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The best Canon telephoto lenses in 2022: from budget zooms to professional lenses

Best Canon telephoto zoom
(Image credit: Canon)

The best Canon telephoto lenses will make it easier to get closer to the action and ensure you capture stunning photos. Whether you shoot sports, wildlife, portraits or landscapes, these lenses are essential to have in your photography kit bag. 

If you're a serious wildlife or sports photographer then owning a telephoto lens is a must. Telephoto lenses enable you to pick out finer details in the distance and still produce a sharp, clear image. It also means you don't have to be too close to your subject which is perfect when you're shooting wildlife and you don't want to scare animals away.

Likewise, if you're a sports photographer you'll often be in a defined area so you'll want to make sure you can still capture some great pictures, even if you're on the far side of the track, pitch or court. 

Telephoto lenses have many uses though and are great for producing different perspectives to wider options. They have a lot less distortion which makes them great for picking out details in a landscape and the longer focal lengths enable you to achieve greater separation between your subject and background. For this reason, portrait photographers will shoot with a telephoto lens so that they have a beautifully blurred background in their image. 

Read more: PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine (opens in new tab)

So how do you choose the right lens for you? While Canon does make some incredible lenses there are lots of third brands that make equally good lenses only at a fraction of the cost. If you're not loyal to the Canon brand it would be worth considering Tamron or Sigma. Take the Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8L IS III, for example, it's a top-class professional-grade lens for DSLR photographers but it'll set you back more than £2000/$2699. The equivalent Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2 not only weighs less, but it'll cost you less than half of the Canon lens. 

In this guide we've compiled the best Canon telephoto lenses, taking price and performance into consideration. Catering for a range or requirements and budgets, it includes relatively small, compact zoom right up to powerful super-telephoto lenses.

We've left ultra-telephoto zoom lenses off they've got their own list: best 150-600mm lenses.  (opens in new tab)

Best Canon telephoto in 2022

Affordable telephotos

(Image credit: Canon)
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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 (opens in new tab) 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: Canon)
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2. 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

The Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM is one of the most lightweight telephoto lenses available at just 375g! This is partly due to the fact it has plastic rather than metal plating but it's also pretty compact and specifically designed for APS-C Canon cameras.

Unfortunately, that does mean it isn't compatible with full-frame sensors as it has a small image circle which would cause vignetting on larger sensors. It's more sophisticated than the IS II model that it's replaced and the virtually silent STM (stepping motor) autofocus system is faster and gives even smoother autofocus transition when using it to shoot videos.

Its low price is another selling point of this lens but be warned, like all non-Canon L series lenses, the hood will need to be bought separately and they're not as cheap as you might think.

(Image credit: Tamron)
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3. Tamron SP 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC USD

It's not the cheapest but it does have image stabilization for better handling

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)
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A top perfoming telephoto zoom ideal for sports and wildlife photography

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.

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The new and improved mark II delivers superior autofocus and stabilization

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

The new and improved 70-200mm Mark II benefits from an upgraded optical design for even better image quality. With more refined lens coatings and new glass elements in a different configuration, ghosting and flare is even less noticeable. Fluorine coatings on the front and rear elements help repel moisture and grease and make the lens easier to clean. It has an optical stabilizer with a 5-stop rating and three switchable operating modes for even sharper images. 

Both image quality and handling is excellent and best of all, it weighs about half of what most 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses weigh. The big downside to this lens is it doesn't include a tripod mounting ring which is a pretty essential bit of kit for bird or wildlife photography. You can pick up third-party ones relatively cheap but the Canon official ring is pretty pricey.

(Image credit: Canon)
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This compact, super-fast telephoto is a great but it's jaw-droppingly expensive

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)
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The smallest full-frame 70-200mm and is incredibly sharp and lightweight

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)
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Super fast autofocus, pro-grade performance and half the price of the Canon equivalent

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.

Long-range telephotos

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Get incredible reach without breaking the bank with this Tamron 100-400mm

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 (opens in new tab) 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)
This native RF mount lens offers even more zoom and amazing image quality

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 (opens in new tab) or Canon EOS R6 (opens in new tab). Shoot with this lens on the older Canon EOS R (opens in new tab) or Canon EOS RP (opens in new tab) 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: Canon)
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A firm favourite among pros and wildlife photographers

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 (opens in new tab) 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: Future)
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A great value, compact lens that still delivers sharp, high-quality images

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.

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.

Read more:

PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine (opens in new tab)
The best Canon lenses (opens in new tab)
The best Canon RF lenses (opens in new tab)
The best 70-200mm telephoto lenses (opens in new tab)
Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM review (opens in new tab)

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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.