I am an enthusiastic hobbyist who uses the camera for social events/parties once or twice every week. My current kit is Canon 60D and for close up portraits, I am using Sigma 85mm F1.4 and for my day-to-day bring everywhere lens is Sigma 17-70mm f/2.8-4 DC Macro OS HSM, which I think an excellent lens.

I am thinking of taking some wildlife animals (birds & reptiles) pictures and my current 17-70mm is unable to capture images further away. And that is primarily the reason I am considering adding a telephoto lens to my kit.

I would like to get a telephoto zoom lens and I have narrowed down to two models and would like to seek your advice / views.

Tamron SP 70-300mm F4-5.6 Di VC USD


  • Very Afforable pricing, USD 450
  • I believe 300mm would quite sufficient for me.
  • EISA Best Product Zoom lens 2010-11 award


  • Not as sharp at the 300mm

Sigma 70-200mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM lens


  • F/2.8 (beats Tamron)


  • Pricing (USD 1399)
  • Max at 200mm (lose to Tamron 300mm) – I am not sure if I require the additional 100mm….

I know these are lens are very different “animals” and it is like comparing oranges to apples... but still would like to hear some of your opinions.

Which one should I consider? (I don't think I can afford the Canon 70-200mm F/2.8 L Lens) Or other models / makes that you will suggest?

  • 4
    See blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/11/qa-is-hard-lets-go-shopping — this question is difficult for this site as it is. Can you edit to frame it less in terms of this specific choice and more "How should an enthusiastic hobbyist choose a telephoto lens for wildlife photography?" That should provide answers that are helpful to you and helpful to other photographers who visit this site in years to come. – mattdm Mar 20 '11 at 12:41
  • This is a really tough one to answer well because you're comparing two lenses that have significant differences in capabilities. You could compare the Tamron 70-300 to Canon's 70-300, for instance, but this seems like apples to oranges to me. – D. Lambert Mar 21 '11 at 13:17

Wait a little bit more, gather more funds and go for native: Canon 70-200 f/4 L IS. It has new optics, that's much sharper than the old Canon 70-200 f/4 L (non-IS) and is often sharper than old Canon 70-200 f/2.8 L IS!

You might also consider Canon 100-400L IS for birding. It's optic performance is very good and you get excellent reach!

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If the choice is between those two lens, get whichever is sharper at the longer range - so probably the Sigma (the 70-200 2.8 also makes a great lens for concerts, portraits, astrophotography, and other types of photography) - because neither lens gets you close enough for frame filling shots without extra measures.

I'm just getting into birding myself, and while a long lens is useful - setting up the proper environment is much more likely to yield good, closeup results.

For birds:

  • Setup a blind (a hiding spot).
  • Setup food a few feet from the blind.
  • Setup flowing, shallow water.
  • Setup a single perch near the food and water, birds will often land here first and this is where you take the shot.
  • The 70-200 will take a teleconverter, the 70-300 might (but depending on the TC it might not even mount) but you'll likely lose autofocus on your 70-300 (if it works) as your max aperture becomes too high (depending on which strength TC you get).

Setting up an environment for reptiles (rocks to bask on, a little water, etc) is the same concept.

You have to be MUCH closer than you think for frame filling shots of medium to small birds - unless you have VERY long glass. Consider methods of getting closer (like the above) if 500mm+ length is not in your budget.

If those are your options, get the Sigma 70-200 f/2.8.

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  • +1 for all the "and another thing" advice -- the lens is just the start. – D. Lambert Mar 21 '11 at 13:15

If you are serious about birds and reptiles both lenses you suggest will frustrate you: 200mm even on a cropped sensor is not close enough for most wildlife encounters. 300mm gets you closer but still wont get you good close ups.

Most people shooting birds use lenses which reach at least 400mm on a cropped sensor. The most popular with non-professional birders is the Sigma 50-500mm. It is dim at the long end (F/6.3) and softer which is why most professional wildlife photographers use primes (500mm, 600mm) or a really expensive zooms (ex: 200-500mm F/2.8) instead.

There are always exceptions. If you go to the Galapagos, you can shoot birds really close with a normal lens. The same is true for reptiles in Komodo. If you go on a tour, they sometimes offer a goat to a dragon and you can shoot the spectacle up-close.

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For birding if you use a 300mm/400mm lens, you'll need to push it towards tele-end most of the time. So you need a lens with best sharpness at 300mm/400mm end as you'll most likely need cropping. Considering all those, you can take a look at the following lenses:

  1. Canon 300mm f/4.0 ($1300ish)
  2. Canon 400mm f/5.6 ($1300ish)
  3. Canon 70-300mm f/4.0-5.6 ($600ish)
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For birding, you'll want the longest and fastest glass you would ever afford, otherwise you'll be upgrading very soon and end up paying more. You'll want the lens to be long because birds are small and tend to stay far away, and fast to be able to add teleconverters - while you could boost up shutter speed with ISO, higher sensitivity won't save you from being unable to nail focus with a lens significantly darker than f/5.6. With a tele-converter, your aperture will be smaller by the same multiplier your focal length is longer - e.g. 70-200 f/2.8 with 2x teleconverter becomes 140-400 f/5.6.

Of course, Thom Hogan writes so much better about it in his "Lens Week Recap" (search for "wildlife" if in hurry).

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Go for the 70-200. If you choose the 70-300, you will probably end up selling it later on and upgrading to the 70-200 anyway...

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  • 4
    Could you clarify your reasoning a bit more? Your answer is a little sparse at the moment, and your particular reasoning why someone would just end up selling the 70-300 may apply to the person asking the question. – jrista Mar 21 '11 at 18:14

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