Home Aviation Photography 10 of the Best Camera Lenses for Aviation Photography

10 of the Best Camera Lenses for Aviation Photography

by Matt Falcus
best camera lenses for aviation photography

best camera lenses for aviation photography

The camera lens you use for aviation photography can make the difference between a great and mediocre shot.

It’s often said that you should buy the best lens you can afford, as it will produce better results regardless of the camera body.

A good lens can also become a long-term part of your kit, lasting through numerous different bodies (as long as you keep the same type! You won’t be able to use a Canon lens on a Nikon body).


With this in mind, if you’re in the market to improve your aviation photography, take a look at these lenses which all come highly approved by spotters, photographers and professional camera users who have been using them to take great pictures of aircraft while out spotting:


Best Canon Lenses

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Telephoto Zoom Lens 

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Telephoto Zoom Lens for Canon SLR Cameras



Canon EF 100-400 mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens for Camera 

Canon EF 100-400 mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS II USM Lens for Camera



Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM Lens

Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM Lens


Canon EF 400 mm f2.8 L IS USM Lens

Canon EF 400 mm f2.8 L IS USM Lens



Sigma 150-600mm 5-6.3 Contemporary DG OS HSM Lens for Canon

Sigma 150 – 600 mm F5 – 6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary Canon Mount Lens



Best Nikon Lenses

Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G VR Lens

Nikon Lens Nikkor AF-S DX 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR, Black


Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-300 mm f/3.5-6.3G ED VR Lens

Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-300 mm f/3.5-6.3G ED VR Lens



Sigma 50-500 mm F4-6.3 APO DG HSM Optical Stabilised 

Sigma 50-500 mm F4-6.3 APO DG HSM Optical Stabilised lens for Nikon Full Frame and Digital APS-C SLR Cameras


Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR Lens

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR Lens


Which lens would you recommend? Leave a comment or tip below.


Note, the links on each of these camera lenses sends you to the product page for that lens on Amazon, where you are able to read customer reviews and purchase the lens if you feel it is right for you. One of the ways AirportSpotting.com manages its costs and becomes a sustainable business is through affiliate income from such links. 


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Lee calkins March 10, 2018 - 9:44 pm

I use Nikon D500 with ether the Nikon 80-200 2.8 AFS or Nikon 200-500 5.6, depending on the reach needed.

Matt Falcus March 12, 2018 - 9:18 am

Thanks Lee

Scot 'FighterJetGeek' Meek March 10, 2018 - 9:56 pm

I also highly recommend the Tamron 150-600 4.5-5.6 Gen II… I bought mine about 7 months ago and my photography quality has jumped 10 fold. I absolutely couldn’t be happier. It comes in a tick under $1400.00..but I promise you that it will be the best investment in glass you will ever make.

Matt Falcus March 12, 2018 - 9:17 am

Thanks for the tip Scot!

John Spencer March 11, 2018 - 8:57 am

I have a Sigma 150-500 on a Canon 800D.
Great combo…great images.

Matt Falcus March 12, 2018 - 9:17 am

Thanks John!

Baz Manning March 11, 2018 - 9:59 am

Nikkor 28-300mm. I have had this lens permanently on a DSLR for a year and struggle to think of any criticisms. It is not a light lens but with so much glass in it this is to be expected and only the weakest of arms would struggle to hold it for long. Even my 7 year old granddaughter finds it easy to use. The image quality is superb throughout the range, the zoom ring has just enough resistance while still being light and easy to move, and the auto-focus is as quick as you could hope for. It is the perfect all-rounder for aviation.
And on top of all this, it is a surprisingly good macro lens too.

