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The best telephoto lenses in 2021: top zooms for bringing your subjects closer

Included in this guide:

Best telephoto lens
(Image credit: PhotoPlus)

Looking for the best telephoto lens for your camera? From primes to zooms, long teles to short ones, there are plenty of fantastic lenses for every camera and every lens mount. The trick is finding the right one for you, based on your budget and on what you need to shoot. But why might you want a telephoto lens at all?

Standard zoom lenses are handy enough, but they'll only take you so far. And when you want to fill the frame with a subject that you can't necessarily get close to, that's when a telephoto comes into play. Think about sports, action, wildlife: all these types of shooting need a telephoto for the subject to be anything more than an indistinct blur in the distance.

They have other uses too, and telephotos will find their way into many photographers' kit bags. They're excellent for portraiture, allowing for tight focus on a subject, flattering facial features, and enabling the shooter to create artful background blur and allow their subject to really pop. They can compress distance and perspective in landscape and architecture shooting, creating a very different look to the tried-and-tested wide-angle common to these genres.

Best telephoto lens: what to look for

If you're embarking on handheld telephoto shooting, image stabilization can be a huge help for getting consistently sharp shots. The optical stabilizers that built into telephoto lenses often come with auto panning detection, or give you the option of manually switchable static and panning modes. The latter means that when panning horizontally, stabilization is only applied in the vertical plane. 

If you're using a camera that features sensor-shift stabilization, optical stabilization is less important and many manufacturers will omit it in the design of lenses compatible with these cameras. However, some will allow the optical and in-camera stabilization systems to work in tandem, delivering even more stabilization than either system would on its own.

For full-frame cameras, the most budget-friendly telephoto lens is usually a 70-300mm telephoto zoom with a variable aperture rating, typically going from f/4 to f/5.6 throughout the zoom range. This type of lens can generally be squeezed into a very compact body, making them more portable than similar optics, 

The next step up for full-frame cameras is a 70-200mm lens. It might seem strange that a more expensive class of lens has less powerful telephoto reach, but the main advantage here is that these lenses will generally have a faster aperture rating of f/2.8 or f/4, and it will remain constant throughout the entire zoom range. These lenses are favoured by professionals, and so unsurprisingly, 70-200mm f/2.8 telephoto zooms can be much pricier. They're often heavier too, as the diameter of optical elements towards the front of the lens needs to be a lot bigger. You don't get the zoom range of a cheaper telephoto lens, but you do get a big jump in image quality and low-light performance, and better separation between your subject and its background, thanks to the wider lens apertures.

Best telephoto lenses: Full frame vs APS-C

Lenses are designed to match the size of the camera's sensor, so they are either 'full frame' lenses or 'APS-C' lenses. 

You can use full-frame telephoto zooms on APS-C format Canon, Nikon and Sony cameras. The 1.5x or 1.6x crop factor boosts the ‘effective’ telephoto zoom range giving you much more powerful reach. Another bonus is that you’ll only be using a relatively small, central area of the image circle produced by the lens, where image quality is at its best. 

But you can also get lenses that are specifically designed for APS-C sensors. The advantage is that they are smaller, lighter and less expensive than full frame lenses. However, you can't use these APS-C lenses on full frame cameras (not without using 'crop modes' which you will want to avoid.

A full frame lens is ideal for both camera sizes, but getting an APS-C lens for an APS-C camera can save both weight and cash. 

With all that in mind, here’s our pick of the best telephoto lenses to suit a wide range of cameras.

Canon

(Image credit: Canon)

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

A full frame lens that's also the best choice for Canon APS-C DSLRs

Specifications
Mount: Canon EF-S
Autofocus: Ultrasonic (nano)
Optical stabilizer: 4-stop
Minimum focusing distance: 1.2m
Maximum magnification ratio: 0.25x
Filter size: 67mm
Dimensions: 80x146mm
Weight: 710g
Reasons to buy
+Fast ‘Nano USM’ autofocus+Information display
Reasons to avoid
-Relatively big and heavy-Lens hood is a pricey extra

Canon makes a pretty good EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM telephoto zoom for its APS-C format SLRs. It’s compact and lightweight at 70x111mm and 375g. Measuring 80x146mm and weighing 710g, this full-frame compatible lens is naturally larger and nearly twice the weight but, for our money, it’s more than twice as good. As well as having more powerful telephoto reach, equivalent to 480mm in full-terms, it boasts a super-fast Nano USM autofocus system, a more effective image stabilizer, and delivers sharper image quality. As a handling highlight, it also has an in-barrel information screen with an adjacent button for cycling through multiple modes. It’s our favourite telephoto zoom for APS-C format SLRs and also makes a great compact, budget telephoto for full-frame Canon cameras, including EOS R-series mirrorless models via a mount adapter.

