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The best Canon telephoto lenses in 2021: from budget zooms to professional lenses

Best Canon telephoto zoom
(Image credit: Canon)

The best Canon telephoto lenses will help you capture your best shots, whether you're shooting sports and wildlife or portraits and slices of landscapes. Having a top tele is an essential part of any photographer's kit bag.

With the best Canon telephoto lenses you'll gain serious reach for your DSLR or EOS R camera, which in the first instance enables you to push further into the frame and pick out more distant subjects than any other kind of lens.

This makes them desirable for all types of photography, but particularly for sports and wildlife a telephoto lens becomes an absolute must-have. Whether you're shooting cars on a track or you're photographing wildlife, that variable reach is essential.

However, you'll also find telephotos useful if you work in other disciplines. These longer lenses produce a different perspective to wider optics, with far less distortion. This makes them great for picking out details in a landscape, while the increased focal length allows you to achieve greater subject separation and background blur, which makes them a natural choice for portrait photographers as well. 

So, which to choose? While you'll likely be tempted to stick with Canon, which does make excellent lenses, it's always worth comparing the third-party options – many of which are absolutely fantastic and can also save you a small fortune. For example, there’s no denying that the newer Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM is a top-class, professional-grade lens for DSLR photographers. In some respects, though, the Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2 is even better and costs little more than half the price.

In this guide we’ll choose the best Canon telephoto lenses in terms of price and performance, catering to a wide range of requirements and budgets, from relatively small, compact telephoto zooms right up to powerful super-telephoto lenses. 

However, we’ll be stopping short of ultra-telephoto 150-600mm lenses, which you’ll find in our separate guide to the best 150-600mm lenses.

Best Canon telephoto in 2021

Affordable telephotos

(Image credit: Canon)

1. Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM

The best APS-C format EF-S lens for Canon

Specifications
Mount: Canon EF-S
Full-frame compatible: No
Autofocus type: Stepping Motor
Stabilizer: Yes
Minimum focus distance: 0.85m
Filter thread: 58mm
Dimensions (WxL): 70x111mm
Weight: 375g
Reasons to buy
+Very compact and lightweight+Virtually silent autofocus system
Reasons to avoid
-Plastic mounting plate-Lens hood costs extra

Proving that telephoto lenses don’t have to be heavy, the Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM weighs just 375g. Part of the weight loss is due to it having a plastic rather than metal mounting plate, but it’s also downsized because it’s specifically designed for APS-C format DSLRs. 

As such, it only produces a relatively small image circle and the lens isn’t compatible with full-frame DSLRs. More sophisticated than the IS II model that it replaces, this latest edition has a virtually silent STM (Stepping Motor) autofocus system which is faster for stills and gives smoother autofocus transitions for movie capture. 

It’s attractively priced, but as usual with Canon’s non-L-series lenses, you need to buy the hood separately.

(Image credit: Canon)

2. Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM

The best buy 70-300mm for Canon DSLRs

Specifications
Mount: Canon EF
Full-frame compatible: Yes
Autofocus type: Nano USM
Stabilizer: Yes
Minimum focus distance: 1.2m
Filter thread: 67mm
Dimensions (WxL): 80x146mm
Weight: 710g
Reasons to buy
+Impressive AF and stabilization+Smart LCD info display
Reasons to avoid
-Hood costs extra-Lacks weather seals

A massive improvement over the original Canon 70-300mm IS USM, this Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM has a much faster Nano USM autofocus system that’s virtually silent, yet gives smooth transitions for video capture. 

It’s like the best of ultrasonic and stepping motor systems rolled into one and, unlike in the previous lens, the focus ring no longer rotates during autofocus. The image stabilizer is also much improved, with a 4-stop rating, and image quality is much sharper with better contrast. 

Another nice touch is that there’s an LCD screen on the barrel with a pushbutton for cycling through display modes. These include focus distance and depth of field, effective focal length on an APS-C format camera, and the current level of vibration. 

Shockingly the lens hood for this lens is sold separately - but save yourself money by buying a third-party version, which is much better value than the Canon ET-74B original.

