is 70-300mm lens good for bird photography

In this article, I will approach the specific advantages and disadvantages of the older Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VR lens when photographing wildlife. Photography Life already has an in-depth review on the lens by Nasim, as well as a review of the newer AF-P version as well. In the article below, we shall look into exploiting the pros and managing the cons of the lens on the field.

Since its launch back in 2006, this has been a popular choice among hobbyists moving up the ladder from kit lens. Recently, Nikon has come up with an update to the lens, fixing most of its limitations. But the older version still has plenty to offer, as you will see below.

All wildlife photographers crave the 600mm and the 800mm primes for the obvious reason that they are the benchmarks of corner sharpness, contrast, bokeh, and autofocus. Above that, they have the reach, and they work much better with teleconverters.

I have also seen many photographers say a 300mm is too short for wildlife, especially for bird photography. Is it really true? To a certain level it is, but not always. When primes excel in quality, tele-zooms excel in versatility. I once had a Nikkor 300mm f/2.8 on the field with a 2xTCII. There is no doubt that the lens is razor sharp and the 2x teleconverter works great with that lens, as it was pretty much built for it. But I had missed so many shots just because of the fact that I had to switch adding or removing the TC. This is obviously the biggest annoyance most have with primes. Sometimes we are either too short or too long, and unmounting the lens from the camera is a risky affair, especially in dusty or even worse humid conditions. This is where a tele-zoom comes into play.

If your intent is to photograph small birds that are shy of humans, and you don’t have a hide, the longest possible focal length is the obvious choice. On the other hand, if you intend to photograph larger mammals, a focal range between 70-400 becomes more preferable. For example, if you have ever tried to photograph tigers in a wildlife reserve like Bandhavgarh, where tigers are used to humans and safari routes are close to the watering holes, you will know that an 800mm prime lens is not always ideal. The below picture is uncropped:

The takeaway here is that getting close to the subject (of course without threatening it) can be just as good as getting the same frame with a longer focal length, if not better. There always seem to be more contextual details with the former. This is not to say that more affordable lenses are better than primes. Making a head-to-head comparison with something like the 300mm f/2.8 and the 70-300 4.5-5.6 will be similar to comparing a commuter road car with an F1 car. Both are built for different purposes on different scales, and the cost difference is close to 10x.

Another advantage of a zoom lens like the 70-300 is when you try to get habitat shots, or when you seek to get creative with lighting. Too close of a crop sometimes adds too much restrictions on composition, and you can be more flexible with a wider lens. The bottom line is that you can take good pictures with the 70-300mm range. That’s what makes zooms like the 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 such practical options, especially if you are just venturing into the realm of wildlife photography from basic gear.

Of course, Nikon were to sell its benchmark lenses like the 600mm f/4 FL for $300, none of us would even look at anything else. Jokes aside, in reality, our budget is what decides what we own, and as a matter of fact plays a big role in the photographs we make. There would be gadgets that we feel too expensive, and some that we feel are a steal deal.

The 70-300 4.5-5.6 G VR falls into the latter category. It sure is a good deal for what we pay. If you are going to mount it on a D850 and pixel peep, this is definitely not the lens for you. But practically, not many would mount a $300 lens on a $3000+ camera. Most of you who would be thinking of this lens would possibly be mounting it on a semi-pro body, something like a D7xxx series or may be a D610. The lens might not hold its ground with high resolution cameras, but it definitely holds up well with semi-pro bodies. Apart from very decent sharpness, the lens boasts amazing contrast and color saturation.

It can be a very sharp lens with good light, static subjects, lower focal lengths, and its sweetest spot of f/8.

Last but not the least, the biggest advantage of this lens apart from its value for money is its weight. It has been my go-with travel lens for about 5 years now. Especially for wildlife, this lens serves well as a secondary option, when tagged along with something like the stunning Nikon 200-500 f/5.6 E VR.

Apart from wildlife, this is a multi-purpose lens that can be used all the way from architecture and landscapes to portraiture and to a certain level, even macro. It does have its limitations as well, but at the end of the day, what we want and what we are ready to compromise on eventually decides our gear. Every lens, starting from kit stuff all the way to the flagship ones, has its own advantages and disadvantages.

In this article, I have covered most of the pros and cons of the Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 lens on the field when it comes to wildlife photography. If there is anything that you feel has been missed out, please put it on the comments section below.

Nikon 300mm f/4 AF-S vs Nikon AF-S 70-300mm

Sharpness: As a professional lens, the 300mm f/4 is noticeably sharper than the 70-300mm. These lenses are in totally different classes when it comes to optical performance.

