Hordes of photographers brave the elements and head out to the African wilderness each year. Only a few come back with the images they set out to get. The quality of your wildlife photography depend largely on your skills as a photographer. But a lot of it also depends on the gear you carry. Sorry folks. If you want that creamy bokeh behind your wildlife subject a standard 55-250 might not cut it.
The right gear can make all the difference in the scheme of things. People with kit lenses, cameras with slower auto-focusing performance, or with cameras that have poor low light performance will find it difficult to capture the kind of images that you see on National Geographic or other publications.
In this article we’ll be examining the best 5 Canon Lenses to Take On Safari to Africa. These lenses have been selected based on their quality, performance and price.
Best 5 Canon Lenses to Take On Safari
Well I could have started with the 800mm f/5.6L but that lens is rarely used by wildlife photographers. The reason being the significant effects of mirage and image distortion that is likely to happen at such extremely long distances. With an 800mm lens you need to stand several hundred yards away to get a proper shot.
The Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM lens is a much more practical choice, even though I personally prefer a shorter lens. I can also use an extender when I need to. The Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM has a maximum aperture of f/4. At such vast distances you can literally melt the background of your subjects and create that interesting ‘stand-out’ images that some wildlife photographers aspire to make.
The Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM comes loaded with all of the necessary features that you need out in the field. This includes an advanced image stabilization system that can compensate for up to four stops of slower shutter speed, a third panning-assist image stabilization mode (apart from the standard two modes that almost every other lenses have) that activates only when the shutter button is fully depressed, ultra-sonic motor based quiet auto-focusing, AF stop button and of course full-time manual focusing override. It also has fluorite and sub-wavelength structure coating that ensures suppression of chromatic aberrations, ghosting and flares. These are the prime reasons for images with lower contrast.
Canon EF 200-400mm tele-photo lens with maximum aperture of f/4L, Image Stabilization and USM based AF plus built-in 1.4x Extender
If you can get performance, handling, image quality, everything in a single lens, it makes a lot more sense to go with it rather than carry several lenses. If one lens is all that you plan on taking on your African safari then the Canon EF 200-400mm tele-photo lens with f/4L IS USM with a built-in 1.4x Extender is probably what you need. Of course you will have to shell out a considerable amount of money to own one of these. The price tag is $11K. The built-in extender magnifies its reach to a 35mm format equivalent of 560mm. That’ probably all that you will ever need. With a smaller crop sensor camera like the 7D mark II or even the 70D you can get an extended reach due to the crop factor.
The Canon EF 200-400mm tele-photo lens with f/4L IS USM has a quiet ultrasonic motor driven auto-focusing mechanism, three mode image stabilization (one designed exclusively for panning purposes), full-time manual override and, a handy focus delimiter feature which assists in faster AF lock, Fluorite and ULD (Ultra-Low Dispersion) elements. You would need a quiet auto-focusing performance, especially when shooting fidgety wild animals which can be startled even at the faintest of unfamiliar sound.
The African wilderness gets pretty hot during the day, even in the cooler months. This leads to mirages which can distort the quality of your images. The longer is the distance between you and your subject, the greater the chances of mirage distorting your imagery. Thus, for best results, you have to get within a reasonable proximity (not putting yourself into harm’s way). The Canon EF 200-400mm tele-photo lens with f/4L IS USM in many ways is the right lens for most wildlife photography.
If you’re obsessed with maximum apertures then the 400m f/2.8 IS II USM is a better choice than the one we just read. This is a 400mm lens and a prime, with a maximum aperture of f/2.8 – a whole one stop faster than the Canon EF 200-400mm tele-photo lens with f/4L IS USM we just read about. This translates into doubling of the shutter speed in all lighting situations. Often the difference between a good, clean and sharp image and one that is noisy or blurred is the maximum aperture on your lens.
The Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L II IS USM is a great lens for birding as well as for big game photography. Plus, it is compatible with both the 1.4x and the 2x Canon extenders, giving it an extended reach of up to double of its optical focal length (800mm). Price of the lens is just a tad less than the previous lens we discussed ($10K).
It also has other features including full-time manual focusing override, a three mode optical image stabilization including one that is designed to specifically assists in panning, an auto-focus stop / pause button that works in tandem with the manual overriding mode and additional subwavelength structure coating for suppression of ghosting and flares. Additionally, the lens is weather sealed, and comes with Fluorine coating, which is good given the conditions you would be using it in.
Options from other brands
We’ll now look at a couple of lenses from other compatible brands.
Sigma Zoom Super Telephoto 300-800mm with maximum aperture of f/5.6 plus Internal Focusing and HSM based autofocus lens for Canon EOS
At 300-800mm the Sigma 300-800mm lens for Canon EOS cameras, is a formidable choice. To start off, it offers a focal length range that covers the basic 300mm to the super-telephoto 800mm. It has a fixed maximum aperture of f/5.6 across the focal length. This is really handy considering the amount of focal length coverage the lens has. For someone looking for an f/4-ish sort of lens, however, that extra one stop loss may sound a bit uninspiring. But for all practical purposes f/5.6 is good enough. You can easily shoot at a slightly higher ISO and compensate for the loss of one stop of aperture.
Though not in the same class as a Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM lens, the Sigma 300-800mm lens is no pushover either. It will probably appeal to someone with a lesser budget. But, it will not be a bad choice in anyways. The designers at Sigma has used apochromatic elements as well as 2 Extraordinary Low Dispersion (ELD) elements in the design of the lens. Additionally, the DG lens designing and the Auto-focusing is powered by Sigma’s Hyper Sonic Motor driven technology. Plus, you have full-time manual focusing override, which comes in handy when you need to properly focus. This can happen in a low contrast situation or even in low light situations where auto-focusing struggles.
Sigma 150-600mm lens with maximum aperture f/5 – 6.3 and powered by HSM auto-focusing technology for the Canon EF mount
At just under $2000 the Sigma 150-600mm lens with maximum aperture f/5 – 6.3 manages to make this list not because of sheer optical quality, but because it combines almost everything at a relatively low budget. The Sigma 150-600mm lens with maximum aperture f/5 – 6.3 is a super-telephoto zoom lens with a 35mm coverage of 150mm all the way to 600mm. It has a maximum aperture range of f/5 to 6.3. The maximum aperture of this lens is not in the same league as some of the other super telephoto lenses that we have discussed in this article. In low light you will need to use a higher ISO to get a proper blur-free exposure.
The lens elements constitutes two FLD and three SLD elements. Hyper Sonic Motor based auto-focusing systems ensure that auto-focusing is super-fast and super quiet. There’s also zooming lock to prevent accidental zooming. Full-time manual focusing overrode gives you instant focus correction in situations of low light and poor contrast. The lens has some amount of weather sealing but not in the grade as the other Canon L series lenses that we have discussed here.