Best Budget Nikon Lenses for Wildlife Photography in 2023 [$169~$836]

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I don’t make a living from photography; I just simply love it. I’m interested in all genres of photography. However, I pride myself on being a nature photographer.

Sometimes I truly feel photographing wildlife is my calling. It’s like a mental journey back in time. My camera and lenses act as a connection between the Creator and me.

This pleasure no longer has anything to do with the price of the lens. With this kind of connection, I know I can experience the pure joy of wildlife photography.

Admittedly, budget lenses limit me a bit. But my creativity has no boundaries. That is a gift from the Creator.

Now I want to list the best budget lens for wildlife photography that Nikon users can enjoy. I will sort it by price from lowest to highest.

Happy shooting!

Which Budget Nikon Lenses Are Best for Wildlife Photography?

Sigma 70-300mm F4-5.6 APO-M DG Macro

This budget-friendly lens has made its mark for more than a decade. Sigma does not produce it anymore. But it is still popular on the used market.

Its strikingly low price is an absolute boon for beginners.

A friend of mine just bought it last month. She often visits botanical gardens to see plants and wildlife animals. She asked me which lens was cheap and good for her.  

I suggested this lens to her. She went to a botanical garden and captured a squirrel. She was happy with the image quality.

I told her she could use this lens to take a macro photo of a flower. She was so excited to hear that.

Key Features

  • Design for full-frame and crop sensor
  • Apochromatic lens design
  • Macro mode
  • Autofocus motor
  • 9-blade diaphragm
  • Lightweight (550g)

Quality Glass Elements

The lens marks include the acronym “APO”. APO stands for “apochromatically corrected”. APO lenses are designed for bringing three colors into focus in the same plane, making the image sharper.

It has 2 Special Low Dispersion glass elements in the front lens group and 1 in the rear lens group.

So the photos taken with it have a clear contrast at the edges.

Minimum Chromatic Aberration

Chromatic aberration is caused by lens dispersion.

Different wavelengths of color are focused at different positions, making the image blurry and having colored edges.

Thanks to the inside low-dispersion glass elements, the chromatic aberrations are invisible.

Ability for Macro Shots

At 200-300mm, you can use it to take some macro shots. It has a maximum close-up magnification of 1:2 at 300mm and 1:2.9 at 200mm.

 Autofocus Operation

It has a built-in autofocus motor, which functions properly for any Nikon DSLR camera (including the D40, D40x, D60, etc.).

The focusing speed is fast but produces some noise. But the noise is not loud enough to spook wildlife animals.

Autofocus is essential for wildlife photography. Some wildlife animals move so fast. By the time you managed to manually focus on them, they would’ve disappeared from the view.

You can turn on the autofocus and burst mode and take a bunch of photos of them in this scenario. You will end up with many sharp images.

Compact and lightweight

Even though I’m a man with a lot of energy, I prefer lightweight camera gear.

After hours of hiking and shooting, I was dog-tired, holding heavy-loaded camera lenses. I wished I had brought my lightweight gear so I could continue my shooting for more hours.

This budget lens is only 19.4 oz (550 g). It is also short (4.7″/12cm). That’s ideal for traveling.


  • Best bang for your buck
  • Good image quality
  • Minimum chromatic aberration
  • Compact and lightweight
  • Macro zoom ability


  • Not a true macro lens
  • No image stabilization


Sigma 70-300mm F4-5.6 is the best beginner wildlife photography lens.

Nikon AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED

This is my first telephoto lens. I bought it in 2014, and it is still working at its best. I kept it with me while traveling around the world as a cruise member.

Thanks to its excellent VR function, I captured many sharp images of seagulls on cruise ships.

At that time, I was still using an APS-C camera (D5300). I was surprised to find out I could get an equivalent field of view of approximately 105-450mm. This focal length is enough for bird photography.

Key Features

  • FX/DX Format
  • Image Stabilization (VR II)
  • 2 Extra-Low Dispersion Elements
  • Super Integrated Lens Coating
  • Internal Focus
  • 9-Blade Diaphragm

Great Sharpness

I often marvel at how the camera can recreate a real scene.

A beam of light contains different colors of light (wavelengths). Then it travels through the lens; different wavelengths continue along different angles. When they finally come together in the sensor, they produce a blurred image.

That’s where Nikon’s extra-low dispersion elements come into play. They ensure different colors of light reach the same point on the sensor. As a result, the image becomes sharp with high-resolution edges.

Another challenge for a lens is the unwanted reflections. Light doesn’t just travel through. Some of the light will be reflected back. They bounce between glass elements, leading to blurry images.

To fix this problem, Nikon applied multiple coatings to the surfaces of the glass element to reduce reflections.