(Image credit: Tamron)

3. Tamron SP 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC USD

A good lens at a great price

Specifications
Mount: Canon EF
Full-frame compatible: Yes
Autofocus type: Ultrasonic (ring-type)
Stabilizer: Yes
Minimum focus distance: 1.5m
Filter thread: 62mm
Dimensions (WxL): 82x143mm
Weight: 765g
Reasons to buy
+Fast autofocus and good stabilization+Features a focus-distance scale
Reasons to avoid
-Not weather-sealed-Pricier than non-stabilized lenses

This isn’t the cheapest 70-300mm lens on the market, as both Sigma and Tamron make cheaper non-stabilized options. 

However, it adds fast and highly effective ring-type ultrasonic autofocus, which improves performance and handling, and includes the bonus of optical image stabilization. Both of these features tend to be lacking in cheaper 70-300mm lenses. 

Given that Canon DSLRs don’t feature sensor-shift stabilization for shooting stills, stabilization is practically a ‘must-have’ feature for handheld telephoto shooting. Although it’s not weather-sealed, the Tamron is very well built for such an inexpensive lens. 

It also delivers very good image quality with impressive sharpness and contrast. Unlike Canon’s similarly priced lenses, the Tamron comes complete with a hood.

Premium telephotos

(Image credit: Nikon)

4. Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM | S

Sigma's 70-200mm Sport lens is a top performer for Canon DSLRs

Specifications
Mount: Canon EF
Full-frame compatible: Yes
Autofocus type: Ring-type ultrasonic
Stabilizer: Yes
Minimum focus distance: 1.2
Filter thread: 82mm
Dimensions (WxL): 94x203mm
Weight: 1,805g
Reasons to buy
+Performance and image quality+Customisable controls
Reasons to avoid
-Big and heavy for a 70-200mm-Tripod mount isn’t fully removable

Sigma really pushed the boat out when designing this fast, constant-aperture zoom. From the ‘Sports’ line-up of Global Vision lenses, it goes large on speed and performance, as well as physical size. Autofocus is courtesy of a rapid ring-type ultrasonic system, and comes complete with AF on/hold buttons on the barrel, the action of which can be customised in recent mid-range and up-market Canon DSLRs. The full range of automatic lens aberration corrections is also available, and two switchable dedicated custom modes can be set up with Sigma’s optional USB Dock. The lens is super-sharp even when shooting wide-open, helped in real terms by a highly effective optical stabilizer. The only real downsides are that it’s big and weighty for a 70-200mm zoom, and only the tripod mounting foot is removable (via four Allen screws) rather than the complete mounting ring.

(Image credit: Canon)

5. Canon RF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM

Canon's RF zoom is ingeniously compact and a great performer

Specifications
Mount: Canon RF
Full-frame compatible: Yes
Autofocus type: Dual Nano USM
Stabilizer: Yes
Minimum focus distance: 0.7m
Filter thread: 77mm
Dimensions (WxL): 90x146mm
Weight: 1,070g
Reasons to buy
+Super-fast, silent autofocus+5-stop image stabilizer
Reasons to avoid
-Barrel extends at full zoom-Very pricey to buy

Unlike most constant-aperture 70-200mm zooms, this Canon lens for EOS R-series cameras has an inner barrel that extends at longer zoom settings. Typical drawbacks are an increased likelihood of dust being sucked into the lens, and the danger of zoom creep. On the plus side, it enables a particularly small stowage size for this class of lens, and it’s relatively lightweight as well, in keeping with EOS mirrorless full-frame cameras. It’s pricey to buy but high-end attractions include super-fast and silent Dual Nano USM autofocus, 5-stop optical image stabilization, a customisable control ring and typically pro-grade L-series build quality. Image quality is superb with fabulous sharpness and minimal aberrations.

