Best Focal Length to Get Into Wildlife Photography

What’s the BEST Lens for Wildlife Photography? If I had a nickel for every time I was asked this question, I could retire. It’s a very common and extremely valid question to ask. And to cut right to the chase, there is no one or right answer to this question. And that’s for many reasons from you, the photographer to the subject and most importantly, to the story you want to tell with your photograph. But there is a focal length that gets used over and over again and I feel is the best one to start with.

Allen's Hummingbird

400mm, you simply can’t go wrong with this focal length however you get to it. It’s the focal length I started with and depended on for the first years of my career. It’s the lessons I learned from that lens and some of the images it created that got me to this point. You can get to this focal length in many ways, 300mm f/4 with a converter, 80-400mm, 200-400mm or a 400mm prime. No matter how you get there or which lens you have, you have the same angle of view and that’s key.

Angle of view, how much of the world you see around your subject, that’s how I think of it. Wildlife photography is very much about storytelling. What’s the subject doing, why did you take it’s photo, how does it survive, a humorous moment and so much more can be conveyed in just one click depending on what other elements you incorporate with the subject in the frame. That’s where angle of view comes into play.

The key component of the 400mm is its MFD. Minimum Focusing Distance often plays a huge role in the storytelling. Many think of it in regards to image size but I think of it in regards of doing The Dance. The Dance is where you use the focal length to exclude all the unwanted elements in a frame while you include all those that tell the story. You can do it with any focal length but for wildlife and especially in the beginning, the 400mm just excels at The Dance.

Common Raven

Perhaps the greatest gift of this lens is the biological lenses it teaches. Didn’t know a piece of camera gear can teach biology? Get close physically and use optics to isolate, this is the very important mantra I learned from those first years shooting with the Nikkor 400mm f/5.6 ED-IF lens. No matter the lens, no matter the subject, this is a key concept to better photographs. In wildlife photography, the 400mm is the king at teaching this concept. You will have to zoom with your feet to get the image size you desire often shooting with the 400mm. Watching your subject to learn what to do and not do in approaching a critter is a vital lesson that you will learn with this lens!

Short-billed Dowitcher

Now are there other lenses, focal lengths you can successfully use in wildlife photography? Oh heck ya, tons, my favorite being the Nikkor 800mm f/5.6 VR, but I don’t recommend you start there. Even though I use the 800mm for much of my critter photography, I use the lessons I learned with the 400mm. And even though I own the 800mm, I have not one but two 400mm lenses I still depend on. The lens is a tool that your passion turns into the vehicle to tell stories. So while there is a best lens, never lose sight that it takes YOU to make the magic happen!

Snowy Owl

This guest post was written by the legendary photographer Moose Peterson, a well-known wildlife photographer whose work has been published in over 143 magazines world wide. Moose is the author of 26 books and has been recognized as A Nikon Ambassador (USA), Lexar Elite Photographer, recipient of the John Muir Conservation Award, Research Associate with the Endangered Species Recovery Program, to name just a few.

All images copyright Moose Peterson.


  1. 1
    ) Bob
    February 4, 2014 at 10:12 pm

    Amazing tips from Moose. He is a true legend and a great teacher.

    Thank you Moose for inspiring many of us. I read your blog every day!

    • 13
      ) Luc
      February 5, 2014 at 12:24 pm

      I look at all your training videos on kelbytraining. They were all inspiring particularly the ones you have done at home in your own backyard. You are a master in your field.


      • 20
        ) Moose
        February 6, 2014 at 11:17 am

        thank you!

      • 29
        ) Janet Huston
        February 6, 2014 at 7:10 pm

        When I saw the first picture, I knew it was a Moose Peterson photograph – and I bet I know where he took it. If you ever have a chance to participate in one of his workshops – take it. I’m lucky to live within a fairly reasonable distance from his beloved Eastern Sierra and had the good sense to take his Mono Lake Workshop recently. Got to see him put the 400mm to work – like watching a dance. He was generous with his expertise and shared many of his favorite shooting locales – places the guide books can’t or won’t tell you about. He was diplomatic with his, ummm, corrections and he and his lovely wife, Sharon, made it fun. I spent the first two days being starstruck (and therefore dumbstruck) but will definitely take another workshop and give a better accounting of myself. Don’t want this to sound like a commercial, but if you like his videos, he’s like that in person, only more so.

