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$600-$2,000: 10 Wildlife Photography Lenses Reviewed! - Video


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Professional wildlife photographers Tony & Chelsea Northrup review EVERY wildlife lens under $2,000 for Canon, Sony, and Nikon cameras. Then, they ranked them from worst to best. The rankings are:

10. Sigma 150-600 Sport ($1,850)
Pros: Durable AF
Cons: Big AND expensive, slow AF, less sharp than it’s cheaper Contemporary cousin

9. Tamron 150-600 G1 ($600)
The least expensive lens is also the worst ranked… but if this is all that fits your budget, it’s still a good place to start, and when you’re ready to upgrade you’ll be able to trade it in at KEH.

Pros: Versatile, Inexpensive, Capable of producing great wildlife images… if you can get VERY CLOSE
Cons: SLOW AF. SO VERY SLOW. Really soft at 600mm. Our tests have shown it's outperformed by the Canon 400 f5.6 or Nikon 200-500
TIPS:
Use the focus limiter
Shut the aperture down to f/8 if you can

8. Canon 600 f/11 ($700)
Pros: Lightweight, Decent close-focusing, Sharp when you can fill the frame, Great stabilization, Decent AF speed (8 of 10)
Cons: 
Only works with RF cameras, and we found AF to be frustrating with the R and RP. Thus, we can only recommend using it on the R5 and R6.
Not nearly as sharp as the 800mm f/11, considering cropping
Only work with their mirrorless R cameras, and the only R cameras we can recommend for wildlife are the expensive R6 ($2,500) and R5 ($3,900). 
f/11 gives you less background blur/subject separation
Lets in less light leading to noise in low light or high shutter speed situations

7. Canon 400mm f5.6 ($850-$100 used)
Pros: Light, Well-built, 400mm makes finding subjects easier, adds versatility
Reason it’s in the test: it’s sharper than these other popular wildlife lenses, even cropped to 600 or 800mm
Cons: Not stabilized, so you always have to keep your shutter speed at 1/500 or shorter (unless you’re on an R5 or R6). Slow AF. Doesn’t focus very close. Discontinued… but KEH!

Above this point, it gets REALLY close. There are NO losers

6. Tamron 150-600 G2 ($1000-$1200)
Pros:
DRASTICALLY improved sharpness over the G1
Handling?
Light weight
BEST magnification up close (some breathing)
Cons:
Slow AF compared to native lenses
AF lagged a bit on fast-moving subjects, so birds flying at me at close range were basically always a little out of focus
Not unsharp, but kinda hazy
Truly awful chromatic aberration when shooting flying birds
Above this point, EVERYTHING IS RECOMMENDED. 

5. Tamron 150-500 ($1400)
If you’re a Sony photographer who plans to travel or hike with the lens, or you don’t want to drop an extra $500 on the Sony 200-600, this is the lens for you.

Pros: GREAT AF… but it depends on your body. We only recommend the a1 for wildlife now, primarily because of EVF lag in other bodies. LIGHT. Easily handholdable.
Cons:
When you crop to 800mm, the equivalent aperture is f/11… compared to f/8.4 of the Tamron G2 and Sony 200-600
Pretty bad chromatic aberration in subjects with the sky behind them
Focus not as reliable as the Sony 200-600, especially with flying birds near the camera, the focus lagged behind the bird a bit, so the tail would be in focus instead of the head.
Recommended for:
Sony photographers traveling light or who don’t want to spend $2k on the 200-600

4. Sigma 150-600 Contemporary ($900)
Pros: Great price, Great sharpness at 600mm, Good magnification / close focusing. Real-world, VERY sharp shots at close range. Better pictures than the Tamron zooms and it’s big brother. Lock can stop the lens at 150 or 600
Cons: Slow AF compared to native lenses, Not great for flying birds (missed focus A LOT), Chromatic aberration for birds against a clear blue sky was pretty bad (not the worst)
Lots of “bad copies” out there (quality control isn’t as consistent as name-brand lenses)

Recommended for:
Canon DSLR photographers
Nikon DSLR photographers on a tight budget

3. Canon 800mm f/11 ($900 new)
Pros:
Sharpest lens in the test
Good AF
Amazing stabilization (how slow?)
Shockingly small and light
Cons:
TERRIBLE minimum focusing distance
Even cropped to 800mm, it’s a full stop slower than the zooms
Only the R5 and R6 have AF systems and viewfinders we really recommend… but if you have an R5, this lens is a no-brainer. Just carry it with you just in case.

2. Sony 200-600 ($2,000 new)
Pros:
Fast AF
SHARP
Internal zooming
Cons:
Most expensive
VERY heavy
Poor magnification up close
TERRIBLE focus breathing… 325mm at close range!
Tips:
Don’t bother with a TC
DO attach extension tubes if you want to fill the frame with small animals

Sony photographers with a budget under $10k

1. Nikon 200-500 ($1,400 new, $1,200 used)
Pros:
Fast AF
Great close-focusing (puts it ahead of the Sony)
Cons:
A couple hundred more than the Tamron and Sigma

 

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