Canon makes fantastic telephoto lenses. Sharp, fast and built for everyday use. It’s no wonder they are seen so often out in the wild. In this guide, we will look at the best Canon lenses for wildlife photography at both ends of the price spectrum.
I asked a photographer friend who shoots a lot of wildlife images, what’s the best Canon lenses for wildlife photography? His reply was one which could make animals appear on command, then stay still for more than half a second. Unfortunately, mind control and telepathy have not yet been integrated into modern lenses, but they can definitely get the image quality on point.
Speed and focal length are two critical factors in a wildlife lens. One which can zoom in from a safe distance, focus quickly, and let in loads of light to keep those shutter speeds high.
This is going to mean a focal length in triple figures and an f-number like f/2.8. This should cover low-light conditions, but the lens also needs to be extremely well weather sealed which all equates to a high price tag. Luckily, high-end lenses keep their value as long as they’re kept in good condition.
The list below covers the best quality and expensive, to the more affordable end of the lens spectrum depending on your budget. The high-end lenses may seem expensive, but you are also buying into arguably some of the most professional level telephoto Canon lenses for wildlife photography available.
The lenses in this section are top-tier L-Series quality. They are mostly prime lenses, but we’ve thrown in a zoom for good measure:
The first in the high-end range is the Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM. Image stabilization, high-quality glass, plenty of switch options on the lens and super long make this ideal for any type of wildlife images as well as sports and action.
f/4 may not be the widest, but the stops given by image stabilization more than make up for this. You can still get nice looking bokeh with the nine rounded diaphragm blades and its the only one in the Canon lineup covering 600m. Extremely high quality from build to optics throughout.
The Canon EF 800mm f/5.6L IS USM has the longest focal length on this list and the highest price tag. The lens is ideal for any type of wildlife, sports or photojournalist who wants the longest reach possible. The lens also weighs less than the 600mm version at less than 10lbs.
Weather sealed, two-mode Image Stabilizer system for both still and panned subjects and Canon L-series quality can’t be faulted here. You know when you are buying into a lens such as this one, you have the peace of mind of the best quality at this distance.
Slotting in nicely between the two focal lengths above is the Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM. long enough for most applications, the lens sports Ultra-low Dispersion glass with Fluorite elements with a lightweight construction. It’s less of a heavyweight than the two offerings above, making it a nice happy medium focal length. Image stabilization is here as one of the required elements.
Although the majority of the high lenses here are primes, it’s still more convenient to use zoom lens. The Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM has all the optical quality for any type of wildlife or sports photographer. The zoom range can also be increased with a 1.4x extender. Once fitted it can be engaged with a switch on the lens and increases zoom range to 280-560mm (f/5.6). Definitely the most versatile of the high-end lenses listed here.
The Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM lets in far more light than the lenses above with an f/2.8 aperture. Coupled with image stabilization both will do most of the heavy lifting for working in low light and keeping your images steady. A magnesium and titanium construction helps to keep the weight down and used with an extender can greatly expand the range of this lens.
This lens supersedes the Canon EF 300mm f/2.8 IS, being eight percent lighter, better image stabilization system, faster and with better optics. A 300mm focal length is short for wildlife and sports, but still has all the quality of the other Canon lenses for wildlife photography. It also has the lowest price tag.
The lenses in this section are not budget versions, but for those who don’t need as much focal length, prefer a zoom in most cases and still want Canon’s L series quality:
The Canon EF 100–400mm f/4.5–5.6L IS II USM has top-end build and optic quality in a more compact zoom package. A fluorite element, Super UD element with Air Sphere Coating cut down distortion chromatic aberration, as well as increasing image sharpness. The aperture could be wider, but with the advanced image stabilization, you do get quite a few stops more in shutter speed where it counts.
There’s plenty of zoom range on the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM with top-end optics. Image stabilization isn’t the most recent version, but it still does an excellent job. It also works extremely well on APS-C sensors which due to the crop factor should give you a bit more telephoto range. A great all rounder lens for wildlife.
The Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM is an excellent telephoto prime lens for wildlife and action. It has L series build quality and optics and being a little older not having image stabilization means you can also get quality at this focal length for a good price. A super UD-glass element and UD-glass element reduces chromatic aberration and improves image sharpness. It also looks quite a huge beast with its lens hood.
The Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS USM is another prime telephoto lens that doesn’t skimp on quality and is ideal for wildlife. The lens has a built-in hood, fantastic optics and a rock-solid build quality.
Canon has a few variations in the 70-200mm lens category. While the focal lengths of the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM may be a little short for wildlife, but the versatility, quality, and reputation of these lenses can’t be ignored.
The latest editions have advanced image stabilization and f/2.8. The f/4L IS versions are equally as capable and depending on who you ask and which copy you get, it can be sharper. This lens will also serve you as more of a general all-rounder lens.
Bottom Line on Canon lenses for Wildlife Photography
If you’re a photographer who’s getting serious about your nature shots, there are some truly excellent Canon lenses for wildlife photography. Do your research, explore options within your budget, and you’re bound to find the perfect lens for you. Happy shopping!