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A Perfect Guide on The Best Focal Length in Wildlife Photography

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Do you find yourself marvelling at the wildlife pictures in some coveted nature magazines? Isn’t it amazing to see those majestic animals captured in magical moments as photographs? If you have always wanted to know the secret behind impeccable wildlife photography pictures, you have landed at the perfect place! It is the lens that brings a wow factor to the photos. In general, wildlife photography equipment faces a lot of wear and tear, weather problems and rough handling. This is why lens manufacturers constantly evolve their technology and provide lenses that withstand these problems better. Wildlife photography is the kind of photography where drastic differences can be made by using the correct photography equipment.Nothing affects animal photography as much as the lens of your camera.  Here, we will discuss the best focal length in wildlife photography and other important considerations.

So, let us start with the key features that determine the utility of your camera’s lens.

Know more here:

Why is Focal Length Important in Wildlife Photography?

Focal length is the distance from the center of the lens to the camera sensor when the subject is in focus. The focal length tells how much you want to capture and how large would the subject will be. The more you zoom in your lens the higher the focal length. There are various types of focal length ranging from ultra-wide angle, wide angle to telephoto, and it is ideal to pick only the best for wildlife photography. Focal length can change the perspective of the photo, when you change the focal length you actually change the distance from the subject. 

Let's say you have a short lens of 50 mm and in order to click a close up of your friend, you need to stand 5 feet away, whereas if you use long 200 mm lens then you need to stand 15 feet away. Same goes for wildlife photography if you want a close up of a grizzly bear, you cannot capture it from a short distance, You definitely need a lens with long focal length so that you can capture the close up of the bear even from a distance. Thus it is safe to say, there is no parameter as vital for wildlife photography as the focal length of the lens you use.

If you use a lens with 35mm focal length, it is as good as looking at the animals with our naked eyes. On the other extreme, a focal length of 800 mm is like looking through a telescope. Now you might think what type of focal length is right for different wildlife animals. Well, we break down this easily for you.

If you are shooting a group of animals, say horses, then you can use a focal length of 35mm. Whereas for tamed animals, where you can go close enough you can use a focal length of 50 mm. Talking about ferocious animals which you want to stay distances apart, you should pick a telephoto lens. With these numbers for comparison, it is safe to assume that you need a minimum of 300 mm focal length for photographing wildlife. A 400mm focal length is the most preferred among wildlife photographers, but it is possible to go either side up or down. 

focal length
Point of convergence to sensor is the focal length (source)

Other Important Factors in Wildlife Photography

  • Shutter Speed

Of course, it is easier to capture a fast-moving animal or bird with a faster lens. Fast lenses also provide a sharper focus and a brighter viewfinder image. However, these fast lenses are very expensive, and may not fit the budget of many aspiring photographers. In addition, these lenses are too bulky to be carried around in the wild. Good photographs are a result of the interplay of shutter speed and best focal length in wildlife photography.

  • Aperture

A bigger aperture of the lens will allow more light to fill in the picture and give you better quality photographs. Consequently, lenses with a bigger maximum aperture are perfect with fast shutter speed.

  • Sharpness

Typical lenses are sharper at the centre and tend to lose sharpness towards the periphery. Once you find your lens sweet spot for sharper images, you are good to click. Prime lenses are sharper throughout their surface but they are quite expensive. A zoom lens will be cheaper, but you will have to make a bargain of sharpness at the periphery of the picture. It is a harmless trade-off mostly because the real action in wildlife photography usually happens in the centre of the photograph.

  • Focusing Distance

It is a vital point to consider. The minimum distance required by a lens to focus on the subject can be an important consideration, especially when photographing smaller creature like insects. Choosing a close focus distance lens or a macro lens will be the best bet for these cases.

  • Attaching a Teleconverter

A teleconverter is a photography equipment that attaches between the lens and the camera body and increases the focal length by 1.4x or 2x. This means that if your lens has a focal length of 300mm, adding a 2x teleconverter will increase its focal length to 600mm.

However, adding a teleconverter reduces the amount of light transmitted to the image sensor. Thus, it is necessary to have a wider aperture and higher ISOs when using a teleconverter. It is needless to say that more expensive lenses and expensive teleconverters largely eliminate this issue and yield very good quality images.

So, it is a balance of how much money are you willing to spend for a good quality photograph. The lens with best focal length in wildlife photography may be considerably more expensive but is sure to give you breath-taking pictures.

Best Lens for Capturing Wildlife Action

After knowing about the basic features of a good lens for wildlife photography, let us now look at the major market players- Nikon, Canon, Sigma, Olympus and Fujifilm. We will now discuss the typical lenses of these brands with best focal length in wildlife photography. 