(Image credit: Sigma)

The best telephoto lens for full frame Canon DSLRs

Specifications
Mount: Canon EF
Autofocus: Ultrasonic (ring)
Optical stabilizer: 4-stop
Minimum focusing distance: 1.2m
Maximum magnification ratio: 0.21x
Filter size: 82mm
Dimensions: 94x203mm
Weight: 1,805g
Reasons to buy
+Superb handling and performance+Fabulous image quality
Reasons to avoid
-Big and hefty for a 70-200mm f/2.8-Non-removable tripod mount ring

Canon’s own-brand EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM is a favourite with professional photographers all over the world but we prefer this direct competitor from Sigma. It’s similarly sturdy, with a magnesium alloy barrel and a full set of weather-seals, and boasts an optical path that includes no less than 11 top-performance FLD (‘Fluorite’ Low Dispersion) elements. Dual autofocus modes are available, giving priority to autofocus or manual override respectively. Focus on/hold buttons are built into the barrel, the action of which can be switched with some of Canon’s up-market cameras. There are also two switchable custom modes which you can set up with Sigma’s optional USB Dock, for adjusting the likes of autofocus speed and the distance of the range limiter, as well as how visual the stabilization effect is in the viewfinder. Speaking of which, the stabilizer is slightly more effective than in the Canon lens. The only downsides are that the Sigma is a bit bigger and heavier than most 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses, and only the tripod foot is detachable rather than the whole mounting ring.

(Image credit: Canon)

The best telephoto lens for Canon EOS R-series, and both small and light

Specifications
Mount: Canon RF
Autofocus: Ultrasonic (dual nano)
Optical stabilizer: 5-stop
Minimum focusing distance: 0.7m
Maximum magnification ratio: 0.23x
Filter size: 77mm
Dimensions: 90x146mm
Weight: 1,070g
Reasons to buy
+Great performance and image quality+Relatively compact, lightweight build
Reasons to avoid
-Barrel extends during zooming-Very expensive to buy

Bucking the trend for 70-200mm lenses, this new zoom for Canon EOS R-series cameras has an inner barrel that extends as you sweep through the zoom range. It has a tough, weather-sealed build befitting its expensive price tag. The telescoping nature of the construction naturally enables a more compact stowage size and the lens is also comparatively lightweight at just 1,070g. For the sake of comparison, Sigma’s 70-200mm f/2.8 for SLRs weighs 1,805g. Performance is exceptional, with lightning-fast autofocus driven by dual Nano USM actuators and triple-mode 5-stop optical stabilization. Sharpness is amazing throughout the entire zoom range, even when shooting wide-open at f/2.8.

(Image credit: Canon)

No bigger than a can of Coke, this is one compact telephoto lens

Specifications
Mount: Canon RF
Autofocus: Ultrasonic (dual nano)
Optical stabilizer: 5-stop
Minimum focusing distance: 0.6m
Maximum magnification ratio: 0.28x
Filter size: 77mm
Dimensions: 83.5x120mm
Weight: 695g
Reasons to buy
+Incredibly compact design+Up to 7.5 stops image stabilization
Reasons to avoid
-Not compatible with RF extenders-Expensive for an f/4 lens

Only slightly bigger than a RF 24-105mm f/4 standard zoom, the Canon RF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM is an incredibly compact telephoto zoom lens. Weighing just 695g and no bigger than a can of Coke when collapsed, it is about the same length as the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM when fully extended. Just like the f/2.8L version above, the RF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM enjoys Canon's floating mechanism dual Nano USM system that provides high speed AF that’s ideal for both stills and video. It's a shame that it's not compatible with the Canon Extender RF 1.4x and Canon Extender RF 2x, as the protrusions of these teleconverters will not physically fit, but it will deliver 5 stops of compensation when used on non-IBIS bodies like the Canon EOS R and Canon EOS RP. Even better is when you mount the lens on either the Canon EOS R5 and Canon EOS R6, though, as it offers 7.5 stops of stabilization. 

