Best Nikon Telephoto Lenses for Wildlife Photography

Wildlife photography can be extremely challenging. Capturing unpredictable moving animals can bring a plethora of issues. You must have a superb understanding of your camera, and an excellent technique.

Moreover, you must have fantastic equipment. To improve, you should consider purchasing the best Nikon telephoto lenses for wildlife photography. A telephoto lens will enable you to focus up close and personal on any animal.

You will be able to capture magnificent shots in fine detail that you couldn’t with a standard DSLR lens. Imagine hiking through the forest in northern Canada and spotting an immense Black Bear. You quickly switch to your telephoto lens and zoom right in on the majestic animal’s face – you click the shutter and capture the photo mid-yawn – would that have been possible without a telephoto lens?

In the below guide, we provide the best Nikon telephoto lenses for wildlife photography. We also impart a series of useful wildlife photography tips – enjoy!

Jump to 👉 the Best Nikon Telephoto Lenses for Wildlife Photography

  1. Nikon 55-300mm f/4.5 – 5.6 ED VR DX
  2. Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM C
  3. Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR
  4. Nikon 200-400mm f/4G ED VR II
  5. Nikon 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR

What to look for in the best Nikon Telephoto lenses for wildlife?

Before we look at the best Nikon telephoto lenses for wildlife; you must understand what constitutes a quality telephoto lens. There are certain features that are essential. Without these features, you may as well buy a standard DSLR starter lens!

Auto Focus capabilities

A telephoto lens with poor autofocus capabilities is practically useless. Sure you can manually focus, but what end-results will you get? For still life photography or portraits, autofocus is not as important. The main subject is static. You can take your time to manually focus to create the perfect shot.

Do you expect a herd of elephants to stand perfectly still for you? Or maybe that Hippo will magically stop swimming for you for just a second? Let’s face it, this won’t happen. Wildlife photography usually involves movement. Therefore, autofocus is vital. Your telephoto lens MUST have a quick and accurate autofocus. This will allow you to capture wildlife perfectly, regardless of the movement involved.

Focal Length

A telephoto lens should generally have a minimum focal length of 60mm. Anything less than this and you aren’t really gaining any benefit. Be aware that a minimum focal length of 60mm would be different for a cropped and full-frame camera. For wildlife photography, you ideally want a minimum focal length of 300mm. Anything less than this and you simply won’t get enough detail.

For general wildlife such as deer and other large sized animals, 300mm is perfect. If you are photographing birds or smaller animals, however, 400mm or more is a necessity. A 400mm focal length will allow you to capture great detail without having to move closer to the subject. This means less chance of upsetting or disturbing them.

Aperture

Most telephoto lenses will have an end aperture of f/5.6. Some ultra-expensive telephoto lenses may even stretch to f/2.8 – your pockets have to be deep to afford these, however! Always check the lowest aperture possible before purchasing the best telephoto lenses for wildlife photography. As a general rule, f/5.6 provides a more than an adequate setup for wildlife photography. In some situations, you may have to increase the ISO to maybe 200 or 400, but the end result will still be fantastic.

Teleconverter Capability

It is possible to fix a teleconverter to your telephoto lens. This will provide you with an enhanced zoom level. Teleconverters are usually available in 1.4 and 2x zooms. For example, if you fitted a 1.4x to a 300mm telephoto, its effective focal length would be 420mm. It is worth checking if your lens can be fitted with a Teleconverter. You have to remember however those teleconverters can reduce overall image quality and aperture.

Related Post: The Ultimate DLSR Lens Guide

Top Tips for Wildlife Photography

So you now understand what to look for in the best Nikon telephoto lenses for wildlife photography. Before we divulge the best lenses, we will give some useful tips. These tips are simple, but an essential part of taking quality wildlife photos.

Use Shutter Speed Priority Mode

When taking wildlife photos, you need a fast shutter speed. A fast shutter speed allows you to capture crisp movement in a single frame. A fast shutter speed reduces the chance of motion blur. Consider switching to shutter speed priority mode when taking wildlife shots. This will give you greater control and a clearer set of photos.

Understand Your Subject’s Behavior

Many photographers make the mistake of jumping on a safari or wildlife expedition without any research. You must have a clear understanding of the animal’s behavior. What do they typically do? Where are they usually sighted? What striking poses can they make? The more you know, the greater variety of shots you can take – you will be prepared!

Don’t Isolate Your Subject From its Environment

Another common mistake is to simply zoom right in on your subject. Yes, close-up photos are fantastic. That doesn’t mean every shot has to be a close-up of a lions face for example. Think about the wider framing! Ensure that you make a balance of close-ups, together with shots that show the wildlife within their natural environment.

Don’t Concentrate on a Single Subject – Consider the Group!

Finally, don’t become obsessed with one single animal! As with the above pointer, single animals photos can be fantastic, but group animal photos can be just as interesting. Look for animal interactions – capture tender or intense moments – don’t concentrate solely on one subject!

The best Nikon Telephoto Lenses for Wildlife Photography

Finally, we get to the juicy bit. In the paragraph below, we list the best Nikon telephoto lenses for wildlife photography. We have selected a strong range of lenses and focal lengths. We have only included one prime lens due to the immense costs – the rest are much more affordable.

1. Nikon 55-300mm f/4.5 – 5.6 ED VR DX

  • Cost – $349.95
  • Manufacturer – Nikon
  • Aperture Range – f/4.5 – f/5.6
  • Full-frame / Cropped – Cropped (DX)

This is the only cropped DX lens in our list. The DX 55-300mm is certainly one of the best DX telephoto lenses available. For under $400 you will get a superb lens with a cropped focal length of 82-450mm. This means your zoom level will actually rival that of most of the other models listed. The build quality is exceptional and in this model, more robust materials have been used.

