The lens wildlife photographer Christian Ziegler couldn't live without

A portrait of a Gee's golden langur, photographed by Christian Ziegler in Bhutan.
Wildlife photographer Christian Ziegler photographed the heavily forested terrain, wildlife and culture of Bhutan, including the shy Gee's golden langur. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with a Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM lens plus Canon Extender EF 1.4x III at 1/160 sec, f/10, ISO 5000. © Christian Ziegler

In our Couldn't Work Without series, we ask leading photographers and filmmakers to reveal their essential kit. Although many of wildlife photographer Christian Ziegler's most celebrated images have been taken using wide-angle lenses and remote flash set-ups, he says the piece of equipment he couldn't live without is the Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens.

Since his first visit to a tropical rainforest on a trip to Thailand when he was 19, Canon Ambassador Christian has become internationally known for his coverage of tropical rainforest nature. He has a Masters degree in tropical biology, lives and works in Panama as Associate for Communication at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, and is a frequent contributor to National Geographic and international science and photography journals.

While Christian also always packs four Canon Speedlite 430EX III-RT flash heads on assignment, here he explains why the large-aperture super-telephoto lens has become an indispensable part of his kitbag.

A bright blue monal pheasant, photographed by Christian Ziegler with a Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens.
The light weight and sharpness of the Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens proved invaluable for capturing photos of elusive wildlife, such as the highly endangered monal pheasant. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with a Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens at 1/200 sec, f/18 and ISO2000. © Christian Ziegler
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A light 300mm lens

"I have worked with the [previous generation] Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L for several years, but then recently I was working on location in Bhutan and I took the EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM – and I love it!" says Christian. "It's sharper and much lighter. For me, these two points are enough to sell this lens."

"Weight is a big issue for me because when I'm on assignment we hike a lot and cover long distances – and in Bhutan this is always on very steep terrain."

Christian has been visiting the Himalayan mountain kingdom for the past two years to photograph its heavily forested terrain, wildlife and culture. "Bhutan is an unusual place," he says. "It is unique in having undisturbed habitat from 100 metres to 7,000 metres elevation – this is not seen anywhere else in the Himalayas because the forests have been cleared for roads, agriculture and timber. Nature is so well conserved here. It's a real joy to experience such wild and remote places."

A Gee's golden langur in the trees, photographed by Christian Ziegler.
Christian photographed shy, elusive wildlife including Gee's golden langur in the trees. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with an EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens plus Canon Extender EF 1.4x III at 1/250 sec, f/4.5, ISO1600. © Christian Ziegler

A flexible performer

On this assignment, Christian continues, "I wanted to capture shy primates and birds, especially hornbills." This meant shooting from a distance, often handheld. But he knew he could rely on the high performance and optical quality of the L-series Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM, with its 4-stop optical Image Stabilizer and automatic panning detection. He was able, for example, to capture portraits of the highly endangered Gee's golden langur – an elusive monkey living in the treetops.

"I was usually following the monkeys through the forest, with them moving fast through the canopy and me on the forest floor. I needed to be fast, and this lens really let me do that. Often, I look through the camera for a long time, waiting for a certain expression. With this lens, I was much more confident because it weighs so little and responds so well."

For more flexibility in reach on the move, Christian paired the Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM with the Canon Extender EF 1.4x III and Canon Extender EF 2x III. He found both were a perfect complement, enabling him to increase the lens's focal length without compromising image quality. "Both work very well with the EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM," he says. "It's so sharp, I can't tell the difference in the final picture, with or without the converter."

A close-up of the head of a Rufous-necked hornbill, viewed from over its shoulder, photographed by Christian Ziegler.
It took patience, knowledge of his subjects, and reliable kit to photograph the wildlife of the tropical rainforests of Bhutan, such as the Rufous-necked hornbill. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with a Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM lens plus Canon Extender EF 1.4x III at 1/320 sec, f/22 and ISO2500. © Christian Ziegler
A carpenter ant emerges from the pitcher of a villose pitcher plant, photographed by Christian Ziegler.

Wildlife photography with a Canon macro lens

Biologist and photographer Christian Ziegler explains how he photographs amazing rainforest wildlife with a macro lens.

What are the main contents of your photography kitbag?

"We both love the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II. It delivers 12-14 frames per second in high-speed drive shooting mode when shooting RAW, and when you are shooting action you need every frame you can get. The autofocus is also really good – great for tracking moving subjects such as eagles and cheetahs. The noise reduction is top-notch, though we try not to shoot over ISO2000. We also love the EOS 5D Mark IV. The touchscreen and video is superb. Angie loves the EOS 5DS R for the image quality. It is brilliant for portraits and landscapes, and you can record every detail.

