Tony McLean's East Yorkshire Wildlife Diary

Wildlife photography in East Yorkshire

Considerations on choosing a long lens for wildlife photography?

Thought that this question about selecting a super-tele lens for wildlife photography may be relevant to others who may be embarking upon this super expensive and life changing decision!

I am interested in your thoughts and opinions about the Nikon 500mm f4 lens. I am looking to save for a lens like the 300mm f2.8 all the way to the 600mm f4. I have asked other peoples opinions about the 400mm f2.8 lens but have been advised by friends that it is too short for wildlife. So I am still a little undecided about which I should set my sights for.

 Anyway, lets cut to the chase! Do you find the 500mm f4 lens fast enough to keep up with Kingfishers diving into the water and leaving the water and does it produce sharp images of this occasion? Would you recommend this over the 600mm f4 or a 300mm f2.8 (with TCs) to photograph birds, especially birds in flight?

Really depends on what you classify as ‘wildlife’. If you’re intention for the foreseeable future is to concentrate on small birds in the U.K. and you will be photographing from either a hide or a tripod, then the answer is simple…the longer the better! However, if you plan to travel abroad and wish to take your 600 mm lens, then you will encounter difficulties with both the weight and size of this beast.

My compromise was to choose a 500mm lens and take both a 1.4 & 1.7 T.C. This, plus two bodies and other lenses, will fit within today’s carry-on allowance in terms of size—though perhaps not weight! If you plan on going on a safari then the 500 mm is just too damn heavy and inconvenient. Maybe a 300 mm (either f2.8 or as in my case f4) would be more suitable and then perhaps save up for a 200-400 mm to supplement this at a later date.

All Nikon super-tele lenses are capable of producing excellent images but usually not out of the box. You have to learn and practice ‘long lens technique‘ to get the most from these fantastic lenses. Just don’t expect this to happen overnight. Of course another approach would be to purchase a 300mm f2.8, which on a DX camera would give you 450 mm of reach and even more with either of Nikon’s 3 excellent teleconverters.

Fast and accurate autofocus is dependent upon both the sophistication of the camera’s sensor and processor and the maximum aperture of the lens. A 300 mm f2.8 lens on a D3S body will give you a very fast and accurate response and even with a x2 converter, this would prove an excellent choice. This is a combination that I see more and more wildlife photographer’s using every day. It also has the added benefit of being easy to hand-hold for photographing birds-in-flight.

So before you rush into any decisions, I would carefully consider your current and future ambitions and then either beg, borrow or rent several lenses before you spend a king’s ransom on equipment.

—Tony McLean

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2 thoughts on “Considerations on choosing a long lens for wildlife photography?

  1. Hi Tony, that was a really interesting post. I use a AF-S Nikkor 300mm f/2.8G ED VR II with the 1.4 and 2x TCs on a D4. The performance is astonishing, hand held, and I can carry the gear all day. I admit that there have been times when longer would certainly have been easier and maybe better, but it all depends on the objective I suppose. I like the flexibility, portability and the challenge that a shorter telephoto brings. I’ve added a Slik monopod which I’ve found surprisingly useful.

    • Hi Peter

      Please accept my apologies for my late reply and many thanks for your post. I agree that Nikon’s 300 f2.8 lens is an absolute cracker and appears to be very popular amongst wildlife photographers and sports enthusiasts. I’ll stick with my 500 for now until I’m too old to struggle with its formidable weight. –– Tony Mc.

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