That’s why the lens can produce sharp images.

Vibration Reduction

Sometimes when I photograph birds in flight handheld, I feel like I’m a skeet shooter. I fire a burst of shots when they take off and land.  

I find Nikon’s image stabilization really works. I can lower my ISO in low light conditions. When I am lazy, I just leave my tripod at home and shoot with my camera in hand.

Autofocus Performance

Nikon’s SWM (Silent Wave Motor) is a great invention in the history of photography.

It makes the lens focus fast and accurately.

It is invaluable to capture sharp photos of fast-moving wildlife.

And it is silent. The wild animals will not notice the sound it makes at all.

Plus, you can easily override it with manual focus.

I used this function when I came across a deer. It has almost the same color and tone as the background. Even a lion could not see it.

I fiddled with the focus ring. Luckily, it is big and fat. Great design!


  • Excellent sharpness
  • No flares and ghost
  • Great vibration reduction
  • Fast, silent, and accurate autofocus
  • Low distortion
  • Easy manual focus


  • A little slow focus at 300mm


I think it is the best budget Nikon lens for wildlife photography. The lens is out of production, but you can get a used one at an affordable price.

Tamron 18-400mm F3.5-6.3 Di II VC HLD Nikon F (DX)

When I have limited space in my travel backpack, I usually take only a crop-sensor camera with an 18-400mm lens.

The lens is dedicated to APS-C cameras. It is so versatile that I can use it for any kind of photography.

I call it a superzoom lens because it provides an equivalent focal length range of 27-600mm.

Key Features

  • DX-Format
  • 27-600mm (35mm Equivalent)
  • 3 LD and 3 Aspherical Elements
  • HLD Autofocus Motor
  • Moisture-resistant construction
  • Image stabilization

Great Build Quality

It has a sleek shape with a nice matte black finish. Zooming in and out doesn’t need much power, although it can extend a lot.

The moisture-resistant construction definitely adds to its value. Simply put, it has leak-proof seals throughout the lens barrel. You can shoot with confidence in the rain. Of course, the camera body also needs to be waterproof.

Solid Image Quality

What amazes me is that the lens has expensive aspherical elements. They are more complicated to produce than ordinary lens elements.

But they are essential for a sharp superzoom lens indeed. The lens has 16 elements in 11 groups, a rather complicated construction.

Such construction calls for better glass elements to reduce optical imperfections such as chromatic aberrations.

The lens is sharp in the center at a focal length below 300mm. However, it is a bit soft on the edge and at a focal length above 300mm.

Overall, the image quality is decent for a superzoom lens.

Image Stabilization

The lens is quite long at its maximum focal length, easily leading to camera shake.

Luckily, its vibration compensation helps to reduce the camera shake by up to 2.5 stops.

This means you can keep the same shutter speed to avoid motion blur when shooting a fast-moving subject like a pronghorn while lowering your ISO to improve image quality.

Smooth Autofocusing

It also features an HLD (High/Low torque-modulated Drive) autofocus motor. This motor is more energy-efficient and compact than a normal motor. It delivers decent focusing performance.

There is no instant manual focus override. But you can change focus modes by moving a switch.

Compact and Lightweight

It is super compact. Its length is only 12.1cm, even slightly shorter than Sigma 70-300mm F4-5.6. But it can extend to 21.2cm at 400mm.

And for its superzoom ability, it is not heavy at all (1.55lb/705g) — even lighter than Nikon 70-300mm.

After all, as a DX lens, it doesn’t need glass elements as big as an FX lens.


  • 22x zoom ratio
  • Easy to carry
  • Moisture-resistant construction
  • Vibration reduction
  • Budget-friendly


  • Not FX format
  • Soft edge
  • Moderately slow autofocus


In my opinion, it is the best budget wildlife aps-c lens for Nikon users.

Tamron 100-400mm F4.5-6.3 Di VC USD Nikon F (FX)

Having an all-around lens like an 18-400mm lens is a good idea. But super range zoom could pose a challenge to delivering sharp images. If you care much about the image quality, opt for a 100-400 lens rather than an 18-400 one.

With a 150-600mm equivalent focal length range, most wildlife will be in your reach if you use an APS-C camera. For full-frame users, the focal length is still quite enough.

Key Features

  • FX/DX Compatibility
  • USD autofocus motor
  • Image Stabilization
  • Dust and moisture proof design
  • Rounded 9-blade diaphragm

Superior Build Quality

Its USP is a fully weather-sealed design, which makes it better than its competitors — Sigma 100-400mm F5-6.3.

It has a rear gasket at the lens mount to prevent dust or moisture from entering the lens or camera body.

