Big test

Af­ter a longer lens to go with your stan­dard zoom? Matthew Richards takes the best budget op­tions for a spin

NPhoto - - Contents -

Af­ter a lens with a bit more reach? We put eight budget tele­photo zooms through their paces

Most of us start our Nikon D-SLR habit by buy­ing a kit that in­cludes a stan­dard zoom lens, which stretches from fairly wide-an­gle to short tele­photo in fo­cal length. This is a very ver­sa­tile com­bi­na­tion, un­til you need a lens with real tele­photo reach.

A tele­photo zoom is the first ex­tra lens that many of us buy – some­thing with a classic 70-300mm zoom range fits the bill nicely. Prices start low, and the 300mm fo­cal length has plenty of pulling power for clos­ing the gap to dis­tant ob­jects. In­deed, 70-300mm lenses orig­i­nally found favour back in the days of 35mm film pho­tog­ra­phy. To­day’s DX for­mat Nikons, with their APS-C im­age sen­sors, give this cat­e­gory of lens even greater reach. The 1.5x

crop factor of DX cam­eras gives a 70-300mm lens an ‘ef­fec­tive’ max­i­mum fo­cal length of 450mm. This is break­ing through into su­per-tele­photo ter­ri­tory. It’s equiv­a­lent to the reach you get on a whop­ping su­per-tele­photo zoom on an FX (full-frame) Nikon, but in a con­sid­er­ably more com­pact, light­weight and af­ford­able pack­age. In some cam­eras, like the D7200 and D500, you can go even fur­ther with an ad­di­tional 1.3x crop mode. This gives you a mighty 585mm max­i­mum ef­fec­tive fo­cal length from a 70-300mm lens, al­though your im­ages will nat­u­rally have a re­duced megapixel count.

One draw­back to the ex­tended ef­fec­tive reach of tele­photo lenses on DX cam­eras is that cam­era-shake be­comes more of an is­sue. For con­sis­tently sharp re­sults with hand­held shooting, the rule of thumb is that you need a shutter speed that’s as least as fast as the re­cip­ro­cal of the fo­cal length. Tech­ni­cally, that would mean a shutter speed of at least 1/300 sec at 300mm. How­ever, you need to take the crop factor into ac­count as well, so with an ef­fec­tive fo­cal length of 450mm, you’d need a shutter speed of at least 1/450 sec or, in prac­ti­cal terms, 1/500 sec.

The not-so-se­cret weapon for coun­ter­act­ing cam­era-shake is op­ti­cal sta­bil­i­sa­tion. Nikon calls this VR (Vi­bra­tion Re­duc­tion), Sigma calls it OS (Op­ti­cal Sta­bi­liza­tion) and for Tam­ron, it’s VC (Vi­bra­tion Cor­rec­tion). The sci­ence of sta­bil­i­sa­tion varies be­tween man­u­fac­tur­ers but, in all cases, it re­lies on a mi­cro­pro­ces­sor-con­trolled sys­tem that senses phys­i­cal move­ment in the lens and ap­plies a cor­re­spond­ing move­ment to an in­ter­nal group of el­e­ments to coun­ter­act it. For a budget tele-zoom that typ­i­cally has a rel­a­tively ‘slow’ widest aper­ture of f/5.6 at the long end of its zoom range, op­ti­cal sta­bil­i­sa­tion is so ben­e­fi­cial that you’d think its in­clu­sion would be a no-brainer. And yet, while Sigma used to make a sta­bilised 70-300mm zoom, the two 70-300mm lenses in its cur­rent line-up are non-sta­bilised. Tam­ron of­fers an older, non-sta­bilised 70-300mm lens and a fairly new, higher-spec sta­bilised op­tion. And while Nikon has dropped the non-VR edi­tion of its smaller 55-200mm lens, it has just launched a new AF-P DX 70-300mm in both non-sta­bilised and VR edi­tions.

Sigma and Tam­ron also used to make ded­i­cated DX-for­mat tele-zooms, but they fell by the way­side a few years ago. It’s only Nikon that still makes DX-for­mat budget op­tions ex­clu­sively for APS-C for­mat cam­eras, namely the 55-200mm, 55-300mm and 70-300mm lenses, all of which are in­cluded in this test.

It’s equiv­a­lent to the reach you get on a whop­ping su­per-tele­photo zoom on an FX Nikon, but in a more af­ford­able pack­age

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