    • 19
      ) Moose
      February 6, 2014 at 11:17 am

      thanks kindly …. thankful for the opportunity to share with folks.

  2. February 4, 2014 at 10:23 pm

    Nice little write up! That’s why I love the versatility of my Sigma 120-300 OS (Non sport) I shoot it with a 1.4x TC and a 2x TC. 420mm F4 is very handy for many birds..

  3. 3
    ) Tim
    February 4, 2014 at 11:10 pm

    Great article that encourages me and my early experiments with my new 400mm!! Thanks for taking the time to write a nice article!

    • 21
      ) Moose
      February 6, 2014 at 11:18 am

      experimenting is essential … keep it up!

  4. 4
    ) biho
    February 5, 2014 at 1:09 am

    Thanks Moose for the article.
    What do you think of Nikon 1 with the 70-200 f/4 to get the 400mm focal length and beyond for wildlife photography?

    • 22
      ) Moose
      February 6, 2014 at 11:18 am

      it’s a great combo, used it the entire time shooting the campaign for the D7100 in Costa Rica.

  5. 5
    ) Thomas
    February 5, 2014 at 3:51 am

    Would a 75-300DX give the same result?

    • 11
      ) Pierre
      February 5, 2014 at 9:32 am

      Thomas, the 75-300 is very good value for money ($220 in the US), but its image quality and lacking autofocus won’t do with wildlife. Many of your animals will be either soft or out of focus, or both. If you are on a tight budget, try the 55-250 ($350). Have a look on birding websites, you’ll find surprisingly good pictures taken with the 55-250.
      Since you are on Canon (75-300) and not Nikon (70-300), this means you can use the Canon 400mm f/5.6 ($1,300). Its quality/price ratio is hard to beat. On the web, there are plenty of splendid pictures of wildlife taken with this lens.
      Mind you, 400mm f/2.8 lenses cost $9,000 (Nikon) or $11,000 (Canon), and the 800mm Moose Peterson talks about is $18,000. It’s obviously another playground. With these lenses, focus is almost instantaneous and you potentially have many more keepers than with entry-level lenses.

    • 23
      ) Moose
      February 6, 2014 at 11:19 am

      is it 400mm? Nope, so won’t have the same angle of view.

  6. 6
    ) Steven
    February 5, 2014 at 4:10 am

    Outstanding photos Moose (as expected) – I’m using a standard 55-250mm on a Canon 600D which gives an effective 400mm focal length at the far end of the range due to the 1.6x crop – does this also count? Much as I’d like 400mm (and the equivalent 640mm focal length), that’s a ig-ticket purchase for another day.

    • 12
      ) Don Brabston
      February 5, 2014 at 9:55 am

      I have the same Canon lens and the same question: Does the crop factor count in making the 55-250 come up to a 400?

      I also have the same comment about wanting to go to a 400, but not wanting the big-ticket expense.

      • 28
        ) Tim
        February 6, 2014 at 3:45 pm

        I bought the Canon 400mm f5.6. Granted it isn’t near the lens its contemporary (the f2.8 USMII) is, but it does offer two distinct advantages to me. First, the cost advantage is obvious – $1,339 vs. $11,499. Second, if you are like me and toss a backpack on for weeks carrying a heavy load in a pack that is already full, consider the dimensions 90mm diameter x 256.5mm length at 1,250 grams vs. 163mm diameter x 343mm length at 3,850 grams.

        • 31
          ) Moose
          February 6, 2014 at 9:35 pm

          That’s a great lens, it will serve your well!

    • 24
      ) Moose
      February 6, 2014 at 11:21 am

      nope … not a 400mm, its’ a cropped 250mm. Now saying that opens the door to the debate about this topic. But you asked me and in my book and my experience, a 400mm is a 400mm when it comes to storytelling and that’s what’s really important in the photographic process.

