Best Wildlife Lens For Nikon Cameras
You just got yourself a high-quality Nikon DSLR and are into wildlife photography; what next? Well, you'll need a good lens that will help you truly capture the essence of wildlife. I'm sure you are aware that there is a wide range of options for you to choose from, so choosing the best wildlife lens for Nikon can get confusing.
The thing about wildlife photography is that you're aiming to capture nature untouched by human interference. So you'll need to take pictures from a distance; this means you'll need to look for silent lenses with a good zoom, which is why telephoto lenses are best. Because telephoto lenses allow you to take pictures of wildlife without getting close to them.
Also, not all telephoto lenses are great for wildlife. You will also have to look upon other factors such as its portability, maximum aperture, and, most importantly, the focal range to get the best results. After looking into such factors, I have compiled a list of the best wildlife lens for Nikon. All the lenses mentioned below will best fit your Nikon cameras so that you can trust them completely.
You will also find a buying guide and answers to a few of the frequently asked questions regarding this topic at the end of the article. So, with that said, let me take you through my writing.
Table of Contents
- LIST OF BEST WILDLIFE LENS FOR NIKON
- 8 BEST WILDLIFE LENS FOR NIKON REVIEW
- 1. Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED
- 2. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR Lens
- 3. Nikon AF-P DX NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3G ED VR Lens
- 4. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm F/5.6E Pf ED VR Super-Telephoto Lens
- 5. Sigma 150-600mm 5-6.3 Contemporary DG OS HSM Lens for Nikon
- 6.Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 80-400mm f.4.5-5.6G ED Vibration Reduction Zoom
- 7. NIKON AF-S DX NIKKOR 55-200mm f/4-5.6G ED VR II Lens
- 8. Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary Lens for Nikon F
- BUYING GUIDE FOR PURCHASING THE BEST WILDLIFE LENS FOR NIKON
- FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
LIST OF BEST WILDLIFE LENS FOR NIKON
8 BEST WILDLIFE LENS FOR NIKON REVIEW
1. Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED
FEATURES: You get all that you need like fast autofocus, 4.5 stops VR feature, sharp image quality, and a sturdy lens for an affordable price. You can use this lens for wildlife, bird, and even sports photography as it has a wide zoom range. However, if your passion is insect or bug photography, this lens will not help you, as its minimum focusing distance is only 2.2 m which is not sufficient for taking micro shots.
DESIGN: It is huge and also heavy (2.3 kilograms). I would say this is the second biggest lens I'm using after the sports version of the 150-600mm Sigma lens. But as we know, telephoto lenses are usually big, and for a vast focal range of 200-500mm, this heavyweight is expected.
Moving on to the build quality of the lens. The Nikon 200-500 f/5.6E ED is mainly made of metal with a little plastic used here and there in the construction. It has few switches on the lens barrel:
- A manual override switch.
- A focus limiter switch.
- A VR switch.
- A switch to toggle from normal to sports mode.
I find the focus limiter switch useful when I need to focus on a subject that is approximately 6 meters or 18 feet away from me.
The best part I liked about the lens is that it doesn't fall or creep while you shoot. Thanks to the 200mm lock switch in case you want to protect your lens from falling.
PERFORMANCE: This lens would benefit bird photographers as you can turn on the focus limiter switch and focus them nicely without getting close to them.
I tested this lens on my Nikon d850, and I loved my shooting experience. I should say the lens's sharpness is very impressive throughout the zoom range. The four-stop Vibration reduction feature also works very well.
I could track the movements of birds very effectively with slower shutter speeds and a considerably less ISO.
For a lens to be specific for wildlife photography, it is expected to have a telephoto length of at least 200mm minimum. And this lens gives you a better focal length than what is expected, so definitely a good choice for taking photographs of deer, bears and even lions safely from a longer distance.
However, you cannot use this lens in low-lights, as the aperture is very narrow. But under bright lights, the image quality is excellent. You could use the lens hood if you feel the lens flares, but from experience I didn't notice much of a lens flare even under bright lights.
Overall, if you're serious about exploring wildlife with your Nikon camera, I highly recommend you buy this AF-S FX 200-500mm f/5.6E lens, as it is the best wildlife lens for Nikon. It is also quite affordable, so don't hesitate to purchase one.
2. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR Lens
FEATURES: Do you want to possess a Nikon lens that excels in low-light wildlife photography? Then, it would be best if you had your hands on this Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, which is one of my favorite telephoto lenses. The lens is widely used for sports photography, but it can excel in wildlife photography because it has a good telephoto zoom range and a fast aperture. If you're a beginner wildlife photographer, this lens would be very beneficial to you.
