Photo Lenses

Hi what kind of lens do i need to get really good bird shots as all i have at the min is a tele-macro 70-300mm lens, i know its a good lens for close up insects etc but i can never get a good shot of birds, please help
  • Hello Catherine,

    Thank you very much for your post. I will forward this message to our Site Manager who is an experienced wildlife photographer.

    I will be in touch when he responds.

    Many thanks,


  • In reply to David White:

    In most situations you would need at least 400mm for good bird photos. Unfortunately that's quite a big step-up in price and weight from a 70-300mm zoom (or similar). Some of the popular options for bird photographers include the Sigma 150-500mm, Canon 100-400mm or Nikon 80-400mm. You can also try a 300mm f4 prime lens with a 1.4x teleconverter, which gives you a 420mm f5.6.

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  • In reply to David White:

    Ok thankyou very much.

    Catherine Barrett

  • In reply to aiki:

    I shall have a look at all those lenses you have told me about and hopefully i will find the right one. Thankyou for pointing me in the right direction.

  • In reply to Catherine B:

    As Aiki says, 400mm is normally a good starting point for birds, and getting the extra length also tends to move you up into the realm of higher quality lenses - expensive, but the extra quality is often really noticeable.  What camera are you using?


    Find me on Flickr / All about your camera - The Getting off Auto Index

  • In reply to Whistling Joe:

    Ok thankyou, im using a nikon d1300

  • In reply to Catherine B:

    I'm guessing a typo and you mean the d3100?  I don't know much about Nikon (Aiki's probably better placed than I am there!), but you'll need to work on a budget before anything else.  Long lenses to get you closer to the action start about £750 for the Sigma 150-500mm and go up to the Nikon 80-400mm at £2k.  The Sigma 50-500 (£1k) or even the new Tamron 150-600mm (£950 when available in Nikon mount - it's Canon only at present) are others worth considering.  Not exactly cheap unfortunately.  You can get second hand ones easily enough though, which might be looking at to save some cash.

    All of this is assuming that it's extra reach that you're after of course - is it simply that birds are too small in the frame or speed of focussing etc that's the problem?


    Find me on Flickr / All about your camera - The Getting off Auto Index

  • In reply to Whistling Joe:

    Hi Catherine,

    Aiki is right that photographing small birds really starts with at least a 400mm lens.  Your D3100 is a cropped sensor so is looking at just the centre of the image the lens projects compared to a full frame camera so it is giving you 1.5x extra reach (on your 70-300mm this is equivalent to a 105-450mm). So if you can get physically close enough with bigger birds you should get good images.

    Aiki has already suggested some lenses but as always it depends on how much money you want to spend and how serious you are about getting top quality images and finally how much weight you are willing to lug around.  I have looked at the cheapest option which is a teleconverter and according to Nikon's website the 1.4x converter is not compatible with your 70-300mm so if you are not getting frame filling images then you are going to need a lens with a longer focal length.  The zooms Aiki mentions are all options.  Nikon's fixed focal length lenses are big money with the 500mm F4 being nearly £6,000 and the 400mm F2.8 over £6,500 (it is a faster lens than the 500mm).  All these are heavy with the 500mm weighing 3.8kg and 400mm even heavier.  Wildlife photographers often have bad backs!  Unfortunately Nikon don't do a 400mm F5.6.  You could try a second hand lens.  Someone like Gray of Westminster hold some great 2nd hand stock.  My suggestion if you are considering this route is to rent one of these big boys for the weekend and see how you get on with it.  You will also need a good tripod - carbon fibre for lightness and a good tripod head.

    You say in your post you are not getting good shots of birds.  So far we have talked about having a long enough focal length lens to get frame filling shots of the bird.  Is this the main problem or are you getting out of focus shots or blurred images?  Birds, particularly in flight, can be quite challenging both to follow in the viewfinder and for the autofocus system.  If a high percentage of your shots are out of focus on flight shots is the camera's autofocus set up to give you the best results?  Autofocus systems are complex with many options.  Setting the system up in particular ways can really increase the the percentage of good images you get.  There is some good Nikon-centric advice here:

    The other thing to think about is support. Long telephotos really amplify movement.  Camera shake is a real issue so keep shutter speed as high as you can and consider a tripod.  Take a look here:

    As I said about big lenses a tripod is a must.  These lenses are physically heavy so difficult to hand hold but having a stable tripod will significantly increase the percentage of 'keepers'.  Again if you are serious get a good tripod to start with.  I did what Thom talks about, you get a big lens, then realise you need a tripod so you get a cheap one.  Find it is not that good so you get a better one then you finally buy a great one like a Gitzo.  Again it depends on how serious you are and how deep your pockets are.

    The final thing is about field craft.  Understand your subject, what is it doing and how comfortable is it going to be with a human being trying to photograph it.  The birds on the feeders at the visitor centre will allow you to get much close than those down the reserve.  Even the same species.  The food is a big draw and around the VC they are more used to visitors.  Some species are much more confiding. Bearded tits for instance, if you are lucky to see them near the tracks, will allow your to get very close.  I have been within 3 meters of them when cutting reed.  Cranes on the other hand are very nervous of people.  Watch how the bird is behaving.  At this time of year birds are setting up their breeding territories.  A sedge warbler will have a small patch of reedbed to call his own.  He will sing to advertise this so if you wait patiently he may pop up to the top of a reed stem and show himself as he signs to mark out his patch.  Birds in flight are always a challenge - which way will they go and keeping them centred in the viewfinder.  The beauty of digital is you can practice and just delete those images that don't work.  Finally is the bird comfortable or nervous of your presence?  Ultimately a photograph needs to put the welfare of the animal first - if we disturb them we are affecting their behaviour.

    I hope this is helpful and enjoy your photography!


    David Rogers Senior Site Manager - Lakenheath Fen

  • In reply to DaveR:

    Im not a nikon user, I use Canon stuff , I have been watching this post, I used to have the Sigma 70-300 macro lens, and to get flying shots I used to turn of the image stabiliser, I also did it with the Canon 100-400 and got really good images just a thought

    Ray Wilby

  • In reply to zooomer:

    Should read turn off the image stabiliser

    Ray Wilby