5 Top Value Lenses for Getting Started in Wildlife Photography


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.

wildlife photography lenses

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.

1 – The Telephoto Zoom 70-200mm

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.

5 Top Value Lenses for Getting Started in Wildlife Photography

The 70-200mm zoom is an excellent investment.

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.

5 Top Value Lenses for Getting Started in Wildlife Photography

The 70-200mm is perfect for working with largest animals.

2 – The Prime Option 300mm F/4

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.

5 Top Value Lenses for Getting Started in Wildlife Photography

300mm f/4 lens.

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.

wildlife photography lenses

3 – Ultra Telephoto Zoom 100-400mm

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.

5 Top Value Lenses for Getting Started in Wildlife Photography

80-400mm Nikon lens.

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.

5 Top Value Lenses for Getting Started in Wildlife Photography

The 80-400mm is a great compact wildlife photography lens for travel.

4 – Wide Angle 10-20mm

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.

5 Top Value Lenses for Getting Started in Wildlife Photography

Canon 10-18mm lens.

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.

5 Top Value Lenses for Getting Started in Wildlife Photography

The 10-20mm is perfect for wide landscape shots or wildlife in the landscape.

wildlife photography lenses

Shot using the 10-20mm wide-angle lens.

These lenses cost around $300-500 so are brilliant options to give a wide scope to your shooting potential.

5 – Macro Lens 100/105mm

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.

5 Top Value Lenses for Getting Started in Wildlife Photography

105mm macro lens being used in the garden.

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.

wildlife photography lenses

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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Tom Mason is a professional nature photographer and content creator from the UK. Passionate about the natural world, he aims to document and share stories from the wild. A professional lecturer Tom loves engaging and enthusing others about wildlife photography and helping them to achieve their own goals. Check out his website here.

  • I have a Canon APS-C and as a “bang for buck” lens I can’t recommend the EF-S 55-250mm STM highly enough. I bought mine used for around $150 (£120) and I doubt you’ll get a sharper lens for the money. What’s more, it focuses almost completely silently, it’s fast, and even knows when you’re panning so will only apply IS vertically. Here’s one of a squirrel taken wide open (f5.6) at 250mm https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/c5999d64227515e0675ec24f8fc5aa7eadae3ce4625224fbeaafcbaf086fc6c3.jpg

  • RonBaber

    My “go to” wildlife lens is the Canon 100-400mm f4-5.6 L II IS, it’s not the cheapest by any stretch nor is it the fastest but it is a very consistent performer given reasonable light. Min focus of about 1m throughout makes close-ups acceptable – even when taken at a distance and cropped hard. It’s a bit weighty but with a 5D or 7D body it balances very nicely thank you, worth the extra £££ for the “L” series in my book. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/afc5376ca0215d8d93c9d5fdd448cc525ef9b768f1c87fbb901f81e73136948c.jpg
    PS No matter what you buy it won’t be enough!

  • Gregory L. Donoghue

    Nikons are not value len’s. High quality, but high price. I prefer Tamron’s line. Now that’s a value.

  • Clive Furler

    Sigma’s 120-300 f2.8 is a superb lens. Works better on my 5D MKIII than the 100-400 Canon Series II.

  • Lee

    Just to add, the Tokina 10-20mm is a better lens optically than the Nikon equivalent (according to most reviewers, and my own observations), and about half the price. A very sturdy, solid piece of glass, and a fair weight to it as well. Not cheaply made like some Tamron and Sigma offerings.

  • Roger Pitt

    Sigma 150 – 600 Sport lens is probably the best value long telephoto zoom for most people. Between my wife and I we have Nikon 70-200 f2.8, 300 f4, 300 f2.8, 80-400, 500 f4 and 200-500 as well. When we travel by air, we just take the Sigma and the 200-500 plus our 24-70s and WA primes as the other lenses are either too heavy to get on the plane, or not versatile enough. Head to head, they stack up really well against our other lenses and they cost much less than most of them! Win – win on value, portability and performance.