Nikon

Best telephoto lenses: Sigma 500mm F4 DG OS HSM Sports

(Image credit: Sigma)

One of the best-value telephoto primes out there

Specifications
Mount: Nikon F, Canon EF, Sigma
Autofocus: Hyper Sonic AF motor
Optical stabilizer: 4-stop
Minimum focusing distance: 3.5m
Maximum magnification ratio: 0.15x
Filter size: 46mm
Dimensions: 145x380mm
Weight: 3,310g
Reasons to buy
+Blistering autofocus+Excellent build and handling+Cheaper than competitors
Reasons to avoid
-Very big and heavy

Playing Nikon and Canon at their own game, Sigma has come up with a hugely impressive telephoto prime that undercuts the price of the manufacturers' own-brand versions. The Sigma 500mm F4 DG OS HSM Sports is a tank, big and heavy, but with features and image quality to match. Its autofocusing is blisteringly quick, and it produces images that are beautifully sharp, aided by the optical stabiliser. In short, it's basically everything a sports shooter could want; so much so in fact that it's a shame you can't get it in a native mirrorless mount for Sony or L-mount! Regardless, if you shoot with a Nikon, Canon or even Sigma camera (there are some of you out there), this is one of the best-value sports lenses you can get. 

(Image credit: Nikon)

6. Nikon AF-P 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6E ED VR

The best for DX Nikon DSLRs also fits full frame Nikon FX cameras

Specifications
Mount: Nikon F DX
Autofocus: Stepping motor
Optical stabilizer: 4.5-stop
Minimum focusing distance: 1.2m
Maximum magnification ratio: 0.25x
Filter size: 67mm
Dimensions: 81x146mm
Weight: 680g
Reasons to buy
+Impressive 4.5-stop stabilization+Fast, silent autofocus+Budget option for Z-mount cameras (using FTZ adaptor)
Reasons to avoid
-No focus distance scale-Incompatible with some older DSLRs

Nikon’s full-frame compatible 70-300mm lenses have been highly regarded since the heyday of 35mm film cameras but this latest edition is by far the best yet. Compared with the previous version, the 4.5-stop stabilizer adds two full stops of effectiveness and gains Nikon’s more recent ‘Sport’ mode, while the stepping motor-based autofocus system is both faster and practically silent in operation. The lens also gains an electromagnetically controlled aperture diaphragm, which enables greater exposure consistency when shooting in rapid continuous drive. However, the autofocus system and aperture mechanism make the lens incompatible with some older Nikon DSLRs, including the D3000 and D5000. Image quality is super-sharp for this class of telephoto zoom, making it a great lightweight choice for both DX and FX format SLRs, as well as for mirrorless Z-series cameras via an FTZ mount adapter.

(Image credit: Sigma)

Half the price of its Nikon equivalent and perfect for full frame Nikon DSLRs

Specifications
Mount: Nikon F FX
Autofocus: Ultrasonic (ring)
Optical stabilizer: 4-stop
Minimum focusing distance: 1.2m
Maximum magnification ratio: 0.21x
Filter size: 82mm
Dimensions: 94x203mm
Weight: 1,805g
Reasons to buy
+Outstanding performance+Customisable options
Reasons to avoid
-Large and heavy-Tripod mount ring isn’t detachable

Nikon’s latest AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR is undeniably a superb lens but it doesn’t do anything better than Sigma’s alternative zoom, which costs barely more than half the money. Indeed, the Sigma even undercuts Nikon’s lower-budget 70-200mm f/4 lens for price. Like the top-flight Nikon, the Sigma has fully a professional-grade, robust and weather-sealed construction and impeccable handling, which includes customisable focus-on/hold buttons around the barrel. Another similarity is switchable autofocus modes that give priority either to autofocus or to manual override. The Sigma adds two further customisable setups for the speed of its autofocus system, the distance at which its autofocus range limiter works, and how visible the effect of stabilization is in the viewfinder. These can be configured via Sigma’s optional USB Dock, after which they’re available via a switch on the lens. Based on our lab-tests and real-world testing, the Sigma matches the much pricier Nikon for performance and image quality at every step.

