Choosing Wildlife Photography Lenses: What to Know Before You Buy

Know these key terms before you start shopping.

Wildlife photography can be one of the most rewarding types of photography one can do. Getting the perfect image is exciting, but to help you get your best shot, the right lens will make a world of difference. Consider the type of wildlife photography you want to do when choosing your lens, and you’re on your way to framing your perfect shot.

Key Features of a Wildlife Photography Lens

There are a few important things to keep in mind when looking at lenses for taking wildlife pictures. You don’t need to know all the details, but having a general idea of what they are will make the decision a lot easier–because you’ll know what they’re talking about.

Focal Length

Many animals are skittish and fear humans (especially birds), so one of the keys to wildlife photography is a lens with a longer focal length. A long focal length gives you greater magnification and allows you to capture your subjects up close. Look for a lens with a focal length between 150mm and 600mm, especially if your subjects are very small. Keep in mind that with a telephoto lens it is almost always crucial to use a tripod to reduce camera shake and keep your images clear.

Sometimes wildlife isn’t too shy around humans and will get closer than you expect. For these types of situations, a fast portrait or prime lens will do the trick. For a versatile lens, you could consider something like a 700mm-200mm f/2.8 zoom.

Wide Aperture

High times for animal activity are often around dawn and dusk. Lower light during these times means that you’re going to need a wider aperture to let in as much light as possible. Look for a lens that allows you to shoot f/4.0 or wider. The wider the better!


Patience is perhaps the greatest skill any wildlife photographer can learn. When you’re out shooting in the field, you’re on nature’s time. You may have to wait three hours for that perfect shot. You could stand out in the drizzling rain all day and never capture it. Nobody takes a couple of steps from their car and shoots that amazing leaping fox in the snow unless they are extraordinarily lucky. But, like fishing, waiting for the right moment is part of the joy of wildlife photography.

Vibration Reduction

Having a lens with vibration reduction built in can be immensely helpful, allowing for a steady shot when shooting without a tripod.

Best Type of Lens for Wildlife Photography

Now that you know some of the critical features to look out for, let’s take a quick look at the different types of lenses that would be suitable for talking wildlife pictures.

Super Telephoto Lens

Without question, the best type of lens for wildlife photography is a super telephoto lens. This is a lens with a focal length of 300mm or higher. Bear in mind that this type of lens will be much heavier and bulkier than its smaller siblings, but it will allow for the most magnification. Camera lenses age well, but modern technology has made quite significant advances in lens technology allowing for super telephoto lenses to be made smaller and lighter.

Medium Telephoto Lens

Runner up for best type of lens for wildlife photography is a medium telephoto lens. This is a lens with a focal length between 135mm-300mm. This type of lens is convenient because you can shoot subjects that are a moderate distance away while still having the ability to shoot them when they are quite a bit closer. This cuts down on the amount of gear you have to bring with you into the field and minimizes time spent switching lenses.

So there you have it: the rundown on wildlife photography lenses. Do your research and consider your scenario, and you are on your way to becoming a wildlife photographer!

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