12 Best Lenses for Bird Photography (2021)

Tori Rhodes
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Birding is one of the best ways to kill several birds with one stone. Enjoy birdwatching, improve your photography, and kill some time at the same time.

As a birdwatcher, you need a pair of good binoculars in conjunction with a good camera. Although most people usually overlook the lens when selecting their gear, you need to pay close attention to it.

Below, you’ll find a list of some of the best zoom and prime lenses for bird photography in 2019.

NameCategoryProduct
Sigma 150-600mm 5-6.3 Contemporary DG OS HSM LensBest OverallSigma 150-600mm 5-6.3 Contemporary DG OS HSM Lens
PANASONIC LUMIX G II Vario LensBudget PickPANASONIC LUMIX G II Vario Lens
Canon EF 600mm f/4L is III USM LensUpgrade PickCanon EF 600mm f/4L is III USM Lens

1. Sigma 150-600mm 5-6.3 Contemporary DG OS HSM Lens

Our rating: 9 / 10

Sigma 150-600mm 5-6.3 Contemporary DG OS HSM Lens

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Pros:

  • Sharp photo quality
  • Fast to focus
  • Durable construction

Cons:

  • Heavier than average telephoto lenses
  • Autofocus could be faster

You can count on the Sigma 150-600mm Contemporary if you want to capture birds in beautiful, high-quality photos with a high level of detail. This is a top choice among birders because it’s lighter and more compact than larger lenses.

The Sigma Contemporary has a bright f/5.6 maximum aperture that allows you to use a faster shutter speed when shooting in lower lighting conditions.

However, if the birds aren’t cooperating with your plans for a great bird picture then you’ll still have a high ISO mode to use on this lens. Whatever the situation, you’ll have the peace of mind knowing this lens can handle it all.

2. Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens

Our rating: 9 / 10

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens

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Pros:

  • Superb sharpness in the entire range
  • Fast and accurate autofocus system
  • Well constructed
  • Lightweight
  • Fantastic value for the price

Cons:

  • Heavy
  • When shooting at 400mm, you will need a monopod for steady shots; else you’ll get blurry photos
  • When shooting at 100mm, subject and camera shake can be an issue if you aren’t using a tripod

This Canon L lens is a worthy upgrade to any photographer’s photography bag … even if it’s just to have the bragging rights of being the owner. Featuring the latest in Canon lens technology, this multi-purpose and durable lens has fast, accurate auto-focus with minimal distortion, glare, and chromatic aberration.

Despite the size and weight, this lens is exceptionally well-balanced and comfortable to use over extended periods of time. An added bonus, this lens comes with a tripod ring to help you get the precise framing you crave.

The Canon L series of lenses is designed to be durable and withstand the test of time. This 100-400mm lens features an improved and sophisticated dust and moisture resistant sealing system that will come in handy on your adventurous expeditions.

3. PANASONIC LUMIX G II Vario Lens

Our rating: 9 / 10

PANASONIC LUMIX G II Vario Lens

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Pros:

  • Lightweight, compact but powerful
  • Great for low light conditions
  • Power O.I.S

This lens is a long range telephoto zoom lens that has an aperture of f/4. So it's great for shooting photos of distant wildlife, and a great lens for close detail shots of birds. It is also compact, lightweight, and easy to use. In addition, as it is a mirrorless lens, this makes it extremely fast and compact for shooting.

4. Nikon D500 DX-Format Digital SLR

Our rating: 9 / 10

Nikon D500 DX-Format Digital SLR

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Pros:

  • Cheaper compared to higher end camera lines
  • Simple, straightforward controls
  • Expeed 4 image processor; great color accuracy
  • Great autofocus system
  • Good hand grip; rubber bottom
  • Decent battery life
  • Range of helpful extra features
  • Wi-fi for easy photo transfers

Cons:

  • For this price point there aren’t too many cons to speak of
  • Most relevant for bird photographers is that the viewfinder is not as big or clear as those found on the D7200 or D500
  • This is a DX camera (crop sensor); so you may want to consider a Nikon full frame camera for slightly greater magnification power. If so, the 6300 or D610 are some higher quality options.

ISO 200-25600, Max Resolution 20.9 Megapixel

The Nikon D500 is a stunning camera that smoothly comes in as my top pick for best lens for bird photography. As Nick Page of Bird Photography Guide says, “The D500 is an incredible camera for bird photography, with a host of pro features”.

