We’ve actually reviewed quite a large number of telephoto lenses, and for this guide, we’ve looked all the way back to 2012 to bring you the most comprehensive guide to telephoto zooms we possibly can. Prices are in the region of £1200+ and focal lengths reach a huge 600mm on some of the lenses featured. The shortest focal length on the list is 50-135mm and we’ve chosen 50mm as a starting point as tele zooms around this point are roughly equivalent to 70-200mm on a crop sensor which is the traditional focal length people tend to think of when they’re asked to name a telephoto zoom.
There are plenty of own-brand lenses featured alongside third-party lenses that scored well when on test with our reviewer and as with all of our top lists, various factors are taken into consideration, including performance and price, when compiling our guides.
If you don’t see one of your favourite lenses on the list, it could be it didn’t score high enough or we’ve simply not put it to the test yet but we’re more than happy to hear your suggestions so please feel free to list them below.
1. Fujifilm Fujinon XF 50-140mm f/2.8 R LM OIS WR
This lens may have been around for a couple of years now but its price, performance and features mean it takes our top spot in this countdown. The Fujifilm Fujinon XF 50-140mm f/2.8 R LM OIS WR provides a field of view equivalent to a 75-210mm lens on a 35mm camera, and sports a fast constant f/2.8 maximum aperture, optical stabilisation and costs around £1300. It also sports a weather-resistant construction, focuses quickly and is robustly built. Fujifilm has created a lens capable of delivering image quality of the highest order and its performance puts it on par with the finest 70-200mm f/2.8 optics available for full frame cameras and invariably, they cost a fair bit more than £1300.
2. Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO
This telephoto zoom lens for Micro Four Thirds (MFT) system cameras provides an angle of view equivalent to an 80-300mm lens used on a 35mm format camera and sports a constant f/2.8 maximum aperture throughout the zoom range. The lens is also moisture and dust resistant and is available from around £1300. The fact that the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO offers a unique zoom range, whilst maintaining a fast f/2.8 throughout, makes this lens very appealing and that’s even without mentioning its great build quality and performance. For the most part, it handles well too, thanks to its robust build and relatively lightweight and compact size. Although, it’s worth noting that it still may be a little large for use with the smallest Micro Four-Thirds bodies.
3. Nikon AF-P DX Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3 G ED VR
The Nikon AF-P DX Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3 G ED VR as a relatively new lens that sports VR and a very attractive 35mm format equivalent of 105-450mm. Overall, the lens performs brilliantly, giving sharp, flare-free images at wider to mid apertures, with lovely bokeh and virtually no CA. Add to that a superb VR performance and the package is hard to beat. It’s an outstanding lens and it’s currently available at a fantastic price, too.
4. Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR
Covering the popular 70-200mm range and offering a constant f/4 aperture, this is a lens that’s found its way into many kit bags. It delivers sharp, contrasty images, focuses fast and isn’t so heavy that you’d regret packing it in your camera bag. With the price of the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR still hovering above the £1000 mark, it may seem like a lot of money to shell out for a lens with a maximum aperture of f/4 but when you take its optical performance into consideration, it’s worth it (even more so if you’re after a similar performance to the f/2.8 equivalent).
5. Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2
The Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2 lens is a new, upgraded optic with moisture and dust resistance, faster AF and improved 5 stop VC (Vibration Compensation). It joins a long line of 70-200mm zooms and doesn’t disappoint with it performing as well as lenses costing up to twice as much. It may not have the same silky smoothness in operation as its more expensive competition, but it delivers the goods, making no compromise on image quality. Add to that the amazing VC system and moisture and dust resistance and Tamron have a definite winner on their hands.
6. Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM
When the Canon EF 100-400mm was first released, it had a lot to live up to and as far as the performance of the lens is concerned, it had no problem living up to the reputation created by the older version of the lens. Those using the lens a few years on will still be happy with the image quality, focus speeds and how the lens handles. Sharpness is good, build quality is excellent and the lens also offers relatively low distortion. The body is weather and dust resistant which is always a positive and it’s relatively lightweight for a telephoto.
7. Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 G Master OSS
The Sony G Master FE 70-200mm f/2.8 OSS is, without a doubt, a very fine lens. It operates smoothly, is well made, uses the latest technology to achieve outstanding sharpness evenly across the frame. However, it is not without flaws, particularly a slight tendency to flare against the light. Ther is some fairly obvious CA at the edges at 200mm, but this can be corrected in software.
