Bird Photography with Really Cheap Lenses

There is no doubt which the best gear for bird photography is shockingly expensive. For example , the latest generation 600mm f/4 comes in at about $13, 000 US dollars whether you look at Nikon, Cannon, or Sony – and that’s without a camera. More modest setups are not cheap either and are still on the level of used cars.

Of course , this high end gear does last a long time, and so with time the cost can end up being more affordable. However , the up front value is prohibitive for many bird and wildlife shooters. So , are you able to shoot birds with actually cheap lenses? In this post I really hope to convince you which the answer is yes, utilizing a variety of shots with lenses that start at just $50!

Table of Contents

Why Shoot with Such Cheap Lenses?

I believe anyone can enjoy bird digital photography. With the right approach, even the cheapest lenses can produce stable results, which means that more standard lenses are more than enough to take good photos.

Bird photography lifestyle also glorifies expensive fishing gear. People gather around the most recent gear and upvote or even like anything produced from it. I have even heard some people say they are discouraged along with wildlife photography because they aren’t going to buy the latest high-end lens. So , I also hope to encourage those individuals to not give up.

Inexpensive lenses can also be a good way to test the waters of creatures photography before you decide to fully devote. Even if you eventually end up with a huge hunk of glass, more basic lenses will give you an idea of whether wildlife digital photography is right for you. The only danger is the fact that cheap lenses are a bit of a gateway drug to the top-end glass, so consider your self forewarned!

The Focal Length Limitation

While i started out with photography, I was a graduate student and my typical lens spending budget was about $80. So , what could be better than the fully manual Pentax-A 70-210 f/4? What was even better is that I discovered this lens used in our local camera shop, and yes it probably deserved to be scored “Bargain” considering how much color was missing. I considered it a good deal for $50.

Budget bird photography with a $50 zoom lens – Australian Swamphen

This lens brings me to my first limitation: focal length. If you decide to get a shorter lens like the Canon EF 75-300 f/4-5. 6 III or the Nikon Z 50-250mm f/4. 5-6. 3 for Z DX cameras, you’ll have to contend with a shorter focal duration.

Wildlife photography is certainly possible without a supertelephoto lens (as we’ve covered in detail right here ), but you may need to approach it a bit in different ways. With wildlife, this could imply shooting tamer animals inside parks or larger pets. It could also mean being a bit more patient and waiting around in a spot until the creatures comes to you. Even in wild areas, I am frequently surprised with how close birds can come to me if I stay even now for an hour or two. I still use this technique today even with more capable gear.

The other recommendation for getting around the focal length limitation is to compose environmental shots. Within the bird world, detailed portraits dominate, so a well-composed environmental shot will be something a little different and just because pretty.

My only warning here is end up being respectful of animals, and don’t get so close to an animal so that you cause it distress.

The Sharpness Limitation

Animals possess a lot of fine detail like hair and feathers, so a failure to resolve such detail obviously manifests as a lack of clarity. Cheaper lenses, especially zooms at the long end, aren’t particularly sharp. One fix for your problem is getting closer. If the fine details like individual hair can still be seen, then a photograph can appear sharp even if the lens is not a top artist.   Furthermore, you can probably use careful sharpening techniques in your raw processor to give the appearance of greater clarity and detail.

Another solution for zooms is to try and use still shorter focal lengths and become happy with a looser framing. That sounds a bit paradoxical, but when I shot the Tamron 150-600 G2 zoom lens, I would often try and acquire some shots at 400mm rather than 600mm since the lens performed better there. You can check out any of Photography Life’s Imatest results in our lens reviews to see that this is often the case with zooms.

The Autofocus Restriction

Some of the inexpensive wildlife lenses I’ve used don’t even have autofocus, and others are as gradual as a sloth. I as soon as owned the Pentax 300mm FA* f/4. 5 zoom lens, which I bought used for in relation to $600. Although it had acceptable sharpness, I found that concentrating manually was actually faster than its autofocus! Therefore for about two years I shot birds on nothing but manual focus.

Brown-headed Honeyeater
Pentax K-50 + Pentax FA* 300mm f/4. 5 @ 300mm, ISO 400, 1/400, f/7. 1

Although I would not really recommend anyone try our bizarre setup, there is a training to be learned because often cheaper lenses do not have the fastest autofocus, even though they’d probably be blazing compared to the things i had. Two things allowed me to shoot with this lens. The very first was to be happy without getting any bird-in-flight pictures. And the second was to pay attention to the behaviour associated with birds.

