Wildlife photography is all about getting up close and personal. A high quality telephoto lens will help you get that intimate photograph of a lioness playing with her cubs or a territorial hippopotamus facing off against a horde of opportunistic crocodiles without requiring you to be within striking distance of these potentially dangerous animals. Zoom capacity, image stability, size and -- of course -- price are all of primary importance when selecting the ideal telephoto lens for wildlife photography.
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Price and Bulk
When considering what constitutes the best optical lens for wildlife photography, both the price and the overall weight of the lens need to be taken into account. Lenses with greater focal length require more glass in their manufacture, making them heavier and more expensive than smaller lenses. In short, to purchase a lens with both high quality and an impressive zoom, expect to pay £650 and up.
The greater the focal length, the greater distance at which wildlife can be observed in pristine detail. Lenses with focal lengths in excess of 400 millimetres (mm) are considered "extreme." Low quality telephoto lenses exhibit a lot of image noise -- random variation of colour or brightness in the photograph that distorts quality when taking photographs of subjects at great distances. High-quality telephoto lenses, however, are able to maintain top-notch image quality even at the outer edge of their capacity.
Image stability is a key factor when considering a high-quality lens designed for wildlife photography. Extreme telephoto lenses are subject to an increasing amount of camera shake, which can result in photographs taken at top telephoto settings becoming blurry. Canon and Nikon design lenses equipped with Image Stability systems, made to reduce the effects of camera shake.
Best Wildlife Lenses
Deciding which is the best lens for wildlife photography comes down to the issues discussed above. For those with a large budget, the Canon EF 100-400 mm f/4.5-5.6L telephoto lens, retailing at around £851, is an excellent option. With a maximum zoom of 400mm, it includes excellent quality glass, designed to produce sharp, high-contrast photographs and includes Canon's Image Stabilization feature, as well as an ultra-fast focusing system. The Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED-IF, designed for those who desire excellent value for their money, retails at £312. It possesses a vibration reduction system, fast internal focusing and has a maximum telephoto zoom of 300mm.
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