So, apart from a couple of small points, we are left with a pretty outstanding lens and Sony Alpha A7 system users will not go a step wrong by investing in it.
8. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED
The Nikon AF-S Nikkor 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED is a large and heavy lens, but it does the job and to a very high standard. It is also fast in terms of functions such as AF as well as in terms of its bright f/4 aperture. It is also very, very expensive.
Most of us will have to settle for other options, but this lens falls into that category where quality and specification will be unique to the photographer’s needs. Professionals who need this lens will know they need it and why, and VFM will be in the money it earns. There may well also be some well-off amateurs who can become lucky owners of this very fine lens, but I suspect they will be few in number. In any event, it deserves to be Highly Recommended.
9. Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS
No, you’re not seeing double but yes, this is another 70-200mm lens from Sony. However, this time, it has a f/4 maximum aperture which has allowed Sony to trim the size of the lens. The f/4 aperture is not much of a disadvantage, even an advantage in terms of size and cost, and the performance is such that the loss is hardly felt.
The Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 G OS is a high-level performer that does the job efficiently. The only slight drawback is the possibility of some flare, but fortunately, this does not seem to be a major problem for most photography.
10. Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports
The Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports lens is an interesting lens that offers good specs and a very reasonable price. It’s capable of producing images with excellent sharpness, low CA, and distortion. Those looking for a long lens to add to their kit bag should certainly add this lens to their list of considerations.
11. Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD
The lens is very easy and satisfying to use and the price is certainly attractive. The optical performance is actually excellent overall, the sharpness only falling off at very small apertures. Of course, one of the unavoidable facts of optics is that at longer focal lengths those small apertures soon becomes very small indeed and very susceptible to diffraction effects. Bearing in mind though that high shutter speeds will likely be needed for wildlife and sports it is hardly a major issue.
Processed through Photoshop, with a bit of judicious sharpening where needed, the end results are crisp and very impressive.
The Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD is an excellent long telephoto zoom lens at an excellent price.
12. Pentax HD PENTAX-D FA* 70-200mm f/2.8 ED DC AW
Pentax has a large collection of excellent zoom lenses and the 70-200mm is up amongst the best, a very fine lens with good “character” and bokeh and a high level of sharpness that applies very evenly across the frame. This lens is, actually, ideal for taking advantage of the full area of the 35mm-format K-1. One downside is that the lens is quite heavy but apart from that, it’s pretty much a winner.
13. Tokina Cinema AT-X 50-135mm T/3
Those who are committed to high-end digital video work will appreciate the handling and features of this 50-135mm lens as well as the way it performs. It produces images with relatively low distortion, falloff and high levels of sharpness.
Its parfocal design will also be appreciated and although focus breathing is much reduced compared to many photographic lenses, it is still a feature of this lens and something to be aware of. Those who casually take the occasional video with their SLR won’t be the target market for this lens. Instead, those who can possibly justify dropping a huge chunk of cash on a lens for serious 4K video work are the ones this lens is aimed at. If you’re one of those people, this optic may well be worthy of serious consideration.
14. Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM S
Although the performance of the Sigma 120-300mm isn’t of the same absolute brilliance of the Nikon and Canon fixed super-telephoto lenses, it isn’t all that far behind. Add in the flexibility afforded by the zoom and it still makes a compelling alternative to the camera manufacturer’s own fast telephoto glass
15. Pentax HD Pentax-D FA 150-450mm f/4.5-5.6 ED DC AW
Back in 2015, Pentax camera owners had been crying out for a decent telephoto zoom option, similar to those offered by other camera manufacturers, and their prayers were answered with the Pentax-D FA 150-450mm f/4.5-5.6 ED DC AW.
This lens costs a similar amount to equivalents from other camera manufacturers and performs as well as you’d expect for a top of the range lens of this ilk. Sharpness is good, it’s weather and dust resistant, has good build quality and offers low falloff as well as distortion. CA levels are a little high at 450mm but apart from that, the lens is a winner.
16. Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM
The Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM may have a slow maximum aperture but this helps keep the weight of the lens down, making it good for those travelling or for those who walk considerable distances with their kit. Optical performance is remarkably consistent throughout the zoom range, which isn’t often seen in a 70-300mm zoom, which is impressive in itself, and build quality is of the highest standard. The only main negative is the price as for a lens with a slow maximum aperture, it is on the high side.