By getting to know the different bird varieties and how they behaved, I got a feeling for when a few species would be still. And i also can say that even with condition current faster equipment, keeping and eye on animal behaviour has been significantly helpful. For example , at a guaranteed time of year I know that the White-breasted Nuthatches where I live like to hand over a bit of extra time perched towards the bases of trees, knowning that has allowed me to get a number of nice, eye-level shots definitely.

Great Egret with Pentax FA* 300 f/4.5
Pentax K50 + Pentax FA* 300 f/4. 5 @ 300mm, ISO 100, 1/1000, f/6. 3

Use the Advantages A person has

In years past, during one of my hunger for longer focal lengths, This breadmaker a mirror lens, the Tamron 500mm 55BB f/8. This lens was introduced 3 years before I was born, and in addition cost about $150 on the eBay. Despite this, I now that brought this lens in last year alongside my 500mm PF f/5. 6 healight. Could this lens have now anything to offer over your ultrasharp prime like the 500mm PF? Actually, yes.

Australian Magpie
Pentax K-50 and up. Tamron 500mm f/8 snabel-a 500mm, ISO 800, 1/800

Number one, the Tamron 500mm hand mirror lens is actually very lamps at 595g (21 oz), so it didn’t add extra weight to what I was using. But also, it has a curiously superior magnification at 0. 33x, which is almost twice this magnification of the 500mm PF lens at 0. 18x. So in the park do some simple curious geese, I learnt an interesting shot that would not have access to been easy with the 500mm PF due to the 500mm PF’s longer minimum focus way away:

Canada Goose with mirror lens
Panasonic G9 + Tamron 500mm f/8 ISO 1000, 1/1300, f/8

Furthermore , i own an Olympus 40-150 f/4-5. 6 R. It is typically one of the cheapest lenses you may buy new today, because it daily goes on sale for $265.21. Limited zoom? Check. Local performance from the 1930s? Look. Yet its center anxiety about is surprising and it is very so light that it usually are taken anywhere.

White-breasted Nuthatch
Panasonic G9 + Olympus 40-150 f/4-5. 6 Third @ 150mm, ISO 250, 1/400, f/5. 6

As an added, this little lens may easily accept extension tubes, that often transforms it into a last measure macro.

Do You Need Expensive Lenses?

There is no doubt that you can perform some pretty amazing things at cheap lenses, and I does say they can still have the spot even when you do have a high-class setup.

Nevertheless , I cannot deny that the costly gear I’ve shot utilizing only works in a limited amount of situations. Although I suppose that is true of every lens in anyway, with a better lens, My wife and i rarely feel limited by all these equipment. As a Nikon player with the dice, that’s currently the Nikon 500mm f/5. 6 PF the one, which still is nowhere in the proximity of as expensive as a 500mm f/4.

House look back at all photography adventures, there are positively shots I missed in reality wouldn’t have if I used the 500mm PF. Nearly as someone for whom bird and wildlife photography has become a nearly full-time hobby, Document find such a high-end webpage to be indispensable. I feel like if I were stuck on your deserted island full of need to have with just my D500 and 500mm PF, Would be happy – make sure that I had some way to bill for the batteries.

Black-capped Chickadee with 500mm PF
Nikon D500 + 500mm f/5. 6 PF @ 500mm, ISO 640, 1/1600, f/5. 6

That being said, we are dealing with a golden age of pleasant but reasonably priced telephoto optical technologies for almost every brand. To get a very impressed by the The 200-600mm lens that a lot of you fellow bird photographers are actually shooting. There is simply no style that level of performance could have been accessible ten years and is without a much more expensive supertelephoto prime. Canon also has 600mm and 800mm f/11 photographic lenses that recently came out, are actually both under a thousand revenues and produce pretty crucial images in bright light.


I have been shooting birds and wildlife for five years, and the a thing I have concluded is that featuring enough patience and individuals, you can produce fine illustration with any lens, The types of images possible may vary caused by lens to lens, good results . all the wildlife out there, you will definately find some way to show far from the beauty of our planet’s biodiversity.

That’s the key reasons why I encourage you to have a go with bird photography, regardless of the fact that lens you own. You might take a shot you never thought attainable.

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