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12 Best Telephoto Lens to Buy in 2021

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Telephoto lenses aren’t a vital piece of equipment for all photographers. But in certain photographic disciplines, they can make all the difference. Having the right telephoto lens can be a game-changer and can elevate your photography to another level.

A telephoto lens redefines the limitations of photography. They get you up-close and personal with your subject even if they’re far away. They make impossible images possible to capture.

The zoom capabilities of a good telephoto lens make them perfect for sports, wildlife, and astrophotography. They can also help you innovate your portraits and landscape images. The telephoto lens is a versatile piece of equipment.

They can be expensive. But you don’t always need to break the bank to get a good telephoto lens. And, there are options for APS-C and full-frame cameras.

But which is the best telephoto lens to buy in 2021? We’ve compiled a list of our top picks to help you out. But first, we’ll look at telephoto lenses in a bit more detail.

photographer carrying a camera with a telephoto lens attached
Image by Saul Flores

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What is a Telephoto Lens?

A common misunderstanding is that a telephoto lens is just another name for a zoom lens. But this is not the case. A telephoto lens can have zoom capabilities, but not always.

Telephoto lenses come in zoom and prime lens form. It allows you to be more selective when deciding which lens to go for. You can consider your needs as a photographer, as well as size and cost.

A telephoto lens has a long reach. For a lens to be considered telephoto, it needs a focal length of at least 60mm. You will also find medium and super-telephoto, which will have a focal length of over 300mm.

The extended focal length brings you closer to your subject if you’re far away. This allows you to capture anything small or far away in superb detail. The telephoto lens allows you to get the composition you’re after, no matter what the distance.

A good telephoto lens will also help control your depth of field. You can increase the blurriness of your background, emphasizing your subject. It’s perfect for photographing animals in the wild or for adding power to your portraits.

black and white photograph of a lion taken using a telephoto lens from a distance
Image by Nima Sarram

Things to Look For in a Telephoto Lens

Good telephoto lenses can be expensive. That’s why you need to think about what you need before you buy one. You don’t want to waste your money on a lens that’s ineffective in your field of photography.

Is Your Camera Compatible With the Telephoto Lens?

The first thing to consider is the camera you have. You will need a lens that is compatible with the brand and camera model. Do you have a camera with an APS-C or full-frame sensor?

There are lenses designed specifically for full-frame cameras. But generally, you can also use full-frame lenses with crop sensor cameras. This can boost the effective focal length of the lens, increasing zoom capabilities.

Using a full-frame lens with an APS-C camera will crop your final images. But the image quality is at its best in the centre of the frame, so the tighter composition can be beneficial. You won’t experience any vignetting towards the edges.

There are also lenses for APS-C cameras. They tend to be smaller and lighter than the full-frame options. But, you can’t use an APS-C lens with a full-frame camera.

Check if Your Camera has Image Stabilization

Lenses can be heavy and hard to handle. If you’re not using a tripod, keeping everything steady can be difficult. At that magnitude, the slightest movement can affect the final image.

That’s why built-in image stabilization systems can be so important. They will counter-act any vibration or shake, solving the problem “in-camera”. This can save you a lot of work in post-processing.

Some full-frame cameras have stabilization systems. If so, having one in the lens is less important. But if you do have both, you can be assured of a sharp and precise final image.

Look for a Telephoto Lens With Autofocus

All modern digital cameras have top-quality autofocus systems. But focusing is more complicated when a telephoto lens is involved. That’s why it’s good to look for a lens with an in-built autofocus feature.

In-lens autofocus features run on either a supersonic or ultrasonic motor. They will assist you in getting a fast and sharp focus on your subject. And most modern systems are entirely silent. This is a benefit if shooting sport or wildlife photography.

Some include a focus limiter. This feature allows you to tell the camera to only focus within a certain range of distance. The lens won’t have to search the entire frame for the subject, which saves time.

sports image of a runner taken on a running block using a telephoto lens
Image by Braden Collum

Let’s have a look at the best telephoto lenses for each camera brand.

Best Telephoto Lenses for Nikon Cameras

1. Nikon AF-P DX Nikkor 70-300 mm f/4.5-6.3G ED VR

Nikon AF-P DX

 

The Nikon Nikkor AF-P is the best telephoto lens for Nikon users. This zoom lens is lightweight, affordable, and has an excellent build quality.

It has a focal length range from 70 to 300mm. The range will get you into the heart of the action without having to risk life and limb.