  • Newbom

    The first good wildlife lens I bought is a Canon 400 mm f/5.6 L prime. It’s super sharp but heavy. Next I got a Tamron 150-600 mm f/3.5-5.6 Di VC. It’s longer and it’s sharp but it’s heavier than the 400. You’ll need a heavier tripod and ball or gimbal mount for it. I added a Canon 70-200 mm f/4 L IS last year. It’s super sharp and light enough to hand hold. It’s now my most used lens. I also have a 16-35 mm f/4 L IS for landscapes and close-ups. It’s also super sharp and easy to hand hold. I didn’t buy faster zoom lenses because I have fast primes for low light situations. Each lens has it’s strong points, especially if you have both full frame and crop sensor bodies.

    For air travel I take one backpack camera bag with a laptop, the 16-35 and 70-200 along with 28 mm f/1.8 and 50 mm f/1.4 primes and my 6D and 7D mk II bodies. The possible combinations with that kit covers a pretty broad spectrum. Depending on what I expect to see and photograph I might also include a macro lens or the 400 mm with a light tripod. If I’m driving I’m liable to load every piece of glass I own in the truck.

  • Emily Okall

    Great article, thank you! https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/242b7f4b50a4252da9c3b421ffce21c45be381614760df76d9406d2addd98ec4.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/0f821e851cf3b29bc2750fe9b7a7dac81501672f3ca1d186c333f4bf8432677c.jpg I live in Kenya and love going on game drives. Until this year I would primarily use my 70-300 f/4-5.6 on safari. While visiting home (US) recently I searched and searched until I found a good collection of equipment that I have loved using: another Nikon D200 body, a Sigma 70-300 to replace the other one I had, the Sigma produces a much better image than the brand I was using; and a Sigma 150-500 f/5-6.3. Neither of these lenses are especially fast but since we’re close to the equator, it tends to be bright and I haven’t found them to be very limiting so far. Having a second body has made such a difference, I have loved the range and flexibility of swapping cameras instead of lenses, it feels much safer as safaris can be very dusty. Though none of what I have is top of the line, I was able to afford it all by buying used. At this point in my career, I cannot responsibly spend more until I’m making more. The images below were shot at 500mm and 70mm, neither were cropped.

  • Tom Mason

    Thanks Emily!

  • Tom Mason

    Sounds like a great set up, I love my 70-200mm, probably now one of my most used lenses, the flexibility, sharpness and portability are all awesome! As you say when paired with full frame/Crop sensors it really does give a huge amount of scope! Thanks for reading!

  • Tom Mason

    The 200-500 is certainly a cracking lens and one that offers great value, I love the 300 f4 for its pure sharpness and optical performance, although most often I lug my 300 2.8 for that! Certainly when it comes to flying camera gear can be a nightmare so having light options is perfect! Cheers, Tom

  • Tom Mason

    Lee are you talking about the new 10-20mm or the older 10-24mm? The new one is much cheaper at £300 new and has excellent features. The Tokina ones I know are also well loved by many and certainly are a great option. Thanks for commenting! Cheers, Tom

  • Tom Mason

    Fast glass is always best for AF performance and speed, the 120-300 2.8 certainly has a lot of followers who love it! I personally find my 300 2.8 my go to for wildlife shooting and wouldn’t be without it! Cheers, Tom

  • Tom Mason

    Nikon lenses offer very good long term value, if you buy the right ones, the hold their prices well and often are better built. The Tamron lenses have always been a little weak in my opinion however I know people are getting great results with the new models lately! Thanks for commenting, Tom!

  • Tom Mason

    Cracking shot and yes the 100-400 is a super popular lens! One I’ve recommended to many, as a one lens for multitasking (in regards to wildlife) its an excellent piece of kit! Cheers, Tom

  • Tom Mason

    Certainly the newer STM lenses and AF-P lenses (Nikon) are awesome – great AF for stills and video shooting! The silent focus is also very helpful when it comes to shooting wildlife! Cheers, Tom

  • Gregory L. Donoghue

    You perceived weakness does not wash with all the awards Tamron has been stacking up the last few years.

  • Pefect these lenses, worth every penny these lenses, beautiful photos, thanks for sharing this beautiful and perfect article

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