Check out this list of the best lens for livestock photography, with options for Canon, Nikon, and Sony DSLRs.
Getting the right lens is vital when it comes to wildlife photography since the wrong lens will keep you from capturing the shot. Animals often appear in challenging lighting conditions and are not at optimal distances. What is the best lens for overcoming wildlife photography’s challenges?
It’s fortunate that wildlife photographers have relatively few lenses to choose from, and they fall into fairly distinct categories, as opposed to landscape photographers. You should be able to pick the right lens once you understand these categories.
In order to prevent guessing games and mistakes, we have compiled a list of the best lenses for livestock photography.
How do you choose the right lens for livestock photography?
There is no point in investing in a camera that doesn’t have an autofocus, and it is generally the case that the more expensive the camera, the better the autofocus. In order to avoid blurry shots, you need something quick and accurate.
A phase detection autofocus and a contrast detection autofocus are the two types of autofocus. DSLR cameras typically have both phase detection and contrast detection.
b) Image stabilization
Keeping your image from being blurry is what image stabilization does. You will be able to take sharp pictures with it because it keeps the shutter speed steady. It helps a lot when taking photos at high speeds (for example, in a race). A blurry picture isn’t what you want.
Image stabilization is now available on a wide range of cameras.
Get a digital SLR with image stabilization if it’s been awhile since you’ve changed your camera. If you’re a serious worker, you will certainly need it.
Does Wildlife Photography Have a Best Lens?
In spite of the fact that wildlife photography is such a broad category, there is no single best wildlife photography lens. I usually think of birds when someone mentions wildlife, but there’s more to it than that. Herpetofauna, insects, and mammals are just a few of the animals. If you want to fight off a mammal that’s closer to you, a 600mm f/4 might not be ideal (unless you are using it as a weapon).
Nonetheless, the “best lenses” for wildlife photography still depend on the situation and budget. As I continue reading this guide, I’ll give you an overview of some of the different types of wildlife lenses and explain if a particular lens is right for you.
Lenses with long zoom on a budget
Most people will benefit from a budget zoom lens (with at least 500mm) for wildlife photography. From 100mm to 600mm, these lenses range in focal length. The 100-400mm lens is available in two variations from some brands, while the 200-600mm lens is available from others. Depending on their price, weight, or aperture, they may differ.
In the table below, I have listed the longest zoom available on each major lens mount today, excluding first-party lenses. While the following list isn’t comprehensive (third-party and older optics would make it very long), it gives you an idea of what’s available:
Among third-party options, Tamon’s 150-600mm G2 and Sigma’s 150-600mm Contemporary are two of the more popular budget zooms right now.
Three advantages of long zooms like this are that they are hand-holdable and have a wide zoom range compared to huge primes. A great feature of these lenses is their zoom range; from butterflies to dinosaurs, you can photograph a variety of wildlife with them. Frogs, for example, can fill the frame because most of these lenses have decent minimum focus distances.
There are, however, two disadvantages to budget telephoto zooms. One problem with budget zooms is their poor image quality, especially at their maximum focal length. There will always be some softness up close if you use wide apertures like f/5.6.
This difference, however, is getting smaller with recent zooms. Some of my fellow wildlife photographers surprised me by the images they captured with the Sony 200-600mm.
Similarly, Nikon’s upcoming 200-600mm lens will probably perform similarly to Canon’s 100-500mm. It is most likely that you will be able to make the fewest compromises if you go for a newer lens like this if you do decide to go the budget zoom route.
Long zooms also have two disadvantages in terms of speed. A 100-500mm lens from Canon has a f/7.1 aperture at its long end, while the 70-200mm lens has an f/5.6 aperture. In low-light situations, you will have less light on your sensor, so you will have poorer image quality. It’s not terrible, but there’s no way around the problem of capturing less light with modern sensors and judicious post-processing.
As a result of their narrower maximum apertures, prime lenses tend to have slower focusing speeds. The phase detection system of certain DSLRs degrades after f/5.6, especially when paired with a higher-end mirrorless. The difference isn’t noticeable if you’re using a newer camera, especially a mirrorless camera.
Long zooms are worth the money if…
- Various sizes and distances of wildlife should be captured
- A reasonable price is important to you when it comes to wildlife photography
Budget zoom lenses have variable apertures, but high-end zoom lenses have constant apertures. In addition to its built-in teleconverter, the Nikon 180-400 f/4E is a classic example.
In contrast to what you might expect, wildlife photographers are less likely to use high-end zooms. The focal length range is usually not as long, and the lenses are usually massive and expensive. For larger animals and environmental shots, however, their focal lengths and constant aperture are ideal. People who are deeply interested in that genre are usually the ones I recommend such a lens to.
For micro four thirds cameras, the Olympus ED 150-400mm f/4.5 is an exception. Even though this isn’t a tiny lens, it’s still small compared to most constant-aperture high-end telephoto lenses (although not much cheaper). Your subject will be covered in a fair amount of pixels as a result of its substantial reach – 800mm equivalent. OM-1 micro four thirds cameras with this lens are popular with wildlife photographers.
It’s time for a high-end zoom…
- A wide shot or a large animal is what you want to focus on
- There will be too much noise if you use a budget zoom when shooting in lower light
- A zoom is still convenient
- From edge to edge, you want uncompromised image quality
An Aperture Prime Lens with Wide Aperture
The 500mm f/4 and 600mm f/4 lenses are the most traditional prime lenses for wildlife photography. Many manufacturers also offer wider options of 300mm and 400mm. A built-in 1.4x teleconverter makes the Z 400 f/2.8 even more versatile with its prized focal length.
The speed of prime lenses is usually at least a stop faster than that of zoom lenses (even the very expensive ones). Their resolving power is unmatched and they generally focus faster. Aside from losing the flexibility of a zoom, these lenses are also heavy and expensive.
It is difficult to carry around long-aperture, wide-aperture primes when you want to shoot spontaneously over long distances. These lenses are not compatible with hand-holding for longer periods of time. The most effective way to use a tripod with a gimbal head (or a monopod) when using such a lens is to use a tripod with a gimbal head.
Having a subject in mind and standing at an appropriate distance is helpful since these are prime lenses. For larger, closer subjects, a 300mm or 400mm lens will be best, while for birds and mammals farther away, a 500mm lens will be best.
It’s time to get traditional prime if…
- Handholding your lens isn’t necessary very often, or you’ll look like the Hulk
- The majority of your photographs are of smaller creatures like birds
- Your main goal is to be razor sharp (or to gain bragging rights)
The DO series from Canon and PF series from Nikon are prime lenses with narrower apertures
Long lens classes with narrow apertures that have gained popularity in recent years include telephoto primes with longer focal lengths. The PF and DO lenses from Nikon and Canon both feature Fresnel lens elements to save weight.
Canon’s 400 f/4 DO II is among the earliest successful examples of such a lens. It’s a good performer, but is quite expensive at $6900 new. In terms of weight, aperture, focal length, and price, most PF and DO lenses are great choices.
Canon offers two interesting lenses with DO elements in this regard: the 600mm f/11 and 800mm f/11. At the price of a small aperture, these lenses are relatively sharp, light weight, and inexpensive.
I wouldn’t consider these lenses general-purpose, but they can work at f/11. If you want to have wildlife shots in your portfolio without breaking the bank, the Canon 600mm and 800mm f/11 lenses are a great option.
PF lenses for wildlife are available from Nikon: the 500mm f/5.6 PF and the Z 800mm f/6.3 PF. Compared to traditional primes, these lenses are lighter and cheaper. For most wildlife photography, these lenses have f/2.8 or f/4 maximum apertures.
Even though it lacks PF elements, the Nikon Z 400mm f/4.5 falls into the same lighter-weight category. Another good choice for this type of lens is the Nikon 300mm f/4 PF, though it may not be long enough to capture birds and distant wildlife without a teleconverter.
If you do not require the convenience of a zoom lens, narrower aperture prime lenses are the best option. In essence, you get a lighter, sharper result (although not necessarily cheaper) by getting rid of the wider focal lengths.
A narrow aperture prime lens is recommended if…
- Image quality is important to you
- Compared to f/2.8 or f/4 primes, you do not mind shooting with a slower lens
- When it comes to photography, light weight is paramount
Minimum Focus Distance: Something to Consider
When a lens comes closer to its subject, it will cease to focus at the minimum focus distance. The minimum focus distance of my Nikon 500mm f/5.6 is 3 meters (9.8 feet). My camera will not be able to capture a bird any closer than that.