The autofocus is generally fantastic. The only issue is that it can falter in low light situations sometimes. In outdoor environments, however, it will focus accurately in a flash. As with most Nikon lenses, the DX 55-300mm comes with their patented Vibration Reduction System which helps maintain balance. Moreover, the lens is composed of 17 elements which help reduce aberration and curvature at the edges of photos. If you simply want a low-cost telephoto lens then this model is an amazing choice.

Nikon 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR AF-S DX Nikkor Zoom Lens Nikon Digital SLR (Certified...
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  • Includes all original accessories plus a 90 day warranty
  • 5.5x Telephoto Zoom lens, Filter Thread: 58 mm, Exclusive Nikon Silent Wave Motor (SWM)
  • Nikon VR II Image Stabilization
  • Tripod Detection Mode,

2. Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM C

  • Cost – $885.39
  • Manufacturer – Sigma
  • Aperture Range – f/5 – f/6.3
  • Full-frame / Cropped – Full Frame

Sigma has produced high-quality affordable lenses for many years. If you want a decent spec telephoto lens suitable for wildlife then look no further than the 150-600mm. When you think about it, 600mm is an immense focal length – the detail you will be able to see will astound you! Even at 150mm which is the minimum zoom length you can still see great detail.

As with other Sigma lenses, the 150-600mm is really well built and feels high quality. The quality of the images is exceptional too – right through to 600mm focal length. The only downside is that at 600mm focal length, the image can become a little soft – but nothing that can’t be sorted in Lightroom afterward. In terms of autofocus, the lens features Sigma’s HSM (Hyper Sonic Motor) which gives brilliant accuracy. Yes, this lens is $789, but it is still one of the cheaper models available.

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  • Lightweight & compact in construction for higher usability
  • Water and oil repellent coating on front glass element makes maintenance of the lens surface easier
  • Dust proof and splash proof mount 95mm filter

3. Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR

  • Cost – $1,196.95
  • Manufacturer – Nikon
  • Aperture Range – f/5.6
  • Full-frame / Cropped – Full Frame

Nikon has a superb range of telephoto lenses – we are now talking serious money, and lenses that you should purchase if photography is your career. The 200-500mm f5.6 is an awesome lens that was released in 2015. It is Nikon’s answer to epic telephoto lenses from other manufacturers. If you would compare it to a similar lens, we would say it offers similar quality, autofocus and image capabilities as the Sigma we have reviewed above.

The Nikon 200-500mm benefits from an improved aperture range against the Sigma. Moreover, the lens itself is lighter and easier to carry. Finally, the vibration reduction really helps to stabilize the lens when you are zoomed right in on your subject. We think the constant f/5.6 aperture is fantastic for wildlife shots and gives you great control over your photos.

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  • Fast f/5.6 constant aperture for beautiful out-of-focus backgrounds and low-light performance
  • 4.5 stops of Vibration Reduction with Sports mode. Approx. Weight- 81.2 ounce. Approx. Dimensions(Diameter x Length)-...
  • AF compatible with optional TC-14E series teleconverters and DSLRs that offer f/8 support

4. Nikon 200-400mm f/4G ED VR II

  • Cost – $2,249.00
  • Manufacturer – Nikon
  • Aperture Range – f/4
  • Full-frame / Cropped – Full Frame

Now we come to a real monster telephoto lens – the Nikon 200-400m f/4. Yes, we realize this lens actually has a small focal range than the 200-500mm, but 400mm is more than enough for most situations. What makes this lens stand out is the f/4 aperture. This is fantastic for wildlife photography and for low light situations too – it gives you great versatility in your shots. This is one of the main reasons why the 200-400mm costs more than double the price of the 200-500mm f/4.

The construction of this lens is superb – it looks absolutely wonderful there is no denying. It also feels robust and well built. The lens and glass are composed of 24 elements in 17 different groups – the mechanisms are also coating in nanocrystals.

Finally, the lens features a silent wave motor and exceptional autofocus functioning. This really is a high-quality lens that serious photographs will simply love.

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  • Minimum focus distance of 6.2 feet at all focal lengths.

5. Nikon 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR

  • Cost $11,196.95
  • Manufacturer – Nikon
  • Aperture Range – f/2,8
  • Full-frame / Cropped – Full Frame

Finally, we have the epic Nikon 400mm f/2.8 prime lens. Let’s start out by saying this lens is only for those who wish to make a long and fruitful career from photography. It costs over $12,000 – not something that the beginner photographer would purchase. If you intend to use wildlife or sports photography as part of your profession then yes this lens would be the ultimate choice.

400mm is often seen by wildlife photographers as the optimal focal length – this is one of the reasons why the Nikon 400mm prime is such a fantastic model. This fixed focal length together with the aperture of f/2.8 creates a wonderfully shallow depth of field – something that is a big plus when shooting close-ups of wildlife. Moreover, as you would expect from such a pricey model, the image quality is out of this world. The only issue is that it requires a monopod or tripod for support when using it.

There you have it – the best Nikon telephoto lenses for wildlife photography. Anyone of these high-quality lenses will give you exceptional quality photos. Remember however that a lens can only achieve so much.

You still have to understand how to use it! Practice shooting moving objects and learn the functions of your camera inside out! In no time at all, you will be taking exceptional quality wildlife photographs. Imagine the epic moments you can capture! If you have any wildlife shots you are proud of – why not leave a comment and share them with us?

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