I’ve had the pleasure of trying this camera out, and Agnes has already written an in-depth review which you can read here.

5. Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED Vibration Reduction Zoom Lens

Our rating: 9 / 10

Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED Vibration Reduction Zoom Lens

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Pros:

  • Great for bird photography
  • Very lightweight

Cons:

  • The high magnification can make finding a subject for focus difficult.
  • It’s expensive

A telephoto lens is obviously a must for bird photography. The Nikon 200-500mm lens is a great telephoto for your Nikon DSLR.

The Nikon 200-500mm lens weighs only 7 pounds. This makes it the best Nikon lens for bird photography. With this lens, you can get your focal range up to 500mm.

This provides you with the ability to zoom in on a bird from several hundred yards away. The lens features vibrations reduction technology (VR) which helps with hand-held photography.

6. Sony a7 III ILCE7M3/B Full-Frame Mirrorless Interchangeable-Lens Camera

Our rating: 9 / 10

Sony a7 III ILCE7M3/B Full-Frame Mirrorless Interchangeable-Lens Camera

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Pros:

  • Full-frame
  • Lightweight
  • Amazing cinematic video

Cons:

  • Low battery life
  • No IBIS (in-body image stabilization)

For the best images of all types of birds, you simply can’t go past the new full-frame, mirrorless Sony a7 III. This incredibly lightweight and compact camera is like a full-size DSLR but without the bulk. It’s perfect for DSLR users who are itching to make the switch to mirrorless and for photographers who want to travel really light. Pair it with a lightweight lens like the Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS and you’re all set to capture awesome bird images and videos.

The Sony A7 III has the most amazing viewfinder of any camera out there. It’s bright and clear with fantastic colors and shows 100 percent of the scene. This is often a priceless bit of technology to have in the field when snapping fast-moving birds.

7. Sony FE 100-400mm F4.5–5.6 GM OSS

Our rating: 9 / 10

Sony FE 100-400mm F4.5–5.6 GM OSS

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Pros:

  • Superlative image quality
  • Versatile, useful focal length
  • Sharp wide open with excellent sharpness across the entire frame, even at 400mm
  • Controlled and accurate focus ring
  • Feels great in your hands and is easy to shoot with
  • Supersharp at 400mm at f/5.6
  • Great for action photography
  • Zoom ring is a little stiff, but it’s quite possible to adjust in-hand
  • Pleasing bokeh
  • Excellent for capturing birds and wildlife

Cons:

  • Significant vignetting when wide at f/4.5 and at 400mm f/5.6
  • Focus ring is a bit stiff

You can shoot action photography with this lens thanks to its traditional focus-by-wire (or L-Fn) focus ring. You can also capture birds from afar with greater detail and clarity thanks to the impressive 2.4–stop image stabilization system on this lens.

8. Canon Digital SLR Camera Body

Our rating: 9 / 10

Canon Digital SLR Camera Body

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Pros:

  • Great for photographers with a medium to large budget
  • Great for amateurs to semi-pro level photographers
  • Suitable for all types of photography, including video
  • Built-in flash with wireless flash control
  • Sturdy design

From the very first time I powered up my camera I found the Canon 80D experience to be very enjoyable. It comes with a large CMOS sensor, providing high-quality images whether I'm shooting in RAW or JPEG format.

The 9-point autofocus system and improved AF performance mean that I'm never hobbled by a technical issue when trying to get a good shot. I just set the AF to 9-point and have no worries when it comes to focusing on my subject.

All in all, the Canon 80D is a fantastic tool for serious hobbyists and up-and-coming professionals.

9. Tamron 18-400mm F/3.5-6.3 DI-II VC HLD All-In-One Zoom

Our rating: 9 / 10

Tamron 18-400mm F/3.5-6.3 DI-II VC HLD All-In-One Zoom

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Pros:

  • Solid 6-year USA warranty
  • Lightweight
  • Fast, clear focus
  • Great zoom range of a little over 11x without sacrificing image quality

This long-range zoom lens from Tamron covers 23.5-465mm in 35mm format ‘’ making it the perfect choice for serious birders that want a versatile lens.

The f/3.5-6.3 variable aperture is the main drawback, so you may need to add a neutral density filter to capture great shots in well-lit situations.