(Image credit: Nikon)

The only 'native' telephoto for the APS-C Nikon Z 50 so far is really good

Specifications
Mount: Nikon Z DX
Autofocus: Stepping motor
Optical stabilizer: 5-stop
Minimum focusing distance: 0.5-1.0m
Maximum magnification ratio: 0.23x
Filter size: 62mm
Dimensions: 74x110mm
Weight: 405g
Reasons to buy
+Compact, retractable design+5-stop Vibration Reduction system
Reasons to avoid
-Small aperture rating at the long end-Plastic mounting plate

Despite its powerful ‘effective’ zoom range of 75-375mm in full-frame terms, this DX format is particularly compact and lightweight, ideally matched to the diminutive Nikon Z 50 mirrorless camera body. Part of the weight-saving comes from a plastic rather than metal mounting plate, but the overall build still feels pretty sturdy. A retractable design enables a compact stowage size, as also featured in its Z DX 16-50mm stablemate. Both have a relatively ‘slow’ f/6.3 aperture rating at the long end of the zoom range, but the telephoto zoom’s highly efficient 5-stop stabilizer helps to keep things steady. Ideal for shooting movies as well as stills, autofocus is virtually silent and the customizable control ring enables silent, stepless aperture control as well as alternative functions.

(Image credit: Nikon)

9. Nikon Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S

This is the best telephoto lens for Nikon's full frame Z mirrorless cameras

Specifications
Mount: Nikon Z FX
Autofocus: Stepping motor
Optical stabilizer: 5.5-stop
Minimum focusing distance: 0.5-1.0m
Maximum magnification ratio: 0.2x
Filter size: 77mm
Dimensions: 89x220mm
Weight: 1,440g
Reasons to buy
+Typically spectacular S-line image quality+High-tech design
Reasons to avoid
-Weighty as usual for a 70-200mm f/2.8-Very expensive to buy

The Nikon Z 6 and Z 7 are excellent mirrorless full-frame cameras but the most impressive thing about the system overall is the razor-sharp image quality delivered by Nikon’s Z-mount ‘S-line’ lenses. The 70-200mm f/2.8 hits new heights, thanks to a premium optical design that includes two aspherical elements, one fluorite element, no less than six ED (Extra-low Dispersion) elements and an SR (Short-wavelength Refractive) element. ARNEO Coat and Nano Crystal Coat are also applied to minimize ghosting and flare. Other highlights include hugely effective 5.5-stop optical VR (Vibration Reduction) and super-fast yet virtually silent autofocus system. Everything’s wrapped up in a solid, weather-sealed casing with a fluorine coating on the front element. Dual customizable Lens-function buttons and a customizable control ring enhance handling although, typical of 70-200mm f/2.8mm lenses, it’s quite big and heavy.

Fujifilm

(Image credit: Fujifilm)

10. Fujifilm XF50-140mm f/2.8 WR OIS

The premium fast telephoto zoom for X-mount cameras

Specifications
Mount: Fujifilm X
Autofocus: Stepping motor
Optical stabilizer: 5-stop
Minimum focusing distance: 1.0m
Maximum magnification ratio: 0.12x
Filter size: 72mm
Dimensions: 83x176mm
Weight: 995g
Reasons to buy
+High-tech, high-performance optics+Fast autofocus, 5-stop stabilizer
Reasons to avoid
-A bit on the weighty side-Fairly pricey to buy

Fujifilm’s telephoto zoom offerings for its X-mount cameras include the compact and budget-friendly XC50-230mm f/4.5-6.7 OIS II, and the more advanced, highly capable XF55-200mm f/3.5-4.8 R LM OIS. However, for the ultimate in performance, build quality and overall image quality, this XF50-140mm f/2.8 WR OIS lens is the one to go for. Taking the 1.5x crop factor into account, it has a 75-210mm ‘effective’ zoom range, competing with popular 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses for full-frame cameras. High-end glass includes five ED (Extra-low Dispersion) elements and one Super ED element, along with high-tech HT-EBC (High Transmittance Electron Beam Coating) and Nano-GI (Gradient Index) coating. It’s not overly large for an APS-C format lens, despite having fully internal zoom and focus mechanisms, the latter being driven by a speedy triple linear motor. There’s also a highly effective 5-stop optical image stabilizer. Everything’s built into a particularly tough and durable package and, if you feel the need for a little extra reach, optional kits are available that include either a 1.4x or a 2.0x tele-converter.

