Best Canon Wildlife Lens

I’ve been shooting wildlife photography for years and have been able to test dozens of lenses. I am a huge Canon fan and once I started using the best lenses for wildlife photography my image quality skyrocketed. After reading this article you will know which Canon lenses to use for wildlife photography.

deer in woods

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What to look for in a Canon Wildlife Photography Lens

The analogy about photography is that it’s like a person drawing with a pencil on paper – they can choose different types of pencils to get different effects. A Canon lens is the “pencil” for your camera, and you can choose one that will help you get the type of desired effect out of your photos.

Different lenses are better for certain types of photography. For example, a long lens (one with a high focal length) would be good for wildlife photography because it allows you to take photos of distant subjects without disturbing said subjects.

Some lenses are better for other types of photography. A wide angle lens, for example, is good for cityscapes and landscapes because it lets you capture a wider image in one shot.

The following are some of the key features to look for when choosing a lens:

Image stabilization (also referred to as IS or optical stabilization) – This feature helps you capture clear photos even when your hands are not steady. It does this by correcting for small vibrations that would normally result in blurring.

Focus range limiter – This feature lets you limit the focus of the lens in a certain range. For example, you can choose to limit your subject to one specific distance so that the main subject is always in focus.

Minimum focusing distance – This feature lets you get closer to a subject before taking a picture. Note that if your lens does not have an optical zoom (i.e. instead of zooming by moving the lens, you zooming digitally using software), you might not be able to get as close to animals as you would like.

Lens accessories – These features include a tripod mount, a quick-release mount, and image stabilization (as discussed above). All of the above can also be purchased separately from the lens itself.

Manual exposure – This feature allows you to adjust certain aspects of your photo such as the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. This is a good option if you are professional wildlife photographer who is very familiar with these concepts.

Aperture – This feature determines how much light comes through when you open up the lens. The wider the aperture, the more light that comes through. It is ideal for low-light conditions when subjects are active.

Shutter speed – This feature determines how long the shutter of the lens remains open. It’s ideal for wildlife photography because it gives you time to take a lot of photos without disturbing your subject. Note that certain types of cameras such as mirrorless cameras have electronic shutters rather than mechanical ones, and they work in an entirely different way than mechanical ones do. So, do not assume that a lens with a mechanical shutter is equivalent to one with an electronic one.

Sensitivity of sensor – This feature determines how sensitive the camera is to light levels. It’s ideal for wildlife photography because if your photo doesn’t come out right, you will be able to correct it with another photo. Note that some wildlife photography lenses have special features that allow you to use the sensitivity feature in DSLR cameras as well.

Optical zoom – This feature gives you the ability to zoom in on subjects without moving your camera.

Image stabilization (also referred to as IS or optical stabilization) – This feature helps you capture clear photos even when your hands are not steady. It does this by correcting for small vibrations that would normally result in blurring. Focus range limiter – This feature lets you limit the focus of the lens in a certain range. For example, you can choose to limit your subject to one specific distance so that the main subject is always in focus. Minimum focusing distance – This feature lets you get closer to a subject before taking a picture. Note that if your lens does not have an optical zoom (i.e. instead of zooming by moving the lens, you zooming digitally using software), you might not be able to get as close to animals as you would like.

Best Canon Wildlife Lenses – Top Picks

Canon EF 600mm f/4L IIII USM

Who It’s For

The Canon 600mm f/4L is best for those who want to get close to a far away subject such as a bird or a lion! This lens has an enormous focal length that allows you to get amazingly detailed photos. It’s a good choice because it’s so easy to use – all you need to do is focus it and let the camera do the rest.

Why We Love It

This lens is ideal for the wildlife photographer who is interested in close-up photography. It’s so easy to use because you focus it and let the camera do the rest. The image stabilization feature allows you to get even sharp photos when your hands are shaky or when you accidentally bump your camera against something.

What Needs Improvement

This lens is a little too heavy for its average price. The 600mm f/4L II also costs more than most other lenses on this list and is therefore not a good choice if you are on a budget.

How It Did In The Field

I really loved taking photos with this lens, and I especially liked that it has a lot of different features that make it easy to use. The image stabilization feature made it especially easy to get clear images when my hands were a bit shaky. I took some great pictures at the zoo and during a safari in Kenya.

Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM

Who It’s For

This lens is a great choice if you want to get closer to your subjects and take clearer photos. For example, it’s ideal for bird watching because the longer focal length allows you to zoom in on the subject without having to move your camera.

Why We Love It

It’s very easy to use this lens. All you need to do is focus it and let the camera do the rest. This lens features and image stabilization feature. This feature is essential for wildlife photography because it helps you get clearer pictures when your hands are not steady.

What Needs Improvement

This lens is really easy to use but it’s still a bit on the heavy side for many wildlife photographers who prefer a lighter weight lens. However, if you’re looking for an optical zoom that zooms with your camera, then this might be the best option for you.