It also offers Hybrid Vibration Compensation (HVC) image stabilization that uses active gyro sensors to minimize the appearance of camera movement when shooting low light distant objects.

10. Canon EOS 6D Mark II Digital SLR Camera Body

Our rating: 9 / 10

Canon EOS 6D Mark II Digital SLR Camera Body

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Pros:

  • Possible to shoot in RAW and JPEG
  • Dual Pixel CMOS AF … 50ms focus speed
  • 18MP resolution; 26 segments in metering system
  • Two cards slots; SD, SDHC, SDXC
  • ISO 100-25600; 4.6 fps continuous
  • EOS HD Movie mode; Full HD 1920×1080
  • Touch and swivel 3-inch LCD display
  • 100K manually selectable shutter life

Cons:

  • No built in GPS
  • Not a true 100% viewfinder

11. PANASONIC LUMIX GX85 Body 4K Mirrorless Camera

Our rating: 8 / 10

PANASONIC LUMIX GX85 Body 4K Mirrorless Camera

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Pros:

  • Great value
  • Great features
  • Lightweight and compact
  • 16 megapixels
  • In-body stabilisation
  • Tilting screen
  • 4K Video
  • Streamlined design
  • Intuitive user interface

The Panasonic GX85 is a sizeable step up from its predecessor, the TZ90. The GX85 has an all-new design built from the ground up. It comes with new features and an intuitive user interface. The GX85 boasts in-body image stabilisation. This is pretty impressive given that you can use any of the UWA (ultra-wide angle) lenses on the market and still get a decent image with minimal camera shake. Editor's rating: 8.5/10

12. Nikon D3400

Our rating: 8 / 10

Nikon D3400

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About two frames per second is slow for a DSLR.

For those who are willing to go through the learning curve and invest their time, a Nikon DSLR delivers professional image quality. This is why Nikon is considered the go-to brand for the best bird photography lenses.

The D3400 is a 20.9MP camera with a high resolution 3inch LCD that delivers sharp images. Nikon has a long history in microscopy technology and the lenses it designs translate into great optics for bird photography.

13. Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 300MM f/4E PF ED Vibration Reduction Lens

Our rating: 8 / 10

Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 300MM f/4E PF ED Vibration Reduction Lens

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Pros:

  • Superb build quality
  • VR shots are sharp even at full aperture
  • Solid image stabilization
  • Best in class autofocus
  • Better glass than lower end 400 f/4 lenses

Cons:

  • Heavy (2.4 lbs)
  • Price is steep
  • Manual focus only
  • No lens hood
  • No weather sealing

Rating:

If you're looking for that perfect lens to give you the reach and tack sharp images you desire, then the Nikon 300mm f/4E PF ED VR is the lens for you. Nikon has hit a home run with this lens and has made it easily the best medium-long range telephoto out there.

The build quality oozes quality from the moment you take it out of the box. The AF-S 300 f/4 is solid from end to end and is a compact design for a full-frame lens. The lens offers quick and accurate auto-focus performance.

14. Canon EOS 7D Mark II Digital SLR Camera

Our rating: 8 / 10

Canon EOS 7D Mark II Digital SLR Camera

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Pros:

  • Top-notch image quality
  • Outstanding color accuracy
  • Great low-light performance
  • Solid build
  • Canon's magic autofocus

Cons:

  • 4 frames per second burst rate is slow for sports
  • Limited video features
  • Heavy (2lb, 8oz)

We've hand-picked lenses with excellent sharpness, low distortion and pleasing bokeh.

In this guide, we've hand-picked lenses with excellent sharpness, low distortion and pleasing bokeh. It is intended for the enthusiast and bird photographer who wants to maximise his/her chances of capturing the best bird photos.

Bird photography is really a collective of many sub-genres. It ranges from action photography (which is pretty much always done with a birding lens) to portraits, landscapes and everything in between.

15. Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary Lens

Our rating: 8 / 10

Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary Lens

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Pros:

  • With the rings removed from the Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM FLD Contemporary Lens for Canon EF there is less chromatic aberration, and it affords up to a maximum magnification of 1:3.9
  • The lens is equipped with Sigma's new and advanced optical stabilization system – Optical Stabilizer
  • The autofocus is very hard to calculate as it is fast and accurate
  • The lens also integrates "an electronic interface to control compatible Sigma, Canon, and Nikon flashes, as well as to ignore the pre-flash.
  • The optical zoom is definitely the biggest selling point for me and makes this a game changer for sports photographers
  • Build quality is solid and feels very nice in the hands

Cons:

  • Some may see the price as being a bit pricey but in my opinion it's worth every penny
  • Even though Sigma claims that this is a “lightweight, high-performance super telephoto prime lens”, the weight is going to be a negative for some.