Micro Four Thirds

Best telephoto lenses: Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmar 100-400mm f/4-6.3 ASPH. POWER O.I.S. Lens

(Image credit: Panasonic)

A versatile zoom range in a lightweight and tough lens

Specifications
Mount: Micro Four Thirds
Autofocus: Yes
Optical stabilizer: Power OIS
Minimum focusing distance: 1.3m
Maximum magnification ratio: 0.5x
Filter size: 72mm
Dimensions: 83 x 171.5mm
Weight: 985g
Reasons to buy
+Compact and durable+Impressive stabilisation
Reasons to avoid
-f/6.3 at tele end-Soft at tele end

The 100-400mm focal range is hugely popular – there's a reason that our best 100-400mm lenses guide has so many entries! It's a versatile focal range for telephoto shooting, making a broad range of subjects possible to capture, and the Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmar 100-400mm f/4-6.3 ASPH. POWER O.I.S. Lens is a fine example. Of course, the fact that it's a Micro Four Thirds lens means that it actually performs like a 200-800mm lens, making it all the more potent for telephoto shooting.

The Power OIS stabilisation system is hugely impressive, though the lens does lack the switchable stabilisation modes that some comparable optics have. Image quality is generally very good, especially at the wide end, with a slight sharpness drop-off towards the telephoto end of the zoom. The relative lightness of the lens is welcome too, especially for MFT users who are working with smaller, lighter system cameras. 

(Image credit: Panasonic)

12. Panasonic Lumix G Vario 45-150mm f/4.0-5.6 Asph Mega OIS

The best affordable telephoto for Micro Four Thirds cameras

Specifications
Mount: Micro Four Thirds
Autofocus: Stepping motor
Optical stabilizer: 2-stop
Minimum focusing distance: 0.9m
Maximum magnification ratio: 0.17x
Filter size: 52mm
Dimensions: 62x73mm
Weight: 200g
Reasons to buy
+Compact, lightweight build+Inexpensive to buy
Reasons to avoid
-Relatively ineffective optical stabilizer-Feels a bit plasticky

With their downsized image sensors, Micro Four Thirds cameras have a 2x crop factor that extends the telephoto reach of lenses. Indeed, the Panasonic 45-150mm gives has an ‘effective’ zoom range of 90-300mm but is still impressively small and weighs a mere 200g, making it a good match on even the most compact and slim-line Olympus and Panasonic camera bodies. The optical design includes two aspherical elements and an ultra-high refractive index element, autofocus is fast and near-silent, and the lens has a ‘Mega Optical Image Stabilizer’. No official rating is given for the last of these but, in our tests, it only gave an effectiveness equivalent to about two stops. Even so, the lens delivers very pleasing image quality and is remarkably inexpensive to buy. All things considered, it’s knockout value for money.

L-mount

Best telephoto lenses: Panasonic LUMIX S 70-300mm F4.5-5.6 MACRO O.I.S.

(Image credit: Panasonic)

13. Panasonic LUMIX S 70-300mm F4.5-5.6 MACRO O.I.S.

L-mount gets a pricey but capable 70-300mm telephoto

Specifications
Mount: L-mount
Lens construction: 17 elements in 11 groups
Angle of view: 8.3 to 34 degrees
Minimum focus distance: 0.54m
Maximum magnification ratio: 0.5x
Filter size: 77mm
Dimensions: 84x148mm
Weight: 790g
Reasons to buy
+Good weather-sealed build+Excellent, snappy autofocus
Reasons to avoid
-A bit pricey-On the bulky side

It took a little while for L-mount to get a 70-300mm lens, but the Panasonic LUMIX S 70-300mm F4.5-5.6 MACRO O.I.S. is worth the wait (and worth the weight). An optically stabilised lens with a fast, capable autofocus system, it provides a speedy and effective way to shoot telephoto subjects. The eleven-bladed aperture is a nice touch too, ensuring the lens can produce pleasing bokeh for portraits that pop.

The price is a little on the high side, as it puts the lens in a similar bracket to the likes of Sony's G Master lens or Canon's L glass. Is it on a par with these lenses in quality terms? Not quite. There are a few softness issues when shooting wide open at the telephoto end, which are expected in most lenses, but arguably not ones at this price. Still, let's not get carried away: this is a highly effective and capable telephoto for L-mount, and having that extra 100mm of reach opens up all sorts of shooting possibilities.

