What is the ultimate Sony FE (full-frame, E-mount) wildlife photography lens?
Wildlife comes in all shapes and sizes.
Wildlife has a wide range of tolerance for human presence, and wildlife photographers have a wide range of get-close skills, patience, time, and motivation.
Adding complication is wildlife images can be framed in a variety of ways ranging from tight headshots to wide environmental portraits.
All this results in a wide range of focal lengths being useful for the pursuit of wildlife photography.
A kit of lenses in various focal lengths is the ideal option for wildlife photographers. Wildlife photographers opting for a one-lens kit usually need as much focal length as they can carry or afford because it is usually easier to get farther away from wildlife than it is to get closer. The farther away you can photograph your subject from, the more likely you will have time to get multiple natural shots of your wild subject before it departs. Longer focal lengths also make it easier to create a strong background blur that makes your subject stand out from the often distracting background. I don't recall ever hearing a bird photographer or anyone photographing potentially dangerous game complain about having too much focal length, but be mindful that heat shimmer/haze/waves can be negatively impact long distance image quality. Sometimes getting closer is the better option.
Wildlife is most often active early and late in the day when light levels are at their lowest. Especially in low light conditions, it is great to have a wide aperture enabling motion-stopping shutter speeds at lower, less noisy ISO settings. Wildlife in fast motion (birds in flight, deer leaping, etc.) can make the best images, and the wide aperture can be useful in that regard even under direct sunlight. The wide aperture also increases the lens's background blur capability.
If your subject is not moving or is moving slowly, Optical SteadyShot image stabilization can be a huge asset for low light wildlife photography. Currently, all Sony FE E-mount telephoto lenses have this feature. A tripod, monopod, or other support can alternatively or additionally be used.
Wildlife does not mind rain or snow, but some lenses (and cameras) do. A weather-sealed camera and lens kit rules for wildlife photography, and it is still a good practice to cover even sealed gear with a LensCoat camera rain cover or similar.
The best wildlife lenses are among the most expensive lens options available, and the ultimate wildlife lenses will differentiate your work, delivering professional-grade image quality and appearance.
The Best Sony Full-Frame Wildlife Photography Lenses
1. Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens
The Ultimate Wildlife Photography Lens
For wildlife photography, lens options do not get better than this one. The Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens is one of the sharpest lenses I've ever used — the image quality it produces is outstanding. The focal length is ideal for a majority of my wildlife photography needs, and this lens works great with teleconverters – the 2x extends the focal length up to 1200mm. The build quality is great, and weather sealing is included. This lens's biggest downside is the price, and the size and weight of this lens will be intimidating to the unacclimated. That said, this is a very lightweight lens for the 600mm and f/4 combination.
When Sony announced the FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS Lens, wildlife photographers cheered loudly, and the demand for this lens exceeded the supply for months. The focal length range in this lens is fantastic for wildlife use, and teleconverter compatibility extends that reach (though the already narrow max aperture becomes even narrower). The superb image quality produced by this lens does not disappoint. This is a relatively large and heavy lens with a moderately-high price tag, but compared to the Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens, the FE 200-600 appears small, lightweight, and a great deal.
3. Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary Lens
Long Focal Length Range with Long Focal Lengths, Excellent Image Quality, Well-Constructed, Optical SteadyShot, Weather-Sealed
When photographing wildlife, I sometimes carry just a 100-400mm lens, and sometimes I take a 100-400mm lens to complement a 600mm f/4. This focal length range, extending out to 100mm available, is especially suitable for environmental portraits, and these images can sometimes be more compelling than a tight animal portrait. Zooming out to 100mm also gives this lens increased general-purpose versatility (think pictures of the kids). This lens is compatible with teleconverters for those times when even greater reach is needed. While the f/5.6 aperture available at the longest focal lengths is not so wide, that aperture allows the lens to be small in size and light enough in weight to be carried and hand-held for relatively long periods. The FE 100-400 is not an inexpensive lens, but again, far less expensive than the 600 f/4.
Note that this lens requires an adapter such as the Sigma Mount Converter MC-11 to be Sony E-mount compatible. Otherwise, the Sigma 100-400mm Contemporary Lens is a great bargain.
Visit the Sony Lens Recommendations page for more recommendations.