Not all super-telephoto lenses are created equal. We want to help you capture the best wildlife photographs possible, so we have rounded up six of our favorite super-telephoto lenses for wildlife and birding photography.
All of the super-telephoto lenses listed below are the leaders of the pack when it comes to ease of use, image quality, build quality and price to performance. I have used every single lens listed here and have nothing but praise for all of them. These six lenses are genuinely the best super-telephoto lenses on the market that cost below $2,000. So, if you’re looking for top optics, excellent autofocus performance and more, check out the list below.
Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG DN OS Sport — L mount and Sony E mount wildlife photographers rejoice
The Sigma 150-600mm DG DN Sport is one of the best mirrorless super-telephoto lenses money can buy. Sure, it’s a little hefty at 4.5lbs; however, it has been meticulously designed. As a result, when in use, the lens feels excellent, and the weight does not hinder you in any way. I reviewed the L mount version and said:
“I don’t believe I have ever used a super-telephoto lens that’s as sharp as the Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG DN OS Sports. The levels of sharpness are off the charts. Sharpness doesn’t even fall off at 600mm, which happens with many zoom lenses.”
Gear Editor — Brett Day
The optics are stunning. The optical stabilization is fantastic. Images produced with this lens are razor-sharp. Autofocus, even on Panasonic Lumix full-frame cameras, is speedy and accurate. The weather sealing is excellent too. This lens is a beauty. If you love wildlife photography and you want all the reach and more, this could be the lens for you. It comes in both L mount and Sony E mount flavors.
Tamron 150-500mm f/5-6.7 Di III VXD — Affordable, weather sealed and crazy sharp
Tamron and Sigma went head to head with their 150-600mm lenses for DSLRs; now they’re doing the super-telephoto lens dance again. However, this time, Tamron decided to shake things up a bit. The 150-500mm f/5-6.7 Di III VXD might be 100mm shorter than the Sigma, but it’s lighter and just as spectacular when it comes to image quality. In our review, we said:
“If you shoot a lot of wildlife, definitely give the Tamron 150-500mm f/5-6.7 a try. I was impressed with its fast, accurate autofocus, sharp images and little to no distortion.”
Managing Editor — Bryan Esler
For the price, this lens’s price-to-performance ratio is incredible. You’ll get super sharp images, nice bokeh, gorgeous colors and fast autofocus performance. It’s a killer lens for Sony’s E mount cameras. The lens is also fully weather-sealed. If you don’t want to break the bank, but want top-notch performance, check out this option from Tamron.
Fujifilm XF100-400 f/4-5.6 R LM OIS WR — The pinnacle of X mount super-telephoto lenses
The level of artistry that has gone into the Fujifilm XF100-400mm f/4-5.6 are both second to none. On Fujifilm’s APS-C cameras, this lens has an equivalent focal range of 152-609mm, which is perfect for wildlife photography. There are 21 elements in 14 groups. The optics, which include five extra-low dispersion elements and one super extra-low dispersion element, are some of the best out there. This Fujifilm lens is a premium lens offering with no cut corners.
Like others in this list, the Fujifilm 100-400mm is weather-sealed. This lens can be used in the wind, snow and rain and will work in temps as low as 14°F (10°C). Five stops of optical image stabilization helps keep shaky hands at bay. The two linear autofocus motors help track subjects with ease. The lens can also be used with the 1.4x Fujifilm teleconverter. If you need maximum reach on your X mount camera, check out this option.
Olympus 100-400mm f/5-6.3 IS — a 200-800mm equivalent lens that’s super light
A lens that I use all the time to capture birds in flight or Bison roaming around the open range. The Olympus 100-400mm f/5-6.3 is as good as telephoto lenses come. With an equivalent focal length of 200-800mm on Micro Four Thirds cameras, this lens can help put you right into the thick of the action. In our review, we said:
“During my time using the Olympus 100-400mm, I was pretty impressed with what it could do. Focusing was pretty fast and, for the most part, spot on. It was able to keep up with burst shooting (as long as I could follow my subject’s movements). Images were crisp and of great quality.”
Managing Editor — Bryan Esler
Weighing just 2.46lbs, this lens will not hinder you when out in the field. The lens also has a weather sealing rating of IPX1, which means it can withstand rain and dusty conditions for extended periods. Autofocus is swift, and the optical image stabilization makes this lens easy to hand hold, even at 800mm equivalent focal lengths. It can also be used with Olympus teleconverters. This lens is one of the best super-telephoto lenses for the M4/3 platform.
Canon RF 600mm f/11 and RF 800mm f/11IS STM — Exceptional value for money
Many people turned their noses up at both the Canon RF 600mm f/11 and the RF 800mm f/11 prime lenses at launch due to their fixed aperture of f/11. However, these two lenses are both pretty spectacular. Not only do these super-telephoto lenses offer incredible reach, but they’re also super affordable, and they pack optical image stabilization.
The optics in these wallet-friendly super-telephoto lenses are excellent. I took them to capture images of Elk in Arkansas and had no problems creating spectacular photos in the morning light. Autofocus is plenty fast enough, and the lenses are nice and light. However, there’s no weather sealing. Still, at the low prices, these lenses sell for, that’s OK. Super-telephoto lenses for masses. Count us in.
Sony 200-600mm f/5-6.3 G OSS — The best of Sony’s super-telephoto lenses
Sony shooters are spoiled for choice when it comes to super-telephoto lenses. On top of offerings from Sigma and Tamron, they also have a first-party option to choose from, and it’s special. The sony 200-600mm f/5-6.3 G OSS is hefty at 4.65lbs, but Sony, like Sigma, managed to make this lens feel great in hand.
Paired up with Sony’s cameras, wildlife photography and birding are as easy as 1-2-3. Sony’s autofocus systems, when paired with this lens, made me feel like I was cheating. As you would expect, the optics and optical stabilization are quality all the way. The Sony 200-600mm is also fully weather-sealed. The lens is pricey but well worth the cost of entry if you dabble in wildlife photography.