(Image credit: Panasonic)

14. Panasonic LUMIX S PRO 70-200mm f/4 OIS

The smart telephoto option for L-mount cameras

Specifications
Mount: L-mount
Lens construction: 23 elements in 17 groups
Angle of view: 34 to 12 degrees
Minimum focus distance: 0.92m
Maximum magnification ratio: 0.25x
Filter size: 77mm
Dimensions: 84x179mm
Weight: 985g
Reasons to buy
+Autofocus is very fast and virtually silent+Removable Arca-Swiss tripod ring
Reasons to avoid
-Unusual push-pull focus ring -Quite pricey for a 70-200mm f/4 lens

This telephoto zoom weighs in at just under a kilogram and makes for well-balanced shooting with Panasonic S-series cameras. The combination is also perfectly balanced on a monopod or tripod, if you use the removable tripod mounting ring that’s supplied with the lens. The high-tech optical path delivers sumptuous image quality and the constant f/4 aperture rating enables a fairly tight depth of field, while the quality of bokeh is nice and smooth. Autofocus is super-fast and the built-in optical image stabilizer works in conjunction with the 5-axis, sensor-shift stabilizers of S-series bodies to deliver up to 6-stop performance. It’s quite pricey for a 70-200mm f/4 zoom but you definitely get what you pay for, and it’s only about two-thirds the weight of Panasonic’s pricier 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom.

Read more: Panasonic LUMIX S PRO 70-200mm f/4 OIS review

(Image credit: Sigma)

15. Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG DN OS | C

Sigma’s popular 100-400mm lightweight zoom, re-engineered

Specifications
Mount: L-mount
Lens construction: 22 elements in 16 groups
Angle of view: 24 to 6 degrees
Minimum focus distance: 1.1m
Maximum magnification ratio: 0.24x
Filter size: 67mm
Dimensions: 86x197mm
Weight: 1,135g
Reasons to buy
+Powerful telephoto zoom range+Relatively compact and lightweight
Reasons to avoid
-Narrow aperture at long zoom settings-Pricier than older DSLR version

Nicknamed the ‘light bazooka’, Sigma launched a relatively compact and lightweight 100-400mm zoom for Canon and Nikon DSLRs back in 2017. Three years down the line, this new ‘DN’ edition is now available for Leica L and Sony E mount mirrorless cameras. The optical path is upgraded and includes a top-notch FLD (‘Fluorite’ Low Dispersion) element, in addition to four SLD (Special Low Dispersion) elements. Other enhancements include a customizable Focus-lock button and a TS-111 tripod mounting ring, which is available as an optional extra (£139/$130). We’ve found the new DN lens to be sharper than the original design, throughout the entire zoom range. Overall, it’s an excellent performer at a very attractive price.

Read more: Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG DN OS | C review

Pentax

(Image credit: Pentax)

16. Pentax 55-300mm f/4.5-6.3 DA PLM WR

The best telephoto lens for Pentax APS-C DSLRs

Specifications
Mount: Pentax K
Autofocus: Stepping motor
Optical stabilizer: None
Minimum focusing distance: 0.95m
Maximum magnification ratio: 0.3x
Filter size: 58mm
Dimensions: 77x89mm
Weight: 442g
Reasons to buy
+Quick and quiet autofocus system+Compact, retractable design
Reasons to avoid
-Relies on sensor-shift stabilization-Slight loss of sharpness at full zoom

This Pentax lens is remarkably small for a 55-300mm zoom, partly because it’s designed exclusively for APS-C format cameras but mostly because it has a retractable design for compact storage. There’s nothing small about the zoom range, however, which is equivalent to 82.5-450mm on a full-frame camera. Build quality is very good, featuring weather-seals and a fluorine coating on the front element, while optical highlights include ED elements and Pentax’s HD coating to reduce ghosting and flare. The stepping motor-based autofocus system is ultra-quiet compared with some Pentax lenses, but is still audible and not particularly fast. Pentax’s ‘Quick-Shift Focus System’ enables easy switching between autofocus and manual focus. There’s no optical stabilizer, the lens instead relying on the sensor-shift stabilization of Pentax camera bodies, which isn’t always ideal when shooting with telephoto lenses. Image quality is very good overall but sharpness drops off a bit at the long end of the zoom range.

