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I have a Nikon D3000. I love photographing all wildlife, but especially bald eagles. However, I can't zoom in nearly enough with my 18-55mm lens that came with the camera. Would the 70/300 be enough? My budget is $200-$250.

Also, do I need a lens with an internal auto focus motor? I'm a total amateur, but I love taking photos and sharing them with my friends and family. Any help will be much appreciated.

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Would the 70/300 be enough?

That depends on how close you are. As a reference point, this photo was taken with a 70-300mm at 300mm from about 70m (200 feet), and is cropped to 1600x2000 from the 4000x6000 sensor size:

Booted eagle

In general, zooming with your feet is a valuable technique. With wildlife, this often means using concealment to get close enough (the example photo above was taken from a hide), or picking a spot with a good view and waiting for the wildlife to come to you. Part of the technique is learning where in your area is a good place to get close enough to your subjects.

(Important side note: don't get too close to nesting birds. Showing attention in a nest can cause the parents to abandon it).


Also, do I need a lens with an internal auto focus motor?

If you want auto-focus, yes. If you don't mind learning to manually focus, that opens up your options for cheap long lenses; in particular, mirror lenses. A 500mm f/8 is easily in your budget, and if you look around you may be able to find a 500mm/5.6, a 650mm/8, a 1000mm/10.5 or a 1100mm/11. Note that the latter two are quite heavy and difficult to manipulate. But manual focus will mean a lot more missed shots, and in particular "bif" (birds in flight) shots are very difficult with manual focus.

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Would the 70/300 be enough?

The general rule for photographing birds in flight is that you can never have enough focal length. The corollary to that is that you can never spend enough on lenses for birding. With that being said, being able to use extremely long focal lengths requires better shooting technique than using shorter lenses.

A 70-300mm would give you images that make the same eagle at the same distance roughly five times wider and five times taller in the frame at "300mm" than you are currently getting at 55m.

Do I need a lens with an internal autofocus motor?

Yes. Your Nikon D3000 camera does not have an in-body AF motor. To use autofocus with that camera you need a lens with the AF motor in the lens. In Nikon nomenclature, with the D3000 that means an AF-S lens.

Your budget is very limited for this kind of photography. You're not going to find much of anything longer than 300mm for less than $250. So a 70-300mm will have to do for you.

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Whether 300mm is enough will also depend on your local situation:

  • wild-life can be more or less easy to approach (depending on where and when you are);

  • if you work from a hide (or even a car), you'll usually get the wild-life closer than when you are out in the open.

No bald eagles where I live, but I had a few encounters with griffon vultures. Those have a wing span of about 2.5m (~8-9ft), but stay distant enough that 300mm wasn't enough. And no hides in that area (that I know of).

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    Even behaviour of the same species can vary according to local factors. I had a griffin vulture fly overhead low enough that it was halfway to filling the frame at 300mm in open grassland just last month. That was quite the experience! – Peter Taylor Apr 15 '18 at 7:53

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