera gear can be so valuable.
What do I typically carry in my camera gear when I am doing nature photography? I have a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM
This lens has served me well on my various adventures in wildlife and nature photography in the Colorado Rockies.
The Image Stabilization in this lens is excellent, which is great for those moments where I am shooting hand-held in lower-light early morning scenarios or on overcast days.
Also, its ability to focus as close as 3.2 feet is exceptionally useful for wildflowers and butterflies, etc.
I also sometimes use a Canon EF 2.0X III Telephoto Extender for those shots where I need the added boost in focal length.
For example this shot below was with my Canon 100-400 with the 2X extender, boosting my effective focal length to 800mm. I really don’t use the extender all that often, I find it useful when I need the added focal length.
But What About You?
If you photograph wildlife, birds, wildflowers, butterflies, a long telephoto lens might be perfect for you! Especially getting up into the range of 400mm, 500mm, 600mm is quite useful. (Remember if you have a non-full-frame sensor, take into account the crop factor. Ex: A 200mm lens on a camera with a 1.5 crop factor is effectively a 300mm lens.)
Image sharpness and good stabilization is critical. Lenses vary in their degree of sharpness, distortion, vignetting, minimum focusing distance, focusing speed, etc. so shop carefully. There are many review sites out there to help you analyze and compare.
Image stabilization, just to be clear, is the technology built into the lens and/or camera body to minimize the impact of hand vibration/movement when shooting hand-held. It goes by many names, Image Stabilization (Canon), Vibration Reduction (Nikon), Optical Steady Shot (Sony), and many more. Depending on the lens/camera, this feature will allow you to shoot at slower shutter speeds than would otherwise be feasible, which also means you won’t have to resort to really high ISO values to get fast shutter speeds (which is the only other way to minimize hand motion blur). Consider this a must-have feature!
Beyond features, you also have to take into account your budget. Decide what features are worth paying for and which aren’t. Also weight is an important consideration. A lens could be outstanding but if you plan on carrying it on a 10 mile hike, you might not like it as much.
Depending on the make and model of your camera, here are some lenses you might want to check out. (Make sure the lens is compatible with your camera body!)
- Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 100-400mm F5.0-6.3 IS Lens
- Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR Zoom Lens
- Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens
- Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 75 to 300mm II F4.8-6.7 Zoom LensOlympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 300mm F4.0 PRO Lens
- Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary Lens
- Sony FE 100-400mm F4.5–5.6 GM OSS
- Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD
- Sigma 150-600mm 5-6.3 Contemporary DG OS HSM Lens
- Would be great but it is heavy and pricey:
Do you have a favorite telephoto lens that is not on this list? Let me know, and I’ll add it. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of all lenses that are on the market. These are just some of the better ones available today! Of course, I haven’t used all of those lenses personally, so check reviews and weigh tradeoffs.
Happy Telephoto Picture Taking My Friends!
P.S. I have a variety of great online interactive photography classes starting soon! Check them out!