Finding the best budget telephoto-zoom lenses can really open up your photography without being too hard on your wallet. Once you've got to grips with your mirrorless camera or DSLR and bundled kit lens you'll like find yourself wanting to expand your shooting options and give yourself the ability to capture distant, fast-moving subjects. But how to know which to choose? We've put together this guide to make it easier for you.
For many people new to photography, a telephoto zoom lens is the first lens they look to invest in after choosing their camera body and kit lens and it's easy to see why. Allowing you to get much closer to your subject and fill the frame, they're great for a wide range of subjects, from tightly-cropped architectural and landscapes through to striking wildlife and action photos.
While it's possible to spend over five figures on some high-end telephoto zoom lenses, there are some great budget telephoto zoom lenses out there as well.
You'll find that many of the more affordable lenses on this list are designed specifically for APS-C camera bodies, which means they tend to be lighter and more compact than their full-frame counterparts. Pair one of these with and APS-C camera body and you can have a very neat system that can get you really close to the action. It's worth bearing in mind that some lenses though will still work on cameras with larger full-frame sensors and others won't, so it's always worth checking the compatibility of a lens with your camera before buying.
We've included a range of lenses on this buying guide to the best budget telephoto zoom lenses, some are manufacturers' own, and others from third-party lens makers. In every case we're confident that the lenses we've included represent fantastic value for money.
The best budget telephoto lenses in 2020
This lens is a smart choice for just about any Canon camera. It’s directly compatible with full-frame and APS-C format DSLRs, giving an effective zoom range of 112-480mm on the latter. It also works a treat with EOS R-series and EOS M-series mirrorless cameras, via the respective mount adapters. And although Canon makes telephoto zooms specifically for its APS-C format DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, this one gives longer reach and you can keep using it if you trade up to a full-frame camera in the future. It’s pretty compact and lightweight for a 70-300mm lens but packs in some high-tech thrills. The Nano USM autofocus system is incredibly fast for stills, and delivers smooth and virtually silent autofocus transitions when shooting movies. The 4-stop image stabilizer works really well, and there’s a trick multi-mode info display for focus distance, depth of field and the amount of camera-shake. With excellent image quality and handling, this lens is streets ahead of any previous Canon 70-300mm budget zoom, and almost matches the much pricier L-series 70-300mm for all-round performance.
About half the price of Canon’s full-frame 70-300mm tele zoom, this EF-S optic for APS-C format bodies is smaller, lighter and more affordable. It gives a powerful effective reach of 400mm (in 35mm equivalent terms) at the end of its zoom range, while at the short end, it picks up where the typical 18-55mm kit lens leaves off. An upgrade over the previous IS II model, the STM lens features redesigned optics and a stepping motor for powering autofocus, instead of a basic electric motor. As seen in many of its rival lenses, a stepping motor enables smooth and virtually silent autofocus transitions that are well suited to both stills and video capture. The optical image stabilizer also performs well, with an effectiveness of about 3.5 stops. Handling is an improvement over previous generations of the lens, in that the focus ring no longer rotates during autofocus.
This Tamron lens is rather conventional, but it follows the traditions of high-end rather than budget telephoto zooms. As such, it has a ring-type ultrasonic autofocus system that enables full-time manual override, and not just when the stepping motor is being powered by the camera body. Switches are fitted on the barrel for AF/M focus modes and VC on/off. The Vibration Compensation system is Tamron’s proprietary form of optical stabilization; autofocus is fast and effective. Image quality is very good overall, matched by top build quality that combines sturdy barrel parts with a metal mounting plate.
If you've got an EOS M6, M50 or other EOS M series camera, your telephoto zoom options are pretty limited. Luckily, the Canon EF-M 55-200mm f/4.5-6.3 IS STM is a great option for those on a budget.
To help reduce costs, the lens lacks a metal mounting plate and has a plastic one instead, but it does mean the weight is kept down to just 260g. It's nice and compact too at 61x87mm, and as you'd expect, the physical length extends the longer you extend the zoom range.
The 'effective' zoom range is 88-320mm thanks to the cropped APS-C sensor of the cameras it can be mounted on, and while that might not be a match for some of the other 70-300mm lenses out there, should be good enough for most shooting situations. Focusing is quiet and refined thanks to the STM motor, while the image stabilisation system is a welcome touch to help reduce camera shake. A solid choice if you're looking to get those frame-filling shots on a EOS M series camera.
Nikon makes an entirely adequate DX format 70-300mm VR lens but this one is of much higher quality, from its weather-sealed construction to the performance of its autofocus and VR (Vibration Reduction) systems, along with super-sharp image quality throughout the entire zoom range. Another bonus is that, should you upgrade from a DX format camera to a full-frame FX model, you can still use it without the restrictions of ‘crop’ mode. Indeed, it works really well on full-frame Z-series mirrorless cameras via an FTZ mount adapter. The AF-P ‘Pulse’ stepping motor autofocus system is blazingly fast and incredibly silent in operation, while the advanced VR system has switchable normal and ‘Sport’ modes. The former includes automatic panning detection while the latter applies VR only during exposures. This makes it easier to track erratically moving objects in the viewfinder, and avoids any slowdown in high-speed continuous drive shooting.
