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
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.
Best Canon telephoto in 2022
A massive improvement over the original Canon 70-300mm IS USM, this Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 a par with Canon’s much pricier and heavier 100-400mm lens.
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 or Canon EOS R6. Shoot with this lens on the older Canon EOS R or Canon EOS RP 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.
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 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.
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.