  7. 7
    ) Art
    February 5, 2014 at 7:54 am

    Thanks to Moose Peterson for an informative article. I have always admired Moose’s work with wildlife and recently his aviation work (I have a soft spot for the old Warbirds). For those that are interested Moose has a wonderful series of short videos on sharpness that include handholding, panning, AF settings, long lens technique on his website. These are useful for any lens but especially for telephotos.
    Also thanks to Photography Life for inviting a great guest poster to share his knowledge with us. Hopefully Moose will become a regular on your site.

    • 25
      ) Moose
      February 6, 2014 at 11:22 am

      thanks for taking the time to write and the kind words!

  8. 8
    ) JORY
    February 5, 2014 at 8:33 am

    I use my tamron 70-200 with a 1.4 and 2x extender. It works great and on a crop sensor that is quite a zoom .

  9. 9
    ) Jerry
    February 5, 2014 at 9:04 am

    RE: Best Focal Length to Get Into Wildlife Photography, 4 Feb 2014

    Is he recommending using FX or DX?

    • February 5, 2014 at 1:59 pm

      Jerry, either FX or DX work, but please do not multiply focal length x 1.5 to get to 400mm. Focal length has nothing to do with the size of the sensor!

      • 17
        ) Pierre Lecerf
        February 5, 2014 at 10:43 pm

        Yes but it DOES have to do with the FoV, and thus, the reach.. am I right ?

        I don’t understand what you mean when you say “do not multiply focal length do get to 400mm”, a 400mm prime would give an eFoV of 600mm on a DX, right ? Even though it won’t give the same results as a 600mm prime with a 36mm sensor, doesn’t it give a similar FoV ?

        And the reverse, what about a 70-200mm with a 1.3x TC ? Wouldn’t it give a FoV and flexibility similar to that of a 400mm with an FX ?

    • 26
      ) Moose
      February 6, 2014 at 11:22 am

      I’m saying 400mm, that has nothing to do with FX, DX, has to do with focal length and its angle of view for telling a story.

      • 41
        ) Coburn
        February 12, 2014 at 3:06 am

        I find this very confusing. How can the angle of view of a 400mm lens (or any other lens, for that matter) have nothing to do with sensor size? If you have a DX camera and want a prime lens to “tell a story” that is as similar as possible to a 400mm lens on an FX camera, wouldn’t a 300mm lens be the closest option? And an f.stop faster than the 400mm lens if you wanted a similarly narrow DOF?

        Thanks for an excellent and very useful article, otherwise!

        • 42
          ) Pierre
          February 12, 2014 at 4:22 am

          Coburn, let’s say you are in your home and you look at the street through a big window. Now, let’s say you move to the next room and you look at the same street, from the same distance, but the window is twice smaller. This is going to change your field of view, but nothing else: the angle of view will stay the same, the reach will stay the same, the DOF (assuming you are short-sighted) will stay the same, etc. The sensor is your photographic window.

          Nasim has drawn a diagram about it:

          • 43
            ) Pierre Lecerf
            February 12, 2014 at 4:42 am


            My understanding is that Field o View and Angle of View are the same concept, one is measured as a surface and the other one as an angle. If you “crop” the surface, you also reduce the angle.

            So, again, I have the very same problem as Coburn, I don’t understand why it would have “nothing to do” with DX/FX.
            If the field/angle of view you get with a certain lens acts on what you can tell with the lens, and if the size of the sensor acts on the field/angle of view, then I would infer that the type of the sensor is to be taken into account.

            Do I overlook anything ?

            • 44
              ) Pierre
              February 12, 2014 at 6:26 am

              Pierre Lecerf,

              If you and me take a portrait of a model, you with a 200mm and me with a 16mm, we’ll both be able to have just the model’s head and shoulders in our image if you take the picture from a distance of 15 feet and me from, say, 2 ft. The field of view would be the same but the angle of view would be different: the poor model would show a raptor’s beak on my image and a cute little nose on yours (well, hopefully).

              Conversely, if you and me take that portrait with the same 85mm lens, from the same distance, but you use a FX camera and I use a DX one, both portraits are going to be identical once your image has been cropped in post-processing. Nobody will be able to see which camera was used for each image because the perpective will be perfectly identical. The angle of view is the same in spite of the fact that the field of view is different.

