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What's the Best Bird Lens for a Canon DSLR

Updated on August 27, 2014
Indian Roller Bird
Indian Roller Bird | Source

Best Bird Lens for a Canon DSLR

Let's cut to the chase right away. The best lens for bird photography is the Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS USM. It is the lens used to photograph the bird on the right. Here is a link to that photo. I claim no connection with this photo. I just posted it here to show you what you can do with this lens.

The lens costs more than $10,000, even used on a good shopping day.

There are also the Canon 600mm f/4.0 IS USM and the Canon 500mm f/4.0 IS USM. Both of these lens cost upwards of $5,000. Needless to say, they are also outside my budget.

That being said, I have gotten some pretty good photos of birds using "other" lenses attached to my Canon DSLR. At the moment, I am shooting with a Canon 30D, which is a mid-range DSLR.

Male Cardinal
Male Cardinal
Blue Jay
Blue Jay
Brown-headed Nuthatch
Brown-headed Nuthatch

More Affordable Bird Lenses For Canon DSLR Cameras

There are two "affordable" lenses for bird photography. Affordable still puts you above the price of an inexpensive DSLR, but for good glass you will have to part with a moderate amount of cash.

The first is the Canon 300mm f/4.0L IS USM which you can pick up for a cool $1,000. It takes fantastic pictures. Canon "L" glass is their finest. If you care to get the f/2.8 IS model, it will set you back about $3,500, but the f/4.0 is pretty darn good.

The second lens that is somewhat affordable is the Canon 100-400mm f/4.0-5.6 L IS USM, which is a bit more at about $1575. The extra 100mm at the long end will be quite an advantage when doing nature photography.

One of the newer bird lenses on the market is a Sigma 150-500mm f/5.0-6.3. This lens gives you the reach of a Canon 500mm at about 1/5th the price. It is actually less than $1000. Plus the reviews from users are good. Those who buy this lens are very happy with the results. Notice, however, that largest aperture is f/5.0. This means you will need some pretty decent light in order to get good nature pictures.

Black Capped Chickadee
Black Capped Chickadee
American Gold Finch
American Gold Finch
Female Cardinal
Female Cardinal
Yellow Rumped Warbler
Yellow Rumped Warbler

Canon Bird Lenses "On A Budget"

OK, now let's get down to a more reasonable price if you are on a budget.

I have discovered that I can get the birds to "come to me" rather than having to photograph them from afar. I have even developed my bird photography system to the point that I can stay inside and enjoy a nice cup of coffee while taking some pretty awesome shots.

Lenses? I use a Canon 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM. I paid about $500 for mine. The photos on the right show the results I have gotten with this amazing lens. And the reason I can take these shots is that the birds are only about 5 or 10 feet away.

I also use my newest Sigma 18-250mm f/3.5-6.3 lens because some of the birds come closer than 5 feet, and the Canon lens will not focus that close.

The secret is putting a natural bird feeder right outside my kitchen window. It is home made and pretty ugly if I must admit it. But it does get the birds close.

What I did is find some old branches and drill out a few holes that I can put birdseed into. I strategically placed the holes close to branches that could act as perches for the birds. I then wait until the bird is on the perch facing the rigth direction, and... snap!

The photos hopefully will speak for themselves.

Male House Finch
Male House Finch
Titmouse with Attitude
Titmouse with Attitude
Yellow Belly Woodpecker
Yellow Belly Woodpecker

Low Budget Bird Lenses For Canon DSLR Cameras

The Right Canon DSLR For Your Bird Lens

This question comes up all the time. Which digital SLR camera is best for taking pictures of birds and wildlife?

The answer is fairly simple for me. I own a Canon Rebel T3i and a Canon 30D, so those are the best (at the moment). If I was fortunate enough to work for National Geographic as a wildlife photographer, my answer would be much different, but I am on a limited budget.

My philosophy is to get the DSLR camera, then get a bird lens that will work for you. If you can afford a professional camera, by all means, go for it. Then get one of the Canon professional "L" lenses with a focal range of 300mm or more.

Again, which camera is best for bird photography? The one you can afford.


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    • CaptureSafari profile image


      6 years ago from Westerham, UK

      Thanks for the interesting hub, love the pictures and need to start saving!

    • thewayeyeseeit profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Woodstock, GA

      If you are purchasing the camera with just one lens, that is a good choice. You will need to do something to bring birds closer to you, like using a blind, but you should be able to get some good shots with that lens. I have the Sigma 18-250mm lens and that is also a good one.

    • profile image

      Gobinda Gopal Khan 

      6 years ago

      canon 550D/600D camera with a canon/sigma 18-200 lens is that a good combination for bird photography using a single lens?

    • thewayeyeseeit profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Woodstock, GA

      Thank you sgbrown. I appreciate the vote of confidence.

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 

      6 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      Wonderful hub! I also love to take pictures of birds. This hub has a lot of good information for me regarding lenses. I am book marking this one! Up and useful!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      thanks for sharing.

      A long lens certainly helps to get closer to the birds optically, however, i also think that if you get closer to the birds physically e.g a hide or camo, then it is possible to utilize a variety of lenses.

      Thanks for an interesting read.

    • thewayeyeseeit profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Woodstock, GA

      Quazi Ahmed Hussain, you have just made this article much better because of your valuable insight. Being an avid fan of photography forums, I have seen a high regard for the Canon 400 f/5.6 lens, and I appreciate you bringing that to the discussion here. Thanks so much.

    • profile image

      Quazi Ahmed Hussain 

      7 years ago

      The best affordable birding lens is the legendary Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM. Although not a low light lens however; it delivers superb images in good light. At higher ISOs it gets you shots in low light as well. It reaches out a clear 100mm longer than 300mm f/4 and produces sharper images than both 300mm f/4 and 100-400mm zoom.

      Lack of IS is not an issue. Good light enables shooters to shoot at high shutter speeds wherein IS is unnecessary. Even if it had that; I would turn it off in order to maintain unhindered fast autofocus.

    • thewayeyeseeit profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Woodstock, GA

      Good Choice Yackers1. The Canon 100-400 is a very versatile lens, and of course it is great for a "less expensive" bird lens. Thanks for the valuable input.

    • Yackers1 profile image


      7 years ago from East England, UK

      A great hub - in my opinion the 100mm - 400mm is the best lens. Whilst the image quality may not be as good as that of a prime lens (although the difference is minimal and is likely to concern only the most picky of people)it is far more versatile, which makes it the best in the field. IMHO.

    • thewayeyeseeit profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Woodstock, GA

      Ultimate Hubber, I do have my camera close by most of the time. Keeping it in the kitchen is OK with my wife as long as I keep getting pictures of her favorite birds :-)

      Thanks for stopping by.

    • Ultimate Hubber profile image

      Ultimate Hubber 

      7 years ago

      Thank you for this very useful hub. And you keep your camera in your kitchen??

    • photolenses profile image


      8 years ago

      Amazing material on camera Ienses! really liked your Hub! I hope to come across a good deal more before long?

    • thewayeyeseeit profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Woodstock, GA

      Thanks for stopping by John. Bird photography is a great hobby.

    • John and a camera profile image

      John and a camera 

      8 years ago from Co. Leitrim Southern Ireland

      This hub was good reading. I love bird photography myself. Would love some of these lenses you mention!!!


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