"My go-to lens is the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM with built-in 1.4x extender. It's so versatile. It gives you just about everything in one lens, with real reach and flexibility when it comes to composition – it is pin-sharp and has great IS. I also like the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM. We have canvas panels in the side of Angie's vehicle that unzip and allow her low-level shooting access – and we use the Waist-Level Finder too with our cameras at times.

With its rapid, near-silent autofocus and full-time electronic manual focus override available without having to switch out of AF mode, the Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM enabled Christian to realise his creative vision, whatever the demands of the moment.

An adult and two young elephants beside a river, photographed by Christian Ziegler on a Canon EOS R.
Christian also enjoyed working with the Canon EOS R on his Bhutan trip. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM lens at 1/800 sec, f/4.5 and ISO2500. © Christian Ziegler
An animal pawprint being measured with a tape measure, photographed by Christian Ziegler on a Canon EOS R.
With its outstanding low-light capability and light weight, the EOS R proved to be a very useful addition to Christian's scientific equipment as well as his photographic kitbag. Taken on a Canon EOS R with an RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM lens at 1/100 sec, f/10, ISO1600. © Christian Ziegler

Christian's other wildlife photography kit

For the Bhutan assignment, Christian also packed the Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM lens, plus the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM and a pair of zooms, the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM and Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM. He used all of these lenses with the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II body.

In addition, he took the full-frame mirrorless Canon EOS R camera and Canon RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM zoom lens.

Colourful fruit and vegetables in bags, boxes and baskets on a floor, photographed by Christian Ziegler on a Canon EOS R.
The EOS R makes an ideal camera for travellers wanting to capture local sights. Taken on a Canon EOS R with an RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM lens at 1/60 sec, f/4.5, ISO640. © Christian Ziegler

"The EOS R has been a great camera to experiment with and it does really well in low light. In Bhutan, I was staying in a remote village when they had an annual festival, where they carry burning branches to each house to cleanse the village of bad spirits. The ritual happens at night and so the lighting was tricky, but the results with the EOS R were impressive."

Over his career, Christian's work has won numerous accolades including multiple awards in the prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year and World Press Photo competitions. So what advice does he have for those inspired to follow in his footsteps?

"It's tough. More than anything you have to love the job and be persistent, really stick at it and learn as much as you can as you go along," he replies. "But we still need more people to communicate stories about tropical ecosystems to a broad audience. I think we also need different perspectives to tell these nature stories, certainly more women and people from diverse backgrounds."

Written by Keith Wilson

Christian Ziegler's kitbag

The key kit for wildlife photography

Christian Ziegler's kitbag, including two Canon EOS-1D X Mark II bodies and an EOS R.


Canon EOS-1D X Mark II

With its high-sensitivity 20.2MP full-frame CMOS sensor, expanded 61-point Dual Pixel AF system and 4K video capture, the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II delivers class-leading performance.

Canon EOS R

Full-frame mirrorless camera that opens up new creative opportunities for photographers and filmmakers. "The EOS R does really well in low light," Christian says.


Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM

High-performance L-series super-telephoto lens, with 4 stop Image Stabilizer with 3 modes ideal for all types of action photography. "It's sharp and light," says Christian. "I love it!"

Canon RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM

A highly versatile 24-105mm zoom lens for the Canon EOS R System offering photographers and filmmakers an ideal balance between performance, portability and image quality.

Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM

The EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM is a high-magnification, super-telephoto lens featuring integrated Image Stabilizer technology and a fast f/4 maximum aperture. Perfect for wildlife, nature and sports photographers working in the field.

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM

The EF 100mmm f/2.8 Macro USM lens is equally at home for portraits as it is for macro photography up to life-size (1.0x).

Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM

Featuring superb image quality edge to edge, a robust build and impeccable weather sealing, this L-series ultra-wide angle zoom lens has a constant f/2.8 maximum aperture for crisp results whatever the lighting conditions.

Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM

This standard zoom lens goes just that little bit further, whether you’re shooting photography or video. This lens is ideal for capturing exceptional image quality across an extended zoom range, while travelling light.


Canon Speedlite 430EX III-RT

Take a new approach to lighting with a Speedlite flash that’s powerful, versatile and portable. Radio-frequency triggering makes off-camera flash easy to do, and opens up new ways to get creative with your photography.

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