This is our buying guide to help beginners in choosing affordable camera lenses that are cheap and of good quality. The time comes for everyone to decide which lens to buy after using the one sold with their camera kit. This is not an easy choice, so we have decided to make this guide in order to support you while choosing the best budget lens for bird photography.
Choosing the best affordable lens for your needs and budget is not easy even for professional photographers, because there are many factors to consider. Difficulty that increases a lot if you are a beginner and want to buy a new product to replace the kit lens sold with your camera. With this guide to the best budget lenses to get started, we will try to guide you in choosing the lens that best suits your wildlife photography on a budget needs, explaining what are the characteristics to consider before purchasing and selecting products that we believe are very valid.
Once we understand all the features to consider, we can then move on to our selection of the best products in our opinion. It is not easy to make a selection of the best beginner lenses, precisely because the models are so many. We have therefore kept in mind a low budget below. In addition to this, with many camera brands on the market, we have made a selection of the most common models.
Our selection is the result of a study of the current market, prices and performance of each product. Within the descriptions we have included the fundamental characteristics such as image stabilizer, focus speed, aperture and focal length, together with other important aspects such as the internal composition and diameter of each lens.
1. Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM
This an excellent affordable Canon lens for APS-C DSLRs, it starts where the 18-5mm kit lens stops. Although it can be considered a kit telephoto lens it is not to be underestimated; light and compact it has a new optical design with three additional elements compared to the previous IS II version, including the UD (ultra-low dispersion) to minimize chromatic aberrations and Super Spectra multilayer coating to limit ghosting and flare.
It has excellent sharpness throughout the focal range. The focus ring on the barrel doesn’t rotate when autofocusing. The stabilizer is also excellent, resulting in an advantage of 3.5 stops. Totally recommended as one the best budget zoom lens for Canon cameras!
- Light and compact.
- Image stabilizer.
- Vignetting when wide open.
- Lower image quality at 250mm.
To conclude, nothing prevents newbies from buying this cheap Canon zoom lens to learn, also thanks to the low price, but as soon as you make comparisons with other higher end lenses you will also notice difference in quality.
This lens is great for various shooting situations, the quality is average but it becomes very good considering the price range in which it is located, obviously it is not suitable for professional use, but it’s probably the best canon lens under 500 euro that you can buy for budget photography.
2. Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM
Now we make a qualitative leap. The price does it slightly too obviously, but not so much, don’t be scared. The sharpness here is superb, but the stabilizer for long focal lengths is missing, so you’ll have to help yourself with a tripod.
We are however in front of a Canon L series, the build quality is first rate and the handling is professional. There are at least 4 versions on the market for the 70-200 focal length, with f / 2.8 or f / 4 apertures, and with or without the presence of the stabilizer. This of the 4 is the cheapest.
If mounted on APS-C the focal length is shorter than the previous one, reaching a maximum of 320mm against the 400mm of the previous model. Without going too much into the detail of the optical elements, here they are at the TOP and the sharpness is pushed to the maximum for the entire focal range. As mentioned above, the only flaw is the lack of the stabilizer. So the choice is up to you, there is also the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM, which is stabilized but costs a little more.
- Amazing sharpness.
- Available options.
- Lack of stabilization in the cheapest model.
- Not weather proof.
Excellent Canon lens for bird photography, thanks to its superlative image quality and excellent build quality. The lack of the image stabilizer is compensated by the affordable price at which it is offered, and in good light conditions it is not a particularly terrible lacking.
3. Sigma 70-300mm F4-5.6 DG Macro
Cheap lens proposed by Sigma, let’s say that to start is fine, compared to the others on this list, the price to pay is the loss of image quality. However, it has its positive notes such as the possibility of having the function “macro” which can be activated through a button on the barrel. Activating it reduces the minimum focusing distance, going from 1.5m to 0.95m in the focal range from 200mm to 300mm. In this way, a magnification of 0.5x is obtained at the maximum focal excursion and at the minimum distance.
Another positive note is the good optical bench and the nine aperture blades that produce a better rounding than the Canon. Also here we have the lack of the stabilizer, we will have to use the tripod in low light conditions and especially at longer focal lengths, just take into account that on APS-C at 300mm we would have a length of 480mm. The autofocus is loud and slow but it does its job anyway.
Rightly at this price you can’t expect to have a professional grade lens, certainly it is not below average. So always consider your pocket, use and what you need. Still falls within the best cheap telephoto lenses!
- Very cheap zoom lens.
- Macro function option.
- Lack of image stabilization.
- Image quality.
- Zoom isn’t very smooth.
Excellent value for money, the result is an acceptable image quality for the price spent and if you don’t expect too much “professionalism”. Great for those starting to approach the world of photography, both at long distance and Macro.