Nikon is the latest manufacturer to jump on the stepping motor bandwagon: it’s used for autofocus in this AF-P (Pulse) lens. It’s available with or without VR (Vibration Reduction), and the edition without stabilization is a little cheaper to buy. Both are fully compatible with D3300, D3400, D3500, D5300, D5500, D5600 and D500 bodies, but completely incompatible with many older Nikon cameras like the D7000, where autofocus and even manual focusing are unavailable. The 300mm focal length and 1.5x crop factor of Nikon’s DX format gives an effective reach of 450mm. It’s physically big and heavy, and relies on a camera menu for switching off stabilization. In our lab tests, the non-VR version of the lens proved slightly sharper than the VR edition. However, the four-stop stabilizer is particularly effective in hand-held shooting, with the VR lens yielding more consistently sharp images.
Equipped with all the features and functionality of the Canon version, this is a solid workhorse lens for Nikon DSLR users at a superb price point. Throughout testing on Nikon D7200 and D750 bodies, we found the stabilizer had an effectiveness of four stops, so you can get some real versatility out of this lens just as easily on a Nikon body as on a Canon.
Available on its own or as part of the Z 50 twin-lens kit, this telephoto lens has an effective 75-375mm zoom range in full-frame terms. Ideally matched to the Z 50, it has a compact and lightweight build. As with the companion Z 16-50mm standard zoom, downsizing and weight reduction are enabled by a retractable design, a relatively narrow f/6.3 at longer zoom settings, and the use of a plastic rather than metal mounting plate. Unlike Nikon’s full-frame mirrorless cameras, the Z 50 has no in-body stabilization, so the inclusion of 5-stop optical VR is particularly welcome. Despite its light weight and lack of weather-seals, the build quality and handling of the lens is very good. Autofocus is fast and highly accurate, the multi-function control ring works well and image quality is impressively sharp, even when shooting wide-open.
With the kind of speed that suits the action-oriented A6XXX cameras from Sony, this telephoto optic provides an equivalent focal range of 82.5-315mm, putting it firmly in the telephoto camp. Its autofocus system is fast, smooth and quiet, meaning it's also a great choice for shooting video, and having built-in Optical SteadyShot stabilization is very handy indeed for working in low light, compensating somewhat for the middling maximum aperture. The lens will also work with full-frame Alpha 7 cameras in crop mode, and it is much, much cheaper than equivalent full-frame lens options for this system. An absolute bargain, this.
Read more: best Sony lenses
For a budget lens, the build quality of this Pentax lens feels particularly good, and it’s the only lens in the whole group to feature weather seals. It’s big on zoom range, equating to 82.5-450mm on a Pentax APS-C-format body in 35mm terms, yet its build is physically small when stowed away; this is thanks to a clever retractable design that enables the lens to collapse down to just 89mm in length. It also features a stepping motor autofocus system, the near-silence of which is an improvement over some of Pentax’s notably noisy lenses. There’s no optical image stabilization, with the lens instead relying on in-camera stabilization, which is present in all modern Pentax DSLRs. The autofocus system is quick and highly accurate, and testing the lens on a K-70 body, we found stabilization to work well, with a four-stop effectiveness.
Micro Four Thirds
Boosted by the 2x crop factor of the Micro Four Thirds system, this 75-300mm lens delivers a mammoth effective zoom range of 150-600mm. Its build quality feels a little more robust than in some of the other lenses on test, with a metal rather than plastic mounting plate. A stepping motor enables quick yet smooth autofocus transitions, along with electronically coupled manual focusing. There are no on-board switches or controls, other than the zoom and focus rings. As with the Pentax lens above, this lens has no optical image stabilization system, instead relying on in-camera, sensor-shift stabilization. On an Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II body, image stabilization equates to four stops, so the lack of an optical stabilizer isn’t a concern. Autofocus is fast and accurate, and manual focusing is precise. Image quality is pleasing, although sharpness at the long end of the zoom range proved disappointing in our tests.
Read more: Best Micro Four Thirds lenses
This Panasonic lens is incredibly compact and light. Indeed, at just 62x73mm and 200g in weight, it’s only about half the length of most competitors, and only a quarter of the weight of some in this test. The downside is that maximum telephoto reach is similarly small. Applying the 2x crop factor of the Micro Four Thirds system, you still only get an effective focal length of 300mm at the long end. Even so, the lens equals the maximum reach of a traditional 70-300mm budget tele zoom on a full-frame DSLR. Testing the lens on a Panasonic G7, we found autofocus to be fast and reliable. The optical stabilizer is worth about 2.5 stops, so doesn’t compare favourably with even a non-stabilized Olympus Micro Four Thirds lens on a late-generation Olympus body with sensor-shift stabilization. Image quality is pretty good on the whole but, despite its modest zoom range, we found that the optic is actually quite soft at the long end.
With a smaller zoom range and Fujifilm’s 1.5x crop factor, the maximum effective reach of this lens is a more modest 345mm (in 35mm terms). With the usual stepping motor autofocus, manual override of autofocus and fully manual focusing are available via an electronically coupled ‘fly-by-wire’ focus ring. Focus modes and operation of the 3.5-stop optical image stabiliser are selected via camera menus; the lens lacks control switches. The mounting plate is plastic rather than metal, and the overall build feels lightweight. Sharpness and contrast are good throughout most of the zoom range, even at the widest available apertures. Autofocus speed is pretty good under decent lighting but, coupled with our Fujifilm X-T10 body, we had a lot of autofocus hunting and false positives for focus acquisition in dull conditions.