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