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My son got a EOS 800d camera for his 21st birthday. The included lens is a 18-55mm f/4.5.6 IS STM.

He is finding that it does not zoom enough to take good pictures of local wildlife.

We have several feeders quite close to the house so we are looking for a zoom lens to get really good close ups of these. Our feeders are about six feet away so hoping for some really good shots. We have so many small birds this year.

My question is am I best going for a 75-300mm zoom lens or a 18-200mm zoom lens? I assume with the latter he would not need to change it as it would be multi-purpose.

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    It is hard to give advice here, unless we have some understanding of the budget. The best lens for... is often an expensive lens. The beginner term does not change that. Unless you are within reasonable budget constraints. – Kai Mattern Nov 17 at 10:49
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    I can't recommend the EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 II to anyone. It's probably the weakest lens in Canon's entire catalog. A wide zoom range lens like the 18-200mm also comes with compromises that allow it to have such a wide focal length range. Neither would be very good for the stated purpose. – Michael C Nov 18 at 1:50
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    Firstly thanks for all of these really helpful comments and sorry I should have been clearer - we have several feeders quite close to the house so we are looking for a zoom lens to get really good close ups of these. Reading the comments it sounds to me like the Canon EF S 55-250 is a good starting point ... – Elaine Nov 19 at 10:14
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    Thanks Michael C, we have gone for the Canon 55-250 so we will see how that goes. Your helpful comments were invaluable. Also thanks Ross Millikan our feeders are about 6feet away so hoping for some really good shots. We have so many small birds this year. – Elaine 2 days ago
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    @Elaine If your feeders are that close, you should pay attention to each lens' Minimum Focus Distance when considering lenses for that use case, both now and in the future. You're fine with the Canon 55-250mm, which can focus as close as a little under three feet, but some of the 150-600mm lenses discussed here can not focus quite as close as nine feet, while some of them can focus down to about seven feet. – Michael C yesterday
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Ignoring the specific lenses here, the question you're really asking is "which is better, a general purpose 'superzoom' lens or a dedicated telephoto lens?" The answer to that is of course "they're different":

  • The superzoom lens (18-200 in your case) has the advantage that it has a very wide focal length range; it can do everything from landscape photos to some wildlife photos (see below for more on that). However, nothing in this world comes for free - the image quality won't be as good as dedicated lenses, and you pay a premium for flexibility.
  • The dedicated telephoto lens will probably have better image quality for the range that it covers, and is cheaper.

Only you (or your son, or whoever's paying) can decide which of those tradeoffs is right for you. Three notes though:

  1. You lose a lot of the value of an interchangeable lens camera if you only ever use one lens. Unless you're in a sandstorm or under a waterfall, changing lenses isn't a risky process so long as you're moderately careful.
  2. While we in general don't recommend specific products, I'm prepared to break that rule for the 75-300. Never, ever buy this lens - it's image quality is awful and it doesn't have image stabilisation. For a crop sensor camera like the 80D, you're much better off getting the 55-250 and cropping the image.
  3. Even a 300mm probably isn't going to let your son get good images of wildlife unless the wildlife is pretty tame; for bird photos in particular, you'll be looking at 500mm+, but those lenses are much more expensive. Just setting expectations here.
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  • I've never used one, but why not mention the option of an extender + a certain lens? – Saaru Lindestøkke Nov 17 at 11:50
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    Putting an extender on an f/5.6 is going to be right on the limit of auto-focussing capability, if not beyond it. Personally, I'd include a look at one of the 3rd party 150-600mm lenses. I don't think 300 is long enough for birding [from bitter personal experience]. One thing for a newbie wielding a prime 500 is being able to find anything at all in the viewfinder. Starting with your bird centred in a 150 then zooming is going to be far easier. – Tetsujin Nov 17 at 12:20
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    +1 for point #2. The 75-300mm is probably the #1 "dust gatherer" lens in the world. Folks try to use it and get so frustrated many of them totally abandon photography! – Michael C Nov 18 at 2:45
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Straight up, I should mention that I am not a bird photographer and do not have much experience in this area. Hopefully someone with more experience can offer an answer with more specifics.

Preferred Zoom Range

However, the bird photographers that I know all seem to gravitate toward use of 150-600mm zoom lenses (that ... and techniques to allow them to get closer to shy birds without scaring them off.)

Even lenses that zoom up to 300mm seem to not be enough. Canon makes a 100-400 and even that doesn't seem to be enough. Use of a teleconverter is not desirable as it creates focus issues.