The Sigma 100-400mm is a fixed focal lens that is designed to win new hearts. The Sigma's Optical Stabilizer is able to compensate even during long-range movements.

16. Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2

Our rating: 8 / 10

Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2

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Pros:

  • One of the longest telephoto lenses on the market, giving you versatility in the field
  • Improved Optical Stabilizer (VC) for increased hand-hold ability
  • High-quality images with natural colors
  • Lightweight at 1.5 lbs

Cons:

  • It is a little on the heavy side, especially for longer outings
  • The setting for switching from AF to MF can be tight and takes time to get used to

17. Canon EF 600mm f/4L is III USM Lens

Our rating: 8 / 10

Canon EF 600mm f/4L is III USM Lens

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Pros:

  • Fantastic image quality
  • Fast autofocus
  • Great build quality
  • Suitable for wildlife and sports photography

Cons:

  • Heavy
  • Expensive
  • Some photographers have experienced quality control issues

The Canon 600mm f/4L is the lens you want if you want to shoot wildlife and action. The fast f/4 aperture allows you to shoot in low light situations without a flash.

For my needs, the 600L outperformed the competition by a wide margin.

Once you stop down the aperture, you can achieve surprisingly sharp impressive results at f/4.

18. Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS USM Telephoto Fixed Lens

Our rating: 8 / 10

Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS USM Telephoto Fixed Lens

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Pros:

  • Great for nature photography
  • Fantastic for low-light situations
  • A relatively affordable option compared to other 300mm lenses

Cons:

  • Plastic body
  • Manual focus only
  • Lacks image stabilization

19. Nikon D750 Digital SLR Camera Body & AF-S 24-120mm f/4 G VR ED Zoom-Nikkor Lens

Our rating: 7 / 10

Nikon D750 Digital SLR Camera Body & AF-S 24-120mm f/4 G VR ED Zoom-Nikkor Lens

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Pros:

  • DSLR body with FX-format sensor
  • 80 megapixel Super-Resolution mode
  • Vibration Reduction feature
  • 4K video capabilities
  • Ability to capture in raw

With new EXPEED 5 image processor Nikon D750 offers incredible low-light performance and a wide range of ISO settings.

One of the most important aspects of being a bird photographer is always being able to capture birds in the wild. To do that you need to know that your camera will be able to take the result you want. This camera is a serious contender for one of the best DSLR for bird photography thanks to its ability to capture fast-moving subjects and clear photos in low light.

If you need to capture one shot of an individual bird or capture multiple shots with your camera from various locations, this camera has you covered. The Nikon D750 is a wildlife and a sports enthusiast’s dream camera.

20. Canon EOS-1DX Mark II DSLR Camera

Our rating: 7 / 10

Canon EOS-1DX Mark II DSLR Camera

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Pros:

  • Best Value for Money
  • Amazing Dual-Pixel Autofocus
  • Superior 10 fps Shooting
  • Easy connectivity to smart devices
  • High-grade durable material

Cons:

  • Heavy and bulky
  • Poor battery life
  • JPEG image quality sub-par

The EOS-1DX Mark II is the successor to the popular Canon EOS-1D X and has been completely redesigned from the ground up to accommodate the brand new 52.4-megapixel max resolution sensor which is currently the highest in the market.

Canon EOS-1DX Mark II packs an impressive number of features for any camera. The camera has a 4K video recording feature which enables shooters to record videos with the highest resolution (3840 x 2160 pixels) used by the pros.

The camera is designed to be used by bird photographers as it delivers very fast photography with autofocus, shooting at a blazing speed of up to 10 fps.

21. Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 600mm f/4E FL ED Vibration Reduction Fixed Zoom Lens

Our rating: 6 / 10

Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 600mm f/4E FL ED Vibration Reduction Fixed Zoom Lens

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Pros:

  • Auto-focus with Spot-AF target and automatic sensor selection
  • Vibration Reduction system
  • Built-in tripod collar and ‘silent wave’ (stealth) autofocus motor
  • Well-made, solidly constructed

Cons:

  • You have to carry around a big lens
  • Manual focus is not the quickest
  • Manual focus ring doesn’t give you much room for error
  • Recommended for direct tripod, overhand and monopod use

If you dream of taking comparable photos to those of the great wildlife photographers who work almost exclusively with big and heavy telephoto lenses, you’ll need a long lens.

