You may have assumed the best Nikon telephoto lenses will clear out your bank account, but this doesn't have to be the case. While professional photographers who demand the best will use the latest cutting-edge telephoto lenses that cost thousands, there are plenty of options out there for users who don't have that kind of budget. Here, we've compiled the best ones available for Nikon cameras, both F-mount DSLRs and Z-mount mirrorless.
As the best Nikon cameras is a broad category, and you need to make sure you get the right lens for your camera, we've split this guide into sections. First we've picked out the best telephoto lenses for Nikon F-mount DSLR lenses, and then we have a few options for Nikon Z-mount mirrorless lenses. As F-mount has been around a lot longer, there are a lot more lenses available for this mount, but the Z-mount stable is expanding fast. In each section, we've ordered the lenses roughly by price and minimum focal range, to make it easier to find the one you're looking for. Though bear in mind that prices can fluctuate, especially when we're close to big retail events like Black Friday and Christmas.
It's also worth knowing that lenses work differently with different sensor sizes, and Nikon cameras will come in one of two flavours: full-frame or APS-C, also known as FX and DX. Most telephoto lenses are designed for full-frame cameras but will still work on DX-format; we've made sure to point out if any lenses will only work on one or the other.
We've included some prime lenses and zoom lenses, so you can decide whether to prioritise image quality or versatility. Nikon has a few hyper-telephoto 150-600mm lenses available; while we've included one in this guide, we also have a dedicated article on the best 150-600mm lenses if this is a focal range you're interested in.
We've also looked beyond just Nikon's own lenses. Third-party manufacturers like Tamron, Sigma and Tokina make excellent lenses, and they tend to be more affordable than the Nikon-brand ones. Well worth considering if you're budget-conscious.
Something that users of older Nikon DSLRs should be aware of is that some recent lenses use an electromagnetically controlled diaphragm that won't work with older cameras like the D300s, D3000 or D5000. This was a feature introduced to replace the mechanical lever from Nikon's F-mount to enable greater consistency in aperture control. These older cameras won't communicate with these newer lenses and can't be used with them – so check!
Without further ado, here are our picks of the best Nikon telephoto lenses.
Best Nikon telephoto lenses in 2022
We were always big fans of Nikon’s AF-S 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED VR and this recently launched replacement is even better. It features a ‘Pulse’ stepping motor autofocus system that’s incredibly fast and essentially silent in operation, and there’s also an electromagnetically controlled diaphragm; the only catch is that both of these systems make the lens incompatible with a number of older Nikon DSLRs. The VR system is particularly effective, with 4.5-stop performance and a switchable ‘Sport VR’ mode, ideal for tracking erratically moving objects through the viewfinder. The weather-resistant construction feels robust, and the lens is a top performer in terms of handling and image quality, although some may be disappointed at the lack of a focus distance scale. Since launch, the average selling price has dropped by almost a third, making this lens much better value.
It’s not the outright cheapest telephoto zoom on the market, but, considering that it has fast, whisper-quiet ring-type ultrasonic autofocus, plus highly effective optical stabilization, it's a steal at the price. Unlike many of Tamron’s more recent, up-market lenses, it’s not weather-sealed, but the overall standard of build quality is still very good. Aided by the inclusion of both an LD (Low Dispersion) and an XLD (eXtra Low Dispersion) element, levels of sharpness and contrast are very pleasing, and colour fringing is well controlled. All in all, you can’t buy better if you’re in the market for a budget 70-300mm lens. Unlike some Nikon tele-zooms, the Tamron is compatible with FX as well as DX-format bodies, and its conventional autofocus and aperture control systems make it compatible with older DSLRs.
It's a lens that's getting on a bit now, and is harder to find than it once was. However, we'd recommend making the effort to seek it out, especially as the price has dipped considerably from when the lens first arrived on the scene.
The Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 DG OS HSM joins the 'Sport' line, and as this name implies, speed is very much the name of the game here. The lens has been designed with outstanding action capture in mind, and it hits this mark pretty perfectly. It boasts class-leading autofocus speeds and an Intelligent OS that provides effective, algorithm-led image stabilisation in all camera orientations. Water- and oil-repellent coatings on the front of the lens ensure that it can stand up to challenging weather conditions. There's also a focus limiter and a manual override switch to give you very precise control over how your autofocusing works. The drawbacks? All this tech doesn't come cheap, and it also makes the lens pretty heavy even with the magnesium-alloy construction, so bear this in mind before you buy.
Read more: Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 DG OS HSM | S review
This Tamron lens is full-frame compatible, but gives a slightly longer effective zoom range on both full frame Nikons and DX-format DSLRs than comparable 70-200mm lenses, equivalent to 105-315mm in full-frame terms. The Tamron’s optical image stabilizer is similarly effective for static shots but less so for panning; it lacks a switchable ‘Active’ mode, but nevertheless works well when shooting from an idling vehicle or other non-steady platform. Image quality isn’t quite as sharp as from Nikon's own telephoto lenses but it’s still very impressive in all respects. The construction includes weather seals and a keep-clean fluorine coating on the front element.
If performance is paramount and price is no object, Nikon's stellar 120-300mm f/2.8E lens is in a league of its own. A very unusual focal range, it sits between the trusted 70-200mm and 300mm combo used by professional sports shooters, offering a fast in-between solution for shooting mid and long range subjects. It has absolutely no weaknesses and is outstandingly consistent in its performance, with remarkable sharpness across the frame, across the focal range and across the apertures – which is what you're paying the big bucks for. Obviously its 9K price tag put it out of most people's reach, but if you have the bucks to spend then you'll receive a versatile and near-perfect performer that's outstanding for sports and wildlife (and takes a mean portrait, too).
Weighing barely more than a kilogram, this Tamron is much lighter than most 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses, but gives you twice as much telephoto reach at the long end of its zoom range – if you’ve upgraded from a DX camera with a 70-300mm lens, and are missing the 1.5x crop factor on your FX body, it can give you back some of your lost reach. The lens is sturdy and robust, despite its relatively light weight compared with the likes of the Nikon AF-S 80-400mm f/4-5.6 ED VR, and incorporates weather seals. Performance benefits from super-fast autofocus, 4-stop dual-mode stabilization, and an autofocus limiter that you can use to select either the short or long section of the focusing range. Best of all, image quality is every bit as good as from Nikon’s heavier and pricier 80-400mm VR.
Read more: Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD review
A little more compact and lightweight than the competing Tamron 100-400mm lens, and rather less heavy than the Nikon 80-400mm, this ‘Contemporary’ zoom from Sigma still feels solid and sturdy. It even has a dual-mode zoom mechanism, which you can operate by twisting the conventional zoom ring or with a push-pull action of the barrel; the supplied lens hood is specially shaped for the latter option. Impressive image quality benefits from the inclusion of four SLD (Special Low Dispersion) elements and, like the much pricier Nikon 80-400mm, there are switchable auto/manual-priority AF modes. Two custom settings can be applied to tailor the autofocus and stabilization systems to your requirements, via Sigma’s optional USB dock. It’s a great lens for the money, although the lack of an optional tripod mounting ring might be a bit of an upset.
Read more: Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM | C review
Despite its reasonable asking price this Nikon lens certainly isn’t lacking in advanced features, including very fast ring-type ultrasonic autofocus, an electromagnetically controlled aperture, and a 4.5-stop stabilizer complete with Sport VR mode. It’s also unusual for this class of super-telephoto zoom in having a constant rather than variable aperture, with f/5.6 remaining available throughout the entire zoom range. Three ED (Extra-low Dispersion) elements help to boost sharpness and contrast while reducing colour fringing. The Nikon doesn’t have quite the maximum telephoto reach of competing Sigma and Tamron 150-600mm lenses, but it comes very close, and it's great value at the price.