DESIGN: Almost half the size of the 200-500mm f/5.6E Nikon lens. So, those who go hiking can entirely rely on this lens because it is completely weather-sealed, providing excellent resistance against harsh weather conditions.
The build quality of the lens is also appreciable. It is made of magnesium alloy and is very small compared to the lens mentioned above. The internal optics consists of 6 ED lens elements, 1 Fluorite element, and 1 HR element. These elements help to tackle the effects of chromatic and spherical aberrations, thus improving color accuracy.
Moving on, like the 200-500mm lens mentioned above, here also the focusing takes place internally. Meaning the lens barrel and front element will not move while focusing. This is yet another beneficial feature while taking videos of birds and other wildlife creatures.
PERFORMANCE: I recently was on a trip to the Hamakua coast rainforest (Hawaii) that consists of giant trees, which are a million-year-old, waterfalls, and animals.
I decided to take this lens and my Nikon D850 because I wanted to carry a little weight and shoot handheld.I never thought I would be able to capture breath-taking landscape photos as well with this lens. I'm glad I took this lens with me; it gave very sharp images and excellent four-stop vibration control.
In rainforests, you actually don't get a lot of light, which is where this lens excels. I consider this lens to be the best low-light wildlife lens for Nikon because it gave me very bright images even in those dark conditions.
I wouldn't say this lens will benefit taking photographs of lions and bears because you need a lens with a minimum focal length of 300mm for such extreme wildlife photography. However, this lens will be beneficial for taking pictures of mongoose, monkeys, deer, and forest birds.
Adding to it, the lens has a minimum focusing distance of 1.1m to be used for macro photography.
Overall, a wonderful lens that can taken for your nature and animal photography.
3. Nikon AF-P DX NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3G ED VR Lens
FEATURES: This lens is for those with a DX Nikon camera and looking for a less expensive lens for wildlife photography. The lens may sound pretty similar to the above listed 70-200mm, but it's really not. This lens is for bright daylight wildlife shoots, whereas the previous one excels in low-light wildlife photography.
DESIGN: This 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3G ED is probably the lightest of all lenses mentioned in my list. It only weighs 412 grams making it a travel-friendly lens.
The reason I call this is another best wildlife lens for Nikon is because of its AF system. Unlike the above lenses that used an SWM for AF, this lens comes with a Pulsing stepper motor making the AF super-fast, accurate and less noisy.
To further improve the AF, there is a VR image stabilization and an ED element. But unfortunately, the lens doesn't consist of any switches, so you have to depend on your camera's menu for turning on/off the AF and VR.
PERFORMANCE: I know it's unfair to compare the image quality of this lens with that of the previous lenses. Because the above lenses are far expensive to this lens, they obviously have a better image quality.
However, for a price point of $400, the lens gives a decent level of sharpness and bouquet. If you're a professional wildlife photographer, I would not suggest buying this lens as it is not for you. You cannot use the lens with any teleconverters, and you cannot get a pro-level image quality from this lens.
Overall, all beginner-level wildlife photographers wanting to learn how to take pictures of birds and large-sized animals should try using this lens.
4. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm F/5.6E Pf ED VR Super-Telephoto Lens
FEATURES: This lens is for all wide-life enthusiasts looking for a super-telephoto prime lens. This 500mm f/5.6E lens is too high-end, so I don't recommend entry-level wildlife photographers to invest in this lens.
DESIGN: I don't own this lens, but when I saw the design features of this lens, I was surprised. Typically, super-telephoto lenses are very heavy, and you can't use them handheld for long hours.
However, this lens is entirely different in this case. If you compare this to the 200-500 f/4-6.3, it is less heavy and also relatively small. This means you don't actually need to use a tripod for taking pictures of wildlife.
The reason behind this lightweight design is the inclusion of a Phase Fresnel element in the lens construction. Moving on, This Nikon 500mm f/5.6E uses the Nikon's SWM for ensuring fast and accurate autofocus. I wouldn't say the AF speed is as fast as the Nikon DX 70-300mm f/4.6-6.3, but the AF accuracy is excellent.
PERFORMANCE: In terms of image quality, this lens is very sharp when compared to the 200-500mm zoom lens. This is obvious because we know prime lenses have better image quality and sharpness to zoom lenses.
The lens does give a beautiful bokeh in bright lights. But in low lights, you may have to use additional flash lights to get bright and clear shots.
As the lens has a minimum focusing distance of 3m, you can use it to capture images of small creatures like lizards and small birds. However, for insect or bug photography, this lens is a big no.
So, I would like to conclude by saying that this is the best lens for Nikon if you're into safaris and hiking. With this on your Nikon camera, you're sure of achieving sharp images of lions, bears, gorillas, and wild birds from the safety of your jeep.
