Best entry-level lenses for wildlife photography

Discover the best and most cost-effective lenses for capturing great images of wildlife, ideal for Canon's EOS R System cameras including the EOS R7 and EOS R10.
An Iberian lynx on a large rock looking directly at the camera.

Capturing intimate images of wild animals and birds in their natural habitat requires an understanding of animal behaviour, fieldcraft skills, patience and persistence. But even with all of those, you still won't get far without a telephoto lens.

The good news is that you don't need to break the bank with an expensive professional lens in order to get started in wildlife photography. There's a wealth of lightweight, high-performance wildlife lenses to choose from, with prime and zoom options to suit EOS R System mirrorless cameras including the Canon EOS R7 and EOS R10.

A woodpecker perched on a branch surrounded by tall grasses and green foliage.

Zoom lenses give you more framing options, allowing you to go from wide shots that capture animals in their natural environment to tighter portraits highlighting specific features. Taken on a Canon EOS R6 with a Canon RF 100-400mm F5.6-8 IS USM lens at 400mm, 1/50 sec, f/8 and ISO800.

A close-up of a colourful parrot with green plumage on its head, green-blue wings and a bright orange body.

Telephoto lenses enable you to get detailed shots of animals that you are unable to approach closely, whether that's because they are dangerous or because you just want to avoid disturbing them. Taken on a Canon EOS R6 with a Canon RF 600mm F11 IS STM lens at 1/350 sec, f/11 and ISO1600.

Do I need a telephoto lens for wildlife photography?

Not always. You can sometimes use a wide-angle lens – usually defined as one with a focal length of 35mm or less – to capture pictures of wild animals in their environment, but you will have to get close to do this. If you want to get frame-filling wildlife photos, you usually need a lens within the telephoto (85mm or greater focal length) or super-telephoto (300mm-plus) range. These types of lenses capture a narrower field of view – only a sliver of the scene in front of you – which makes distant animals and birds appear larger in the picture.

Should I use a zoom or a prime lens for wildlife photography?

Telephoto zoom lenses are more versatile, allowing you to change the framing of your photo without having to move your position or stop shooting and switch to a different lens. Prime lenses offer just one focal length, but they are generally lighter in weight than the equivalent zoom lens. They are also available in longer focal lengths, making it easier to photograph wildlife that you are unable to physically get closer to when even your zoom lens doesn't have quite enough reach.

A Canadian goose swimming on still water.

The groundbreaking EOS R System enables innovative, lightweight lens designs – such as the Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM, which weighs 1,260g and measures just 281.8mm when retracted, making it easy to take with you. Taken on a Canon EOS RP with a Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM lens at 1/500 sec, f/11 and ISO1250. © Ben Hall

Hands holding a Canon EOS R7 camera with a zoom lens attached.

A zoom lens gives you the flexibility to recompose your shot to capture the scene when you just wouldn't have the time to change lenses.

Which focal lengths are best for wild animals and birds?

Birds are typically smaller and harder to approach than other wild animals, so you often need a longer focal length to photograph them. While you can take frame-filling shots of a large mammal with a 300mm or 400mm lens, you may need to use a 500mm, 600mm or even 800mm lens for some types of bird photography.

The size of your camera's sensor can help, though. The sensors inside APS-C mirrorless cameras such as the EOS R7 and EOS R10 are smaller than the full-frame sensors found in other cameras in the EOS R System range, such as the EOS R6. So, in effect, they crop the image from the lens, making the subject fill a larger proportion of your frame. This 1.6x crop factor increases the reach of the lens so, for example, using the RF 50mm F1.8 STM lens on an APS-C camera gives you the same field of view as you would get with an 80mm lens on a full-frame camera, and using a standard 100mm lens gives the same field of view as a 160mm lens on a full-frame camera. You get the same benefit when using an EF lens on the EOS R7 or EOS R10 via any of the range of EF-EOS R Mount Adapters.

A person takes a close-up photograph using a Canon EOS R10 camera and RF-S 18-150mm F3.5-6.3 IS STM lens.

The Canon EOS R10's autofocus keeps on working in near darkness, down to an exposure value of -4 EV 1 . The EOS R7 goes even lower, to -5 EV 1 .

How can lens and camera technology help you to take better wildlife photos?

Lenses with longer focal lengths can be harder to hold steady, but a built-in optical Image Stabilizer (IS) can help to correct any blurring caused by camera shake. The EOS R7 and Canon EOS R6 also feature in-body image stabilisation which can deliver up to 7-stops of IS when used with a compatible lens.