The Nikkor AF-P is compatible with Nikon 1, DX, FX, and F lens mounts. That means you’ll be able to attach it to a large number of Nikon cameras. The only problem is that it doesn’t connect to some older Nikon DSLR cameras.

The stepping autofocus motor is fast and pretty much silent. And the lens has a fantastic 4.5-stop image stabilization system. It’s a two-stop improvement from the system on their previous model.

2. Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 300MM f/4E PF ED

Nikon AF-S FX

The Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 300MM is a professional quality telephoto lens. If you’re a full-frame Nikon user, this lens could change your career.

The build quality is superb. The lens employs an Extra-low Dispersion element, and the glass has a nano-crystal coating. Take care of it, and you’ll get some crystal-clear images.

The autofocus system is powered by Nikon’s silent wave motor. It’s quiet, fast, and with an easy manual override system. Just turn the ring, and you’re in control.

This prime lens performs brilliantly, even at its full focal reach. You’ll experience a minimal amount of chromatic aberration or ghosting, if any at all.

3. Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM | S

Sigma 70-200mm Telephoto lens

The Sigma 70-200mm lens is more affordable than its Nikon equivalents. But that doesn’t mean you’ll lose out on quality. The Sigma matches Nikon in nearly every aspect of performance.

This telephoto zoom lens is robust and weather sealed. It’s lightweight and easy to handle, making it great for long shoots. You won’t experience any frustration or fatigue.

There are two autofocus modes you can switch between. One gives priority to the autofocus, the other to manual override. You can switch between modes with the click of a button on the barrel.

The autofocus system also has a range limiter, which reduces the time it takes to find your intended subject. And this telephoto lens has a capable image stabilization system.

Sigma’s 70-200mm lens is of excellent quality and a great choice for those on a budget.

image of a bird taken in a tree at a distance using a telephoto lens
Image by Patrick Hendry

Best Telephoto Lenses for Canon Cameras

1. Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM

Canon EF 70-300mm telephoto lens

The Canon EF 70-300mm is the best telephoto lens for Canon cameras. It has an excellent build quality and isn’t too expensive.

It’s a telephoto zoom lens for full-frame cameras, but it will also attach to many APS-C DSLR cameras. This gives the lens great range and versatility.

It is heavier than telephoto lenses designed specifically for APS-C sensor cameras. But this option is worth the extra weight and cost.

It has an extended focal range and a more extensive reach. The autofocus is powered by a Nano Ultrasonic Motor, which is quick and quiet. And the image quality is improved by the excellent image stabilization system.

For a 70-300mm lens, it is compact and will easily fit in your kit bag. This is Canon’s best all-round telephoto zoom lens to capture the heart of the action.

2. Canon EF 300 f/2.8L IS II USM Lens

Canon EF 300 IS II USM

With a focal length of 300mm, the Canon IS II USM is a super-telephoto lens. It has an incredibly expansive reach. It will redefine what is possible with your photography.

It is compatible with all Canon EOS cameras. This includes both full-frame and APS-C sensor models. And, with the EF-M adaptor, you can attach it to many mirrorless cameras too.

The specialized treatment and coating on the lens glass reduce ghosting and flare. You can expect fantastic image quality even at its full range.

The autofocus and the three-mode optical stabilization make it a perfect telephoto lens for action and sports photography.

But, the Canon 300mm telephoto lens will set you back a bit. It’s ultra-high performance and of a professional standard. It’s the best super-telephoto lens for Canon.

3. Sigma 70-200mm F2.8 DG OS HSM | S

Sigma 70-200 telephoto lens

The Sigma 70-200mm lens is one of the best telephoto lenses you can get for Canon cameras. It may not be Canon brand, but the quality is better than some might give it credit for.

It has the Canon EF lens mount. It’s compatible with the majority of Canon’s EOS DSLR cameras, both APS-C and full-frame.

It incorporates 9 Fluorite low-dispersion glass elements, which ensure superb optical quality. And the lens is lightweight and weather-sealed. It’s a very usable telephoto zoom lens.

The autofocus is powered by a Hyper Sonic Motor, making it fast and reliable. Fast-paced action is no problem for this telephoto zoom lens.

As with Nikon, Sigma provides the best alternative to own-brand lenses. The 70-300mm is affordable, and there’s no dip in quality. It’s one of the best telephoto lenses for Canon users.

image of a woman taken in front of a theme park attraction with a telephoto lens used to blur the background
Image by Isaac Castillejos

Best Telephoto Lenses for Sony Cameras

1. Sony E 70-350mm f/4.5-6.3 G OSS

Sony 70-350mm telephoto lens

If you have a Sony APS-C camera, the 70-350mm is the best telephoto lens available in 2021.