(Image credit: Pentax)

17. HD Pentax D FA* 70-200mm f/2.8 ED DC AW

A heavyweight contender for serious Pentax DSLR users

Specifications
Mount: Pentax K
Lens construction: 19 elements in 16 groups
Angle of view: 34.5-12.5 degrees
Minimum focus distance: 1.2m
Maximum magnification ratio: 0.13x
Filter size: 77mm
Dimensions: 92x203mm
Weight: 1,755g
Reasons to buy
+Robust, weather-resistant build+High quality optical path+Quick-shift autofocus system
Reasons to avoid
-Quite weighty for this class of lens-No optical image stabilization

This ‘all-weather’ lens from Pentax’s full-frame stable is typically solid and well-built, with a ‘*’ designation that denotes top performance. As such, the optical path includes four super-low dispersion elements, two ED (Extra-low Dispersion) elements and a pair of Super ED glass elements, which have similar optical properties to fluorite glass. Exotic coatings include nano-structure Aero Bright Coating II and multi-layer HD Coating, plus a Super Protect coating on the front element to repel moisture and grease. The lens employs Pentax’s ‘Quick-Shift’ focus system, which enables instant swapping between autofocus and manual focusing, while autofocus comes with switchable auto-priority and manual-priority modes. It’s quite weighty for a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens but the tripod mounting collar is completely removable. Image quality and overall performance are impressive on Pentax’s full-frame DSLRs, while the ‘effective’ zoom range is boosted to 107-307mm on an APS-C format body.

Sony

(Image credit: Sony)

One of two superb new lenses for Sony’s APS-C mirrorless cameras

Specifications
Mount: Sony E
Autofocus: Stepping motor
Optical stabilizer: 3-stop
Minimum focusing distance: 1.1-1.5m
Maximum magnification ratio: 0.23x
Filter size: 67mm
Dimensions: 77x142mm
Weight: 625g
Reasons to buy
+Supersized 5x zoom range+Impressive build quality
Reasons to avoid
-Stabilization could be better-Expensive given the variable aperture

Sony recently launched a highly impressive pair of up-market lenses for its A6000-series cameras, in the shape of the E 16-55mm f/2.8 G standard zoom and this telephoto lens. Unlike its smaller companion, the telephoto zoom doesn’t have a fast, constant aperture rating and drops to f/6.3 at the long end. Even so, that’s not uncommon for recent zoom lenses for mirrorless cameras, from a variety of manufacturers. The upside is that the zoom range is particularly generous, equating to 105-525mm in full-frame terms and taking the lens into super-telephoto territory. One aspherical element and three ED (Extra-low Dispersion) elements are featured in the premium optical design An XD (eXtreme Dynamic) linear motor powers the high-speed autofocus system, which includes a customisable focus hold button on the side of the barrel. No official rating is given for the Optical SteadyShot system but it gave a mediocre 3-stop effectiveness in our tests. The weather-sealed build is impressively robust but reasonably lightweight. Image quality is superb.

(Image credit: Sony)

19. Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 G Master OSS

Sony's pro 70-200mm E-mount lens, with all the bells and whistles

Specifications
Mount: Sony FE
Lens construction: 23 elements in 18 groups
Angle of view: 34-12.5 degrees
Minimum focus distance: 0.96m
Maximum magnification ratio: 0.25x
Filter size: 77mm
Dimensions: 88x200mm
Weight: 1,480g
Reasons to buy
+Excellent image quality+Advanced handling+Tough construction
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive to buy-Mediocre optical stabilizer

Sony’s flagship full-frame compatible 70-200mm zoom for its E-mount mirrorless cameras has G Master status, delivering superb sharpness along with beautifully smooth bokeh, aided by a well-rounded 11-blade aperture diaphragm. Posh glass includes a mix of nine Aspherical, XA (eXtreme Aspherical), ED (Extra-low Dispersion) and Super ED elements, in the 23-element line-up. Nano AR coating is applied to minimise ghosting and flare. The lens is strongly built with multiple weather-seals, autofocus is very rapid, and handling benefits from a switchable dual-mode optical image stabilizer, a focus range limiter switch, and multiple autofocus hold buttons. We found the performance of optical stabilization to be fairly mediocre but it’s boosted when combined with the in-body stabilizers featured in recent Sony mirrorless cameras.

