Best Nikon Telephoto Lenses – 2019 Complete Buyer’s Guide

Designed to give photographers more reach, telephoto lenses start with focal lengths of 50mm and go up to 800mm. An incredible way to capture scenes and subjects at varying distances; these lenses are perfect for sports and astrophotography.

Whether you’re planning on shooting big game on a safari or birds in a garden, a long telephoto lens will be required to achieve the reach you want and fill the frame. Available in both zoom and fixed varieties, there are several different models available today.

To help you find the right lens, this guide includes some of the best Nikon telephoto lenses and aspects to consider before making your purchase. So, read on and find the lens that will help you capture incredibly stunning images!

Comparison Chart of the Best Nikon Telephoto Lenses

PRODUCT DETAILS
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Sigma 150-600mm

  • Zoom lock switch enables users to lock at any focal length
  • Optical stabilizer is designed with an accelerometer for enhanced panning photography
  • Optimized and quiet Hyper Sonic Motor makes the Sigma 150-600mm the best overall and best super-telephoto lens for Nikon
View Latest Price
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Nikon AF-P NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6E

  • Specialized electromagnetic diaphragm accurately and precisely operates with the DSLR’s shutter
  • Equipped with a stepping motor, the Nikon AF-P NIKKOR 70-300mm is the best telephoto lens for Nikon DX
  • Vibration reduction image stabilization enhances low-light capabilities and ensures steady videos and sharp photos
View Latest Price
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Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6

  • Boasts a maximum magnification of 1:2 at the 300mm focal length
  • Equipped with a minimum f22 aperture, 9 diaphragm blades, and a 34.3 – 8.2 degrees angle of view
  • Constructed with fourteen elements in ten groups, the Sigma 70-300mm is the best budget telephoto lens for Nikon
View Latest Price
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Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G

  • Designed with a silent wave motor, tripod detection mode, and VR image stabilization
  • Equipped with 2 ED (Extra-low Dispersion elements and a high refractive index (HRI) lens element
  • With a minimum focus distance of 4.6 feet, the Nikon AF-S DX is the best telephoto lens for Nikon D3200
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Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3

  • Offering three modes for different shooting conditions, the VC performance boasts 4.5 stops
  • Flex zoom lock mechanism allows photographers to lock the zoom ring at any desired position
  • Constructed with 21 elements arranged in 13 groups, the Tamron 150-600mm is the best telephoto lens for Nikon D3300
View Latest Price
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Sigma 150-600mm 5-6.3 Contemporary DG

  • Nine diaphragm blades and a minimum focus distance of 110.2 inches or 280cm
  • Designed with a splash-proof and dustproof mount and a filter thread measuring 95mm
  • Advanced optical stabilizer makes the Sigma 150-600mm the best telephoto lens for Nikon D5500
View Latest Price

What is a Telephoto Lens and What is it Used For?

Telephoto lenses are lenses that have larger focal lengths compared to standard lenses. A unit with a focal length above 70mm is a telephoto lens, while anything over 200mm is a super-telephoto lens. Telephoto lenses can further be divided into two types – zoom lenses and prime lenses. Zoom lenses are designed with variable focal lengths, while prime lenses are equipped with fixed focal lengths.

A telephoto lens can be used for wildlife, nature, and sports photography. They can also be used for astrophotography. These lenses helps photographers compress perspective and pick out details, making them ideal for landscape photography as well. 

How to Choose a Telephoto Lens

Telephoto lenses are usually expensive, so it’s essential that you find the right model for yourself and your photography. To ensure you don’t end up wasting your money, here are some things you should consider before making your purchase:

Image Stabilization

One of the most important features for telephoto lenses, image stabilization uses motors to counterbalance movement and camera shake when photographing handheld. This ensures much more consistency and helps capture sharper images without an extremely fast shutter speed.

Autofocus Features

Autofocus features are another aspect to consider before buying a telephoto lens. Instead of basic ultrasonic or electric models, newer models are designed with autofocus features that pulse with stepping motors. This results in a silent and fast operation that gives photographers smooth focus transitions at the same time.

Electromagnetically Controlled Diaphragm

Quality models are also designed with an electromagnetically controlled diaphragm. Compared to the traditionally used mechanical levers, they ensure higher consistency in aperture control, particularly when you’re shooting in continuous high-speed drive mode.