This lens gives you excellent image quality, with minimal ghosting and flare. The three extra-low dispersion glass elements suppress aberration. And, the 7-blade aperture gives a lovely bokeh effect.

The autofocus stepping motor is fast and efficient. Tracking moving subjects is no issue. And the 3-stop optical image stabilization helps maintain a crisp and clear focus.

It’s weather-sealed and robust; excellent for outdoor shooting. You won’t find a better telephoto lens for your Sony crop sensor camera in 2021.

2. Sony FE 70-200mm F4 G OSS

Sony FE 70-200mm

The Sony FE 70-200mm is the best telephoto lens for anyone with a Sony full-frame camera. The Sony FE mount means the lens is compatible with all Sony’s mirrorless cameras.

The three double-sided glass elements reduce aberration and ghosting. This wide-angle telephoto lens maintains stunning resolution right to the edges. Sony users won’t be disappointed.

This Sony FE has a dual-mode image stabilization system. It gives you switchable static and panning modes. And the stepping motor for the autofocus is excellent.

No matter what your style, this lens is more than capable. For Sony full-frame users, the Sony FE 70-200mm is the best telephoto lens on the market.

3. Sony FE 100-400 mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS

Sony FE 100-400mm

The Sony FE 100-400mm is a professional standard super-telephoto lens. Sony users won’t find a better telephoto lens with these specifications.

The Sony FE mount means it’s compatible with Sony’s full-frame mirrorless cameras. You won’t need a special adaptor.

This lens is only slightly larger than the 70-200mm lens. But in terms of performance, it’s a level above. You can capture the far and fast-moving in stunning detail. And the glass elements reduce flare to practically nothing.

The only weakness is the image stabilization system. It’s good but not great. But this is less of an issue if your camera has an in-build stabilization system as well.

photo of a fox taken from a distance using a telephoto lens
Image by Qijin Xu

Best Telephoto Lenses for Other Brands

1. FUJIFILM Fujinon XF70-300mmF4-5.6 R LM OIS

Fujifilm XF 70-300mm

If you have a Fujifilm camera, this is the best telephoto lens for you. It’s a telephoto zoom lens that fits with Fujifilm X-mount cameras.

The lens includes 11 glass elements and a 5-stop image stabilization system. It’s not heavy, the build quality is excellent, and the image resolution is stunning throughout the zoom range.

The Fujifilm XF 70-300mm telephoto lens has the length and quality to meet your needs. For sport or wildlife, this lens is a professional standard.

2. Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 40-150mm F2.8 PRO

Olympus 40-150mm telephoto lens

This lens is for Olympus cameras with a Micro Four Thirds sensor. The 40-150mm focal length might seem small. But with a Micro Four Thirds camera, it is equivalent to 80-300mm with an APS-C sensor.

The zoom range is excellent. And the lens can support the maximum aperture (f/2.8) even at full stretch. Also, the motor for the autofocus is fast and reliable.

It’s relatively lightweight and compact. If you have a Micro Four Thirds Olympus camera, this is the best telephoto lens for you.

3. PENTAX-D FA* 70-200mmF2.8ED DC AW

Pentax 70-200 F2.8D

For Pentax users, the 70-200mm F2.8ED is their best all-round telephoto lens. It’s also compatible with all their DSLR cameras, making it a versatile lens.

You can operate this zoom lens in all conditions. It’s weather-sealed, water-resistant, and dust-proof. You don’t have to worry no matter what the environment.

The maximum aperture of f/2.8 will operate throughout the zoom range. It will give an excellent bokeh quality to your images.

Pentax is known for the durability of their products. And this telephoto lens is no different. It’s the best on the market for Pentax camera owners.

image of a man using a telephoto lens on a tripod with low sun in the background
Image by Jonathan Mabey

Conclusion

A telephoto lens can redefine what’s possible with a camera.

You can capture the best sporting action without stepping onto the pitch. Or you can get up-close and personal with animals in the wild. A telephoto lens changes the game for photographers in the field.

That’s our list of the best telephoto lenses in 2021. If you’re an enthusiast or a professional, there is a telephoto lens to meet your needs. Even if you don’t have the biggest budget, you can find the lens for you.

A good telephoto lens will change your photography forever.

If you want to learn more about wildlife photography, check out our Wonderful Wildlife eBook!

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