How It Did In The Field

I found this Canon lens to be really easy to use because I could just focus it and let the camera do the rest. I also loved that it was really easy to switch from one lens to another with a simple twist. This was especially helpful when I was frequently switching lenses during a safari in Kenya.

Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM

Who It’s For

If you are taking photos of wildlife and want to get really close to the subject this lens will be perfect for you. The 200mm focal length also makes it ideal for sports photography and photojournalism, and it’s easy to control when you are using a handheld camera.

Why We Love It

The Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM is at the top of its class when it comes to animal photography. It features a super wide angle lens of 400mm that is great for capturing a wider field of view in your photo. This makes it perfect for photographing animals at a distance.

What Needs Improvement

This is one of the heaviest lenses available on the market and may be uncomfortable to carry around all day. It’s also quite long and you may need a stable surface to place it when you use it. Nevertheless, this lens is an excellent choice for wildlife photography.

How It Did In The Field

During the safari in Kenya I had to continuously switch between lenses as I was taking photos of giraffes and other wildlife. This lens was quite perfect for this because you can get really close to the animals with it. It also has a focusing ring that rotates so you do not have to take your eye off the main focal point during shots.

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM

Who It’s For

The Canon 400mm f/2.8 is an expensive and heavy lens whose price tag is justified by its performance. It’s made for people who want to take action shots of wildlife without having to worry about missing the shot because they didn’t get close enough. The telephoto is also suitable for photographers who want to capture subjects from far away without losing quality or detail.

Why We Love It

The Canon 400mm f/2.8 offers true professional performance. Image stabilization was impeccable and it offers the perfect range for a wildlife lens.

What Needs Improvement

For the price, I will say this lens needs to be updated in regards to the autofocus and sensor coverage. The autofocus mechanism in particular is a bit of a sticking point for many users as it feels slow and a bit sloppy. The autofocus feature is quite accurate but you often have to fight it to get it to lock onto your subject. It’s not a deal breaker but definitely worth noting that the auto focus mechanism in this lens works best when you are shooting at wide open aperture settings.

How It Did In The Field

The Canon 400mm f/2.8L IS USM is an excellent choice if you want something that’s close to a pro lens without the hefty price tag. It was so easy to use and allowed me to get really close to my subjects without having to take my eye off the scene during shots. I also loved the autofocus feature which rarely has any difficulty with wildlife photography unless you are shooting at high aperture settings and at slow shutter speeds where subjects can move quite slowly.

Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II USM

Who It’s For

The Canon 400mm f/4 DO is a great choice for people who would like to capture action shots of wildlife. It’s also excellent for those who don’t want to carry a heavy lens around. If you are an avid traveler, then this is the lens for you because it’s lightweight and compact.

Why We Love It

The Canon 400mm f/4 DO IS II USM is very easy to use and it’s a solid choice for people who are just getting into wildlife photography. It features image stabilization so you can get quality shots even when your hands are not steady. The auto focus feature is also great, and you can easily switch between different subjects while you are taking pictures.

What Needs Improvement

The prices of this lens can be a bit high, especially if you are a beginner. The 400mm f/4 DO is also a little heavier than you might expect. Fortunately, you can stick it onto your camera with the 1.4X teleconverter and still get amazing shots without having to carry the extra weight around all day.

How It Did In The Field

I took some stunning photos with this lens in Kenya when I was on safari. I particularly liked taking shots from a far distance when the animals were close to me so that I could get an excellent view of them. The auto focus feature allowed me to easily take stunning shots even without a steady hand, and all I had to do was focus it and let the camera do the rest.

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM

Who It’s For

The Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 IS II USM is ideal for photographers who want to take photos of wildlife at a distance without making use of a telephoto lens. You will also find it useful if you are looking for something that’s lightweight, compact, and easy to use.

Why We Love It

The Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 IS II USM features a 2.4X teleconverter which allows you to zoom in on your subject without losing image quality. This is a great feature when you want to get an up close shot of your subject and still have it appear detailed. There are some people who would prefer a more zoomed out shot, others would like a closer look at the animal, and this lens gives everyone what they want.

What Needs Improvement

The price of this lens might be too high for some people who are still getting used to taking wildlife photos. The weight of the lens may also be a problem because it’s on the heavier side. However, if you can afford it and handle the extra weight, then this is a solid choice for you.

How It Did In The Field

I took some beautiful photos with my Canon with this lens in Kenya when I was on safari, and I was able to avoid the telephoto lens that most photographers use. This is because of the 2.4X teleconverter that Canon has created for this lens. I got some really close up shots with this lens without having to worry about losing quality when the teleconverter was attached to it.

Sigma 60-600mm f/4.5-6.3 DG OS HSM

Who It’s For

The Sigma 60-600mm f/4.5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports is designed for active wildlife photographers who need to capture fast action shots that are not so close to their subjects. This lens makes it easy for shooters to focus on the action without having to move closer or further away from their subjects. It is also designed for photographers who want something lightweight and compact that they can carry around easily during a trip.