              Hoping this helps? It reminds me of descriptive geometry classes from (not so) good old days :)

            • 45
              ) Pierre Lecerf
              February 12, 2014 at 6:45 am

              I don’t get where you’re heading.

              The two lenses in your example (16mm and 200mm) indeed don’t have the same “absolute” angle(/field) of view. I don’t think it’s reasonable to compare the “covered” field of view at different distances.
              Indeed you can cover the same subject with different “absolute” angle/field of views, but here I thought we were talking about a scenario where both a DX and an FX photographer will find themselves at the exact same distance (i.e. as close as possible) from their subject.

              And in that case, if they both use a 400mm lens, the lens FoV won’t magically change of course, but the “covered” FoV won’t be the same.. and most importantly, will result in a different ability to frame a specific scene. Hence, my question, and, I believe, Corburn’s question.

            • 46
              ) Pierre
              February 12, 2014 at 8:40 am

              Pierre Lecerf, sorry about being not very clear in my last post. I wanted to say that the angle of view and the field of view are entirely different notions.

              The purpose of the FX v. DX 85mm example was to show that the angle of view depends exclusively on the focal length. It gives the image part of its artistic characteristics, ‘The Dance’ in Moose’s words. For a given focal length, it’s a physical constant and you cannot change it (please see Moose’s post #23).

              By contrast, you are free to change the field of view by cropping your image or changing the distance between you and your subject. The purpose of the 16 v. 200mm example was to show that. The DX sensor is like digital scissors cutting 56% of the image surface, it has no influence on the image’s characteristics (reach, depth of field, etc.), except, of course, tightened composition.

            • 47
              ) Pierre
              February 12, 2014 at 9:05 am

              To make it short, changing focal length (say, from 200 to 300mm) changes everything: perspective, depth of field, reach, composition, etc. Changing sensor size (say, from FX to DX) changes nothing except composition.

            • 49
              ) Coburn
              February 22, 2014 at 6:25 am

              Thanks for both Pierres for answering.

              Pierre wrote:
              “To make it short, changing focal length (say, from 200 to 300mm) changes everything: perspective, depth of field, reach, composition, etc. Changing sensor size (say, from FX to DX) changes nothing except composition.”

              I belive this to be correct regarding depth of field (if f.stop is kept the same) but otherwise incorrect. Clearly, if distance to the subject is the same, a 200mm lens on a DX camera (1.5x crop) will produce exactly the same perspective, composition and angle of view as 300mm on FX. However, in order reproduce the “artistic expression”, and the depth of field one gets with FX+300m @f/2.8 one would need to run the DX+200mm combo at somewhere between f/2.0 and f/1.8, which would be a bit of a challenge. (All else being equal. Perhaps I am missing something here, but I struggle to see what it might be)

              Play around with the DOF-calculator here:…/dof-calculator.htm and you’ll se what I mean.

            • 50
              ) Pierre
              February 23, 2014 at 7:24 am


              Nasim gave a very good explanation of FX-DX things here: (please see especially section no. 4). If distance to the subject is the same, a 200 mm lens on a DX camera will produce exactly the same reach, perspective and angle of view as 200 mm on FX — 200 mm, not 300.

              Your are absolutely right when you say that the depth of field one gets with FX + 300 mm at f/2.8 one would need to run the DX + 200 mm combo at somewhere between f/2.0 and f/1.8, but this would be just as true the other way round. To get the same depth of field with images cropped so that they are identical (= using 50 % of the FX image), both these statements are right:

              – DX 300 mm at f/2.8 = FX 200 mm at f/2.
              – FX 300 mm at f/2.8 = DX 200 mm at f/2.

              Optically, the only difference between an FX and a DX camera is the size of the element which records the image. The sensor size concerns the very last stage of image acquisition, it comes after the passage of the image through the lens, we all agree on this, don’t we ? Then, how could the sensor size have an influence on PREVIOUS stages of image acquisition ? To me, this is a logical absurdity.

              To quote Wikipedia, “If the larger format is cropped to the captured area of the smaller format, the final images will have the same angle of view, have been given the same enlargement, and have the same DOF”. I acknowledge the fact that the Cambridge in Colour calculator give different results, but I have no explanation about that.

