An Affordable Wildlife Lens

The Tamron SP 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC USD zoom telephoto is one helluva a lens; after rebate it sells for only $349 usd through Amazon (when I bought mine it was selling for $300 usd after rebate, so it hasn’t gone up much in price). When I purchased mine for wildlife photography it was the only decent long lens I could afford and it NEVER disappointed. When I was able to afford an upgrade I bought the stellar Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM super telephoto prime lens (See Review Here) but I still miss my Tamron on occasion (it’s now being used by my son).

Anna's Hummingbird Photographed with a Tamron SP 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC USD Zoom Telephoto Lens (click on image for better viewing)

Anna’s Hummingbird Photographed with a Tamron SP 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC USD Zoom Telephoto Lens (click on image for better viewing)

Matt Granger, a YouTube photography guru of some repute, shares his impressions of this fine lens in his video review. Long story short Matt was blown away by its performance (as was I when I owned it), and I strongly agree with all of his conclusions. It comes in either a Canon or Nikon mount and Nikon shooters might be surprised to learn that it can out shoot a Nikon 70-200mm (and Nikon makes some pretty fine lenses). On a full-frame Canon 5D Mark III it shoots at 300mm, but on a crop-sensor Canon 7D Mark II it shoots at an effective focal length of 480mm (300 x 1.6 = 480).

Most of us (even if we shoot professionally) can only afford to shoot in the 200mm to 400mm (f/5.6) range when buying a wildlife lens. The 500mm, 600mm, and 800mm f/4 lenses are all prohibitively expensive (and heavy) for those of us on a budget. I’ve owned various long lenses and I would rank them in this order based on my personal experience. I don’t get paid for these reviews and share them for informational purposes only. I travel 365-days a year and need lenses that are: robust (weather sealed), optically tack-sharp, lightweight (for hand-holding), and affordable.

Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM Super-telephoto prime lens

Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM Super-Telephoto Prime Lens

An affordable prime lens (non-zoom) with robust build quality, some weather sealing (around the switches but not at the coupling), lightweight for hand-holding, stellar image quality (even wide-open at f/5.6), fast auto-focus, no image stabilization. The BEST long lens I’ve ever owned.

Great Egret in Flight 1/2000s @ f/5.6 ISO 3200 @ 400mm

Great Egret in Flight Photographed with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM Super-Telephoto Prime Lens

Canon EF 70-200mm 1 4L USM

Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM Telephoto Zoom Lens

A telephoto zoom lens. Excellent build quality, some weather sealing, lightweight for hand-holding, excellent image quality (even wide-open at f/4), fast auto-focus, no image stabilization. A great backup lens for my 400mm at shorter subject distances and the zoom provides a lot of flexibility. If I didn’t have the 400mm I would probably opt for the Tamron for its extra reach and low-cost.

Wild Orange-winged Amazon Parrot photographed with Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM Zoom Telephoto Lens

Wild Orange-winged Amazon Parrot Photographed with Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM Telephoto Zoom Lens

Tamron SP 70-300mm f/4-5.6L Di VC USD Zoom Telephoto Lens

Tamron SP 70-300 f/4-5.6 Di VC USD Telephoto Zoom Lens

Not as robust as either of the two Canon lenses but still has good build quality, very affordable, EXCELLENT image stabilization (VC-Vibration Control), rapid auto-focus, superior image quality (almost as good the two Canon L-lenses which are pro-level lenses), lightweight for handholding. This would be my first choice if price were a consideration, and gives you another 100mm of focal length over the 200mm.

Anna's Hummingbird Photographed with a Tamron 70-300mm

Anna’s Hummingbird Photographed with a Tamron SP 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC USD Telephoto Zoom Lens


Sigma 150-500mm f/5-6.3 AF APO DG OS HSM Super-Telephoto Zoom Lens

The Sigma was not my cup of tea and didn’t work for me (I sold it after a few months of shooting). It has excellent build quality but was much too big and way too heavy for my shooting requirements. I travel full-time and spend much of my time in jungles, rainforests, and on rivers (not tripod friendly places). I need lightweight flexibility. I found the auto-focus to be slow and the images soft when shooting wide-open at f/6.3 at the long end (to get an acceptable image I had to stop down to f/8 or f/11 which didn’t work in low light where I do much of my shooting). Shooting closeup (on a tripod) at f/8 or f/11 I managed some crisp images—but I found the process way too cumbersome. Many photographers will disagree as this lens has received many good reviews, but I suggest you do your homework before buying one (borrow or rent one before buying). Sorry no images available for comparison.

Photographer’s note: A good telephoto lens in the 200mm to 400mm f/5.6 range (like the first three mentioned above) coupled with good fieldcraft can yield some amazing wildlife photos. Many (maybe most) wildlife photographers swear by tripods but I find them impractical for my kind of shooting (jungles, rainforests, and rivers). For me it’s all about image quality, then weight and cost. With wildlife closer is better, and your two feet can make up for lack of focal length (even a few feet can sometimes make the difference between good, excellent, and superior shots). The longest lens I’ve ever owned was the Sigma (500mm) but I didn’t like the results—my best shots have come from lenses in the 200mm to 400mm f/5.6 range and my own two feet. Buy the best lens you can afford and practice your fieldcraft. Happy shooting. SFD

WB IMG_3790

Stephen F. Dennstedt

Photographer, Writer, World Traveller

Valparaiso, Chile


7 responses to “An Affordable Wildlife Lens

    • When I return to the States I will probably swap out my 400mm f/5.6 for the version II 100-400mm zoom to go with the new 5D Mark IV. I had the version I 100-400mm years ago and it sucked big time. Thanks for taking the time to comment Jesse.

      • The 100-400 II interests me also. I currently use a 7d mk2 and would love to get a full frame camera to go along with it but I work on a limited budget and still very much a beginner and the 7D2 is more than enough camera for me at the moment. Stay safe on your travels and I look forward to seeing more of your work! Glad I found your blog.

        • Thanks Jesse. With the new Mark IV on the market you could probably find a good deal on a Mark III (new or used). The 7D Mark II is a great camera though and terrific for wildlife. I need the full-frame resolution because I sell my work and need to print LARGE. Visit me at my official website Indochine Photography at if you’re so inclined.

          • I do love the 7D Mark II. Much better than the T5 I started out with. I will be keeping my eye out for a deal on a new or used 5D Mark III. One of these days I would like to attempt to sell some of my work. I still have a lot to learn though. And thanks for the link. I will head on over and check it out!

          • Ohh I just saw that you are a contributing author to Northrup photo. Very cool. I have a few of their books and constantly watch their videos on YouTube. They have been a great help and inspiration.

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