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Getting started in wildlife photography is one of the more expensive genres of the photo industry. The lenses and cameras that are often in the bags of pros are more often than not in the higher tier price brackets. However, to get started you don’t need to spend a fortune to gear up with some great lenses for wildlife photography.
Lenses are the thing to invest in when starting out in wildlife or as any photographer for that matter. The glass you purchase can stay with you for many years, while often cameras are updated far more regularly. Meaning, if you spend your money wisely you won’t have to outlay again.
Now of course as you gain more experience and want to invest it into your work, you might outgrow some gear or wish for more pro features. But when you’re getting started, the lenses I’ve listed below are a great base to build on and invest in, that will not only provide excellent quality results but also hold their value within your gear bag. These lenses will cover a range of shooting situations so you can capture the natural world in all manner of ways to really follow your creative vision.
Firstly, we are going to start with the telephoto zoom. For most wildlife photographers this is one of the most used lenses in their arsenal, offering flexibility to compose portraits of wildlife to more landscape style images to put your subjects in the environment.
As an investment, the 70-200mm is a key lens to get hold of as it offers so much in the way of performance and flexibility. Most people will feel that 200mm is a little shot for wildlife, but with practice and development of your stalking skills, especially when paired with an APS-C camera it’s a great place to start.
The f/2.8 is the most coveted version due to its fast aperture for gorgeous bokeh (out of focus areas) as well as its autofocus speed. The f/2.8 version is a higher cost lens retailing new at around $2000 but secondhand (especially a slightly older version) can be had at excellent prices. If they are still a little out of the price range, think about the f/4 version. Smaller and lighter they are also a lot cheaper, still offering top performance for getting into wildlife photography.
If you want something a little longer think about looking into a 300mm f/4 prime lens. These fixed focal length lenses don’t zoom, so you have to move your feet to get the composition correct. However, due to their nature as primes they have excellent optical performance, offering wonderful sharpness as well as a reasonably fast aperture for creating pleasing portraits with your of focus areas as well as working in less than perfect light.
The 300mm f/4 is a lens that has been on the market for a long time now and both Nikon and Canon lenses can be easily found for an excellent price secondhand even from dealers with included warranties. The 300mm f/4 was the telephoto that I used when I became more serious with my photography and it helped me on the path to shooting professionally. So I can vouch for its excellent qualities.
If prime lenses aren’t your thing then the 100-400mm (or the Nikon 80-400mm) might be a better fit for your style of shooting. The excellent range makes it a very versatile lens for wildlife photography, giving you the ability to switch from close portraits to environmental shots in an instant.
Buying new gives you the best options for getting a top spec lens, with the latest iterations having excellent sharpness, autofocus and image stabilization, whilst older models are slightly weaker in all aspects. If you are looking to invest in one of these I’d recommend trying to get hold of the latest model as it will last you a long time and really provide you with a top lens for getting some great wildlife images.
I would certainly recommend these as name brand lenses over third party manufacturers, as they are far better optically engineered. Often when starting out with wildlife photography, some people go for the longest superzoom they can find like the 150-600mm or 50-500mm. But these suffer from optical quality and often lead to frustrating results.
When shooting wildlife photography, going wide a great way to create far more interesting images than super telephoto shots. Of course, as that isn’t always an option, spending a vast amount of money on a super wide especially if you are not focused on shooting landscapes as well can be overkill.
Luckily both Nikon and Canon have excellent low-cost APS-C wide angle lenses that really offer great performance and functionality at decent prices. The new Nikon 10-20mm and the Canon 10-18mm are perfect candidates for wide angle wildlife shooting. Their ultra-wide view can pull the viewer into an entire landscape, while the close focuses of a mere 0.2m allow you to get up close and personal with your subjects (often wirelessly triggering) for impact filed images.
These lenses cost around $300-500 so are brilliant options to give a wide scope to your shooting potential.
If you are interested in getting in close and looking at details as a wildlife photographer you’ll want to look into a macro lens for close up shooting. These specialist optics offer 1:1 life size reproduction ratios that are awesome for shooting insects and plants.
The 100mm focal length is where you really want to invest as it offers the best in terms of performance, as well as a good working distance to help reduce the chance of your disturbing your subjects and getting in the way of your own lighting. The 100mm macro is a slightly more expensive lens but having been on the market for a while there are often many secondhand copies available offering discounts on the new price of around 30-40%.
It’s a truly great investment as these lenses are among the sharpest on the market with optical perfection that makes them a staple in many pros bags. The lenses are also great for a variety of non-macro tasks as well, with them often being used by portrait photographers for their flattering compression that makes beautiful backgrounds.
That’s a round up of a few of the top lenses to invest in if you are getting started in wildlife photography. They maybe slightly higher in price than some of the third party alternatives or lesser models, but these lenses will hold their own for many years, meaning the extra savings and investment will pay off with certainty in the long term.
If you do wildlife photography what lenses did you start off with? Which do you recommend? Please share in the comments section below.
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