              Cheers, Pierre

              PS: when I talked about perspective and FX-DX sensors, I made a mistake, sorry about that ! Perspective only depends on distance, it has no relationship with any other thing.

  10. 10
    ) Dennis
    February 5, 2014 at 9:27 am

    How important is 1) image stabilization and 2) auto focusing when we’re just getting into wildlife photography?

    • February 5, 2014 at 1:57 pm

      Dennis, it depends on the type of wildlife photography you are after. If you want to photograph birds in flight at very high shutter speeds, then image stabilization is not necessary. It is very useful for stationary subjects though and when hand-holding – makes it easier to shoot. Autofocus is very important for wildlife, since nailing focus with manual focus is extremely hard, especially for anything that moves.

      • February 12, 2014 at 12:50 pm

        Nasim I completely agree that it is extremely difficult, but can be done with practice. The following link is to a photo I took with a manual Nikon 500mm Reflex (N). The image is even cropped as the bird was probably 350 yards away. I was lucky enough to get mine new, but they still can be found in good condition on eBay sometimes for 5 or 600 bucks. Try and find a modern lens with that kind of reach for that price. I can suffer a little. ;- )

    • 27
      ) Moose
      February 6, 2014 at 11:24 am

      image stabilization is meaningless unless you are not on a stable platform. AF is essential. I highly recommend heading to my website and watch the recently created videos on Sharpness which will further answer your questions.

      • 32
        ) Tim
        February 6, 2014 at 9:49 pm

        I would be quite interested in seeing this. I went to your website but in my scanning was unable to locate this. Can you possibly send me the direct link? It definitely is something I would like to learn from you!!!

        • 33
          ) Moose
          February 6, 2014 at 11:14 pm

          not sure what to tell you, they are right on the Home Page and they’re on my YouTube Channel. They are not hidden by any means.

  11. 16
    ) Keith R. Starkey
    February 5, 2014 at 3:58 pm

    Thanks very much for the article.

  12. February 6, 2014 at 2:20 am

    Most of my best shots have come from using the 70-200mm, with and without a TC, and getting closer to my subjects, whether in the wild or in captivity. I always see guys out there with the big 400mm and 600mm lenses, but I’m always pleased with the shots I return with. It’s also worth using a shorter focal length sometimes to place the animal in its environmental context too, and to this end I’ve shot with 35mm and 50mm lenses. In any case the 70-200mm is heavy enough for me to lug around :)

    Just my 2 cents. Some examples:

  13. 30
    ) Cindy
    February 6, 2014 at 8:40 pm

    I used to use a third party 70-200mm f/2.8 lens with a 2x TC on my Nikon D7000, and while it was good it was still too soft for me and I found the images overall a bit “dingy.” So I tried a Nikon 300mm f/4 with a 1.4 TC and the difference was incredible; incredibly sharp, bright, good contrast and saturated colors, and it’s a bit lighter than the 70-200 I was using. I don’t know if it’s the difference between zoom and prime, third party vs. Nikon or what, but this is a fantastic lens, and I also find the 400mm a focal length that works well for me shooting wildlife. I at times miss having a zoom for composition purposes, but I’ve learned to zoom with my feet. I also don’t miss the VR given that I’m usually photographing birds and using faster shutter speeds. Thanks to PN for their newsletter, and for having such top notch editorials, and thanks, Moose.

    One question; I love my D7000, but is there anything about the D7100 that you find an improvement over the D7000? Does the 24mp sensor make much of a difference over the 16mp on the D7000? I sometimes have more noise in my images than I would expect and I wonder if it’s the camera, and wonder if the D7100 is any better in this regard. Many thanks

