Looking for the best bird lens?
It is by far the single most important piece of equipment needed for successful bird photography.
Camera choice is important too, particularly the size of the sensor, but your choice of which lens to use for great bird photography is paramount above all else.
I'll surprisingly suggest to you that the best lens is not always the most technically accurate and sharpest lens. What? Some might immediately say that doesn't make sense. Let me explain.
I chose to sell my Canon 400mm prime lens get a new Tamron 150-600mm and I'm glad I did. Here's my personal Tamron 150-600mm Review.
As I've mentioned before, I am not a big fan of getting too obsessed with technical lens tests measuring chromatic aberrations, contrast measurements and color accuracy tests.
After all, photography is subjective and most photographers want good equipment at a reasonable price that produces great photography.
Besides that, it is questionable if those minute, scientifically-measured, differences that show up in side by side lens tests translate to better bird photographs.
In today's world of digital photography and the simple and sophisticated ways of sharpening images post capture, editing and retouching techniques have lessened the gap between high-end lens companies and third party lens makers.
There certainly is not one sure-fire answer to this question.
There are couple of considerations to examine to get you to the answer you are seeking.
Generally lenses in the 200-800mm range are considered good for bird photography.
The 200-300mm range is appropriate for your backyard and trips to the zoo or bird sanctuary.
That's where you can use a little ingenuity and get close enough to photograph your feathered friends.
Bird Watching Fun:
Lenses that are in the 400-600mm range are considered true bird lenses and there are many choices available in this range.
Then the range of 800-1000mm lenses are the large and heavy lenses where transporting the lens is a serious undertaking. These are often referred to as super-telephoto.
Most lenses produce their sharpest when they are stopped down 2 or 3 f-stops from their maximum aperture. So an f2 lens will give you sharper reults at f4 to f5.6.
Birds in flight require super-fast shutter speeds and put a premium on being able to shoot with a large aperture to capture the motion sharply, without resorting to super high ISO ranges to get the right exposure with such short exposures.
If you can afford them, having the f 2 and 2.8 bird lenses give you the option to shoot wide-open or stopped down a few f-stops. Slower lenses can be limiting in practical use whe photographing birds in lower light conditions.
For the best image quality with your lens, keep it clean.
The best prices for bird lenses are going to be found when you look at used camera equipment. Early on in my photography career due to a major lack in available funds, I relied on eBay for used equipment including lenses.
I only buy new stuff now, but eBay and Amazon are places where you can save money on used bird lenses. With Ebay you must be very careful on evaluating the return policy and reputation of the seller.
As an example used Canon 800mm f5.6 lenses are listed for over $10,000 on ebay.
Buy and test a lens with option to return. Variations exist in lenses, even among the lens kings, Nikon and Canon. Results can vary between specific cameras and lens combinations. Don't rely on the technical tests.
Try your new bird lens on your own camera. Always use a sturdy tripod to a tripod to do your comparison. Higher end cameras like the Canon 5D Mark III have flucs adjustment calibrations that you can perform.
I have the most experience with these three sellers.
I'll briefly mention the "mirror" lens as a candidate for a best bird lens alternative. Mirror lenses are very affordable but have two major limitations. 1) You cannot adjust the aperture and 2) unusual shapes (bokeh) in the highlights and backgrounds when these lenses are used.
Shoot more birds (with a camera, not a gun)
Watch less TV