The best Canon telephoto lenses in 2023: for your DSLR or EOS R series camera

a Canon 70-200mm lens shot under a spotlight
(Image credit: Future)

The best Canon telephoto lenses make it easier to fill the frame with subjects and get closer to the action to ensure you capture stunning photos. You can use these zoom lenses to shoot sports, wildlife, portraits, and even landscapes,  so they're essential companions to your Canon camera.

There are several types of Canon camera (opens in new tab) and each has a different lens mount; the best RF lenses (opens in new tab) pair with Canon's mirrorless range, EF lenses are for Canon DSLRs, and EF-M lenses (opens in new tab) pair perfectly with Canon's EOS M cameras. In this guide, we've focused on RF and EF lenses, with one great EF-M lens at the bottom. You'll find out the mount type by looking at the mount in the specifications.

Why buy the best Canon telephoto lens?

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If you're a serious wildlife or sports photographer then owning a telephoto lens is a must. Telephotos cover a range of common focal lengths, including 70-200mm lenses (opens in new tab) and 150-600mm lenses (opens in new tab), but they all enable you to pick out finer details in the distance and still produce a sharp, clear image. Using a zoom lens 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 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.

So how do you choose the best camera lenses (opens in new tab) for you? While there are some incredible Canon lenses (opens in new tab), lots of third-party brands such as Tamron or Sigma make equally good lenses that are more affordable. Take the Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8L IS III (opens in new tab), for example, it's a professional lens for DSLR photographers but costs $2699/£2000, whereas the equivalent Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2 (opens in new tab) weighs less and is half the price. 

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

Best Canon telephoto in 2023

Best Canon telephoto lenses for RF mount

Best Canon telephoto: Canon RF 100-400mm f/5.6-8 IS USM

(Image credit: Future)

Specifications

Mount: Canon RF
Full-frame compatible: Yes
Autofocus type: Nano USM
Stabilizer: 5.5-stop Optical
Minimum focus distance: 0.88m
Filter thread: 67mm
Dimensions (WxL): 79.5 x 164.7mm
Weight: 635g

Reasons to buy

+
Fast autofocus and good stabilization
+
Features a focus-distance scale

Reasons to avoid

-
Not weather-sealed
-
Pricier than non-stabilized lenses

The Canon RF 100-400mm f/5.6-8 IS USM is designed for EOS R-series full-frame bodies, on which it’s an excellent fit, making for a slimline and easily manageable overall package.

Autofocus is super-fast, image stabilization is highly effective and image quality is highly impressive in all respects. The aperture rating of f/8 will be limiting if you need a lens to shoot in low light, but that’s the price you pay for the conveniently downsized design – and the actual price is sensible as well.

Read our full Canon RF 100-400mm F5.6-8 IS USM review for more details

(Image credit: Future/Digital Camera World)
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The best all-rounder when you just want to carry one lens

Specifications

Mount: Canon RF
Autofocus: Nano Ultrasonic
Stabilizer: 5-stop
Min focus distance: 0.5m
Max magnification: 0.26x
Filter thread: 72mm
Dimensions (WxL): 80x123mm
Weight: 750g

Reasons to buy

+
Monster 10x zoom range
+
Small and lightweight for a full-frame superzoom

Reasons to avoid

-
Long-zoom aperture is slow
-
Slight compromise in image quality

This small and lightweight 'superzoom' is perfect for capturing things right up close or really far away thanks to its massive zoom range. For anyone who likes to shoot with minimal kit, this lens is incredibly versatile and could be used to shoot portraits, landscapes, interiors, architecture, or even wildlife. 

It benefits from the same build quality and features as the other RF lenses including fast and accurate autofocus and 4-stops of lens stabilization. Like with all superzoom lenses, there is some compromise on image quality but the 24-240mm still delivers impressive images with little aberrations thanks to in-camera corrections. For anyone who doesn't want the fuss of carrying multiple lenses or changing them frequently, this lens is perfect it weighs just 750g so it won't weigh you down too much.

Read our full Canon RF 24-240mm f/4-6.3 IS USM review for more details

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.

Read our full Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1L IS USM review for more details

(Image credit: Future)
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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 customizable control ring, and typically pro-grade L-series build quality. Image quality is superb with fabulous sharpness and minimal aberrations.

Read our full Canon RF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM review for more details

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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.

Read our full Canon RF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM review for more details

Best Canon telephoto lenses for EF mount

(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 is a more substantial proposition. It’s about 50 percent 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. The 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.

Read our full Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS II USM review for more details

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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.