Baz Manning March 11, 2018 - 10:01 am

I have the Sigma 150-600 attached to a Nikon D3300. Despite being the best lens in the camera mag reviews time after time, it has pros AND cons. It is extremely heavy and has a stiff manual zoom which makes it tricky to use on flyers. Also if you want those pin sharp, full frame shots of high trailing overflights we have all seen, this lens only achieves them when conditions are good and you are in the perfect location, ideally directly underneath and able to keep it steady. Even then you also need a high megapixel camera to enable you to crop the image with no loss of detail. My 25MP Nikon is only just enough. To get those shots a 600mm prime may be the only answer.
However, when you get used to it, the image stabilisation (VR) enables you to get wonderful shots of flyers at an airfield-type distance as long as you think ahead and work out where the zoom ring should be as the plane flies past. I was told to turn VR off when it is on a tripod or resting on a fence as using it confuses the lens, but I have not found this at all and the maximum VR is effective at all times. The shots are crisp and as sharp as a kit lens at all focal lengths in my experience, despite what I have said about trails. Quick auto-focus was important for me and this lens is as fast as I could have hoped for.
It is not sold with a lens cap so attaching the hood is advisable, which screws on and off with a threaded nut within seconds. The tripod mount is movable so that when it is swung round to the top of the lens it doubles up as a handle. It is so heavy you must hold the lens, not the camera, or you risk straining the ring mounts. Do not use the camera strap for the same reason, use the strap attached to the lens.
At high magnification it is capable of shooting through a fence without any wire in the frame (without the lens hood of course).
There are bags designed to take this whopper of a lens with its camera attached, but the lens hood needs to be removed, disappointingly, meaning a minute or two is needed to set it up, so keeping it safe in the bag while still hoping to grab it to capture a briefly visible plane will end in frustration.
It is possible to use this lens as a telescope/binocular substitute. Logging by camera is common these days but you still need a decent pole to read off distant planes, which can cause eye strain over time. On a DSLR which is not full frame the 600mm equates to 18x magnification – with no eye strain. The downside is you cannot be discreet using it.
Is it worth the high price and the neck ache – absolutely!

Matt Falcus March 12, 2018 - 9:17 am

Thanks Baz!

Graham Lavers March 13, 2018 - 5:31 pm

I have just bought the Tamron 18mm-400mm to give a try,not used it yet though.

KIng F Hui March 13, 2018 - 6:03 pm

It should be mentioned that the Sigma 15-600mm lens is also available for Nikon. Sigma actually offers the service of changing the mount from Nikon to Canon or vice versa should you change camera body brand.

Matt Falcus March 13, 2018 - 8:56 pm

Thanks King!

dean russell March 15, 2018 - 3:24 pm

sadly the canon 100-400,you show, is the mk1 model, some still available second hand,from £650-00 up to £995-00, but the mk2 still comes in at £1600-00, serious money!!!. For me it`s horses for courses, I don`t like heavy cameras and lenses around my neck/shoulders all day along with binoculars, so I always take my 70-300 canon lens, half the weight of the big lenses and easier to handle and I still get some quite amazing shots.

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simon curtis July 8, 2018 - 10:02 pm

100% agree on the Canon 70-200 f2.8 & the Cannon 400 f5.6 prime. There my main pieces of kit. Add a 1.4 converter on there and the Cannon 17-40 f4.0 for very close range and that’s 99% of what i ever use. They pretty much cover everything you can come up against and cover 17-560 mm with not many gaps. 🙂 Trouble is the 400 prime with a converter will only have auto focus with a 1D. Which lucky for me i do have. Not sure if any of the newer models allow AF on it though ?

Marco September 27, 2018 - 7:17 am

A truly non sense article. The Best lenses for aviation photography are simply the best lenses available in the range between 35 and 250 mm or 300 for the full frame cameras (both analogic or digital). Going over 300 is not for serious, traditional, spotting but of course nice for “artistic” and dinamica aircraft photograpy. There are lenses from the ’80 that are much better than most of today’s lenses and that can be used on modern digital or analogic cameras.

Nikolay Klimchuk October 11, 2018 - 12:53 am

Choosing between Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM and f/2.8L IS III USM
f/4 is cheaper and lighter so I’m leaning towards it
Will I miss anything with aviation photography specifically ?

lazyrabbit August 10, 2021 - 4:14 pm

Nikolay, I suppose you asked so long time ago that replying YOU have no sense
but perhaps somebody else will find it useful?
well, IMHO F4 is better choice — not only cost but weight and size too
most aviaphotos are taken in good weather, so one additional stop didn’t get you anything valuable.
Only real point is using extenders — with 2.8 you can use 2x while with 4 only 1.4


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