    • 34
      ) Luc
      February 7, 2014 at 9:48 am

      Hi Cindy
      I still own the D90,D7000,D7100. Please look at the test Nasim made on the D7100 and shooting birds in flight. The D7100 is much sharper than the D7000 not only because of its 24 mp but also because of its much better AF system. If noise is a problem use only RAW files, and give a try to DXo optic 9.1.2 Prime noise reduction option. It takes a few minutes to process a single file but the results are stunning most of the time. The only bad point on the D7000 is its AF failing to focus properly specially under low incandescent light. Nasim compared the D7000-D7100 pics by downsizing the D7100 files to 16mp and got less noise than the pics taken with the D7000. The D7100 shares the D4 AF technology resulting of beeing able to focus on lens open at F8. The D7000 is a great DX camera but the D7100 is hands down better. For still pics with a zoom lens, give a try by using “MUP” (Mirror-up) on your camera letting a few seconds between the Mirror up and taking the actual pic. I had pics taken at 1/6 sec 105 mm perfectly sharp, while needing 1/90sec without the Mirror up option. Also the “1.3X image area “mode crops the image and reduce the file size to 15 mp, speeding up the number of shots per seconds.
      regards and have fun

  14. 35
    ) Ian
    February 7, 2014 at 10:02 am

    Waiting to see if Nikon updates their 300/4 in the next few months. If they price it right (from my point of view) and the reviews are good, I might go for the new one with a 1.4 TC. Otherwise I’ll just pull the trigger on the current version – a very nice, reasonably priced prime. And relatively easy to transport.

    Great article Moose. Beautiful set of images, of course. In the sentence under the second image (“Perhaps the greatest gift of this lens is the biological lenses it teaches.”) did you intend to say
    “the biological lessons it teaches.”?

  15. 36
    ) James, J Mlodynia
    February 7, 2014 at 10:54 am

    regardless of what you photograph, the distance to the subject is your first thing to consider, second size of object. Wildlife come in all shapes and sizes so what works for a large bird such as a Heron or Egret may not work for a humming bird. How much of the back ground do you want to include in the photo, or just the subject determins the lense choice. I started photographing birds from a kayak and used a 55-300 on a pentax K-10D and went to a K5-11 with a Sigma 120-400. the extra reach of the Sigma lets me get the photo I look for, while keeping a little more space between myself and the wildlife that I will photograph. While photographing wild life we should not make it uneasy about our being in it’s space.

  16. 37
    ) Moe Ali
    February 9, 2014 at 6:00 pm

    Reading this article was like opening up a box of Cracker Jack. You get through the sweet stuff and then get a surprise at the end.

    I had no idea this was a Moose Peterson article! I love your wildlife work. And yes, I’m jealous as heck, because you get to photograph some amazing aircraft too (and ride in some of them!).

    I’m still learning as a photographer (which never ends). I use a 300mm+1.4x tele combo. And just like you said, I need to keep zooming with my feet. Using a fixed focal length forces me to learn, and it’s cheaper on my pocket too!

    Keep inspiring us….

    • 38
      ) Moose
      February 9, 2014 at 9:26 pm

      Moe …. happy to do it! Thanks for the kind words!

  17. February 9, 2014 at 11:12 pm

    I am currently using an old Nikon 500mm Reflex N for my long range nature photos. A difficult manual lens to use to say the least, but I am still having fun with it.

  18. Profile photo of Miguel
    ) Miguel
    February 10, 2014 at 8:02 am

    Great article! Thanks for sharing your tips! I like that you say to never loose sight of which element is the most important in photography “YOU”! It’s very true. We often get sucked into the gear and forget where the magic happens.

  19. 51
    ) Monica Pileggi
    February 23, 2014 at 10:36 am

    Great article and timely too for me. I have been going back and forth in trying to decide which lens is better for me; the 300mm f/4 (with the 1.4TC) or the 80-400VR. I currently use the 70-300mm VR but just not happy with it on the 3oomm end.

    I think the 300mm f/4 and TC is the best option for me. I hope so. :)

    • 52
      ) Cindy Leeson
      February 23, 2014 at 11:09 am

      Monica, I haven’t tried the 80-400 VR but as I mention earlier the 300mm f/4 with the 1.4 TC works very well for me. Great contrast, saturation, brightness, and VERY SHARP. I also like that it’s relatively light and at a price that I can afford. I shoot mainly birds and don’t miss the VR if I keep the shutter speed at or above the focal length. I do use it on a monopod, which helps with stabilization, and keeps my arms from getting tired. I have used it hand held and have gotten good results. I used to use a 70-300, and have tried other 3rd party zooms, and at times I miss having a zoom in that’s it’s easier to zoom out and find the bird in my lens and then zoom in, but with practice I’ve gotten used to it. Zoom also helps a bit with composition. That being said, I wouldn’t trade my 300 mm for anything, unless they do come out with a VR version, but even then I’d think twice. By the way, I’ve heard rumors that Nikon is coming out with a VR version of the 300 but can’t confirm it.

