Best lens for bird photography under $1500

edited March 2012 Posted in » Canon Lens Talk
Howdy everyone, I received a question from a fellow reader who was wondering which lens would be best for bird photography. I thought it would be beneficial to share our conversation with all of you...

Jennifer's Question
Hi Moose, I was happy to find your blog. I'd like to upgrade from my EFS 55-250
1:4-5.6 IS, which I received as part of the T1i kit. The clarity is just
plain bad for bird photography.

I'm willing to spend about $1,500 to get better photos. I'm wondering if my
Canon T1i will support the EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM Telephoto Lens? I
read that it loses the auto focus capability at 5.6 or larger. Is that

Do you have a better choice of telephoto zoom lenses for my camera? I appreciate your assistance.

Moose's Answer:
Howdy Jennifer, If you're interested in bird photography, then you already know how important a long reach is. When you can zoom in and tightly frame your subject from a distance, the image sensor will be able to capture better detail. When you can't get in tight and you're forced to crop your image in post-processing, your images will lack clarity and sharpness.

I can't blame you for wanting a Canon "L" lens, they are fantastically sharp. However, in this case I would recommend the Sigma 150-500mm f/5-6.3 (see here: The monster zoom range is a bird photographers dream. When coupled with your T1i, you'll have an effective zoom range of 240-800mm. The "effective" zoom range would be comparable to a compact superzoom like the Canon if you wanted to get an idea of how far you can zoom with the Sigma, just go down to your local electronics store and play with the SX40HS.

As for sharpness and clarity, this lens is very good. If you were to compare it to the Canon 70-300mm L lens, I would say the Sigma would win when capturing birds at a great distance. If the birds are within, say 20 to 25 feet from where you're standing, the Canon may have a slight edge in sharpness...although, you'd be hard pressed to notice any difference between the two.

Happy shooting! :)
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