1. Best Lens for Wildlife Photography- Nikon

One of the most popular brands in the field, Nikon has managed to bring several lenses that are very useful for wildlife photography. For example, the NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6g ED VR lens from Nikon offers minimal chromatic aberration in the images and covers the best focal length in wildlife photography. Its telephoto zoom extends the view by about 30%. A lens like with these features would be one of the best lenses for Nikon d3100 for wildlife.

The AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3G ED VR Superzoom is a perfect blend of variable maximum aperture, a great range of equivalent focal length of 27-450 mm and compact size. This is probably the best budget lens for wildlife photography in this brand. A popular and lightweight lens from Nikon is the NIKKOR VR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6. It fits perfectly with the Nikon1 range of cameras and is ideal for photographers who wish to have a focal length of 190-810mm. These features make it one of the best Nikon lenses for the wildlife safari.

For those of you who are not willing to compromise on the quality and don’t mind spending for it, Nikon offers the perfect choice. The AF-S NIKKOR 500mm and 600mm f/4E FL ED VR prime lenses offer the best quality of images and are compact and lightweight. They have a magnesium frame and superfast f/4 maximum apertures and a tight control for consistent exposure between frames.

nikon best wildlife camera
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G ED

2. Best Lens for Wildlife Photography- Canon

The Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USMhas the perfect balance of light weight and utility along with the range of best focal length in wildlife photography.Added features of this lens are highly improvised weather sealing and better quality to withstand wear and tear associated with outdoor photography.

The Canon EF-M 55-200mm f/4.5-6.3 IS STM is a very popular telephoto canon zoom lens for the mirrorless camera system range EOS M. With built-in optical image stabilization function, this lens provides stability when the camera is hand held.

Few lenses that are especially useful for safari shooting are the EF 600mm f/4L IS IIUSM and EF 800mm f/5.6L IS USM Prime. They offer an extreme range of focal lengths and easily get you fantastic shots from a few hundred yards distance.

The EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x is another r very popular player from Canon. It has a built-in 1.4x tee-extender along with image stabilization function.This kind of Canon telephoto lens comes in a very steep price range, but the results are worth every penny.

best lens for wildlife photography
Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L

3. Sigma Wildlife Lenses

The Sigma 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3 DC Macro OS HSM contemporary lens is a versatile partner for APS-C cameras of Nikon, Canon, Sony, Pentax and Sigma. This lens is your ideal first lens for wildlife photography and offers 27-450mm focal length with extreme zoom. It is also one of those lenses that minimize chromatic aberration, especially towards the telephoto end of the focal range.

Another superb lens from Sigma is the Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sports super telephoto zoom. Initially built for sports photography, this lens has all the features that are required for the wild- big aperture, fast lens and best focal length in wildlife photography.

In addition to the above-mentioned lenses, Sigma has also developed contemporary and sports versions of its 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM super telephoto zoom lenses. The contemporary models are more suited for indoor shooting but the sports models offer more sturdy designs and built-in optical stabilization. These versions are not too pricey and are the ideal choice, especially when you are looking for the best budget lens for bird photography.

Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM
Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM

4. Wildlife Photography Lenses from Fujifilm

The bestselling wildlife photography lens from Fujifilm is the Fujinon XF100-400mm F4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR with super telephoto zoom. It works for the X series of compact, mirrorless cameras and yields a focal length of 152-609mm. Specially designed for hand-holding, this lens is a rugged model and suitable for outdoor use.

FujinonXF100-400mm F4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR
FujinonXF100-400mm F4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR

5. Wildlife Photography Lenses from Olympus

The USP of wildlife photography lenses from Olympus is the compactness of these lenses, making them an ideal partner for cameras meant for outdoor use.The Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 14-150mm f’4-5.6 II lens gives an equivalent zoom range of 28-300mm and is the perfect balance of price and size.Another model from Olympus, the M.Zuiko ED 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7 II is another option when you are looking for a compact lens that is affordable.

Another model in this series, the 300mm f/4 IS Pro extends the equivalent focal length to 600mm. Loaded with features like dust resistance and image stabilization, this lens is making its presence felt in the market, despite its higher price than the other lenses of this company.

Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 14-150
Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 14-150

With so many options of lenses available for wildlife photography, it is natural to be confused. But if you compare the features between the different lenses, you will be able to justify their price and utility. Undoubtedly, for clicking wildlife, the single most important parameter is the focal length. The ideal lens will have the best focal length in wildlife photography. But other complimentary features will give you those perfect wildlife pictures that you have always longed for.

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