Reddish Egrets at Sunset Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

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RTP-49: "American Avocet with Wings Raised"
The Canon EF 600mm f/4L lens and a 1.4x teleconverter were used for this image.

RTP-10: An 800mm manual focusing lens was used to make this image of Double-crested Cormorant in New York City.

General Bird Photography
Frequently Asked Questions

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What is the best focal length for bird photography?

While 300mm, 400mm, and even short zoom lenses can be useful at times for bird photography, my recommendation to those seriously interested in making quality photographs of birds is to purchase a lens with a focal length of at least 500mm. For photographing birds in flight, however, handheld 400mm f/5.6 lenses perform superbly. And in places like South Florida where the birds are extraordinarily tame, a 400mm lens may suffice as an everyday bird lens. Image size is, however, a function of the square of the focal length, so a minimum focal length of 500mm is preferable. With the addition of the matched 1.4X teleconverter, you'll have an effective focal length of 700mm. You'll have many more chances to photograph birds than you would with any shorter telephoto lens.

At present, the premier bird photography lenses are the 600mm f/4 autofocus lenses; my Canon EF 600mm f/4.0 L lens -- often with the EF 1.4X teleconverter in place -- is my everyday, workhorse bird photography lens. These big guns are, however, extremely expensive and brutally heavy--the lenses alone weigh almost 14 pounds. Before you run out and buy a 600 f/4 lens, rent or borrow one and see if you can manage it in the field. Remember, you may be walking miles on occasion. And remember to be careful and not to drop the big lens!

Manual focus 800mm lenses can be purchased for well less than either the 500mm or 600 autofocus lenses, and provide a reasonable option for serious bird photographers. Their minimum focusing distances are in the 30-45 foot range; extension tubes need to be added and removed constantly when working with avian subjects at close range. (The 600mm autofocus lenses feature minimum focusing distances of less than 20 feet, even when used with a 1.4X teleconverter at 840mm effective focal length.) Let me repeat, however, 600mm autofocus lenses are brutally heavy!

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