5. Sigma 150-600mm 5-6.3 Contemporary DG OS HSM Lens for Nikon
FEATURES: Those who wish to have an improved focal range of the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E ED can go for this super-telephoto lens from Sigma. Be it a zoo or a forest you're shooting in; this wide focal range will help you cover the subject frame easily. I would say those who scrolled down to see if there is an affordable super-telephoto lens, this could be the lens for you.
DESIGN: The Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 is a bit heavy. It weighs almost 2 kgs, but those who have experience using the Sports version of this lens will consider this weight to be nothing. Because that the sports version weighs almost double this contemporary model.
In terms of build quality, the lens is made of high-quality plastic and comes with a large lens hood. The switches present in the lens include a focus limiter switch to limit the focus from an autofocus switch, an OS switch, and a zoom lock switch, and a dock switch.
The focus limiter switch in this lens is a blessing for wildlife photographers. I'll tell you how. There might be situations you want to take a close-shot of an animal/bird; in that case, you can limit the focus distance between 2.8cm to 10m. If you're slightly far from the subject, you could modify the focal length from 10m to infinity. If you're very far from the subject, like shooting a snap of a bird from the other side of the bank, you can use the full focus range.
PERFORMANCE: This lens focuses accurately even when the subject is moving fast. Thanks to the OS feature of the lens, which helps to improve the continuous AF performance of the lens.
The AF speed is very fast when used between 150 to 500mm. However, beyond 500mm, the AF is a bit slow. But for a super-telephoto lens to provide this speed of AF itself is noteworthy. Thanks to the Hyper-sonic AF motor!
The OS switch can be used in two modes: One while the subject is stationary and panning a fast-moving subject. The second option is beneficial while you want to shoot smooth videos of birds in the air.
The reason behind including this lens in the best wildlife lenses for Nikon list is because of its sharpness and color contrast. You will achieve breath-taking photos of wildlife as it is extremely sharp, starting from 150mm to the longer end, i.e., 600mm.
Overall, the best affordable wildlife lens for both professionals and beginners!
6.Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 80-400mm f.4.5-5.6G ED Vibration Reduction Zoom
The sixth product on my list is this Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G FX lens. This lens will give an equivalent focal range of 120-600mm when used with a DX camera. I used it with my 42.5MP D850 camera and really loved my shooting experience.
When it comes to portability, this lens is big but not as big and heavy as the Nikon 200-500mm or Sigma 150-600mm lens. So, you can comfortably use this lens for hiking and wildlife exploration. Also, the lens is very sturdy and durable as it is entirely made of metal.
IMAGE QUALITY: I really love the sharpness of this lens. Even at 400mm f/5.6, the results are stunning. The lens gives a 1.75m minimum focus distance when using the full focus range, Which is great for taking close-up shots of small birds, lizards, etc. However, this lens is not for insect photography.
The wide focal range of this lens allows you to shoot both medium and large-sized animals from a distance. You also get a lens hood, so don't worry about using the lens under bright lights. If you wish to get the complete focus on the elephant or whatever wildlife subject your shooting with a perfect background blur, then this is the lens for you.
7. NIKON AF-S DX NIKKOR 55-200mm f/4-5.6G ED VR II Lens
This lens is specifically made for Nikon's compact DX-format DSLRs. The AF-S DX NIKKOR 55-200mm f/4-5.6G ED VR II comes with a retracting design. It is designed to be small and lightweight. This makes it ideal for travel and taking it on hikes.
You can use this lens for capturing photographs of wildlife that is not too far from you. In my opinion, this lens will be great if you want to take a lens with you when you're in a wildlife sanctuary or a zoo. For example, you can take beautiful still photographs of tigers, giraffes, elephants, etc., with full detail.
However, the lens does lose a bit of its focus when used for tracking a moving subject. So, the lens wasn't very useful for me to take birds flying or a giraffe running.
Moving on, you can use this lens on your Nikon D3500 or any DX camera for taking macro shots of butterflies and wildflowers as it has a minimum focusing distance of 1.1m.
Overall, the AF-S DX NIKKOR 55-200mm f/4-5.6G ED VR II is a great lens for effectively taking still shots of wildlife.
8. Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary Lens for Nikon F
While designing a lens like this Sigma intended to see how compact a lens can be while producing high image quality. This lens comes with four SLD glass lens elements and an optimized power distribution system. This is made to help in minimizing optical aberrations.
There are also features that help in minimizing transverse chromatic aberration. which cannot be corrected via aperture control. All throughout the zoom range, you are guaranteed to get outstanding image quality.
Wildlife photographers around the world prefer this lens for its exceptional performance and exceptional image quality. The new lens manages to squeeze out such great performance from a compact 400mm ultra-telephoto zoom package.