The minimum focusing distance on budget zooms is usually better than on high-end zooms and primes. There’s a lot of variation between lenses. My Nikon 500mm PF has to move back a bit to focus on a dragonfly on a rock. Nikon’s 300mm f/4 PF lens is popular among dragonfly photographers because of its close minimum focusing distance.
A lens’ specifications will tell you how close it can focus and its maximum magnification if you plan to take photographs of small, close subjects such as insects, lizards, and dragonflies. To capture these subjects effectively, choose a lens that has at least a 1:5 magnification (0.2x) or higher.
Weight is another factor to consider
Buying a lens and returning or selling it later due to its weight is very common. The tolerance for weight will vary from person to person, but I like to think of three categories:
- This lens and camera weigh less than 2500 grams (less than 5.5 pounds) and are so comfortable that they are an absolute joy to use
- The camera weighs between 2500g and 3200g (5.5-7 lbs): It can be handled, but it’s harder on the arms and the shoulders.
- In many cases, the “big glass” needs a tripod or monopod when its combined weight exceeds 3200 g (over 7 lbs)
|Camera and lens||Weight (grams)|
|Olympus OM-1 + 300 f/4||2074|
|Canon R5 + 100-500 f/4.5-7.1||2103|
|Olympus OM-1 + 150-400 f/4.5||2474|
|Nikon Z9 + 100-400 f/4.5-5.6 S||2775|
|Sony A9II + 200-600 f/5.6-6.3||2793|
|Nikon D500 + 200-500 f/5.6||3160|
|Sony A9II + 400 f/2.8||3573|
|Sony A9II + 600 f/4||3718|
|Z9 + 800mm f/6.3 S||3725|
|Canon R5 + RF 600 f/4||3838|
|Nikon D500 + 600 f/4||4670|
|Nikon Z9 + FTZII + 600 f/4||5275|
There is more to life than just numbers. To handhold, it’s better to keep the majority of the weight in the camera body, which reduces the amount of leverage at the end of the system. There is almost no difference in weight between the Nikon Z9 plus 800mm f/6.3 and the Sony A9 II plus 600mm f/4, except that the Nikon Z9 is heavier closer to the body and has a longer lens. When comparing the two pairings, the Z9 pairing will be easier to hold for a prolonged period of time.
What is a macro lens?
In my view, macro photography has a lot in common with wildlife photography since it involves photographing living things as well.
Around a million insect species have been discovered so far, and many more have yet to be discovered. Compare this to the mere ten thousand or so bird species. It is possible to take pictures of these creatures using a macro lens – a lens that offers a magnification at least equal to life’s size.
It’s for that reason that I recommend that almost every wildlife photographer also carry a macro lens. Common macro lenses usually have a focal length of about 100mm, such as these:
- Nikon Z (mirrorless): Nikon 105mm f/2.8 VR S
- Nikon F (DSLR): Nikon 105mm f/2.8G
- Canon RF (mirrorless): Canon RF 100mm f/2.8 L (does 1.4x instead of the usual 1x)
- Canon EF (DSLR): Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L
- Sony FE: Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 G
- Fuji X: Fuji XF 80mm f/2.8 R
- Leica L: Sigma 105mm f/2.8 DG DN Art
- Micro four-thirds: Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 60mm f/2.8
- Pentax K: Pentax SMC D FA 100mm f/2.8
The market also has a few longer 150mm or 200mm macro lenses made by third parties that are excellent.
Unless you use extension tubes and teleconverters, you need third-party lenses to obtain greater than 1x magnification. In Spencer’s recent review of the Venus Optics Laowa 25mm f/2.8 2.5-5x lens, this is an example of a specialized macro lens unable to focus on non-macro subjects.
Macro lenses are recommended if…
- A photograph of an insect, a flower, or a tiny animal appeals to you
- Taking unique photos is what you want, anywhere in the world
- Photographing birds is hard for you, but you won’t admit it
Conclusion of Best Lens for Livestock Photography:
There is a lot to consider when choosing a wildlife lens. In a challenging field like photography, you need a lens that will meet your expectations. The information provided in this guide is intended to provide you with a head start in choosing the best wildlife photography lens for your needs.