Thursday, April 3, 2014

Long Telephoto Lenses on a Budget

Many of us who are wildlife and bird photographers yearn for super fast big glass! Oh, what could we not do if we had a Nikon 600 F4 or a 400 F2.8! Sadly, the cost of these lenses are prohibitively expensive and out of reach for most of us. It is also not so easy to use these big lenses and proper technique and support are essential to get good results.

So what alternatives do we have? How do we capture that Alpine Accentor in the high Himalayas with affordable equipment?

This post discusses some of the so-called "budget" telephoto prime lenses and zoom lenses which are capable of  good photographs with proper technique and reasonable light. The crop factor with DX bodies should also be considered - a  300 f4 Nikon would give 450 F4 with a DX sensor and a 500 would give a reach of 750 which is huge! However, longer the lens the more difficult becomes the photograph and eventually you need a rock steady support for the camera! The zoom lenses would be slower than the primes but would have the advantage of a single lens covering a range of focal lengths.

Sigma 150-500 F5.6-6.3 $899
The Sigma 150-500 f5.6-6.3  is possibly the most popular third party zoom for wildlife. If you visit any of India's national parks a large number of shooters will have this lens.  It is very good value for the price point, if you can manage with a 6.3 aperture at the long end! At the shorter end it becomes a 150mm F5.6 which is about at least a stop slower than the 80-200 or 70-300 range of zooms! For a review visit

Tamron 150-600 F5-6.3 $1069
The Tamron 150-600 F5-6.3 is a new lens - it is similar to the Sigma but has an extra 100mm reach on the long end.  It has similar issues as the Sigma regarding speed and possibly greater issues regarding hand holdability due to being 600 mm at the long end! With a good sturdy support this could be a match winner especially for birds!

Nikon 80-400 F4.5-5.6 VR $1995 street
The Nikon 80-400 f4.5-5.6 VR lens is often used for shooting mammals. A very popular choice in the game parks in Africa for Nikon shooters,  it has a decent zoom range. In good light it can deliver stunning results and a good beanbag  support can allow hand holding at low speeds due to VR! If you are not looking for birds at a distance this might be  a good choice. However it is definitely much more expensive than the third party zooms though is sometimes available refurbished and on sale!

Canon 100-400 f4.5-5.6L $1699
The Canon 100-400 F4.5/5.6 is similar the the Nikon above and used by Canon shooters and has similar features. For a review visit

Nikon 300 F4 AFS ED $1369 street
This is a prime Nikon 300 mm f4 lens which is capable of producing excellent quality and sharpness. Mated with a TC 1.4 converter it gives a range of 420 mm and on a DX body that would be more than 600 mm! This would be my first choice if quality was paramount and I could sacrifice the multiple focal lengths of a zoom!

Canon 300 F4L $1449
This is an extraordinary good lens from  Canon 300 f4L - it belongs to their L series of glass and produces excellent sharpness and contrast. Highly Recommended by who are usually miserly with their praise, it would be the first choice for a Canon shooter on a budget along with a 1.4 converter.

As you can see I personally prefer the primes with a tele converter to the long zooms - this is also because I usually have a lens like the 80-200 f2.8 or  70-200 F4 Nikon in my bag when shooting wildlife! On the flip side if you have one body only you need to change lenses and dong this you may often miss the shot!

Essentially you need to weight up what your needs are at a  price point which you can afford  and then make the correct decision! Good luck!


  1. I use the Canon 400 f 5.6 for birding, which is not mentioned here. It is a super light lens and ideal for travelling around. It doesn't have IS but it is so light that one doesn't really need it.

    1. Thanks for the feedback Sudipto! I am sure that it is a great lens!

  2. Nice post , i hope everyone will like your post



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