Auto-focus and Focal Ratios

The focus technology used in the cameras (when using the optical viewfinder) relies on passing the light through a beam splitter and detecting the phase-difference of the light. But this system only works well at low focal ratios (e.g. f/5.6 or lower ... even f/6.3 is fine for most cameras). At f/8, many cameras are no longer able to reliably focus ... but a few models can operate at f/8. I am not aware of any camera that can use phase-detect auto-focus above f/8. And this is the problem with teleconverters used with long lenses.

A 70-300mm zoom will typically have a variable focal ratio of f/4-5.6. At the 300mm end, it's lowest focal ratio is f/5.6 (f/4 is only available near the 70mm end of the zoom range). When you add a teleconverter, you multiply the focal ratio of the lens by the focal length multiplier (e.g. if it's a 2x teleconverter then you multiply by 2). This means 5.6 becomes 11.2 (f/11) and no camera can use phase-detect autofocus at f/11.

A Canon 100-400 f/4-5.6 lens coupled with a 1.4x teleconverter effectively becomes a 140-560mm lens and at 560mm it's lowest focal ratio is f/8 ... and some cameras can still use some of the auto-focus points at f/8 (but expect auto-focus speeds to be slower). So this solution can work but probably isn't ideal.

And I think this is the reason why most bird photographers tend to prefer the lenses that natively have the 150-600mm range (and these are usually f/4.5-6.3 but the camera can auto-focus at f/6.3).

Lenses

Your budget will factor into your choice but here are a few options:

Sigma 150-600mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM | S -- this is Sigma's top-end 150-600mm zoom. The final letter "S" is "Sport". Unsurprisingly it is also their most expensive lens offered in this range.

Sigma 150-600mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM | C -- this is Sigma's less-expensive offering. The final letter "C" Is "Contemporary". This lens sells for about half the price of the "Sport" version.

Tamron SP 150-600mm F5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 -- the "G2" version is Tamron's newest (generation 2) version of the lens and it is the more expensive model.

Tamron SP 150-600mm F5-6.3 Di VC USD -- the non-G2 version is the older design for Tamron but they still make and sell this lens. It is significantly less expensive than their newest version.

Sigma and Tamron make these lenses with mounts for a variety of manufacturers (e.g. Canon, Nikon, Sony, etc.) so if you do choose one of these, make sure you order the lens in the Canon-mount model.

Again, I am only offering that these are the lenses used by most of the bird photographers that I have met. I have no personal experience with any of these lenses ... but offer this list as a starting point in your search.

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  • Note that the Sigma lenses weigh 6.3 lbs for the S model and 4.3lbs for the C model. That can be a lot to carry. There is no easy answer. – Ross Millikan Nov 17 at 21:33
  • Also note that the Sigma 150-600mm "C" is very similar in terms of optical performance to the heavier and more expensive Sigma 150-600mm "S", which is built to take more of the beating that lenses used day in and day out by working professionals are often subjected. The "Sports" model usually tests a tiny bit better optically than samples of the "Contemporary", but the major difference is in build quality, rather than optical performance. – Michael C Nov 18 at 2:33
  • The biggest optical difference between the original Tamron 150-600mm and the G2 (Generation Two) version is in the 400-600mm range. At 400mm and below they're both very similar in terms of optical performance. The G2 model also is compatible with the Tamron USB dock that allows fine adjustment and firmware updates by the end user. The original is not compatible with the dock and must be sent to a service center for firmware updates or calibration. Sigma also has a similar USB dock with which both the "C" and "S" version be updated and calibrated to a particular camera body. – Michael C Nov 18 at 2:43
  • @RossMillikan I'm currently renting the Sigma 150-600 "S" and I don't have an issue with the weight as I've mostly used it on a tripod. But I have surprised myself with some hand held shots. – Peter M Nov 20 at 1:01
  • If, as is revealed by the OP in the comments to the question, the scenario is shooting from inside a house at a feeder within six feet of the house, then a tripod is a good possibility. – Michael C yesterday
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I can't recommend the EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 III to anyone. It's probably the weakest lens in Canon's entire catalog. It's at the softest at the longest focal length of 300mm.

A wide zoom range lens like the 18-200mm also comes with compromises in optical quality and maximum aperture in order to allow it to have such a wide focal length range. An 18-55mm + 55-250mm set will outperform the 18-200mm in pretty much every measure other than not having to change lenses.

Neither the 75-300mm nor the 18-250mm would be very good for your stated purpose.

