What Gears do I Use to Start Wildlife Photography? Part 2: Lens / by Yuan Yue

Just as I mentioned at the beginning of the last article, a telephoto lens is a MUST when shooting wildlife.

In general, a lens that has a focal length longer than 70mm can be considered a telephoto lens, however, when shooting wildlife, 70mm is just not enough. I recommend 200mm is the minimum focal length for wildlife photography. That means you can pretend that you are closer to the animals. 

Although those long lenses seems big, some of them are relatively cheap and very good for people who just get started.

My first telephoto lens is Canon EF-S 55-250mm F4-5.6 IS STM lens (link) , coming with the 80D.  In some cases, this lens comes in as a kit lens, that means it is an entry-level lens. Retail price is less than $300.

Canon EF-S 55-250mm F4-4.6 IS STM

Canon EF-S 55-250mm F4-4.6 IS STM

This lens has a wide range of focal lens, 55-250mm, you can use it as a portrait lens as well as a wildlife lens. It is light and compact, very easy to carry around compare to those big lenses such as 70-200mm. Although its maximum aperture is only F4 and will become even small when zoom in, its IS (Image Stabilizer) system will help you to have a slow shutter speed and still get sharp images. Besides that, most of the time we do wildlife photography during the day, so we always have enough light to work with.

If you want to do some video, the STM motor in this lens is great. STM makes this lens very quiet and fast when auto focusing. In my opinion, it is quieter than the renowned USM motor in those high-end lenses.

Other than that, this lens can work with APS-C cameras such as Canon 80D (link) I used before, that means the actual focal length of that setup will become 88-400mm, which is really cool.

The downside of this lens is also obvious. It is not weather sealed and the image quality is not as good as other more expensive lense, and it only has an F4 maximum aperture. Other than that, it can be only used with APS-C camera because of its EF-S mount.

So if you just get started in wildlife photography, but don't have a big budget or not sure if you like wildlife photography or not, give it a try, you won't regret.

Here is some photos that I took with this lens. 

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My current wildlife lenses is a Canon EF 70-200mm F2.8L USM plus a Canon EF 2x Extender Mark II.

Canon EF 70-200mm F2.8L USM

Canon EF 70-200mm F2.8L USM

Canon EF 2x II Extender

Canon EF 2x II Extender

Canon 70-200mm series must be one of the most well-build Caon series. It has a metal structure and solid build quality. The image coming out of those lenses are very sharp. The focal length is very versatile, you can use it as a portrait lens, as well as wildlife lens and even landscape lens.

This lens has a constant aperture of F2.8, which is great to work in low light situation, I use it a lot when I do interview videos indoors, so easy to work with.

The USM motor makes auto focus very fast and smooth, however, it will produce a little bit of noise. If you use an on-camera microphone to shoot videos, the noise might be collected by the mic, please keep this in mind. When I working in the field, I found the autofocus system from this lens and 5D Mark IV is so quick and accurate to focus on wildlife, even birds.

The downside, firstly is the price, however, I think it is worth to buy if you really want to do wildlife photography. If you go to used market, you can find many good deals. 

Secondly, this is a very old lens, compare to its predecessors, the image quality might be not as good as those lenses, and lack of IS for some photographer might be a deal breaker in wildlife photographer.

Here are some pictures that I took with this lens.

What is 2x Extender? As you can see from the name, it extend your length. For 2x extender, it can extend the focal length of your lense twice. For example, when I attach the extender to my 70-200mm, the focal length immediately become 140-400mm.

It gives you a relatively cheaper option to get a super tele lens, and you can still use your 70-200 as a portrait lens. If you buy a 400mm or even longer lens, the cost might be several times as 70-200 plus a extender. And it is easy to carry around with 70-200mm, but if you have a 400mm, it is so bulky to carry.

You might ask why should you consider more expensive telephoto lens if you can use extender. Yes, there is a lot of debates on whether the extender is good or not because it has its shortcomings.

First, it will decrease the effective aperture. An F2.8 plus a 2x extender becomes a F5.6 lens, if using an 1.4x extender, it becomes a F4 lens. Consider that into your workflow.

Second, image quality, the image becomes less shaper when using an extender, and because of the super long focal length, it is so hard to make it steady than without extender even if IS is enabled.

Third, autofocus malfunctional. For some lenses, autofocus will not work with extenders,

Forth, the extender only work with compatible lenses, not all lenses can work with extenders. Here is a list of compatible lenses that can work with Canon Extenders.

Other than those, a 70-200mm plus an extender might be more expensive than some of super telephoto lenses, such as the very popular Sigma 150-600mm DG OS HSM Contemporary lens. 

After all, if you like me, don't have a very big budget, do some photo and do some video as well, and still want to produce high quality images, I highly recommend this combination when you just get started. You can alway sell them and upgrade to other lenses along the way.

This two models are both very old ones, maybe in the market for more than 10 years, but still widely used by many professional photographers.

Currently, Canon provides several newer versions of these two product, feel free to check out them by using links down below:

The combination of camera bodies and lenses sometimes can be very tricky, you may ask "should I use an expensive lens on an APS-C body or use a cheap lens on a full frame body?" There is no easy answer to that question. If you are interested, you can check out a video from Tony Northrup, he has a very comprehensive explanation.

Other option:

If you want a super telephoto lens but don't need the extender, as a starter you might want to try Sigma 150-600mm DG OS HSM Contemporary lens, it is around 900 brand new, great build quality and super long focal length, and relative lightweight compare to other 600mm lenses.

In the next article, let's talk about accessories for wildlife photography.

DISCLAIMER: The links in this article are affiliate links. I do get a little bit of commission if you buy products via those links. I am not sponsored by any of those brands that I mentioned in this article.