(Image credit: Canon)

6. Canon RF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM

Delivering impressive performance in an impossibly small size

Specifications
Mount: Canon RF
Full-frame compatible: Yes
Autofocus type: Dual Nano USM
Stabilizer: Yes
Minimum focus distance: 0.6m
Filter thread: 77mm
Dimensions (WxL): 83.5x119mm
Weight: 695g
Reasons to buy
+Shortest (FF) 70-200mm ever+Great center sharpness
Reasons to avoid
-Teleconverters not supported-Pricey for an f/4 lens

Canon's RF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM is easily the shortest and lightest 70-200mm f/4 in the world. Side-by-side it's only slightly larger than a soda can when the lens is fully collapsed, while it's shorter and lighter than the f/2.8 variant above. It doesn't compromise on performance though, delivering an impressive 7.5 stops of stabilization (on an EOS R6 or R5 at least), making it incredibly versatile for a range of shooting situations. Optically and center sharpness is fantastic as well, even at 200mm, though corner sharpness can be a little disappointing. Somewhat frustratingly though the lens is not compatible with teleconverters, while it's very pricey compared to the EF version, which admittedly isn't quite as advanced. Though issues aside, this is a cracking lens for R series shooters.

(Image credit: Tamron)

7. Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2

Pro-grade performance at half the price for Canon DSLRs

Specifications
Mount: Canon EF
Full-frame compatible: Yes
Autofocus type: Ultrasonic (ring-type)
Stabiliser: Yes
Min focus distance: 0.95m
Filter thread: 77mm
Dimensions (WxL): 88x194mm
Weight: 1,500g
Reasons to buy
+Super-fast autofocus system+Excellent triple-mode stabiliser+Brilliant performance
Reasons to avoid
-Switches can be knocked

While the latest edition of Canon’s own 70-200mm f/2.8 stabilized zoom is only a minor refresh of the previous version, Tamron’s SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2 (Generation 2) lens benefits from a major revamp. 

The new lightning-fast autofocus system is based on dual microprocessors. There’s also a class-leading image stabilizer with 5-stop performance, and it gains two additional operating modes. The three switchable modes are for static and panning shots, plus an option that only applies stabilization during actual exposures, rather than affecting the viewfinder image. 

This makes it easier to track erratically moving objects. Unlike the previous edition of the lens, the G2 is also compatible with Tamron’s new tele-converters, which are also extremely good.

8. Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM

The new Mark II punches above its weight for Canon DSLR cameras

Specifications
Mount: Canon EF
Full-frame compatible: Yes
Autofocus type: Ultrasonic (ring-type)
Stabilizer: Yes
Minimum focus distance: 1.0m
Filter thread: 72mm
Dimensions (WxL): 80x176mm
Weight: 780g
Reasons to buy
+Tough yet lightweight build+Superior autofocus and stabilization
Reasons to avoid
-Pricier than some 70-200mm f/2.8s-Optional tripod mount expensive

New and improved in 2018, the Mark II edition of Canon’s stabilized 70-200mm f/4 lens has an upgraded optical design for improved image quality. 

As well as new glass elements in a different configuration, the coatings are more refined, to help fend off ghosting and flare. Fluorine coatings are also added to the front and rear elements, to repel moisture and grease, and to aid easy cleaning. Similar in performance to Tamron’s 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, the optical stabilizer has a 5-stop rating and three switchable operating modes. 

Image quality is excellent and handling benefits from the lens only being about half the weight of most 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses. A tripod mounting ring is available as an optional extra, but the genuine Canon ring is pricey to buy.

Long-range telephotos

9. Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD

More reach for less money for Canon DSLR owners

Specifications
Mount: Canon EF
Full-frame compatible: Yes
Autofocus type: Ultrasonic (ring-type)
Stabilizer: Yes
Minimum focus distance: 1.5m
Filter thread: 67mm
Dimensions (WxL): 86x199mm
Weight: 1,135g
Reasons to buy
+Powerful telephoto reach+Reasonably light in build and price
Reasons to avoid
-Slow f/6.3 aperture rating at 400mm-Tripod mounting ring sold separately

Weighing in at just over a kilogram, the recently launched Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD only weighs about two-thirds as much as most 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses, but delivers twice the telephoto reach. 

It’s a particularly attractive option for photographers who have traded up from an APS-C body to a full-frame camera, and are missing the extra ‘effective’ reach of a 70-300mm lens with a 1.6x crop factor. Well made, the Tamron feels sturdy and incorporates weather-seals. 

Handling is refined with super-fast autofocus, a 4-stop dual-mode stabilizer and an autofocus limiter switch that can lock out either the short or long end of the focusing range. Image quality is excellent, on a par with Canon’s much pricier and heavier 100-400mm lens.