4. Tamron SP 70-300mm F/4-5.6 Di VC USD
Here is one of the best budget zoom lens of the list. The name already says it, SP in fact is the acronym that identifies Tamron’s top range optics. Already externally you can see that the design is inspired by high-end optics rather than entry level optics. Here we have an ultrasonic motor for very fast and very quiet ring AF and the build quality is of professional quality.
Excellent optical design, the focus ring and front element don’t rotate and don’t extend during autofocus operations. There is also VC stabilization estimated close to 4 stops. In short, we believe that this Tamron SP 70-300mm F/4-5.6 Di VC USD is one of the best budget telephoto lens out there!
- Build quality.
- Fast and quiet Auto Focus.
- Image stabilization.
- Images not sharp at every focal length.
- Zoom barrel not so fluid after 200 mm.
If you are an amateur photographer and you are looking for an affordable telephoto for shots, this is for you. It’s not very bright, but at this price, it’s still one of the best budget telephoto lens options on the market. Very much appreciated the stabilisation and the fast and silent focusing!
5. Tamron 70-300mm F/4-5.6 Di LD Macro
This one from Tamron is a somewhat dated lens, but just to have a comparison with Sigma. In fact, it can be considered the counterpart, it offers the same functions, we have a focal length of 70-300mm, a weight less than about 100 grams, the same possibility to activate the “macro” function in the range from 180mm to 300mm and also here we have the absence of the stabilizer.
Also in the Tamron model the front lens and the focus ring rotate during AF. Making then not be possible to correct the focus during AF. We have a good optical system and nine blades for the diaphragm to make it well rounded. The construction is good and according to Tamron it is compatible with Kenko teleconverters. Sharpness is good across much of the focal range.
- On of the best cheap camera lens for under 200 euros.
- Compatible both with APS-C and Full Frame cameras.
- Macro option.
- Lack of image stabilizer
Although it is not a professional lens, for those who are beginner in bird and wildlife photography and who want to get involved with such lenses, I would recommend this purchase. It is not a perfect lens but not a poor quality one either, and at this very low price is probably one of the best cheap lens on the market.
6. Pentax SMC-DA 50-200mm f/4-5.6 ED WR
The last product in this guide to the best budget lenses for bird photography is the Pentax SMC-DA 50-200mm F4-5.6 ED WR. This lens is perfect for those who own a Pentax K-mount SLR and are looking for a product to complement the lens sold with kit. It can only be used on APS-C bodies, so the equivalent focal length is approximately 56-306mm. It is perfect for long distance photography, such as sports and nature photography, but also performs well enough with portraits.
However, the brightness is not a lot since the diaphragm has a maximum aperture of f/4 at 50mm and f/5.6 at 200mm, but this is due to the price at which this product is sold. The quality is very good, the optical system consists of 11 lenses in 10 groups and the focus can focus on subjects as low as 1.1m. The peculiarity of this lens is that it can withstand splashes and dust, so it can be used in the outdoors without any problems.
- Weather proof.
- Good build quality.
- Not the brightest optic, but at this price can’t ask for much more.
A very versatile lens of excellent quality at this price range, when compared to higher end zoom lenses of course it renders a lower image quality. It’s part of the Pentax WR series which means that it’s protected from dust and water, great feature when you’re out in the outdoors doing nature photography. This feature together to the very affordable price, make of the Pentax SMC-DA 50-200mm F4-5.6 ED WR one of the best budget zoom lenses.
7. Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM
From the constructive point of view it is very robust as well as a more modern design and the opaque patina of the plastics make it beautiful to see but also to hold in hand. It is quite balanced, the weight and dimensions were not particularly burdensome, but after a day of intense use they stood out.
The zoom ring is not particularly fluid, indeed it requires a little more effort especially when approaching 300mm, however it is possible to follow a subject like a bird if it moves towards or away from us.
The focus ring, by contrast, is far too smooth, being only electronically coupled to the motor that moves the focal elements. Therefore, greater sensitivity is required in operating the two rings if you want to use manual focus.
- Great image stabiliser.
- Good bokeh quality.
- Focus ring too loose
I highly recommend this lens for those in possession of a mid-market DSLR, such as the 80D or higher, as the weight could soon be felt both on the wrist and on the camera attachment itself if mounted on smaller cameras.
The lack of a tripod collar therefore requires a rather robust camera that can withstand the torsion generated by the lens, especially when it is extended to 300mm. It covers several interesting focal lengths, especially for APS-C sensors it reaches equivalent focal lengths of 480mm, allowing you to photograph many distant subjects like birds and animals in the wild.
8. Tamron 16-300 mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD Macro
Over the years, the Japanese company Tamron has made a name for itself with the production of lenses of decent quality, very versatile, low in price and which fill the technological “gaps” left by the competition.