Blur isn’t always bad though, as pro wildlife photographer Ben Hall explains in his getting creative with abstract wildlife photography video (below)2.

A powerful focus motor, meanwhile, will help you to keep up with fast-moving animals, and the quieter it is in operation, the less likely you are to scare an animal away. The RF mount on EOS R System cameras enables a super-fast connection between camera and lens for ultra-quick, reliable focusing speeds. The Canon EOS R7, EOS R10 and EOS R6 also make the most of the inherent autofocus speed of a lens and share a processor that uses deep-learning artificial intelligence to recognise and track animals and birds with amazing speed and efficiency. To guarantee you get your shot in action-based wildlife photography, it's best to take a burst of images, and the EOS R7 and EOS R10 deliver blistering drive rates of up to 30fps and 23fps respectively3, complete with AF tracking.

A higher maximum aperture (lower f-number) means the lens can let more light into the camera, which can help if you're photographing fast-moving animals in low-light conditions. Full-frame mirrorless cameras such as the EOS R6 work particularly well in this scenario.

Finally, you should consider the size and weight of your lens, as you're more likely to carry a compact, lightweight lens with you. At 300g, but with a powerful effective zoom range of 28.8-240mm, the RF-S 18-150mm F3.5-6.3 IS STM, for example, allows you to make the most of any opportunities for wildlife photography.

Best entry-level RF compact lens for wildlife photography: Canon RF-S 18-150mm F3.5-6.3 IS STM

An outdoor product shot of a Canon EOS R7 camera, with a RF-S 18-150mm F3.5-6.3 IS STM lens attached, on a large rock.

The Canon RF-S 18-150mm F3.5-6.3 IS STM's 'effective' zoom range of 28.8-240mm enables you to zoom out to see the bigger picture – ideal for capturing wildlife set against magnificent scenery – or to zoom in closer to capture the detail.

The Canon RF-S 18-150mm F3.5-6.3 IS STM is one of the first lenses to be designed specifically for APS-C EOS R System cameras such as the EOS R7 and EOS R10. It features a powerful 8.33x zoom range that stretches from a wide viewing angle to telephoto reach. This can give you a distinct advantage if you're shooting in dusty environments or need to react quickly to different wildlife photo opportunities, where you might miss a shot while changing lenses.

Thanks to the 1.6x crop factor on these cameras, the lens has the effective zoom range that a 28.8-240mm lens would have on a full-frame camera, yet is comparatively compact and lightweight, weighing just 300g.

Best entry-level RF zoom lens for wildlife photography: Canon RF 100-400mm F5.6-8 IS USM

A deer with prominent antlers standing in a clearing in the woods turns to face the camera.

Doubling the focal length – going from 200mm to 400mm, for example – means animals and birds appear twice as large in the photo, making the most of your subject as the focal point. Taken on a Canon EOS RP with a Canon RF 100-400mm F5.6-8 IS USM lens at 400mm, 1/40 sec, f/8 and ISO800. © Ben Hall

A deer with small antler buds stands framed by ferns in a green forest.

The narrow angle of view offered by telephoto lenses makes it easier to pick out the perfect soft background to frame an animal against. Taken on a Canon EOS RP with a Canon RF 100-400mm F5.6-8 IS USM lens at 373mm, 1/50 sec, f/8 and ISO1250. © Ben Hall

Canon's RF lenses for EOS R System cameras feature a number of design innovations, and the Canon RF 100-400mm F5.6-8 IS USM is no exception. It's lighter than the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM, but has a longer reach, which can be further boosted with RF extenders. It has the advantage of a 5.5-stop Image Stabilizer for sharper handheld shots, which increases to 6-stops with IBIS-equipped cameras such as the EOS R6 and EOS R7. It also uses super-fast yet virtually silent Nano USM autofocus technology that won't scare subjects you're trying to get close to. This lens has a boosted effective zoom range of 160-640mm when used with the EOS R7 and EOS R10.

Best entry-level RF super telephoto lenses for wildlife photography: Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM and Canon RF 600mm F11 IS STM

A hare in a field, the background blurred, with sunlight showing the veins in one ear.

The long reach of a telephoto lens such as the RF 800mm F11 IS STM makes it possible to photograph skittish animals without alarming them. Taken on a Canon EOS RP with a Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM lens at 1/100 sec, f/11 and ISO500. © Ben Hall

An alert lemur on a rock with some openings in the rock face behind it.

