The best lens for bird photography

I´ve been quite often asked what is the best lens for bird photography and if one should buy a zoom lens or fixed lens. Althought I use quite often also zoom lenses for my photography, please find enclosed my opinion about zoom lenses:

I think that most fixed lenght lenses produces sharper images than any zoom lenses. However, zoom lenses have other advantages. E.g. with zoom it is very handy to get different compositions without needing to put on teleconverters, like you need to do with fixed tele lenses! However, nowadays with digital photography and new sensors with enough pixels, one can crop images quite a lot afterwards and that way get the ”zooming effect” to images!

But then there is a question what length telelens you would need? Personally I use 500 mm f4 lens quite a lot, but couldn´t live without my 300 mm f2.8 lens either. If I compare them, I think 300 mm lens is more versatile and with it I can produce variable images. When I put 1,4 x converter on it´s still sharp and focus is working well and I have 420 mm lens! With the cropping effect of digital cameras it is even longer lens…
In a case of emergency I could use 2x converter with it, but I´d rather use cropping afterwards to get the same framing, since 2x converter always affect to the sharpness and makes focusing more difficult!

If you are happy with ”full frame” images of certain species, then I think more reach (=longer lens) you have, it´s better. However, if you would like to produce different images sometimes showing also enviroment where bird is, then I think 300 mm (f2.8) lens is better option! Sometimes 300 mm lens is the only possibility to get the flight shots of birds, and 500 mm lens can be too much! This is situation in our Eagle hide, since the main feeding area is in a distance where images of perching birds are better with 500 mm and flight shots with 300 mm lens.

Also if you are using hides for your photography, then I think 300 mm lens is better. But if you are more walking around and trying to get the shots of species you are not often too close to the birds and maybe 500 lens would be better then.
One need to also consider the weight of the lenses, since 500 lens is quite a lot heavier than 300 mm lens! One compromise for that is to get 400 mm f5.6 lens. Canon has 400 mm f4 so called DO lens, which is light weight and good fixed lens.

At the moment my favourite lens is Nikkor 200- 400 mm lens – because it is such a versatile lens! It is fast and sharp enough even with 1,4 x converter on it!

I would not go to Sigma or any other manufacturer, but the cameras ”own lenses”,  Canon to Canon and Nikon to Nikon. That´s how professional do and there is obvious reasons for that! It is true that they are more expensive, but they just work better and last longer than any other makes…

Jari Peltomäki
professional photographer