You also get a filter that is just ⌀67mm and weighs only 1,160g. Despite the compact size, you get features like an optical stabilizer (OS), hypersonic motor (HSM) an updated algorithm for fast autofocus, focus limiter, and more. With so many advantages to buying it, you can be assured that it is the best wildlife lens for Nikon.
BUYING GUIDE FOR PURCHASING THE BEST WILDLIFE LENS FOR NIKON
Now that you've got an idea about the lenses that excel for wildlife photography, I urge you to read this buying guide carefully to understand what specifications you need to check in a lens for taking beautiful wildlife pictures and videos.
1. LARGE FOCAL LENGTH
This is the foremost criterion to look upon while buying a wildlife photography lens. Because no lion or tiger is going to be very close to you, which means you need a lens that can focus the subject from a far distance. This is the specialty of a super-telephoto lens; it will help you capture videos and images of a monkey or a tiger safely from a distance.
Typically, a telephoto lens with a minimum focal length of 200-300mm is a must for wildlife photography. For bird photography, the minimum focal length needed in the lens is 400mm; only then will you be able to take their close-up shots effectively.
Say you're on a zoo going for a lion safari, in that an 18-200mm lens should work fine because any way you will be in the jeep so you can take nice shots with this focal length. However, I recommend this focal length only for hobbyist photographers.
Professional wildlife photographers shooting in forests need a professional-grade lens, so super-telephoto lenses up to 600mm are preferable.
Also, for taking photographs of insects or bugs a normal telephoto lens will not be useful. You have to go for a specialized macro lens like Nikon 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED lens.
2. MAXIMUM APERTURE
Regarding the ideal aperture range needed for a wildlife photography lens, I can't tell you this is the best aperture because every photographer has his/her requirements and shooting style. Some will want to have the full-frame in focus (narrow depth-of fields), while some will only want the wildlife subject to focus (shallow-depth-of fields).
So, to sum up, a lens with up to f/5 maximum aperture will work out for wildlife photography. In case you're particular about posse, sing a lens for shooting wildlife pictures during the sunsets. Go for a lens that has a maximum aperture of less than f/2.8. But you will have to compromise on the focal range because telephoto lenses generally have narrow apertures.
My pick for shooting decent wildlife pictures in low-light would be the NIKON AF-S NIKKOR 70-200MM F/2.8E FL ED VR LENS.
NOTE: While taking pictures of wildlife in action, a lens with a faster shutter speed is needed. So, both aperture and shutter speeds are important for wildlife photography. So, make sure you own the latest model DSLR because they have high ISO performance that will allow you to use a higher shutter speed and narrow aperture at the same time.
3. AUTOFOCUS SPEED
While tracking fast moving animals, manual focusing will not work out, in those situations autofocusing is the best. So, make sure the lens has an in-built AF motor and also see to if the AF speed is fast as well as accurate.
The AF efficiency will also improve if the lens you have has an IS feature and high-quality optics inside.
5. size and weight
Say you do a lot of hiking; in that case, a very heavy lens will only frustrate you. So, pick a compact telephoto lens that has a focal length of less than 300mm because these lenses provide good optical quality and are also lightweight.
But for professionals used to working with heavy lenses, you might have to use a tripod or monopod because you will be using large-sized super-telephoto lenses. While shooting with a super-telephoto lens from your jeep or car, a monopod is the best.
6. IMAGE STABILIZATION
While shooting videos/still shots of a mobile subject, it is necessary that the lens has a VR/IS feature in it. This will help to reduce the effects of camera shakes and image blur while shooting handheld. Not only that, Image stabilization will allow you to shoot will slower shutter speeds and less ISO.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
1. What type of lens is best for wildlife photography?
Telephoto lenses with a minimum focal range of 200mm are best for wildlife photography because they will allow you to capture clear pictures/videos of wildlife from a far distance without getting close to them.
2. Is a 400mm lens great for wildlife?
Yes, with a 400mm lens, you get a longer reach which will help you to get sharp images of the wildlife subject you're focusing on. They also provide a good minimum focus distance which will be apt for taking high-quality close-up shots. Professionals use a 400mm lens mostly for bird photography.
3. Name some of the best lenses for wildlife photography.
In my opinion, the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E, Sigma 150-600mm f/4.5-6.3 DC OS HSM and the Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED are best for wildlife photography.
The requirements for a lens that you need for wildlife photography is different from an ordinary lens. You will need to make sure that the lens you buy is not just silent but takes good pictures on the fly as well. Since hunting for the right kind of lens that meets all the requirements mentioned above, I decided to help out.
I picked out the best available lens that meets all of these requirements. Apart from just listing the best wildlife lens for Nikon, I also gave a detailed buying guide so you can make an informed choice. Good luck with choosing the model that's right for you.