Telephoto lenses with smaller maximum apertures, such as f/5.6 and f/11, are easier to carry and more affordable than lenses with large maximum apertures (lower f-numbers). Taken on a Canon EOS R6 with a Canon RF 600mm F11 IS STM lens at 1/1400 sec, f/11 and ISO1600.

The RF 800mm F11 IS STM enables you to get frame-filling shots of wildlife, whether you're photographing big game or birds in your back garden. Add the Canon Extender RF 1.4x or Canon Extender RF 2x to the lens and you can get even more reach – up to 1600mm with the latter. The EOS R System cameras are able to focus automatically even at this impressive focal length. Mount the lens on the Canon EOS R7 or EOS R10 and the crop factor gives you a mighty 1280mm effective focal length, without a reduction in aperture caused by using 1.4x or 2x extenders.

For a lens with such a long reach, the RF 800mm F11 IS STM is surprisingly compact and lightweight, and features a 4-stop Optical Image Stabilizer for sharper handheld photos and videos.

While the Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM is particularly suited to bird photography, the RF 600mm F11 IS STM is a more general-purpose super-telephoto lens, suited to birds and animals alike. Its feature set is similar to the RF 800mm, including a bladeless aperture of f/11 for pleasing background blur and an STM motor for near-silent autofocus, and it works with the Canon Extender RF 1.4x (giving you 840mm focal length) and Canon Extender RF 2x (giving you 1200mm). On the EOS R7 and EOS R10, it has an effective focal length of 960mm without an extender. The lens also retracts down to less than 20cm in length, making it a versatile super-telephoto that you can take anywhere.

Best entry-level EF lens for wildlife photography: Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM

A duck photographed from the water level, droplets of water dripping from its beak.

The versatile Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM lens is compatible with both full-frame and APS-C EOS DSLRs, and can also be used on EOS R System and EOS M series cameras via adapters. Taken on a Canon EOS 850D with a Canon EF 70-300mm IS f/4-5.6 IS II USM lens at 267mm (35mm equivalent focal length is 427mm), 1/320 sec, f/5.6 and ISO640. © Ben Hall

This is a zoom that covers an extensive 70-300mm focal length range and is a classic beginner wildlife lens, providing flexible framing options for larger animals. To get even closer, attach the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM to the Canon EOS R10 or EOS R7 via a Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R and you’ll get an effective zoom range of 112-480mm.

Weighing just 710g and compacting down to 14.55cm, it's an easy lens to travel with, and its 4-stop Image Stabilizer helps to reduce blur from camera shake for sharper images, too.

Best entry-level EF-S lens for wildlife photography: Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM

Two swans swimming on still water.

The versatile EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM lens is lightweight and compact, which means you can get close to distant animals and shoot smoothly and quietly so as not to disturb your subject. Taken on a Canon EOS 850D with a Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM lens at 200mm (35mm equivalent focal length is 320mm), 1/4000 sec, f/5.6 and ISO800. © Ben Hall

If you're looking for a telephoto zoom to complement an 18-55mm kit lens, this is a good option. Designed for EOS DSLRs with APS-C sensors, such as the Canon EOS 90D and EOS 850D, the EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM gives an image with the equivalent field of view as an 88-400mm lens on a full-frame camera. It's small, lightweight and easy to carry during a day out at a zoo or a wildlife park, or on a trip further afield.

Alternative wildlife lenses

Although telephotos are the workhorse lenses for wildlife photography, there are plenty of other lenses that can be put to creative use when photographing animals and birds.

Macro lenses, such as the Canon RF 100mm F2.8L MACRO IS USM and the Canon RF 35mm F1.8 MACRO IS STM are perfect for taking pictures of insects and other tiny creatures. Although the Canon RF 100-400mm F5.6-8 IS USM is not a dedicated macro lens, it has an impressive near half-size magnification. EF and EF-S lenses are fully compatible with the EOS R7 and EOS R10, via the Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R. You can also use EF-S lenses via the adapter on full-frame EOS R System cameras such as the EOS RP and EOS R6, if you want to use the 1.6x crop mode.

Wide-angle lenses such as the Canon RF 14-35mm F4L IS USM and the ultrawide Canon RF 16mm F2.8 STM can also be good for capturing more of an animal's habitat, or a whole flock of birds, or even a vlog with yourself in the frame talking about the wildlife behind you.

Written by Marcus Hawkins and Matthew Richards

1During still photo shooting, with an f/1.2 lens, Centre AF point, One-Shot AF, at 23°C/73°F, ISO100. Excluding RF lenses with Defocus Smoothing coating.

2Video only available in English language.

3Continuous shooting speed may vary depending on various conditions, see specifications for details.

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