At the lower end of the budget range, the Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM is probably your best choice. It performs better optically than either of the lenses you are looking at and is priced a little less than half what the 18-200mm currently costs. On your son's 800D, the EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM is about as good optically as the higher priced EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II. The main difference, other than 55-250mm vs. 70-300mm, is that the 70-300mm lens projects a larger image circle and can be used on Full Frame cameras with sensors larger than the APS-C sensor in the 800D. The EF-S 55-250mm lenses are limited to use with "crop body" cameras with APS-C sensors like your son's 800D.

For not much more than the current $700 cost of the EF 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS, you can get one of the 150-600mm offerings from Tamron and Sigma. Sigma is currently running a pre-Black Friday promotion and dealers are selling the Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM C for around $900 USD in the U.S. The very similar Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 is currently selling for around $200 more. Both prices are about 10% lower than their recent normal retail cost.

For a beginner, the EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM or an EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II will be a little easier to learn to use than one of the 150-600mm lenses. It will perhaps also be more useful for a variety of other purposes that the 18-55mm lens is too short to do well and one of the 150-600mm lenses are too long to be able to do. The longer focal length one uses, the better one's shooting technique needs to be to avoid allowing camera movement during the exposure to cause noticeable image blur. Image Stabilization does help deal with camera movement, but better technique combined with IS will go even further than poor technique with IS will. It's also harder to keep a moving target in the viewfinder with a longer focal length telephoto lens than it is with a shorter telephoto lens.

On the other hand, when used well a 150-600mm lens will probably get the kind of results desired by those who shoot wildlife and birds in flight than a 55-250mm lens will.

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  • Please answer to the point. The OP did not ask "Which is the best lens out there for wildlife photography?" or "Can you suggest a better lens than these two I know?" – P P Eapen Nov 21 at 13:55
  • @PPEapen Third Paragraph: "Neither the 75-300mm nor the 18-250mm would be very good for your stated purpose." – Michael C 2 days ago
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Following up on my bird feeder comment I took some quick shots to show roughly what this looks like. Our feeder is 20 feet (6m) away from where I would shoot from. I find I prefer shots where the birds are in the trees on the way in to the feeder or the way out. The photo was shot at 200mm on an APS-C sensor from about 25 feet (8m). It is a chestnut-backed chickadee, a normal to small feeder bird at 4.75 inches (12 cm) long. I have adjusted the light in Lightroom but nothing else. The light was dim, so I used ISO 1600, f/9, 1/100 second. It is rather grainy, but I left that. It shows what image size you can expect from a lens of this focal length.enter image description here

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Your question is whether you should go for "a 75-300mm zoom lens or a 18-200mm zoom lens." You have short-listed these two kinds, based on your budget, I presume. Therefore, without describing the advantages of going for other more expensive or specialized lenses, let me give you a straight-forward and simple answer. [When someone asks for a drink, there's no point overwhelming him with a jet from a fire-hydrant!]

Go for the 75-300mm zoom lens.

Yes indeed, the 18-200mm lens can serve as a "multi-purpose' lens. However, since you mentioned bird photography, I suggest you go for the 75-300mm lens. While shooting birds, your son can focus on that task and then, after he's done with it, conveniently change to his kit lens to take wide-angle shots. He will always appreciate the additional zoom available in the 75-300mm lens.

HINT: Along with a zoom lens, it's always advisable to use a tripod or at least a mono-pod.

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    The EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 II is an absolute dog. I could never recommend this lens, not even to my worst enemy. – Michael C Nov 18 at 1:48
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    There are better options than the 75-300mm II/III for less than the $700 cost of the 18-200mm. Namely, The EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM (or the older non-STM versions) and the EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II (or the older version). – Michael C Nov 18 at 2:50
  • The question is not about the best lens available for wildlife/bird photography. The rule I follow is: Answer to the point. If the OP wants to know a particular thing, we need to answer HIS/HER question instead of imposing our knowledge on the OP. So, please down vote down my answer. – P P Eapen Nov 21 at 13:52
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    @PPEapen That isn't the way Stack Exchange works; if people feel another solution is better for the poster's problem, then they are free to make sensible suggestions. If the poster wants to clarify their post as to why only the 18-200 and 75-300 are possible, then they can, but unless they do, then suggesting other lenses, particularly if they're cheaper than the 18-200 is perfectly fair game, as is downvoting answers which suggest buying the most awful lens in Canon's lineup. – Philip Kendall 2 days ago
  • @PPEapen Your wish is my command. – Michael C 2 days ago

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