Best telephoto lenses: Tamron 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3 Di III RXD Lens

(Image credit: Tamron)

The most affordable Sony E telephoto, but also not the sharpest

Specifications
Mount: Sony E
Lens construction: 15 elements in 10 groups
Angle of view: 8.3-34.3 degrees
Minimum focus distance: 0.8m
Maximum magnification ratio: 0.11x (W) 0.2x (T)
Filter size: 67mm
Dimensions: 77x148mm
Weight: 545g
Reasons to buy
+Very light and portable+Highly affordable
Reasons to avoid
-Edge sharpness issues-Basic feature-set

Tamron has carved out something of a niche making affordable lenses for Sony E-mount, and a fair few of them have been really quite impressive. The Tamron 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3 Di III RXD is not the sharpest tool in the box, nor the most sophisticated, but it is a pretty capable telephoto available at a very reasonable price, and should especially suit users of cameras at Sony's cheaper end, like the A6000 and its successors. 

Central sharpness is excellent on this lens, but it does fall off towards the edges of the frame. It's also worth noting that the lens has no optical stabilisation, so if you're using an older camera without IBIS, you might find pin-sharp shots a little more difficult to achieve. It's not a ruinous issue, just something to bear in mind. 

(Image credit: Sony)

21. Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS

The best telephoto all round for Sony's full frame mirrorless cameras

Specifications
Mount: Sony FE
Autofocus: Stepping motor
Optical stabilizer: 2-stop
Minimum focusing distance: 1.0-1.5m
Maximum magnification ratio: 0.13x
Filter size: 72mm
Dimensions: 80x175mm
Weight: 840g
Reasons to buy
+Premium build and optical path+Reasonably lightweight and manageable
Reasons to avoid
-Only f/4 compared to f/2.8 G Master lens-Underachieving optical stabilizer

If money is no object, Sony’s FE 70-200mm f/2.8 G Master OSS is a cracking telephoto zoom. However, it’s a weighty beast at 1,480g and feels a bit of a mismatch for slim-line A7 and A9 series camera bodies. This f/4 model is much more manageable, tipping the scales at 840g, and it’s much more affordable to buy. There’s no shortage of high-tech attractions, including precision ‘advanced aspherical’ and Super ED elements, along with Nano AR coating. Dual-mode optical stabilization includes switchable static and panning modes, and the autofocus system is super-fast, based on twin linear motors. Image quality is superb in all respects, although stabilization performance is a bit lacklustre. Even so, that’s less of an issue on current and recent Sony cameras that feature sensor-shift stabilizers. This lens is the sensible choice for Sony’s full-frame mirrorless cameras, unless you really feel the need for the G Master lens’s extra f/stop.

(Image credit: Sony)

A high-performance Sony mount super-tele zoom with great handling

Specifications
Mount: Sony FE
Lens construction: 22 elements in 16 groups
Angle of view: 24-6.2 degrees
Minimum focus distance: 0.98m
Maximum magnification ratio: 0.35x
Filter size: 77mm
Dimensions: 94x205mm
Weight: 1,395g
Reasons to buy
+Great sharpness and contrast, nice bokeh+High-end handling characteristics+Works with 1.4x and 2x tele-converters
Reasons to avoid
-Pricey to buy-Less expensive FE 200-600mm has more reach

Barely any larger and slightly lighter than Sony’s 70-200mm G Master, this super-telephoto lens has a fundamentally different design, in that the inner barrel extends as you stretch through the zoom range. Even so, it’s very solid and well-built, with similar handling characteristics that include dual-mode optical stabilization for static and panning shots, an autofocus range limiter switch, and multiple autofocus hold buttons. The 100-400mm lens also adds an adjustable friction damper for the zoom ring, due to the telescoping nature of the design. The optical path includes two ED (Extra-low Dispersion) elements and one Super ED element, while autofocus is driven by the speedy combination of a double linear motor plus a DDSSM (Direct Drive Super Sonic Motor). Sharpness and contrast are excellent, as is the creamy quality of bokeh, but the optical stabilizer has lacklustre performance unless combined with in-body stabilization on later Sony camera bodies.

Read more: Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 G Master OSS review

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• We pick the best budget telephoto lenses
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• What are the best camera lenses to get?

Matthew Richards

Matthew Richards is a photographer and journalist who has spent years using and reviewing all manner of photo gear. He is Digital Camera World's principal lens reviewer – and has tested more primes and zooms than most people have had hot dinners! 


His expertise with equipment doesn’t end there, though. He is also an encyclopedia  when it comes to all manner of cameras, camera holsters and bags, flashguns, tripods and heads, printers, papers and inks, and just about anything imaging-related. 


In an earlier life he was a broadcast engineer at the BBC, as well as a former editor of PC Guide.