17. Sigma AF 100-400mm F/5-6.3 DG OS HSM
Very long lenses have always been more expensive, with the affordable telephotos ending around 300mm. That extra 400mm is very valuable for wildlife and sports and we have here from Sigma such a lens, but one that is much more reasonably priced.
The features cost is in lens speed, so cameras with good high ISO performance are the order of the day. Other advantages are a more compact and lighter optic, still quite large but nowhere near the bulk of some of the alternatives.
The Sigma AF 100-400mm F/5-6.3 DG OS HSM gives excellent results, and an excellent price in a compact package.
18. Pentax DA* 50-135mm f/2.8 ED [IF] SDM
This lens has been around a while now, but it still manages to hold its own. It delivers very good sharpness in the centre of the frame at maximum aperture, and excellent sharpness across the frame when stopped down. The price of around £890 isn’t too much to ask for a quality manufacturer’s own-brand lens either, especially given the excellent build and weather sealing the Pentax DA* 50-135mm f/2.8 ED [IF] SDM offers.
19. Samsung S 50-150mm f/2.8 S ED OIS
The Samsung S 50-150mm f/2.8 S ED OIS is very capable of producing excellent results, with high levels of sharpness. CA levels are a little on the high side, but will only become visible on occasion and focusing is accurate enough.
As a statement of intent to provide a professional-class photographic system, this lens goes some way to providing another fairly interesting option for photographers to choose from, but it may not be outstanding enough to tempt people away from their current cameras systems. If you’re starting afresh, or have already invested in Samsung camera equipment, it will provide a decent upgrade path towards professional-level equipment.
20. Pentax HD PENTAX-D FA* 70-200mm f/2.8 ED DC AW
As you might expect, the Pentax HD PENTAX-D FA* 70-200mm f/2.8 ED DC AW is a highly competent, highly specified lens, with all the bells and whistles you’d expect from a high-end manufacturer’s own lens.
Features like weather sealing, metal build, silent focusing and exotic optical coatings all add to the appeal of this optic and there is enough there to keep almost anyone happy. The performance of this lens is good, but maybe not good enough to support the added cost when compared with other camera marques.
21. Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM
With the 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM, Sigma has created a lens that not only performs well, but that offers excellent value for money.
The performance of this lens is quite surprising, especially when compared to the more expensive ‘Sports’ variant, which costs quite a bit more. It’s this combination of decent performance and good value for money that will win this lens many fans.
22. Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM
Canon has produced a lens that provides a high level of performance in a fairly compact and relatively inexpensive form. Unless we are able to stretch to the more expensive zooms in the range, the 70-300mm f/4/5.6 IS II USM is a very good compromise between cost and performance. The lens is a very good, solid performer and gives very satisfactory sharp, vibrant images. It is also a pleasure to use.
23. Nikon NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR II
The Nikon NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR II delivers crisp images, focuses swiftly and is a pleasure to use. In fact, it is such a joy to use that the asking price almost becomes insignificant. we said almost, as it’s still a fair amount of cash to part with.
24. Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2
The Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 lens proved to be an excellent performer. It is heavy but relatively compact, so carrying over several hours is not too onerous, providing a suitable sling or strap is employed. The VC system works well, the controls operate smoothly and nothing is placed so that it might be accidentally switched on or off. All in all, the Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 is a very soundly designed optic that offers excellent results.
25. Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmar 100-400mm f/4.0-6.3 ASPH
This Panasonic Leica DG 100-400mm lens fits its purpose very well indeed, at a price which, although high, is reasonable in its class. If we want a high-quality optic for sports, birding, wildlife, photojournalism and other long-range applications then this is it. The close focusing that brings closer subjects into range is a bonus.
26. Fujifilm XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR
This is a very well made lens with lovely bokeh and a high level of sharpness. Flare, CA and distortion are all but abolished and images look clean and crisp. The Fujifilm XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR is easy to use, the OIS system enables handheld shooting with confidence and the close focus extends the possibilities of subject matter. It is an excellent all-around choice for an ultra-telephoto for Fujifilm cameras.
27. Sony 70-400mm f/4-5.6 G SSM II
This is an excellent lens, that performs well, and is priced well enough to be considered good value for money too. The build quality is very good, although it is a little strange that it is not weather sealed, as you may expect lenses pitched at this level to be. Even so, the Sony 70-400mm f/4-5.6 G SSM II is a good buy thanks to the improved autofocus speed and anti-reflective coatings, which are both welcome improvements when compared with the old version of this lens.