The Nikon 600mm f/4E is a phenomenal telephoto lens that is long, but relatively light (unlike its competitors).

The lens has a vibration reduction (VR) image stabilization system, which will significantly reduce the risk of camera shake in low light situations. Nikon says it can be used on any digital Nikon camera body (except for the D40/D40X.

22. Canon Digital SLR Camera EOS-1D X body EOS1DX

Our rating: 6 / 10

Canon Digital SLR Camera EOS-1D X body EOS1DX

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24.30MP

The Canon EOS-1D X is professional grade camera packing a potent combination of features in a rugged body that is ready for the toughest of shooting scenarios.

This camera comes with a large, fast image sensor and a powerful processing engine, similar to what is found in Canon’s sports-action cameras. The massive 24.30MP sensor is capable of capturing images at up to 7 frames per second in JPEG or up to 14 frames per second in RAW format.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What lens is best for bird photography?

Many people interested in bird photography opt for a longer lens because it makes it easier to zoom in on something you like from farther away. Larger aperture also helps photographers capture more detail in their images, particularly with shorter or faster lenses.

Here are a few recommendations:

Nikon 200-500mm: This lens was designed specifically for bird photography and it performs wonderfully. It’s light, easy to handle, and offers magnification, but it’s still easy to focus. The zoom lever is also nice, although you might have to switch to manual focus mode once you get to the maximum zoom.

What is the best Nikon lens for bird photography?

Telephoto lenses are your best bet for photographing birds. The 700-600mm range is ideal, and you’ll often see lenses in this range called out as the best Nikon lenses for bird photography. It’s a good idea to have a 500mm lens as well.

A 200-400mm lens is ideal for mid-range bird photography. The most important thing to keep in mind when selecting a lens for bird photography is that the longer the focal length, the more specific to bird photography it should be. Think about it like this, if you want to take pictures of birds, you want the lens to be longer than about 300mm. Any longer than that and you can effectively only take bird pictures, whereas a slightly shorter lens may be more flexible.

Is 400mm enough for bird photography?

Remember, when it comes to bird photography, you're usually dealing with amazing creatures of short lifespans and rapidly changing behavior. When I’m looking for the best possible bird photos, I don’t want to have to zoom in with my lens. I want to capture the bird in full frame.

Whatever lens you’re looking at, I would definitely recommend 400mm. In an ideal setup, you can go beyond 400mm, but you want to be certain you’re getting the right telephoto shot in camera rather than zooming at the last minute.

There are a lot of great lenses that offer this focal length, but most of those are much more expensive than this one. If you're looking for the best value and you know you only need a lens for birding, this should be your first pick.

What 3 lenses should every photographer have?

I can’t say that there are three lenses that are essential to every photographer. There are, however, three lenses I’d recommend to every new photographer no matter their experience level. The first is a wide-angle lens. I am partial to a 14-24mm but 16-35mm works just as well. The second is a telephoto zoom. I have a 70-200mm f/2.8 but 70-300mm works just as well. Every photographer should have these two lenses in their bag. The last lens that I’d recommend is the 50mm prime.

While this is a bit of an investment, it pays off in that this is probably the most versatile lens you’re going to own. It is a very powerful lens for producing depth of field and controlling the elements of your picture.

Conclusion

The bird photography guide will help you with the basics from understanding the camera settings to processing your pictures. It all starts with the camera. So what should you be looking for in a camera?

One important aspect is the ability to have fast shutter speeds. This allows the photos to be sharp and clear which gives the viewer an idea of the size of the bird or a sense of its movement. Some aspects like having a zoom lens for capturing close up shots, should be a no brainer!

Our Recommendation

NameCategoryProduct
Sigma 150-600mm 5-6.3 Contemporary DG OS HSM LensBest OverallSigma 150-600mm 5-6.3 Contemporary DG OS HSM Lens
PANASONIC LUMIX G II Vario LensBudget PickPANASONIC LUMIX G II Vario Lens
Canon EF 600mm f/4L is III USM LensUpgrade PickCanon EF 600mm f/4L is III USM Lens