With a variety of camera lenses on the market, how do you choose the one that's best for your outdoor camera? Check out our digital camera lens reviews. From wide-angle lenses and telephoto zooms, trust advice from the experts.
There are so many top-notch, high-tech, affordable lenses available for nature photography, it’s easy to assemble a collection that will give you the right tool for what you love to do
Outdoor photography encompasses a lot of territory—from landscapes, wildlife and macro to tripod-mounted shots of static scenes and handheld shots of quick action. So the “best” lens(es) depend in large part on what you photograph outdoors and how you see the outdoor world. A basic three-lens kit is a good starting point, and it gives you a solid foundation from which to build. Expanding from the basic three is like constructing the structure on that foundation.
Using a tele-extender can give your long lenses even more punch for wildlife and landscape photos
The lens of choice among the serious pro wildlife photographers I know seems to be the 600mm ƒ/4 super-telephoto. It’s great for subjects that won’t let you get close, is incredibly sharp, and autofocuses quickly and accurately. However, it costs over $7,000. That being just a bit beyond my budget, when I really need “reach,” I turn my $1,200 300mm ƒ/4 lens into a 600mm ƒ/8 by attaching a $300 2x teleconverter between the lens and camera body.
Looking for the perfect lens for your scenics? Check out the options and see what some top OP pros have to say about their favorite choices.
At heart, the choice of lens for any photo is based on the photographer’s vision, on how he or she “sees” the subject and the final image. Wide-angle lenses take in a vast angle of view, and individual elements of the scene are relatively tiny. Telephotos zero in on a small, distant portion of the scene, compressing the elements, and individual elements are much larger in the image.
In the digital age, the advantages of a big maximum aperture are greater than ever
When Kodachrome 64 and Fujichrome Velvia 50 were the mainstays of outdoor photographers, a fast lens was a critical advantage, especially when handholding in early-morning or late-afternoon light. Lenses like the 300mm ƒ/2.8, 70-200mm ƒ/2.8, 105mm ƒ/2 and 50mm ƒ/1.4 or ƒ/1.2 were the workhorse lenses that propped up shutter speeds as light deteriorated.
Some of the best nature photographers share thoughts and tips on their favorite medium telephoto zoom lenses
The versatility of medium tele-zooms is just incredible. With ranges that vary from around 50mm to between 200mm and 400mm at the high end, these lenses provide a tremendous variety of framing options for landscape, wildlife, sports action and macro work. Between one of these lenses and a good wide-angle, you can travel most anywhere and be confident that your bases will be covered for nearly any situation. And you can travel light—an absolute necessity if you fly anywhere these days, given the weight restrictions on baggage, not to mention how much easier it can be on your back.
There's a new player in the stabilization game: Welcome to Tamron‚’s Vibration Control zoom
It becomes a challenge to lug a lot of gear into the field. On the other hand, it’s nice to have wide-angle, telephoto and close-up capability, as well as a tripod for support. So the dilemma is always to either travel comfortably or be prepared for anything.
A trio of new high-quality optics are available for the Nikon line of cameras
A new player has entered the arena of digital SLR nature photography. While it’s a name synonymous with exceptional quality and performance in its optics, that reputation has mostly centered on medium-format camera lenses, binoculars, spotting scopes and motion-picture lenses used by Hollywood’s movie industry.
My favorite photo subjects are birds, and I like to travel light, so I do most of my shooting with one lens, a fast telephoto. But between close encounters of the bird kind, I often come across lovely landscapes and flowers that require a much wider or closer viewpoint. The 18-200mm zoom lenses for my small-sensor digital SLR aren’t quite long enough for most birds and other distant wildlife, while the 28-300mm lenses aren’t really wide-angle on such D-SLRs. So I have to carry another lens or two or miss out on those non-bird photo ops.
A creative approach to nature photography provided by this ultra-wide-angle zoom
Tokina’s AT-X 107 DX AF 10-17mm ƒ/3.5-4.5 fish-eye zoom lens is the most fun I’ve had with a lens in a long while. It features an incredibly wide 180-degree field of view, and with its zoom, something unique for fish-eye lenses, it also acts effectively as a wide-angle lens (albeit with some barrel distortion).
This fast, versatile tele-zoom lens adds to your shooting options
Transitioning quickly from one shot to the next using a variety of focal lengths—it’s one of the features I appreciate most in the new APO 50-150mm ƒ/2.8 EX DC HSM telephoto zoom lens from Sigma. One moment you can get down low to compose a close-up of a lizard and the next you can zoom in tight on a bird about to burst into flight 50 feet away. In addition to its quick response time, the Hyper Sonic Motor (HSM) autofocus is remarkably silent. And the manual focus override switch makes changing from one mode to the other simple, even while shooting.
Pros love their fast glass. Maybe they're onto something.
When shopping for a new lens, you might encounter the desired focal length (or focal-length range, in a zoom lens) in more than one speed. For example, one camera manufacturer’s lineup includes 400mm ƒ/2.8, 400mm ƒ/4 and 400mm ƒ/5.6 supertelephotos. The ƒ/2.8 is 4.5 times larger in volume, 4.2 times heavier and costs $5,000 more than the ƒ/5.6. Is it worth it? Many wildlife and action photographers think it is.
A versatile lens with a fast aperture and popular focal length for D-SLRs
When we all shot film, one of the favorite focal lengths for a macro lens was 105mm. Sigma’s new 70mm ƒ/2.8 macro lens fits that tradition for digital cameras. All photographers using digital SLRs with small-format, APS-C-sized sensors will find that this lens acts like a 105mm lens with a 35mm camera because of the crop or multiply factor.
You don't need a "full-frame"-sensor D-SLR to do wide-angle photography
The widely used APS-C-sized image sensor has helped make excellent D-SLRs affordable, but long carried a drawback for wide-angle photographers: a narrowed angle of view. Fortunately, camera and independent lens manufacturers now offer very short focal-length zoom lenses for these cameras, designed to eliminate this problem.
When you can't or won't use a tripod, these technologies steady your hand
There are two distinct image-stabilization technologies employed to prevent blurry photographs when shooting at slower shutter speeds. Lens-shift stabilization, as the name implies, is achieved through moving elements in the lens barrel itself. Canon’s IS and Nikon’s VR technologies are both of the lens-shift variety. Sensor-shift stabilization occurs within the camera body rather than the lens. The primary advantage to sensor-shift technology lies in the ability to use any lens and get a stabilized image. Panasonic, Pentax, Samsung and Sony all have sensor-stabilization camera models in their lineups.
A new lens with macro capability and high image quality
A telephoto zoom is an important part of most outdoor photographers’ gear. But unlike the casual shooter, for a pro or serious amateur, a fast maximum aperture becomes essential because we often find ourselves shooting in relatively low light, such as at dusk or dawn. Yet such fast lenses can often be expensive and out of reach for some photographers. With the Sigma APO 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 EX DG Macro HSM, a fast telephoto zoom for less than $1,200, I was curious to see how well this affordable zoom would perform.