Quick Take - Best Nikon Telephoto Lenses

Before we dive into our review, here are the best Nikon telephoto lenses:

  1. Sigma 150-600mm
  2. ​Nikon AF-P NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6E
  3. Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6

Review of the Best Nikon Telephoto Lenses

With so many lenses available on the market, choosing the best one can be an extremely difficult and time-consuming task. To help make this decision easier, we've prepared detailed reviews of some of our favorite telephoto lenses, from exciting new models to beautiful industry classics:

Best Overall and Best Super-Telephoto Lens for Nikon:
Sigma 150-600mm

Sigma 150-600mm 5-6.3 Contemporary DG OS HSM Lens for Canon

PROS

  • Manual override switch ensures improved focusing control
  • Splash-proof and dustproof mount makes the unit durable and reliable
  • Front glass element features oil and water repellent coating, making maintenance extremely easy
  • Equipped with an incredibly effective dual-mode stabilizer and an extremely fast autofocus system
  • Sigma Optimization Pro updates the lens firmware and adjusts AF speed, OS view, and focus parameters

CONS

  • Filter size is a bit large
  • A bit heavy

What Recent Buyers Report

Most buyers loved the performance of the Sigma and reported that it consistently produced tack sharp images. They also loved the build quality and found the optical stabilization to be solid, dependable, and fast. One user even stated that it was the best telephoto lens he had ever used and could compete with much more expensive models. However, some users found it difficult to fix the focusing of the Sigma.

Why it Stands Out to Us

Being the best overall model on our list, the Sigma 150-600mm stands out to us for several different reasons. Firstly, the build quality is incredible and boasts full weather sealing. Secondly, the autofocus is confident and fast, making it perfect for sports photography. Lastly, the optical quality is stunning throughout the entire range and even retains sharpness at the longer ends.

Who Will Use This Most

The Sigma 150-600mm is the perfect model for wildlife and sports photographers who need a super-telephoto reach without breaking the bank. This unit can also be used for birding and motor photography.

Bottom Line

Featuring 2 top-grade Fluorite Low Dispersion elements, the Sigma 150-600mm produces well-resolved, sharp details in the corners of full-frame images. With a fast, quiet Hyper Sonic Motor and full weather sealing, this lens ensures durability, reliability, and longevity. Bear in mind that the filter size is a bit large.

Best Telephoto Lens for Nikon DX:
Nikon AF-P NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6E

Nikon AF-P NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6E ED VR f/34-8 Fixed Zoom Digital SLR Camera Lens, Black

PROS

  • Pulse stepping motor is silent and extremely fast in operation
  • Drip- and dust-resistant lens ensures reliability, durability, and longevity
  • Internal focusing design and smooth focus ring gives photographers better control
  • Comfortable and large zoom ring delivers optimal torque for even, smooth zooming through the entire range
  • Nine-blade rounded diaphragm creates a beautiful, round, soft bokeh blur that perfectly complements the telephoto perspective

CONS

  • Does not have a focus distance scale
  • Not compatible with numerous older DSLRs

What Recent Buyers Report

Almost all buyers were impressed with the sharp, quality images the Nikon delivered and recommended it to other photographers as well. Users found the reach to be incredible and the images to be crystal clear. They also stated that the zoom was smooth and easy to use and said that the focus ring worked well with the focus peaking. However, some customers found the starting aperture of 4.5 to be limiting.

Why it Stands Out to Us

The Nikon AF-P primarily stands out from the crowd because of its incredibly silent and fast autofocus motor. With the optical viewfinder and phase detection autofocus, the lens snaps into focus instantly, no matter how far or close the subject is. This excellent lens also does not create any high-pitched noise and is practically silent.

Who Will Use This Most

If you want to start experimenting with wildlife photography but have a tight budget, then the Nikon AF-P NIKKOR is the choice for you. The versatile zoom range makes it perfect for perched birds and large animals. The compact and lightweight design further makes it easy to carry around when you’re looking for wildlife spots. It can also be used to capture concerts, sports, and landmarks.

Bottom Line

Featuring an electronic diaphragm and a pulse stepping motor for completely silent and ultra-fast autofocus operation, the Nikon AF-P NIKKOR is very different from its predecessor. The 4+ stop image stabilization virtually eliminates the need for a tripod, and distortion and chromatic aberration are minimized. Unfortunately, this option has limited compatibility.

Best Budget Telephoto Lens for Nikon:
Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6

Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 DG Macro Motorized Telephoto Zoom Lens for Nikon Digital SLR Cameras

PROS

  • Comes with a soft pouch and a lens hood
  • Impressive build quality
  • Super multi-layer coating significantly reduces ghosting and flare
  • Produces incredibly sharp images from a focal length of 250mm to 70mm
  • Special Low Dispersion elements deliver excellent correction of distortion and chromatic aberration

CONS

  • Basic motor is a bit noisy
  • Does not have optical stabilization
  • Poor image contrast when shooting in dull lighting

What Recent Buyers Report

Most users loved the price of the Sigma and found it light and easy to use. They stated that it was quick to focus and produced crystal clear images. Buyers were also impressed with the bokeh and the depth of field. However, some users found using the switch to zoom past 200mm to be a bit annoying, while some reported that the autofocus was slower than other models.

Why it Stands Out to Us

With an extremely affordable price tag, the Sigma is packed with incredible features. Featuring fourteen elements in ten groups, it reduces color fringing and chromatic aberrations, earning it an APO (Apochromatic) badge. The Sigma is further designed with a switch for macro photography between a focal length of 200mm to 300mm and allows a maximum of 1:2 magnification.

Who Will Use This Most

Being a DG lens, the Sigma is compatible with full-frame DSLRs but can be used with APS-C camera bodies designed with smaller sensors as well. This model is the perfect option for macro, sports, portraits, and several other types of photography.

Bottom Line

All in all, the Sigma 70-300mm certainly deserves a place on our list of top picks. Designed with special low dispersion elements and a super multi-layer coating, this allows photographers to take sharp, stunning images without breaking the bank. However, the lack of optical stabilization might be disappointing for some.

Best Telephoto Lens for Nikon D3200:
Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G

Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED Vibration Reduction Zoom Lens with Auto Focus for Nikon DSLR Cameras

PROS

  • Tripod detection mode reduces vibrations when shooting with a tripod
  • Silent Wave Motor boasts ultra-quiet, precise, and fast autofocus operation
  • 3.0 stops of handheld blur-free shooting ensure significantly sharper HD videos and still images
  • Enables photographers to easily and quickly capture far off subjects and brings the action up close
  • Super Integrated Coating minimizes flare and ghosting, enhancing performance in low-light conditions

CONS

  • Not weatherproof
  • Lacks the manual focus override feature
  • Small maximum aperture makes it unsuitable for fast-moving action photography

What Recent Buyers Report

Almost all users were impressed with the compact and lightweight design and stated that the Nikon provided excellent value for the money you spend on it. Buyers found the range to be amazing and reported that it created crisp, professional quality images, even in burst mode. However, users were disappointed with the lack of a locking mechanism, while some experienced difficulty in stabilizing the unit.

Why it Stands Out to Us

The Vibration Reduction feature of the Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR is incredible and has an outstanding performance. It allows photographers to shoot at slower shutter speeds and still delivers sharp images of still, non-moving subjects. The VR can further be easily turned off using the switch situated on the side of the model. Moreover, this lens is incredibly sharp between 55 to 135mm.

Who Will Use This Most

An excellent entry-level telephoto lens, the Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR is perfect for capturing events, vacations, and family pictures. Ideal for capturing distant subjects, it can also be used for wildlife photography. However, this lens is not suitable for photographing kids, sports, and action in general.

Bottom Line

Although the Nikon 55-300mm is a consumer zoom lens, it still delivers an incredible performance in terms of value, weight, and optical quality. Vignetting is essentially non-existing, chromatic aberrations are minimized, bokeh is stunning, and the center sharpness is incredible, even at 300mm. However, it’s not ideal for fast-moving action photography.

Best Telephoto Lens for Nikon D3300:
Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3

Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 for Nikon Digital SLR Cameras (Tamron 6 Year Limited USA Warranty)

PROS

  • Tripod mount is lightweight and very easy to hold
  • Delivers strong sharpness across most of the range
  • Autofocus speed is much more responsive and faster with fast-moving subjects
  • Moisture-resistant construction and fluorine coating ensure the unit lasts long
  • Compact and lightweight design makes the Tamron extremely easy to carry around

CONS

  • Does not have any dedicated panning mode
  • Weaker edge performance at telephoto and wide extremes

What Recent Buyers Report

Almost all buyers were impressed with the Tamron’s compact and lightweight design and stated that it produced tack sharp images. Users found the autofocus to be incredibly fast and also reported chromatic aberration to be essentially non-existent, even wide open. However, customers were disappointed that the unit could not accept small rear filters, while some experienced autofocus problems.

Why it Stands Out to Us

Boasting 21 elements in 13 groups, the Tamron features three low-dispersion elements that significantly reduce chromatic aberration. The front element further features a fluorine coating to help protect the lens from dirt. Moreover, the model has a minimum focusing distance of 2.2m and ensures incredibly sharp images across most of the range.