The internal seals fill any slight gaps between lens barrels. In addition, Tamron applied a special coating to the front element, which helps to repel things like dust, water, and grease.

Its barrel is mainly magnesium, offering a slick and modern look.

You can confidently shoot in harsh environmental conditions.

Outstanding Autofocus System

I was very impressed by its autofocus performance when I tried this lens borrowed from a friend. It is as good as the Nikon’s SWM focus motor.

I was trying to capture an eagle with this lens. The lens could easily lock on and track it throughout the flight. I shot in AI-Servo focus mode and took a bunch of photos, and only one or two displayed a slight motion blur.

In the meantime, I didn’t hear noticeable noise from the Ultrasonic Silent Drive motor.

Excellent Image Quality

The image I took was full of details. I had expected the image quality to be a little worse because of the complex structure of this lens. Every single glass element has the potential for loss of detail.

I zoomed in on the images on a large display. The pictures were so clear that I could count the hairs of the eagle. I looked closely at the place where its wings met the sky. I didn’t find obvious color fringing.

The image quality was beyond my expectation.

VC Image Stabilizer

Note that I took those images handheld.

The image in the viewfinder remained still when I turned on the VC function.

The stabilizer is also very quiet and effective in operation.

It gives around four stops of image stabilization.


  • Durable and weatherproof
  • Outstanding image quality
  • Accurate and quiet autofocus
  • Effective vibration reduction
  • Great performance to price ratio


  • Tripod collar must be purchased separately.


I believe it is the best budget birding lens for Nikon users.

Sigma 150-600mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM C Nikon F (FX)

Getting close-ups of wildlife in action is always alluring to many wildlife photographers. Some animals are so small that you have to use at least 600mm for close-ups, e.g., passerine birds. But the lenses with a focal length longer than 600mm are typically pricey.

In this case, Sigma 150-600mm F5-6.3 is the best budget option. It’s designed for full-frame Nikon F-mount cameras; however, it is also compatible with DX bodies, offering a 225-900mm equivalent focal length range.

Key Features

  • FX/DX format
  • OS Image Stabilizer
  • 3 SLD Elements
  • 1 FLD Elements
  • HSM Motor
  • 9-blade diaphragm

Great for Handheld Shooting

Shooting handheld with a long-range zoom lens is tricky as it challenges a camera’s ISO performance and shutter speed. To avoid camera shake, you have to increase the shutter speed. At the same time, you have to push your camera’s ISO quite a bit to maintain the same exposure. This will downgrade the image quality.

You won’t have such issues using Sigma 150-600mm F5-6.3. It helps stabilize the lens or camera movement. Many photographers who have used this lens can get sharp images at 1/100th of a second at 600mm.

Compared with similar super zoom lenses, this lens is lightweight. It allows you to shoot quite a long time without much arm fatigue.


Bokeh is a beautiful effect when the background is out of focus and looks soft — the larger the aperture or the longer the focal length, the more noticeable its effect.

As against 6.3 at 400mm, this budget lens has a maximum aperture of f/6.3 at 600mm; therefore, it has better bokeh effects.

In addition, it has a diaphragm of circular 9-blades, rendering bokeh whose shape is much closer to that of a perfect circle.

Great Image Quality

Lenses with extreme focal lengths often show drawbacks in their image quality. But this lens has a relatively excellent performance.

It is extremely sharp at focal lengths less than 400mm.

The sharpness is still decent at the maximum of 600mm.

With the help of 1 FLD element and 3 SLD elements, the color fringing and chromatic aberrations throughout the zoom range are well-controlled.

Super multi-coating is also applied to reduce flare and ghosting.

Autofocus Performance

Autofocus speed is impressive, particularly at 600mm, thanks to the Hyper Sonic Motor (HSM).

As the motor name suggested, HSM also functions quietly when autofocusing. With such a long-range of focal length, your shooting will certainly not interfere with the normal activities of wildlife.

Manual focus can be adjusted at any time by overriding the focus ring..


  • Outstanding telephoto reach
  • Fast and silent autofocus
  • Affordable in price
  • Including tripod collar


  • Slight pincushion distortion
  • Not fully weather-sealed


I think it is the best budget super-telephoto lens for wildlife photography.

Final Words

Wildlife photography is an excellent activity for those who love nature. But it also has higher requirements for equipment. I sincerely hope you can get the best lens for the least amount of money so that you can use the money you save elsewhere, such as travel and airfare.

If you have more questions, feel free to leave a comment below. I’m here for you!

Meet the Author

Wei Mao

Wei was a cruise photographer who worked at Disney Cruise Line. He is a lucky traveler who has been to more than 20 countries with his camera while working on an around-the-world cruise. Photography has changed his view of the world forever. Now he wants more people to benefit from photography through his blog.

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