Best zoom for whale watching

Hi, I've just upgraded to a d3200 and want a zoom lens that I can use to photograph whales and fast-moving dolphins from ships. I had a motorised tamron 70-300 on my d3100, which was ok but wondering if I can better it on a budget. I understand I need an AF-S or separate motor for auto-focusing.


  • I've had pretty good results whale watching with a 55-300 lens, despite its painfully slow auto focus. If the whales come fairly near the boat, you will probably not need the full 300 mm. length, and many such lenses are at their best a little short of the maximum. I would base further searches on whether the Tamron is reasonably fast to focus and whether it is sharp at the focal lengths needed.

    A nice lens in a similar length is the AFS-VR 70-300 from Nikon. It's reasonably sharp even at 300 and twice as fast to focus as the 55-300 (and more accurate too). When hunting for these though make sure you distinguish between the many Nikon 70-300 lenses in existence.

    First came a 70-300D, which will not auto focus on the D3200, and has no VR. It's good and sharp, though, and very inexpensive used. This was a fine lens for the film era, and good on a tripod, but not ideal for hand held action.

    Second comes a 70-300G, which also will not auto-focus on the D3200 and has no VR, and is generally held in poor repute for sharpness. It's also quite inexpensive. I'd avoid this. If strapped for money, get the older D.

    Third comes the 70-300AFS-VR, which is no longer made. Like the previous two, it''s not terribly fast in aperture, but it has a very good AF, and second generation VR, and is well regarded. Used copies can be found at varying prices. My wife dumped her 55-300 for one of these, and has had good results with it.

    Fourth, fifth and sixth come a current crop of AF-P lenses, none of which will function at all on a D3200, owing to the pulse motor AF. There is a full frame version with VR, which is said to be good, a DX with VR, also said to be good, and a DX with no VR, which is said to be reasonably sharp and is quite inexpensive, often bundled with new cameras. None of those three will work for you. They won't even focus manually.

    The 55-300DX lens has good VR, decent optics, but is not terribly robustly made and has unusually slow auto-focus, including a tendency to head all the way in the wrong direction before coming back. It is relatively compact and light, making it rather good for traveling. It's relatively inexpensive, but if you can afford the better 70-300 it will serve you better for moving targets and confusing AF situations.

    There may be other AFS compatible third party lenses worth a look, but I am not familiar with them, but you might check whether Tamron has updated theirs beyond what you now have. You don't mention whether your current lens has VR. That's a pretty handy thing to have when hand holding long telephotos, especially on a boat.
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