(Image credit: Canon)

10. Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS II USM

Big, strong and very long - loved by pro Canon DSLR wildlife fans

Specifications
Mount: Canon EF
Full-frame compatible: Yes
Autofocus type: Ultrasonic (ring-type)
Stabilizer: Yes
Minimum focus distance: 0.98m
Filter thread: 77mm
Dimensions (WxL): 94x193mm
Weight: 1,640g
Reasons to buy
+Fully pro-grade build and handling+Very good all-round performance
Reasons to avoid
-Big and heavy-Expensive to buy

At around twice the price of the Sigma and Tamron 100-400mm lenses on the market, the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM is a more substantial proposition. It’s about 50 per cent weightier, comes complete with a tripod mounting ring, and has Canon’s typical L-series pro-grade build quality and weather-seals. The Mark II edition of the lens ditches the trombone style push-pull zoom mechanism and adopts a more conventional twist ring. However, it still incorporates the adjustable friction damper for the zoom mechanism, as featured on the original lens, which helps to avoid zoom creep. Top-class glass includes fluorite and Super UD (Ultra-low Dispersion) elements, along with ASC (Air Sphere Coating) to minimize ghosting and flare, and fluorine coatings on the front and rear elements. There’s a 4-stop triple-mode image stabilizer and  very fast autofocus. All in all, it’s a better lens than the original edition in every respect.

(Image credit: Canon)

11. Canon RF 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1L IS USM

Crazy reach for the RF mount – and crazy performance, too

Specifications
Mount: Canon RF
Full-frame compatible: Yes
Autofocus type: Ultrasonic (ring-type)
Stabilizer: Yes
Minimum focus distance: 0.9-1.2m
Filter thread: 77mm
Dimensions (WxL): 93.8 x 207.6mm
Weight: 1,530g
Reasons to buy
+Great build and image quality+Stellar AF on Canon EOS R5 and R6
Reasons to avoid
-Narrow maximum aperture-Disappointing AF on Canon EOS R and RP

The Canon RF 100-500mm is a superb addition to the rapidly expanding range of RF-mount lenses. It combines Canon's legendary L-series build quality with premium optical performance that's up there with the very best Canon zooms we've tested. There is, however, a catch; to really get the most from the AF system – especially for accurate action shots – you’ll need to employ the amazing AF and IBIS on the Canon EOS R5 or Canon EOS R6. Shoot with this lens on the older Canon EOS R or Canon EOS RP and you can expect AF to be noticeably more sluggish, which is somewhat disappointing when you've just dropped big money on a lens like this.

(Image credit: Sigma)

12. Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM | C

Surprisingly compact and great value for a Canon DSLR 100-400mm

Specifications
Mount: Canon EF
Full-frame compatible: Yes
Autofocus type: Ultrasonic (ring-type)
Stabilizer: Yes
Minimum focus distance: 1.6m
Filter thread: 67mm
Dimensions (WxL): 86x182mm
Weight: 1,160g
Reasons to buy
+Small and light for a 100-400mm lens+Great handling and performance
Reasons to avoid
-No optional tripod mounting ring-Lacks a full set of weather seals

Slightly smaller and more lightweight than the competing Tamron lens, and much more compact than the Canon, Sigma’s ‘Contemporary’ class 100-400mm zoom nevertheless feels very well built. 

The zoom and focus rings work with a smooth, fluid feel and you can also operate the zoom mechanism with a push-pull action. Indeed, the supplied lens hood is specially shaped for this purpose. 

High-quality optics incorporate four SLD (Special Low Dispersion) elements, while up-market features include extremely quick ring-type ultrasonic autofocus with three switchable focus modes. As such, you can give priority to either automatic or manual override in dual-mode AF, as well as selecting a purely MF setting. You can also apply custom settings to the new-generation image stabilizer and autofocus system, via Sigma’s optional USB Dock. 

In our tests, the Sigma proved marginally less sharp than the competing Tamron 100-400mm but there’s very little in it, and the level of customization is superior. One disappointment, however, is that no optional tripod mounting ring is available for the Sigma.

Read more:

The best Canon lenses
The best Canon RF lenses
The best 70-200mm telephoto lenses
Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM review