Have you ever picked up a newspaper or magazine with amazing sports or wildlife photography in them thought “how did they get so close?”. They didn’t: telephoto lenses are the key.
The photographer didn’t risk life and limb running onto a sports pitch, or out among wild animals. They simply attached a good telephoto lens to the front of their camera and away they went.
What Are Telephoto Lenses?
Telephoto lenses provide a narrow-angle of view. They magnify objects that are some distance away, making them appear much closer than they are.
Lenses with a focal length longer than 105mm are considered telephoto. The range from 105mm to 135mm is commonly referred to as ‘short telephoto’.
Telephotos of different lengths/magnification and characteristics are useful for different kinds of photography.
Short telephotos are very popular for portrait photography; they render proportions of the human face very well. They allow for a natural rendition of proportions and great background separation, without having to stay too far from the subject.
Anything beyond 200mm is regarded as a ‘super-telephoto’. These are staples when it comes to wildlife or sports photography.
Nikon Telephoto Lenses
Now that you know what telephoto lenses are, we’ve collated a comprehensive list of the best ones available for Nikon camera bodies.
We divided our picks into categories based on usage, budget, and specifications.
So let’s take a look at the best telephoto lenses for Nikon in 2020.
1. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f2.8E FL ED VR
A great all-rounder telephoto, good for most photography genres
Compatibility: FX/DX (models made after 2007) | Stabilizer: Yes (Nikon VR) | Filter size: 77mm | Weight: 1.4kg | Dimensions: 88.5mm × 202.5mm | Autofocus: Nikon Silent Wave Motor (SWM)
The Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm is a staple in many professional photographers‘ kits.
It offers a great amount of flexibility, especially if you also have the 24-70mm among your gear.
The focal range is great for all types of photography, from portraits to sports. The f2.8 maximum aperture is constant throughout, which gives a lovely bokeh and performs well in low light.
The lens has been redesigned from its predecessor (the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f2.8G E VR II) to be lighter, while still sporting a solid magnesium alloy build and weather sealing. It comes with an adjustable tripod mount pre-attached to the barrel, and also has 2 customizable Function buttons.
Furthermore, the inclusion of fluorite, ED and HRI elements, Nikon’s great Nano Crystal coating for clear and tack-sharp images, and VR image stabilization make this the most versatile lens of its kind.
2. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 300mm f4E PF VR EF-S ED-IF
Fantastic prime that is both lightweight and compact
Compatibility: FX/DX (models made after 2007) | Stabilizer: Yes (Nikon VR) | Filter size: 77mm | Weight: 755g | Dimensions: 89mm × 147.5mm | Autofocus: Nikon SWM
When the NIKKOR 300mm f4E came out, it took the industry by surprise. Nobody expected a prime telephoto lens with a wide maximum aperture to come in a small package and be any good.
Nikon managed just that by introducing their Phase Fresnel lenses. The total elements needed to build a lens have been reduced, thus scaling down the final weight and size without compromising build quality. The 300mm f4E is half the weight of its predecessor.
And it’s not just the size; the 300mm f4E produces super sharp images. Plus the f4 maximum aperture makes it usable even in low light, thanks to Nikon’s solid VR technology.
The wide aperture, coupled with the long focal length, creates good subject-background separation, and creamy bokeh.
3. Sigma 50-100mm f1.8 DC HSM Art
High-end telephoto with constant aperture
Compatibility: DX | Stabilizer: No | Filter size: 82mm | Weight: 1.4kg | Dimensions: 93.5mm × 170.7mm | Autofocus: Sigma HSM
The Sigma 50-100 f1.8 DC HSM Art is one of the most expensive telephoto lenses for most DX users.
Related Article: Best Nikon DX Lenses
The DX cameras are mostly used by semi-professionals and beginners, so spending so much on a short telephoto is overkill for most.
However, this lens deserves a mention for a few reasons. It is only the second zoom lens ever to feature a constant maximum aperture of f1.8, making it excellent for low-light shooters; even without optical stabilization. The lens also has a built-in tripod mount for stabilization.
The 50-100mm focal range effectively becomes a 75-150mm on a crop-sensor, a comfortable fit for portrait, fashion, and wedding photographers. Depth of field is also comparable to an f2.8 lens on a full-frame camera body.
While not weather-sealed, the lens has a metal barrel and is built solidly, as are all the other Sigma Art lenses.
The autofocus is fast and accurate, and the lens can be calibrated via Sigma’s USB Dock and software if needed.
Advanced amateurs or professionals using APS-C cameras will love this lens.
4. Nikon AF-P DX NIKKOR 70-300mm f4.5-5.6G ED VR
Lightweight, portable and affordable telephoto; great for beginners
Compatibility: DX | Stabilizer: Yes (Nikon VR) | Filter size: 58mm | Weight: 412g | Dimensions: 72mm × 125mm | Autofocus: Nikon STM
The rather unassuming Nikon AF-P DX NIKKOR 70-300mm f4.5-6.3G ED VR lens is a favorite among beginner photographers, for good reason.
It inherits some of the image quality technologies found in superior lenses, like the ED glass elements and Super Integrated Coating that help reduce glare and increase contrast.
The equivalent focal length of 82.5-450mm gives a fantastic reach, useful for sport and wildlife photography.
Although the variable maximum aperture isn’t amazing, Nikon’s Vibration Reduction is of great help for action shots or low-light photography, providing up to 4 stops of stabilization.
Furthermore, the new Pulse autofocus motor gives smooth and near-silent focusing action; great for anyone looking to venture into video making.
In addition, it weighs just 415g, making the 70-300mm a great lens to take anywhere.
5. Tamron 70-210mm f4 Di VC USD
Budget telephoto produces sharp shots in low light
Compatibility: FX/DX | Stabilizer: Yes (Tamron VC) | Filter size: 67mm | Weight: 848g | Dimensions: 76mm × 176.5mm | Autofocus: Nikon SWM
Tamron has been revamping their line-up so they can compete on a par with premium lens manufacturers.
The Tamron 70-210mm F4 Di VC USD has a gorgeous, solid, weather-sealed metal barrel body with all-internal movement, which makes the lens very stable.
Tamron’s Vibration Compensation provides up to 4 stops of stabilization, and the constant f4 maximum aperture makes it very usable in poorly lit environments.
The lens is sharp throughout the focal range, especially at the long end. The wide aperture helps create decent background separation, and although not a macro lens, the short minimum focusing distance allows for close-up shots.
It won’t be taking the place of the Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 but, for a fraction of the cost, this is a spectacular choice for those looking to save money and space in their gear bag.
6. Sigma 120-300mm f2.8 Sports DG APO OS HSM
A hefty telephoto, fabulous for sports photography
Compatibility: FX/DX | Stabilizer: Yes (Sigma OS) | Filter size: 105mm | Weight: 2.9kg | Dimensions: 124.4mm x 291mm | Autofocus: Sigma HSM
We now move from budget lenses to the big boys. The Sigma 120-300mm f2.8 Sports DG APO OS HSM is a heavy lens, designed with build and image quality as priorities.
Weighing in at 2.9kg, this lens has been designed for use on a monopod or a tripod. It comes with an adjustable tripod mount built-in on the lens.
The barrel is made of metal and is weather and dustproof.
The longer reach makes it a preferable option than the 70-200mm for photographers shooting moving subjects from a stationary position; namely sports photographers.
But the main bonus with this lens is image quality. The 120-300 is a class leader in sharpness and clarity, thanks to Sigma’s excellent optical design. The inclusion of special FLD and SLD glass elements reduce aberrations and glare, even in the corners.
Add in solid Optical Stabilization, and the possibility of fine calibration of the AF with Sigma’s USB Dock, you get a must-have lens.
7. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f5.6E ED VR
A fantastic telephoto for outdoors or wildlife photography
Compatibility: FX/DX (models after 2007) | Stabilizer: Yes (Nikon VR) | Filter size: 95mm | Weight: 2.3kg | Dimensions: 108mm x 267.5mm | Autofocus: Nikon SWM
Nikon’s AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f5.6E ED VR telephoto is great for those who need a lens with a long zoom that can still be used on the move.
This lens sacrifices a bit on the maximum aperture, although it still gives a respectable f5.6; more than enough for shooting outdoors with modern cameras.
Plus it still comes Nikon VR and a removable tripod collar for handheld shooting.
In addition, the VR on these top-of-the-line Nikon lenses is split between ‘Normal’ and ‘Sport’ mode, with ‘Sport’ being especially useful if you are moving, as well as your subject. Think, being on a jeep on safari, or on a boat out at sea.
With an overall solid built, fast AF, great image quality, and as the longest zoom lens to feature a constant maximum aperture, the Nikon 200-500mm ticks all the boxes. And it’s reasonably priced, too.
8. Sigma 135mm f1.8 DG HSM Art
A high-quality telephoto, great for indoor work and portrait photography
Compatibility: FX/DX | Stabilizer: No | Filter size: 82mm | Weight: 907g | Dimensions: 91.4mm × 114.9mm | Autofocus: Sigma HSM
This Sigma 135mm f1.8 DG HSM Art is a short telephoto lens.
Sigma Art primes guarantee fabulous image quality in terms of sharpness, lack of chromatic aberration and distortion, plus great contrast and color reproduction.
This 135mm is no different in that regard. It is packaged in a solid metal barrel and has a smooth AF action.
The lens isn’t weather-sealed, however, as it has been designed with studio or indoor use in mind.
And it does that well, thanks to a wider aperture than most other 135mm on the market. It’s easy to shoot handheld, even without optical stabilization.
It is not the cheapest glass on this list, but it’s worth the cost for the quality.
9. Sigma 150-600mm f5-6.3 Sports DG OS HSM
Super telephoto boasts extra-long focal length
Compatibility: FX/DX | Stabilizer: Yes (Sigma OS) | Filter size: 105mm | Weight: 2.8kg | Dimensions: 121mm × 290.2mm | Autofocus: Sigma HSM
Sigma took the market by surprise again with this super-telephoto lens.
Their 150-600mm f5-6.3 DG OS HSM zoom comes in 2 variants; one in the Sports series and one in the Contemporary series. There is not much difference in price.
What made the Sports version of our choice is its uncompromising nature. The Contemporary has simplified the optical design and the build quality to achieve a more portable and lightweight lens.
However, the Sports version features a weather-sealed metal body and a more complex optical design. You can check the minutiae on Sigma’s website.
It produces sharp images and has great AF action. The key attraction is the fact that no first-party options provide such a long focal length on zoom lenses, and especially not at such a reasonable price point.
The closest you can get on Nikon is the 180-400mm f4E, which comes with its own 1.4x teleconverter, reaching an equivalent 560mm at f5.6. But that costs thousands, so the Sigma wins on price alone.
10. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 800mm f5.6E FL ED VR
A budget-friendly all-rounder with an integrated guide for first-time users.
Compatibility: FX/DX (models made after 2007) | Stabilizer: Yes (Nikon VR) | Filter size: 52mm | Weight: 4.5kg | Dimensions: 160mm x 461mm | Autofocus: Nikon SWM
We’re closing this article with a touch of extravagance; a lens that few people need but many desire.
The Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 800mm f5.6E FL ED VR is a seriously big lens. Weighing in at almost 5kg, you will need to mount it on a tripod.
It’s meant for high-end professionals shooting sports, wildlife, or major news events from a distance.
The lens comes packaged in its own rugged suitcase and has a dedicated 1.25x teleconverter (manufactured together with the lens to avoid inconsistencies in lens quality). With the teleconverter, you get a whopping 1000mm at f7.1.
The included lens hood is made of carbon fiber and lined with black velvet to avoid reflections hitting the massive front element. If you want to use filters, there’s a special drop-in slot near the lens mount.
All this gets you the finest bit of optical engineering Nikon currently manufactures, and some amazing image quality, with AF speed and precision to go with it.
If you’re shooting the next Olympic Games or National Geographic Magazine sends you on an expedition in Antarctica, this is the kind of lens you want by your side. But if you want the privilege of owning this, it will cost you–a lot!
How to Choose the Best Telephoto Lens for You
So we’ve shown you a selection of telephoto lenses available for Nikon. But how do you choose which one is the right one for you?
Here are a few considerations to take into account:
- Know your subject: There’s no point in you buying a Sigma 150-600mm lens if all you shoot are weddings or portraits. Likewise, a 200mm lens may not be long enough for safaris or motorsports;
- Know your environment: If you shoot a lot outdoors, think seriously about getting a weather-sealed lens, just to be safe. If you know you’re going to be in low-light situations, a wide maximum aperture and/or optical stabilization is an absolute must;
- Don’t underestimate comfort: Once the novelty wears off, will you still want to carry your shiny new lens with you? There’s no point in buying a fancy 70-200mm f2.8E if you can’t be bothered carrying the weight. Purchase the lighter 70-210mm f4 instead; and
- Budget: Think carefully about what you can afford and go with that. There’s no point in lusting after something out of your budget. Get something less expensive, and invest the savings on a road trip to put your new lens to the test.
Over to You
The world of telephoto lenses is vast. We hope we have given you some inspiration for when you purchase your next one.
Which telephoto is your favorite? Have we featured it here? Share your experiences, stories, and suggestions in the comments below.
Disclaimer: Our reviews are based on personal experience and extensive research by qualified photographers. We pride in keeping these reviews unbiased. Products may contain affiliate links from which we earn a small commission without any additional cost to you. Your support funds our research as well as PhotoBlog.com platform.
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