In particular with regard to this last point, Tamron has distinguished itself over the years for the construction and marketing of super-zoom lenses: that is, lenses that embrace a very wide range of focal distances, starting from the wide angle to telephoto.
Lenses that perhaps do not have “top” optical quality, but which manage fairly well and have become among the favourites of those who love to travel comfortably and do everything with a single lens.
Although this is a lens with a really wide focal range, in terms of weight and dimensions the Tamron 16-300 is not bulky at all: it has a length of 99 mm (which increases by another 80 at the maximum focal length), a diameter of 75 mm, weight of 540 grams.
The focus ring, located at the base of the lens, moves smoothly and allows precise and fast manual focusing. The autofocus motor, thanks to the PZD technology, also performs very well. And thanks to the IF system, the actual length of the optic piece will not change while finding the focus.
Despite its wide focal range and relatively low price, the Tamron 16-300mm has good sharpness, particularly in the 35-70mm range and with apertures between f/5.6 and f/8. Outside this range the sharpness is not optimal, but still acceptable for the price it has, becoming a little more problematic only near the focal length 300.
- Robust build.
- Image quality is not the best
In general, this Tamron lens has characteristics that are truly suitable for the market segment it is aimed at: very wide focal range, image stabiliser, more than acceptable image quality.
If you add robustness, weather sealing, and the (relatively) low price to these qualities, you have obtained a reliable, extremely versatile “battle” lens, truly ideal to combine with entry / medium-range APS-C SLRs.
9. Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3G DX VR
The Nikon 70-300mm VR AF-P is light and nimble making it a very portable tele-zoom lens. It weighs just 415 grams and the non-VR version is slightly lighter at around 10g.
For the tech specifications this lens counts up to 14 different elements that compose a total of 10 groups.
The 4.3x zoom on this 70-300mm lens is a valid range, its ring is actually rather big a making zooming an easy task. The ring feels great, unlike other lenses in this review, with just the right dampness.
Nikon designed their “P” range of the NIKKOR optics a system of stepping motors for focusing with almost no sound and more smooth compared to the more dated drive systems. Obviously being this lens so silent, it’s one of the things that bird and wildlife photographer appreciate more about this great piece.
It comes a surprise to us that the AF-P series, and so also this lens that we’re reviewing, doesn’t have any sort of mechanical switches (being it image stabiliser or the classic AF/MF switch). The absence of the this last switch isn’t a huge problem, as the optic has with a manual override option, a first for Nikon and that can be used to go around this.
- Silent focus.
- Lots of plastic in the construction
- Lack of some traditional switches
This lens substantially surpasses the previous 55-200mm and 55-300mm lenses in every aspect. The major problem is for sure its the possible inability to use this lens on other older cameras and the fact that it doesn’t have switches it really bugged me when I had to change from mode to mode.
This lens is hardly a super good lens for poor lit shots, but the amazing AF-P focus mechanism means you’ll be able to shoot very fast when the light is good, during the day and we must not forget the great sharpness of this lens. Price, also, is definitely another reason to like this lens.
10. Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM | Contemporary
The last product in this guide is probably alone one of the best budget lens for birding for Canon and Nikon DSLRs.
It’s much smaller and it’s weights 1kg than the Sport model of the same lens, this makes it more handy and easier to manage if you’re having to handhold your camera for a longer period of time, in case you’re out shooting without a tripod, you’ll be happy if you actually have to carry this optic around.
It’s much cheaper than the Sport model I just mentioned but nonetheless it presents the same range and the dual-mode setup options for both stabilisation and autofocus functions. The rubber gasket at the attaching plate presents is made to endure moisture and dusty conditions, which makes this lens ideal if you’re spending time in the wilderness shooting wildlife and birds.
- Good quality image.
- Lightweight and manageable.
- Not completely weather sealed
This lens isn’t perfect: zoom scrolling is something that, out in the field, is annoying; the sharpness at the edges is not excellent, especially on a Full Frame camera body; then we would have liked a more robust metal lens hood.
Despite this it is a versatile product thanks to its large zoom, it’s also compact and economical, this makes the Tamron 150-600mm an excellent solution for amateur bird photography.
There goes our guide to the best cheap telephoto lenses and affordable zoom lenses on the market. The focal range taken into consideration goes from 55mm to 300mm.
The telephoto lens is a lens that must absolutely enter the camera equipment for wildlife photography of every passionate photographer, from a beginner level to that of photo-amateur. So read carefully our list of the best budget lenses for bird and wildlife photography, there might be the one that’s right for you.
Attention to not get caught up in the heat of wanting the TOP of the range immediately, so stay with your feet on the ground and start with one of these affordable lenses that we propose or you will find yourself spending exorbitant amounts for nothing. We try to make the most of what is right for us without exaggerating. So for that 300mm f / 2.8 that you put your eyes on, better wait to buy it, take a look at these lenses first and make the best of them!