Who Will Use This Most

The Tamron SP 150-600mm is the perfect option for photographers who want to start experimenting with wildlife photography without spending five figures on a super, telephoto prime lens. It can also be used for sports photography and is also one of the best lenses for the Nikon 3300.

Bottom Line

Featuring quick autofocus and effective image stabilization, the Tamron 150-600mm is incredibly sharp through most of its range. It is also relatively light, making it easier to carry around. To put it simply, the Tamron is a compelling package that enables photographers to get shots they might miss otherwise.

Best Telephoto Lens for Nikon D5500:
Sigma 150-600mm 5-6.3 Contemporary DG

Sigma 150-600mm 5-6.3 Contemporary DG OS HSM Lens for Nikon

PROS

  • Manual override switch gives users better focusing control
  • Zoom lock switch enables photographers to lock at any desired focal length
  • Compact and lightweight design makes the Tamron extremely easy to carry around
  • Hyper Sonic Motor ensures sharper panning photography, both horizontally and vertically
  • Oil and water-repellent coating on the glass elements ensures reliability, longevity, and durability

CONS

PRODUCT DETAILS
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Sigma 150-600mm

  • Zoom lock switch enables users to lock at any focal length
  • Optical stabilizer is designed with an accelerometer for enhanced panning photography
  • Optimized and quiet Hyper Sonic Motor makes the Sigma 150-600mm the best overall and best super-telephoto lens for Nikon
View Latest Price
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Nikon AF-P NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6E

  • Specialized electromagnetic diaphragm accurately and precisely operates with the DSLR’s shutter
  • Equipped with a stepping motor, the Nikon AF-P NIKKOR 70-300mm is the best telephoto lens for Nikon DX
  • Vibration reduction image stabilization enhances low-light capabilities and ensures steady videos and sharp photos
View Latest Price
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Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6

  • Boasts a maximum magnification of 1:2 at the 300mm focal length
  • Equipped with a minimum f22 aperture, 9 diaphragm blades, and a 34.3 – 8.2 degrees angle of view
  • Constructed with fourteen elements in ten groups, the Sigma 70-300mm is the best budget telephoto lens for Nikon
View Latest Price
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Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G

  • Designed with a silent wave motor, tripod detection mode, and VR image stabilization
  • Equipped with 2 ED (Extra-low Dispersion elements and a high refractive index (HRI) lens element
  • With a minimum focus distance of 4.6 feet, the Nikon AF-S DX is the best telephoto lens for Nikon D3200
View Latest Price
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Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3

  • Offering three modes for different shooting conditions, the VC performance boasts 4.5 stops
  • Flex zoom lock mechanism allows photographers to lock the zoom ring at any desired position
  • Constructed with 21 elements arranged in 13 groups, the Tamron 150-600mm is the best telephoto lens for Nikon D3300
View Latest Price
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Sigma 150-600mm 5-6.3 Contemporary DG

  • Nine diaphragm blades and a minimum focus distance of 110.2 inches or 280cm
  • Designed with a splash-proof and dustproof mount and a filter thread measuring 95mm
  • Advanced optical stabilizer makes the Sigma 150-600mm the best telephoto lens for Nikon D5500
View Latest Price

What Recent Buyers Report

Most buyers were impressed with the results the Sigma provided and loved its optics. They stated that it produced impressive bokeh and found it to be incredibly sharp from f8 to f11. They also liked the build quality, with one user stating that the focus lock remained accurate across the entire zoom range. However, some customers experienced problems with the focus motor, while some reported that the optical stabilization was limited to handheld use.

Why it Stands Out to Us

The optics of the Sigma 150-600mm truly set it apart from its competitors. It produces incredibly sharp images, even at 600mm. The zoom ring is also smooth and large and is located near the front. The barrel extends but does not rotate when you zoom, allowing photographers to easily use filters, including circular polarizers and neutral density filters.

Who Will Use This Most

Although the Contemporary series is intended for general everyday photography, its huge focal range makes it ideal for photographing objects at varying distances as well. The perfect option for wildlife and sports photographers, the Sigma can also be used for birding and motor photography.

Bottom Line 

Changing the market for budget-friendly super-telephoto lenses, the Sigma 150-600mm is an incredibly capable and versatile lens that enables photographers to get the zoom reach that usually has a heavier price tag. Although the unit delivers an impressive performance at shorter focal lengths, the vibration reduction feature could be improved.