As one of the ‘Sport’ lenses in Sigma’s Global Vision line-up, the Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM | S is built for speed and optimum performance. Advanced features include a manual override focus option, in which you can swap to manual focusing simply by twisting the focus ring, without waiting for AF to initially lock onto an object. Dual-mode stabilisation has switchable static and panning modes, and the zoom lock switch works at any focal length setting that’s marked on the barrel. Up-market build quality includes metal barrel sections and lens hood, and a full set of weather-seals. Image quality is excellent and the Sport lens retains better sharpness at the long end of the zoom range, compared with Sigma’s 150-600mm Contemporary edition. Distortions are also reduced a little, and autofocus speed is fractionally faster. This is a top performer, and is great value considering its pro-grade build quality.
The Nikon Z 50 is available in an attractive twin-lens kit that includes this telephoto lens as well as the Z 16-50mm standard zoom. Also sold separately, it matches the latter in having a space-saving retractable design and is refreshingly lightweight, helped by the inclusion of a plastic rather than metal mounting plate. Typical of Z-mount Nikon lenses, it has a ‘pulse’ stepping motor autofocus system that’s quick and virtually silent, plus an electromagnetically controlled aperture diaphragm. The aperture itself shrinks to a fairly narrow f/6.3 at the long end of the zoom range but that helps to keep the size and weight down. The zoom range itself is equivalent to 75-350mm in full-frame terms. Image quality is very convincing in all respects and sharpness is enhanced in practical terms by a highly effective 5-stop optical VR system.
Read more: Nikon Z DX 50-250mm f/4.5-6.3 VR review
The Nikon Z lens range is still a little light on telephotos and it will take a while to catch up with the huge range available for Nikon DSLRs – so we'll stretch a point for now and include this 24-200mm 'superzoom' lens. It gives you everything from great wide-angle coverage to powerful telephoto reach, at the flick of a wrist. It’s impressively compact and lightweight for a full-frame compatible superzoom, measuring 114mm in length and tipping the scales at just 570g. That’s pretty remarkable, considering it can replace separate dual 24-70mm and 70-200mm zoom lenses, albeit with a more restrictive aperture rating of f/6.3 at the longest setting. It also boasts a 4.5-stop optical stabilizer which works in conjunction with the in-body stabilizers of the Z5, Z6 and Z7, and is even more desirable in the Z50 which has no IBIS. On the latter, you gain in telephoto reach what you lose in wide-angle ability, the ‘effective’ zoom range equating to 36-300mm in full-frame terms.
Read more: Nikkor Z 24-200mm f/4-6.3 VR review
70-200mm f/2.8 lenses are incredibly versatile, often favoured for everything from action sports and wildlife to portraiture, weddings and event photography. Nikon really has gone for glory with the design of this lens, which features a feast of high-end glass, including two aspherical elements, six ED (Extra-low Dispersion) elements, a fluorite element and a short-wave refractive element. High-tech ARNEO and Nano Crystal Coat are added for good measure. Although typically big and heavy for this class of lens, handling benefits from a removable tripod mounting ring, two customisable L.Fn (Lens Function) buttons and a multi-mode OLED information display. The lens also features rapid dual autofocus stepping motors and 5-stop optical stabilization. Everything’s wrapped up in a sturdy pro-grade, weather-sealed build, complete with a fluorine coating on the front element.
Read more: Nikon Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S review
It may seem something of a curio at first, as you don't see "mirror" lenses so much these days. However, the Tokina SZX Super Tele 400mm F8 Reflex MF is a clever piece of kit and well worth a look for those who are looking for telephoto reach without having to pay telephoto prices. It's called a "mirror" lens because it literally uses a mirror system, bouncing the light around inside the barrel of the lens in order to offer a long focal length in a comparatively tiny barrel. Measuring 74 x 77mm and weighing just 355g, it is a truly portable telephoto lens. Does this affect the quality and operability of the lens? Yep. Its aperture is fixed at f/8, and focusing is purely manual, with a long throw. It's not the sharpest lens you can buy, naturally. But it does produce pretty impressive sharpness for a mirror lens, more than enough to justify its extremely friendly asking price.
How we test lenses
We test lenses using both real world sample images and lab tests. Our lab tests are carried out scientifically in controlled conditions using the Imatest testing suite, which consists of custom charts and analysis software that measures resolution in line widths/picture height, a measurement widely used in lens and camera testing. We find the combination of lab and real-word testing works best, as each reveals different qualities and characteristics.
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