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Best Lenses for Bird Photography in 2021 (Top 11 Picks)

To take fantastic photos of birds and wildlife, you need a specialist lens – ideally, a telephoto lens with a focal length of 300mm or greater. The lens should have powerful autofocus, a durable body for outdoor use, and a decent maximum aperture.

That’s where this article comes in handy. We share the absolute best lenses for bird photography so you can capture beautiful images of your feathered friends.

Best Canon Lenses for Bird Photography

1. Canon RF 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1L IS USM

Our Canon Pick
Great for action shots

The Canon RF 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1L IS USM is a superb lens for capturing fast-moving birds due to its AF system and stabilization.

Built-in optical image stabilization
Superior L-series build quality
Has a tripod collar
Expensive

One of the best lenses for bird photography for Canon mirrorless cameras is the Canon RF 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1L IS USM. This L-series lens gives superior image quality, excellent performance, and a brilliant maximum focal length of 500mm.

To make tracking and focusing easy, the 100-500mm has optical image stabilization for up to 5 stops of shake correction. When combined with the in-body stabilization of the R5 or R6, you have a lens/camera combination that excels at wildlife photography.

Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L is USM Super-Telephoto Lens

It also features a Dual Nano USM autofocus motor. This is incredibly accurate and fast. As a result, you can easily track fast-flying birds. When combined with one of the best cameras for birding like the Canon EOS R6, this lens allows you to effortlessly capture professional-grade bird photography.

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

Great for any type of bird photography

The Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM is one of the most versatile telephoto lenses for bird photography and offers professional quality consistently.

Fast Nano USM autofocus
4-stop image stabilization
Superior build quality
Heavy and bulky

While EOS R cameras and RF lenses are quickly becoming the popular choice, there are still some amazing EF lenses for bird photography. Although an older model, the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II remains one of the best options for the EF mount.

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L is II USM - International Version (No Warranty)

This lens offers amazing build quality and is incredibly durable for outdoor use. It also has a separate tripod mount. We also like the control ring you can twist to tighten or loosen the zoom function. This means you can prevent zoom slip and easily keep the lens set at a certain focal length.

As you would expect from an L-series lens, the 100-400 gives superb image quality regardless of the focal length. Overall, this is a versatile super-telephoto lens that excels at wildlife and bird photography.

3. Canon RF 600mm f/11 IS STM

Great for detail shots

The Canon RF 600mm f/11 IS STM has a unique design that makes it excel at bird and wildlife photography.

Image stabilization for up to 5 stops
Improved optics for consistently sharp images
Stylish and portable design
Some may not like the maximum f/11 aperture

Canon EOS R owners can also benefit from a range of prime super-telephoto lenses. The first is the Canon RF 600mm f/11 IS STM. This lens has a unique build and design and is relatively compact despite offering a 600mm focal length.

For portability, it has an extending/retracting locking barrel design. Also, it has a superior lens construction that includes a gapless double layer of diffractive optics. This reduces chromatic aberration and helps boost image quality.

Canon RF600/11 is STM(N) (3986C002)

To improve handheld shooting, this lens also has optical image stabilization that works for up to 5 stops of shake correction. If you want immense detail from your bird photography, this is certainly one of the best options available.

4. Canon RF 800mm f/11 IS STM

Great for super detailed shots

The Canon RF 800mm f/11 IS STM is one of the best lenses for highly detailed bird photos.

Retractable barrel for portability
Excellent build quality
Relatively lightweight
The f/11 maximum aperture may be limiting

Taking the term super-telephoto one step further, we have the Canon RF 800mm f/11 IS STM. This is like the 600mm but adds an extra 200mm of focal length! The detail you can get with this lens is amazing.

Canon RF800/11 is STM(N)

It also has a high-quality set of optics to provide consistent image quality. We also like the optical image stabilization that works for up to 4 stops of shake correction. For focusing, this super-telephoto lens has the STM stepping motor that provides fast, accurate, and quiet focusing – even on fast-moving birds.

