Photography & Filming

These super-telephoto zooms make birding easier than ever

Birding used to be a pretty difficult genre to break into. However, with super-telephoto zooms being easier to access and having cameras with animal tracking, this once challenging activity is now a piece of cake.

The pandemic made it impossible to break free from our own homes for a while. In an attempt to fight off boredom, many photographers took to photographing everything in and around their own homely prisons. This included the feathered friends that visit our backyards on the daily. Many photographers discovered the need for lenses with longer reach.

Fortunately, over the last few years, super-telephoto zooms have become a lot more affordable. In this roundup, we’re going to take a quick look at a few super-telephoto zooms that will have you snapping incredible images of birds in your backyard, zoo or at your local parks in no time at all.

Tamron 150-500mm f/5-6.7 Di III RXD

super-telephoto zooms

One of the newest additions in the arsenal of Sony E mount lenses is the Tamron 150-500mm f/5.6.7 Di III VXD. It’s not the cheapest lens on this list, but it’s still well within reach for those who want to take their birding to the next level. The lens features 25 elements in 16 groups with seven rounded aperture blades. This lens is an optical beast. The Tamron 150-500mm also features a dust and moisture-resistant design.

The beast moniker is true in terms of its weight too. Weighing in at 4.14 pounds, this lens isn’t light. Still, we found it easy to carry around, and vibration control (image stabilization) helps out a ton! It’s a great performer when it comes to autofocus too. Find out what Bryan Esler (our Managing Editor) had to say about this lens in his full review.

Sigma 100-400mm F/5.6-6.3 Contemporary

super-telephoto zooms

An affordable option in both the Sony E mount and L mount camps when it comes to super-telephoto zooms. The Sigma 100-400mm f/5.6-6.3 Contemporary may just be one of the best lenses for either of these platforms.

The price to performance ratio is off the charts with this lens. It’s a fast focuser and it’s ridiculously sharp. You’re not going to break the bank with this lens. You won’t break your back either as this compact super-telephoto lens weighs just 2.5 pounds.

As you’d expect with a lens like this, the lens does have some weather sealing (at the mount) and it also features an image stabilization system that works like a charm. Bryan reviewed the Sony E mount version, while I personally own the L mount version. We have both been left with huge smiles on our faces thanks to this lens. If you want to get into birding on the cheap, you need to check out this lens.

Olympus 100-400mm f/5-6.3 IS

Image courtesy of Cathy Seaver

Another fantastic option when it comes to super-telephoto zooms. The Olympus 100-400mm f/5-6.3 is simply top-notch. Take into account the two times crop factor of the micro four-thirds platform and you’ll quickly figure out that this lens has a 35mm equivalent reach of 200-800mm. This is another of my personal favorites for birding and wildlife photography.

Bryan Esler reviewed the lens over a period of time and he loved just how fast it was to find focus and how well it tracked subjects. Featuring 21 elements in 15 groups along with nine rounded aperture blades, this lens is bitingly sharp. It also produces nice out-of-focus areas too.

The Olympus 100-400mm f/5.6-6.3 IS packs a stellar image stabilization system and has a weather sealing rating of IPX1! Wow! This lens is for micro four-thirds users who really want to up their birding and wildlife game.

Tamron 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3 Di III RXD

Sony users are spoiled for choice when it comes to super-telephoto zooms. The Tamron 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3 Di II RXD is an absolute bargain. If birding or wildlife photography has piqued your interest, you can jump into the game for a lot less than you think. Don’t let the price fool you, though. As you’re about to see, Julie Powell was able to capture some stunning shots with this lens.

Amazingly, this zoom lens weighs just 1.2lbs. It’s so light it even plays nice with Sony’s line of smaller APS-C cameras like the a6400. It’s no slouch when it comes to features either.

This Tamron lens features moisture resistance and has a fluorine coating for protection against weather and fingerprints. It has seven rounded aperture blades, and 15 elements in 10 groups. Julie also noted in her full review that the lens performs very well with Sony’s continuous autofocus. This lens is just one of those must-haves for Sony photographers on a budget.

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