Pros and Cons of Telephoto Lenses

As mentioned above, a telephoto lens helps magnify distant objects. But, every coin has two sides; some of these pros and cons include:

Pros

Captures Subjects at Longer Distances

A telephoto lens enables photographers to get closer to their subject without being physically close. You can’t walk right up to a shy bird or wander into the middle of the field during a football game to take a photo. However, with a telephoto lens, you can easily capture stunningly sharp images from a distance.

Compressed Perspective

A telephoto lens forces photographers to stand and shoot further away from the subject compared to shorter focal lengths. This brings the background closer to the subject, changing the entire perspective. This compressed perspective can be used to creative effect and adds variety to a set of shots at the same time.

Framing

Telephoto lenses make it easier to precisely and accurately frame the subject, especially if it’s difficult to move closer to the subject physically.

Cons

Weight and Size

Since telephoto lenses have a long focal length, they’re usually big and heavy. This makes the lens awkward and a bit difficult to use.

Might be Unable to Shoot in Tight ​Spaces

When using a telephoto lens, it’s essential that you’re far away from the subject. While this results in stunning pictures outside, it can be a bit difficult to get the subject in the frame if you’re in a confined area.

How to Use a Telephoto Lens

Telephoto lenses are incredible tools for almost every genre of photography, but they are a bit difficult to use. To ensure you capture consistent, sharp images, here are some tips on how to deal with their unique challenges:

Focus on Details

Telephoto lenses are incredibly useful if you need to focus on smaller details in any given scene. Since these units have a narrow field of view, it’s easier to capture a small part of the world. From wide-open overlooks to a dense forest, telephoto lenses enable photographers to isolate details more easily than a wide-angle or medium lens.

The types of details you’ll need to focus on depend on the type of photography that you do. If you’re into portraiture, you can easily capture someone’s face without any surrounding elements. If you’re a landscape photographer, you can focus on just one mountain peak and make it the most extrusive object in your image.

Get Enough Depth of Field

The depth of field will reduce significantly as you zoom in. Although telephoto lenses are ideal for landscape photography, the subject needs to be far away if you want to capture incredibly sharp images. If an aperture like f/16 or f/11 doesn’t give the desired depth of field, it’s advisable to move farther back if possible.

Be Careful of Camera Shake

Telephoto lenses magnify camera-shake issues in the captured image. For example, if your hand even shakes slightly while shooting handheld, a wide-angle lens might not show the problem, but a telephoto will reveal it instantly.

If you’re using a telephoto lens, it’s advisable that you’re careful with the entire setup. Since any slight shake will be magnified, it’s better to use a tripod as much as possible. Similarly, if you’re shooting wildlife or sports, and need to move the camera more quickly, a monopod will be better.  

Conclusion

A wonderful way to shoot scenes and subjects at longer distances, telephoto lenses are perfect for sports and wildlife photography. However, with so many telephotos available today, choosing the right one is no easy task. For us, the Sigma 150-600mm proved to be the best overall telephoto lens, but make sure you read all the aforementioned reviews to find the lens that best suits your needs!

People Also Ask

While a telephoto lens is an incredible tool, it can be a bit technical and difficult to use. To help you understand telephotos better and ensure you capture incredibly sharp images, here are some of the most frequently asked questions:

When to Use a Telephoto Lens?

Telephoto lenses can be used to capture beautiful landscape images. It can also be used for portraiture, as portrait photographers usually use the ‘stand back, zoom in’ rule to capture faces in a more encomiastic way. They can also be used by wildlife and sports photographers as they help focus on the smallest details of the scene.

What is a Super Telephoto Lens?

Telephoto lenses usually have a focal length of 70mm to 200mm. Super telephoto lenses, on the other hand, exceed this range and have a focal range over 400mm. These models enable you to capture incredibly far away subjects, whether it’s a flying bird or a moon.

What is the Difference Between a Telephoto Lens and a Zoom Lens?

A telephoto lens usually refers to a lens that has a long focal length. Meanwhile, zoom lenses are lenses whose focal length can be changed. By pushing a switch or twisting the barrel on zoom lenses, they take in a wider or narrower field of view, making subjects appear smaller or bigger.

Can a Telephoto Lens Be Used For Macro?

Using a telephoto for macro photography will generally not allow photographers to magnify their subject as far as a macro lens, but a fixed aperture with a quality model can certainly capture sharp images with an excellent bokeh effect. Extension tubes can further help shoot macro with a telephoto lens.

What is the Focal Length for a Telephoto Lens?

On a full-frame camera, a standard lens has a focal length ranging from 40mm to 58mm. Thus, any lens that has a focal length above 60mm can be defined as a telephoto lens. To put it simply, the magnification increases with the focal length.