Best Nikon Lenses for Bird Photography

1. Nikon AF-S FX 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR

Our Nikon Pick
Great for bokeh backgrounds

The Nikon AF-S 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR is a professional telephoto lens that offers an excellent constant maximum aperture of f/5.6.

Vibration reduction for better focus and tracking
Great low-light performance
Excellent build quality
Weighs 5.06 lb/2.29 kg

Nikon also has some of the best lenses for bird photography and one top choice is the Nikon AF-S FX 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR. This has the added benefit of having a larger minimum focal length of 200mm, whereas many telephoto lenses have a minimum of 100mm or 150mm.

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

On FX-format cameras, the maximum focal length is 500mm, and on Nikon DX cameras, this is an equivalent of 750mm. This makes it incredibly powerful and a brilliant lens for detailed bird photography.

For consistent quality, the lens has Vibration Reduction, which works for up to 4.5 stops. It also has a constant maximum aperture of f/5.6 throughout the focal lengths. This means that you can get excellent background separation and even create professional bokeh effects.

2. Nikon AF-S FX 300mm f/4E PF ED VR

Great for bird feeders

The Nikon AF-S FX 300mm f/4E PF ED VR is great for bird feeder photography due to its fixed focal length.

Fast and accurate AF motor
Phase Fresnel lens element for superior image quality
Nano coatings for sharp and clear images
Relatively expensive

Some prime lenses are also great for bird photography, and one example is the Nikon AF-S FX 300mm f/4E PF ED VR. This fantastic prime lens offers astounding image quality and features for wildlife and bird photography.

The lens elements feature nanocrystal coatings, which reduce lens flare and ghosting. Also, it has a special Phase Fresnel lens which helps improve chromatic aberration performance. We also like that it has VR for up to 4.5 shutter speed stops.

Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 300MM f/4E PF ED Vibration Reduction Lens with Auto Focus for...

This prime telephoto lens also has a durable build, and it also has properties that make it great for outdoor use. If you envision working at fixed focal lengths, this 300mm telephoto lens is a fantastic option.

3. Nikon Z 70-200mm f/2.8 S

Great for garden photography

The Nikon Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S is a great lens for bird photography in your garden and offers consistent image quality and sharpness.

Customizable function buttons
Also has a customizable control ring
Superior S-lens build quality
200mm focal length may be limiting in certain situations

There currently isn’t a large range of telephoto lenses for the Nikon Z cameras; however, one suitable option is the Nikon Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S. This zoom lens does not have the super-telephoto focal length of other lenses, but it is a versatile lens that you can use for bird photography in your garden.

If you have bird feeders or regularly have birds visit your garden, this telephoto lens could be comfortably used from your conservatory or window.

NIKON NIKKOR Z 70-200mm f/2.8 S Telephoto Zoom Lens for Nikon Z Mirrorless Cameras

As a Nikon Z S lens, it has an excellent build quality and offers sharp images, regardless of the focal length. We also like the customizable function buttons and control ring. These could be programmed to change the aperture or exposure, for example.

Best Third-Party Lenses for Bird Photography

1. Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD

Great for multiple camera types

The Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD is a flexible lens that can be used for bird photography with a variety of Canon and Nikon cameras.

Multi-use with different cameras
Excellent maximum focal length
Vibration Compensation
Has a relatively large body

Tamron is renowned for making high-quality and affordable telephoto lenses. One of their best lenses for bird photography is the Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD. This lens is less than $1000 and has great features and usability for birding.

It is available for both Canon EF and Nikon FX cameras. However, it can also be used on Canon EOS R and Canon EOS M cameras with the correct adapter.

TAMRON 100-400 mm F4.5 - 6.3 Di VC USD For Canon A035E (International Version)

With a focal length of 100-400mm, you can either get up close to your subjects or shoot from a safe distance. Either way, this lens will ensure that you can get fantastic detail of the birds. Despite its affordable price, it still delivers consistent quality. This is due to the lens construction, and the inclusion of LD elements, and lens coatings that help reduce optical errors and boost colors and clarity.

2. Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2

Great for minute bird details

The Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 allows you to capture some of the best detail for bird photography due to its maximum 600mm focal length.

Versatile focal length of 150-600mm
Image stabilization for up to 4.5 stops
Special coatings for outdoor use
Relatively heavy at 4.4 lb/1.9 kg

If you want the ultimate focal length to capture minute bird features, the Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 is one of the best third-party options available. This lens has a maximum focal length of 600mm, which is superb for bird photography.

Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 for Canon Digital SLR Cameras

It is available for Nikon and Canon cameras and is a little more expensive than the 100-400, but still affordable. As it is an SP lens, this also means that it has a superior build quality and lens construction.

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For outdoor use and consistent quality, the lens has fluorine coatings and moisture-resistant construction. It also has a fast and accurate AF motor and Vibration Compensation which works for up to 4.5 stops. As a result, it is easy to use for bird photography, especially when tracking birds in flight.

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

Great for any weather condition

The Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary is dust-proof and splash-proof, which means you can go birding regardless of the weather.

Optical Stabilization
Has a push/pull mechanism for quick zoom transitions
Excellent maximum aperture of f/5-6.3
Not the lightest of lenses at 2.56 lb/1.16 kg

Sigma is the other well-known third-party manufacturer of affordable telephoto lenses. One of their best current options is the Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary. This has a similar set of features to the Tamron alternative.

It can be used with either full-frame or APS-C sensor cameras and is available for Canon, Nikon, and Sony models. This makes it one of the most versatile third-party telephoto lenses available.

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

To ensure consistent quality in your bird photography, this lens has a good set of features. Firstly, it has an improved OS (Optical Stabilizer) which helps with image stabilization. Secondly, the mount is both dust-proof and splash-proof. It also features a 9-blade rounded aperture diaphragm for smooth bokeh effects.

4. Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary

Great for detailed tracking

The HSM AF motor and 600mm focal length of the Sigma 150-600mm f/4-5.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary make it great for tracking birds and capturing small details.

Built-in optical stabilization
Has a superior build quality for outdoor use
Also has a separate tripod mount
May not be the easiest lens to use handheld

Our last budget pick is the Sigma 150-600mm f/4-5.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary. This offers similar specs to the Tamron 150-600mm and is much cheaper at less than $900.

This is one of the best lenses for bird photography due to its excellent construction and huge maximum focal length of 600mm. You can capture different types of bird photos including close-ups and zoomed-out in-flight shots due to the min/max focal length.

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

Aside from this, the lens is also well-built. For example, it has a water and oil-repellent coating on the front glass. It also features an improved HSM (Hyper Sonic Motor) AF motor which should help track birds and focus quickly. We also like the fact that this telephoto lens has a separate tripod mount so you can mount the lens to your tripod, instead of the camera. This is certainly one of the best superzoom lenses for birding from third-party manufacturers.

Which Lens for Bird Photography Is Right for You?

Bird photography is one of the most rewarding types of photography. Watching birds fly, nest, and play in their natural habitats allows us to appreciate the beauty of nature and wildlife. A high-quality telephoto lens allows you to capture bird movements and watch them as they fly gracefully through the air.

As you can see from our list of the best lenses for bird photography, there are many options available! Therefore, it could be difficult to choose the right one. Canon EOS R camera owners would benefit from sharp, high-end telephoto lenses like the Canon RF 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1L IS USM.

Alternatively, Canon DSLR owners have some amazing telephoto options such as the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II. Nikon owners also have great options for FX and Z cameras including the Nikon AF-S FX 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR, and the Nikon Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S.

Lastly, if you are on a budget, there are still some relatively cheap third-party telephoto lenses like the Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD, and Sigma 150-600mm f/4-5.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary.


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