Read our full Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM review for more details

Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2

(Image credit: Tamron)
A huge zoom range for versatile shooting

Specifications

Mount: Canon EF
Full-frame compatible: Yes
Autofocus type: Ring-type ultrasonic
Stabilizer: Yes
Minimum focus distance: 2.2m
Filter thread: 95mm
Dimensions (WxL): 108x260mm
Weight: 2,010g

Reasons to buy

+
Sharp at the long end
+
Good AF and stabilizer systems
+
Extensive weather-seals

Reasons to avoid

-
Not particularly sharp at the short end
-
Heavy

The second generation of Tamron's popular 150-600mmm lens adds much-improved autofocus and stabilization systems, as well as a nice new design with a much more modern and premium look.

Other Optical enhancements in the G2 edition include the fitment of three LD (Low Dispersion) elements, additional high-tech coatings to fend off ghosting and flare, and a fluorine coating on the front element to repel muck and moisture. The lens also now has thorough weather sealing throughout.

Performance is good overall, with excellent sharpness the further through the zoom range you progress, with focal lengths from 400mm to 600mm being particularly impressive. At the short end of the lens, the sharpness is a little disappointing but still pretty good.

Read our full Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 review for more details

(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 customized 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.

Read our full Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM | S review for more details

(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.

Read our full Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2 review for more details

Sigma 60-600mm f/4.5-6.3 DG OS HSM | S

(Image credit: Sigma)
The best lens for practically every focal length possible

Specifications

Mount: Canon EF
Full-frame compatible: Yes
Construction: 25 elements in 19 groups
Aperture Blades: 9 (rounded)
Stabilizer: Yes
Minimum focus distance: 60-260cm
Filter thread: 105mm
Dimensions (WxL): 120.4mm×268.9mm
Weight: 2,700g

Reasons to buy

+
Enormous 10x zoom range
+
Image stabilized 
+
Weather resistant 

Reasons to avoid

-
Big and very heavy

Replacing Sigma’s original 50-500mm super-telephoto lens with the welcome addition of optical stabilization. The new 60-600mm Sport is noticeably larger and nearly 40 percent weightier, at 2,700g. However, all that lens gets you a massive 10x zoom range. Allowing you to swap from a standard focal length to a close-up without having to waste time swapping between lenses.

The Sigma 60-600mm Sport has high-quality optics, better than would be expected for a lens of this range, only falling off in distortion and sharpness toward the 600mm end. However, for the very reasonable price Sigma ask for this lens, which is totally forgivable.

Read our full Sigma 60-600mm f/4.5-6.3 DG OS HSM | S review for more details

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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 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 par with Canon’s much pricier and heavier 100-400mm lens.

Read our full Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD review for more details

(Image credit: Sigma)
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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 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 Sigma.

Read our full Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM | C review for more details

(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.

Read our full Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM review for more details

(Image credit: Future)
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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.

Read our full Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM review for more details

Best Canon telephoto lenses for EF-M mount

Best Canon telephoto: Canon EF-M 55-200mm f/4.5-6.3 IS STM

(Image credit: Canon)
The best telephoto zoom for EOS M system cameras

Specifications

Mount: Canon EF-M
Full-frame: No
Autofocus: Yes
Stabilization: Yes
Lens construction: 17 elements in 11 groups
Angle of view: 27.8-7.8 degrees
Minimum focusing distance: 1.0m
Maximum magnification ratio: 0.21x
Filter size: 52mm
Dimensions: 61x87mm
Weight: 260g

Reasons to buy

+
Fast stepping motor autofocus
+
3.5-stop image stabilization
+
Super-lightweight for a tele zoom

Reasons to avoid

-
No easy-access mode switches
-
Lacks weather-seals
-
Hood sold separately

There’s little point investing in one of Canon’s dinky little EOS M cameras if you need to hang a big hefty lens off the front. Thankfully this one is amazingly compact and lightweight, yet delivers an impressive 88-320mm ‘effective’ zoom range in full-frame terms. It’s simple to use and boasts speedy stepping motor autofocus plus image stabilization, although downsizing comes at the cost of a modest aperture rating and sharpness could be better.

Read our full Canon EF-M 55-200mm f/4.5-6.3 IS STM review for more details

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-world testing works best, as each reveals different qualities and characteristics. More on how we test and review (opens in new tab) here.

Read more:

Best Canon camera
Best Canon lenses

Best Canon wide-angle lenses
Best Canon RF lenses

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Lauren Scott
Managing Editor

Lauren is the Managing Editor of Digital Camera World, having previously served as Editor of Digital Photographer (opens in new tab) magazine, a practical-focused publication that inspires hobbyists and seasoned pros alike to take truly phenomenal shots and get the best results from their kit. 


An experienced photography journalist who has been covering the industry for over eight years, she has also served as technique editor for both PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine (opens in new tab)PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine and DCW's sister publication, Digital Camera Magazine (opens in new tab)


In addition to techniques and tutorials that enable you to achieve great results from your cameras, lenses, tripods and other photography equipment, Lauren can regularly be found interviewing some of the biggest names in the industry, sharing tips and guides on subjects like landscape and wildlife photography, and raising awareness for subjects such as mental health and women in photography.