      Whatever you choose, have fun!

      • 53
        ) Monica Pileggi
        February 24, 2014 at 1:01 pm


        Thanks for your comments. I went to a camera store yesterday to take a look at the 300mm f/4 and 80-400VR lens. The sales guy basically told me to keep my lens, learn better techniques (tripod, collar up, crop my photos, take one of their outdoor classes, etc), and stated that the 300mm lens is only 1-2% better than mine; that the TC reduces contrast. He didn’t even want to talk about the 80-400VR lens.

        I’ve gotten a lot of good shots with my 70-300 but sometimes it’s a hit/miss, and sometimes I do want more than 300mm focal length.

        I could always go out and just shoot at 300mm only and see how I do, see if I wanting any focal length under 300. And see if I say to myself, “yes, I do need a little more than 300mm”.

        • 54
          ) Cindy Leeson
          February 24, 2014 at 2:38 pm


          I agree with the sales guy on learning better techniques, because if you don’t have that down a new lens isn’t going to help. So you might practice further with the 70-300mm, take a class and see what kind of results you get. A tripod is always a help. I personally use a monopod shooting birds because I move around a lot.

          However, I strongly disagree with his statement that the Nikon 300mm f/4 lens is only 1-2% better than the 70-300. That’s not my experience at all and I’ve used both extensively, having “grown up” on the 70-300 and moving to the 300, and there’s simply no comparison. First, the 300 is a prime lens which is almost always sharper than a zoom, and you’ve already heard everything else I like about it. I haven’t found the 1.4 TC to degrade the image quality at all. I went to the 300 after not being happy, like you, with the 300mm end of the 70-300, and after reading Nasim’s review of the 300 here on Photography Life. Go to the “Lenses” tab at the top of the page, then to “Lens Reviews” and choose the 300. He also did an article on The Best Nikon Lenses for Wildlife Photography. I found everything he said to be true after shooting several months with it now.

          If you practice further and try the techniques the camera store suggested and still aren’t happy, you could always buy it from B&H Photo, a great on-line site which has a 30-day return policy, use it and see how you like it. As long as it’s in the original condition they will give you a refund. I’ve done it. There are other websites that offer the same policy.

          So that’s my experience. I hope you find a lens that works for you. And by the way, even if you have the 300mm with the 1.4 TC (which puts you at 420mm), you’re always going to want a longer lens. I do. It’s always a compromise for me on performance, cost and weight.

          • 55
            ) Frank Jr.
            February 24, 2014 at 3:01 pm

            Back in the early 80’s I purchased a Cannon AE-1 Program with a 50mm 1.8 lens. It didn’t take long before I realized I needed more reach. I purchased a 2x teleconverter, put it on the 50 and naturally hated it. A little later on I made a huge leap and purchased a Nikon F3HP with a 75-300mm f/4.5-5.6. While I loved the camera (still do) I found myself wanting even more reach. I have an old style manual 500mm prime I sometimes use on my DSLR and often want even more reach. I guess what I am trying to point out, or ask is do we ever have enough reach?

            I think Cindy shared it best in her last paragraph………

          • 56
            ) Monica Pileggi
            February 25, 2014 at 8:00 am

            Thanks for your comments Cindy. I have gotten some very good shots with my lens; but will start using my monopod when out at a park or tripod at home with the bird feeders. Maybe the class too.

            I have to agree with you that I think the sales guy is wrong about the 300 f/4..based on all of the reviews I’ve read on this site and your comments.

            Before buying the 300 f/4, I could rent it for a weekend.

            I agree with you and Frank that no matter what I end up with (or keep), I’ll always want a longer lens. With that in mind, the 300 f/4 with the 1.4TC might be the better option over the 80-400VR. I’ve purchased from B&H and Adorama for some of my lenses. They do have a good return policy.