Why We Love It

The image quality of the Sigma 60-600mm f/4.5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports is fantastic for sports photography as well as nature, because it’s really good at capturing a wide field of view and maintaining quality over the long periods of time. Another feature that I like about this lens is the stabilization system that makes it possible to take sharp pictures even when your hands are shaky or if you accidentally bump the lens against something in your bag.

What Needs Improvement

The price of this lens may also be an issue for many people. It’s still a good choice if you want something that will last a long time and give you high quality photos during wildlife excursions.

How It Did In The Field

I created some beautiful pictures with my Sigma 60-600mm f/4.5-6.3. The lens is really easy to use and gives you very good quality photos that are great for animal photography and nature photography. With this lens you won’t miss a moment of the action, and your animal subjects will always enjoy the image quality too because it features optical image stabilization which makes it possible to take sharp images in any environment, even if your hands are shaky or if you accidentally bump the lens against something in your bag.

Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM

Who It’s For

The Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports is created for photographers who want to capture action shots of wildlife without having to get too close. It’s also great for those who want something that is lightweight and compact so they can carry it around easily during a trip.

Why We Love It

The image quality of this lens is great. You can capture beautiful images of wildlife, and action shots of sports or moving objects from a distance. The stabilization system is another feature that I love about this lens because it allows for sharp images even when your hands are shaky or if you accidentally bump the lens against something in your bag.

What Needs Improvement

This lens is quite large and heavy when compared to other lenses of the same category. It is also quite expensive so you need to think about whether you will be getting your money’s worth out of it based on your needs and how often you plan on using it.

How It Did In The Field

The Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports worked very well for me when in the field. I was able to take photos of wildlife from a far distance, and get excellent images without having to worry about whether my hands were shaky or if I accidentally bumped the lens against something in my bag.

Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM

Who It’s For

The Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports is perfect for photographers who want versatility and great quality photos. You can capture unique landscapes, wildlife, and action photos from a distance with this lens. It also features a special low dispersion glass element which allows for high image quality.

Why We Love It

The image quality of the Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports is great. The lens also features a special low dispersion glass element which makes it possible for the lens to capture high quality images even at the long distances at which this lens can reach.

What Needs Improvement

The price of this lens can sometimes be a little too much for people who are just getting into wildlife photography. However, if you’re willing to spend the money on a lens like this, then you will definitely get some amazing results once you get to know its capabilities.

How It Did In The Field

I was able to capture wildlife at a distance without having to use a telephoto lens because of the extended range of this lens. The image quality and stabilization system also performed very well for me, and I was able to get some great tips from these features.

Canon Wildlife Lenses Explained

brown bear

Because a wildlife photographer will be dealing with many unknowns during a session it is important to have the tools you need to handle any shot that you encounter. Lack of gear will lead to missed shots.

Wildlife subjects tend to avoid human contact so many of your shots will require a lens that can handle long distances without sacrificing image quality. You will also have to handle obstructed views and poor and low light conditions.

Most photographers getting into wildlife photography will try to use a kit lens but they will get frustrated with poor image quality so it is very important to get yourself a lens made for the inherent challenges of shooting animals in the wild.

I like to think of this as environmental portraits and like photographing humans you will need a lens that can capture your subjects in the most flattering way. To do this you will need a lens with the right focal length and that is why you need a lens designed for these challenges.

If you can only invest in one lens right now, I recommend selecting one with the longest focal length you can afford. You can always add more lenses in the future but if you miss most of your shots because your focal length isn’t long enough you will lose interest and that is avoided with proper lens selection now.

otter on rocks

A longer focal length will also open up more photography opportunities because the closer you have to get to your subject, the more likely you are to scare them off.

A longer focal length will also allow you to create a more eye catching background to your photographs. These lenses make it easier to achieve a blurred background (read about bokeh) and this is a great technique for making your image more interesting.

Because animals tend to be most active during the early morning and the late evening, you will need a lens that can handle low and poor lighting. This means you will want a model with a wide aperture so that you can get more light to the sensor.

One more feature that is great for wildlife photography is image stabilization. Because you will likely want to be able to shoot moving subjects, this feature will help maintain crisp and clear images. Even with image stabilization, many wildlife photographers keep a tripod or monopod to help them keep their photos looking sharp.

And because you will eventually be shooting when it’s raining or snowing it is very important that your lens be weatherproof and made to stand up to some abuse. When I am hiking through the forest seeking a great shot, my lenses get bumped and dropped. A poorly built lens won’t last long in these conditions.

Conclusion

There are hundreds of lens options out there and I have tried just about every one of them. For the beginner wildlife photographer it is very important to invest in the best wildlife photography lens you can as early as possible. Shooting with a low quality lens will lead to poor image quality and frustration. Any of my top picks will help you get the best photo quality possible.

For more photography tips and guides check out these articles