Build: The 300mm f/4 is almost completely metal. Because of this, it is more robust than the 70-300mm’s plastic construction.

Aperture: The 300mm f/4 prime lens lets in one extra stop of light due to its maximum aperture of f/4. This should enable you to take better-looking photos by enabling you to shoot at lower ISOs. The 70-300mm’s variable aperture of f/4. 5-5. 6 aperture lets in one less stop.

The maximum focal length of the 300mm f/4 is the same as that of the 70-300mm, but it is not as versatile in terms of shooting wider angles.

Price: Though still a great deal compared to its launch price (less than $800 USD on Amazon and as low as $470 USD on eBay used), the Nikon 300mm f/4 cannot compete with the incredibly cheap price tag of the 70-300mm, which can be found for as little as $278 USD and $434 CAD.

Weight: Although the Nikon 300mm f/4 is lighter than larger professional wildlife photography lenses, it still can’t compete with the ultra-slim 70-300mm in terms of weight.

is 70-300mm lens good for bird photography

Eurasian coot | Lago di Monate (Italy)

Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6E VR AF-P FX vs Nikon AF-S 70-300mm

Vibration reduction: The 70-300mm’s newest iteration wins here. Nikon states that it can provide up to 4. 5 stops of VR is amazing in comparison to the 2 stops of the 70-300mm. 5. This helps you get sharper photos at slow shutter speeds. It also makes lugging it around an absolute breeze. Remember that using proper hand-holding technique is essential to achieving sharp s!

Sharpness: The newer 70-300mm is significantly sharper than its predecessor, as others have shown through rigorous sharpness testing.

Autofocus: Compared to the previous 70-300mm autofocus, the new AF-P motor allows for much faster and even quieter autofocusing. Accuracy-wise, technology’s advancement is clearly visible. It shows a noticeable improvement over its older sibling.

Weight: This new Nikon 70-300mm is 65 g lighter than the previous model (745 g) at 680 g. This makes it an excellent option for a hiking telephoto lens all around.

Price: As a newer lens launched in 2017 with more advanced technology, such as the new AF-P motor, the Nikon 70-300mm AF-P FX is understandably more expensive. It currently costs around $440 USD on eBay.

is 70-300mm lens good for bird photography

Sanderlings | Faro (Portugal)

When there is good light, static subjects, shorter focal lengths, and its sweet spot at f/8, this lens can be extremely sharp.

The longest focal length is the obvious choice if your goal is to capture small birds that are wary of humans without a hide. However, if you plan to take pictures of larger mammals, a focal range of 70–400 becomes more appropriate. For instance, you may find that an 800mm prime lens is not always the best option if you have attempted to take pictures of tigers in a wildlife reserve like Bandhavgarh, where the animals are accustomed to people and safari routes are near watering holes. The below picture is uncropped:

Since its introduction in 2006, enthusiasts stepping up from kit lens have found great success with this option. Nikon recently updated the lens, addressing the majority of its issues. Nonetheless, as you will see below, the older version is still quite feature-rich.

The lesson here is that it’s often possible to get an equally good, if not better, frame with a longer focal length by approaching the subject closely (without endangering it, of course). With the former, there always seems to be more contextual information This is not to argue that primes are superior to less expensive lenses. Making a head-to-head comparison with something like the 300mm f/2. 8 and the 70-300 4. 5-5. 6 will be comparable to contrasting an F1 car with a commuter road car. Both are constructed on different scales and for different purposes, and the price difference is nearly ten times greater.

I’ll discuss the unique benefits and drawbacks of the vintage Nikon 70-300mm f/4 in this post. 5-5. 6 VR lens when photographing wildlife. Nasim has already written a thorough review of the lens for Photography Life, along with a review of the more recent AF-P version. In the piece that follows, we’ll examine how to take advantage of and control the drawbacks of the field lens.


What is the 70-300mm lens best for?

The 70-300mm focal length range has a wide variety of uses. Especially the wide end of this focal length range is excellent for portraits and the mid-long focal lengths provide great perspective for even tightly cropped headshot style portraits.

What is a 70mm 300mm lens used for?

70-300mm lenses are known for their versatility and flexibility, they cover focal length ranges that are popular with different photographers in varying genres. Certainly wildlife, sports, travel and for some, candid portraiture work too.

Is 300mm enough for birds?

In my opinion a 300mm is a good lens for bird photography, although a bird photographer always wants more focal length. I use a 300mm f/2.8 as a hip shooter or hiking lens. I almost always have it. Even when I have my 600mm f/4 on the tripod.