            • 57
              ) James
              March 25, 2014 at 3:45 pm

              Monica, I have used the 300f4 with TC1.4 for 5 years and at the same time used the 70-300. This sales person with respect has no idea what he is talking about. I now use the 300f2.8 vr2 with all 3 TC,s. The f4 is very close to the f2.8 in sharpness and the 70-300 cannot compare with the f4 at short range the 70-300 produce acceptable results but the f4 is 50% sharper at mid and long range. I have used that lens with D80, D300, D700 and D800. It will take your photography to a complete new level. I even used the TC2.0 with that lens on the D800 that can AF that lens with TC2.0 at f8

  20. Profile photo of John
    ) John
    March 28, 2014 at 9:40 am

    Great article Moose, as I am in the process to start shopping for a new lens.
    Has anyone used the; Sigma 120-400mm F4.5-5.6 DG OS for Nikon ?

    • 59
      ) Cindy Leeson
      March 28, 2014 at 10:26 am

      Hi, John. I used the Sigma 120-400mm and ended up switching to the Nikon 300mm f/4 with a 1.4 TC. I found the Sigma to be very soft and the overall image quality to be a bit dingy/yellowish, and it required a whole lot of light to get a decent image. The Nikon 300mm is a whole world sharper, brighter, etc., and does better in less than perfect light. I miss the zoom a bit and the image stabilization, but if I keep my shutter speeds up I get very sharp images. I love this lens.

      I’ve heard the Sigma 150-500mm lens is sharper than the 120-400, though I also hear that with both quality control is an issue, so if you get one you’re not happy with you might try exchanging it for another copy to see if it’s different.

      • Profile photo of John
        ) John
        March 28, 2014 at 4:53 pm

        Thank you Cindy, appreciated your feedback. I know the 300mm F/4 is a great lens but I also would miss the zoom. I might have to think of putting a few extra dollars and go to the 80-400mm.

        • 61
          ) Cindy
          March 28, 2014 at 5:05 pm

          If you haven’t already, you might read Nasim’s review of the 80-400mm. In the review he compares it to a few other lenses, one of which is the 300mm, and another is the Sigma 50-500mm. I miss the zoom, too, but I’m usually photographing birds and rarely find the need to zoom in and out. Zoom would help a bit in capturing a bird in flight, but that’s the only time I really miss it on this length lens. Hope you find a lens that you like!

  21. 62
    June 3, 2014 at 9:48 am

    Beautiful photographs and your work is inspiration for me. Moose Peterson thank you for such wonderful photographs. I am a enthusiast wildlife photographer and trying to get good images. I want some advice I have a DX body with 1.5x crop factor and have a Nikkor AF 70-300mm f4-5.6G lens it does not autofocus on my D 3100 but the lack of autofocus has helped to practice manual focusing. I want more reach what will be a good choice of lens will it be a Nikkor AF-S 70-300f4.5-5.6G with a Kenko 1.4x teleconverter or Sigma 150-500mm or a Tamron 70-200mm f2.8 with a 2x teleconverter. I know using a teleconverter will degrade image quality and I will loose 1 to 2 stops of light but the reach is sometimes required. Please help me with this. I am not able to afford a fast prime right now as I have just started wildlife photography. Thank you

  22. September 7, 2014 at 10:28 pm

    Excelllent article and some lovely photos!
    While beeing a Canon user I can’t use Nikon lenses but July 2013 I invested heavily in Canon EF 200-400 mm/4 with a built in 1.4X extender, and I just love it!
    I use it basically set on 400mm* and like you describe you are using your prime 400 mm. Due to a spinal disease I’m not so “mobile” any more so focusing with my feet is not always an option. With this lens you instantly get a 560mm lens (by pushing a lever) if you need it and you can go down to 200mm as an alternative for backing up.
    The lens performs extremely well, fully at the level of Canons legendary 400 mm/2.8 (of course except the speed) and it’s not at all that heavy. For me it has given me a big step further in my shooting. The BIG con = the PRICE!!!!

    I have also started to use this lens for video on a EOS 1DC filming in 4K from which you can get surprisingly good stills.

    Looking forward to more articles from you!
    * In Lightroom I can see that the majority of my photos are shot at 400mm.

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