Wildlife Photography Lenses and Cameras for Traveling Photographers: What Works Best?

Yellowstone Wildlife Photography

  What are the best wildlife photography lenses and cameras that will work for you?

We all like to travel, explore and record our world through the lens, but SmartPhones leave many wanting more when it comes to wildlife photography. It’s difficult to get in close and capture anything of quality you’ll want to keep or print. When it comes to this type of photography, a Digital DSLR or Mirrorless camera is best.


DSLR and Mirrorless cameras will allow you change lenses. Variable telephotos have it all. Conversely, compact cameras with a telephoto lens built in will only get you so far. Image quality is always suspect with these all in one unit, especially when conditions and light become extreme. Certainly, you can get away with compacts when you visit your local zoo.

600mm fixed fast aperture fixed lenses ©NikonUSA

You might want to do a little research and rent a camera and dedicated telephoto lens to see if wildlife photography is your game. On our Costa Rica Photography Workshops at Jansen Photo Expeditions, I suggest lenses with a reach up to 600mm. But a 600mm fast aperture fixed lens can be heavy and expensive. They certainly are amazing when you’re locked on a Peregrine Falcon nest for hours or days, but toting them around is just not practical for most travelers.

Unless you are heavily into wildlife photography and have a Sherpa to haul your gear around for you, I would suggest exploring what is commonly known as Variable Aperture Telephoto lenses. They are much more manageable. They can vary in focal range for example from 80-400mm or 200-500mm.  Most brands are available for rent from many online renting services like LensRentals.comBorrowLenses.com , ATS Rentals or Lensprotogo.You’ll get the most out of Variable lenses. You’ll also have more varied focal ranges than a fix lens can offer you.


Telephoto Lens for wildlife
80-400mm Variable aperture lens ©NikonUSA

Many wildlife photographers opt for cropped sensor APS-C cameras rather than full frame cameras popular with landscape photographers. The trick is reach!. Cropped framed sensors magnify the distance your lens can shoot and provide faster shutter speeds on many models. For example, an 80-400mm Nikon Full Frame lens on a full frame camera will provide you with just that, 80-400mm. Place the same lens on a APS-C Cropped sensor camera and you’ll get a surprising reach of 120-600mm in a relatively small package.

Remember when you mount a Full Frame lens on a APS-C crop sensor camera and you want to find the equivalent magnified focus distance. Multiply those lenses maximum or minimum focus distance by 1.5x  if its a Nikon, Sony or Pentax and if it’s a Canon multiply by 1.6x. On Olympus and Panasonic 4/3’s Cameras, focal lengths are doubled 2x. These lenses are 4/3’s specific and can only be used on Four Third’s cameras.

One thing you also need to remember is these lenses are a variable aperture and you will lose some light transference, unlike those big and fast (light gathering capabilities) fixed f-2.8 600mm lenses. But this is the trade-off for providing more useable focus options in a simpler to manage wildlife photography kit, especially when banging around in the wilderness.

The higher ISO’s in new higher-end APS-C cameras are much cleaner in with noise and compensate well when paired with smaller variable apertures telephoto lenses. Additionally, you’ll also need a solid monopod (or gathered up tripod legs work if you’re limited on space and you will be shooting landscapes). There is also the option of a bean bag to use for stability if you plan a shooting from vehicles, or open trucks, etc.

Consider your options and do your research. Don’t be in a hurry to plop down a big wad of cash on a lens you don’t plan on using frequently. Only invest in a lens you use most often and rent the rest!

If you want to learn how to use that new or rented lens and camera, join us on one of our upcoming photography workshops in California, Iceland, or Costa Rica. You will come home with a beautiful collection of images from your trip!

All the best,

Mark Jansen



If you like this blog, consider checking out our other articles on a similar topic:

Costa Rica Photography Workshop

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Mark’s interest in photography and love for landscape photography draws him into some amazing places and he freely shares this knowledge on his photography workshops. He researches his subjects extensively, making many trips to selected areas waiting for the perfect light, an interesting approach to the subject, and just the right moment. His goal of "freezing time for others to enjoy" is what drives him to create his visions and teach workshops.

Mark offers photographic workshops in numerous U.S. and International locations with his business, Jansen Photo Expeditions. He is an expert and personable instructor, expedition leader and award winning, visionary photographer. 

Mark has over 25 years of professional fine art and photographic experience. He has a passion for landscape and classic aviation photography and provides large scale commercial installations of his fine art photographic murals and print works throughout California. He works with both small and large corporate businesses in helping them project a powerful impact through his images.


About Mark and Holly
Mark and Holly Jansen
Jansen Photo Expeditions
(805) 701-8807 or

Email: Mark@markJansenphotography.com

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