A good zoom (also known as a telephoto) lens can change your photography drastically. Being able to get close to the action means that one can take pictures that previously, with a normal lens, were simply out of reach. Zooming into your target (even at a relatively high f-stop of say, f8) with a background that is far behind them will give one stunning, cinematic images where one’s subject is crisply in focus, and the background is reduced to relatively formless (yet attractive) blobs. This is a look desired by photographers from beginner to professional levels. The great thing about all of these lenses is that they zoom; meaning they’re not just telephoto, they can also zoom out, to have medium (or even wide) views. This allows the photographer maximum flexibility.
That said, there are two big issues to be aware of with zoom lenses, particularly in the price range featured on this list (topping out at around $700): 1. Changing aperture and 2. High f-stop.
The first issue is an issue that really only pertains to filming; changing the aperture to zoom in closer means that less light can enter the lens. This means that if one was zooming during a recording, the viewer would see an effect on the image. This is highly undesirable for cinematography. For photography, it means that lenses that are fully extended (and maximally zoomed) are slower, meaning they need more light. This effect can be compounded by the fact that these lenses are already on the slow side and given such a far distance, even the slightest shake means one will get a blurry picture. Fortunately, several of these models have Nikon’s Vibration Reduction (VR) technology, meaning they can shoot at full zoom and counteract camera shake. Still, as a rule and in general, all of these lenses will work best on a tripod or during the daytime (when there is plenty of light).
Note: that Nikon does make more expensive zoom lenses (check them out on Amazon), but for this list, we show only the top five lenses priced under $1,000. Here they are from the highest to lowest price.
1. Nikkor 18-300mm f3.5 – 6.3
Boasting insane wide to telephoto capability and typical aperture range, this wideangle/telephoto may not be fast, but it sure does everything else. It boasts crisp optics, excellent sharpness, and fast auto-focus. This is truly a one stop shop kind of lens. Being able to shoot this wide and this close means one is just that better off capturing everything and anything. What’s not to like? Well, f3.5 isn’t fast so unless you can shoot high ISO, this lens will struggle at night. Otherwise, it’s the best money can buy.
- Fast autofocus
- Great build quality
- Tack-sharp optics
- Insane range ideal for close-ups and wide shots
- Aperture shifts with zooming, will affect zooms in videos
- One user claimed it felt cheap
- A small percentage of users found its focus soft
2. Tamron 70-300mm f4-5.6
Tamron’s big zoom offers slightly less aperture range (slightly slower), and axes off anything wide angle, but if you’re fine with that, this is a great way to save $150. Users love its VC, Tamron’s version of Image Stabilization. It has great optics and a solid built quality. Sure, at this range, you won’t be getting any wide shots, but you will be getting great looking telephotos that are well-stabilized. That’s tough to beat.
- Vibration reduction is excellent
- Optics are top notch
- As sharp as L series lens
- Image quality praised across the zoom range
- Manual focus usable at any range
- Lighter than L series lens
- AF can be a bit on the slow side
- Vibration reduction is loud
- One user found it ran dark
3. Nikkor 55-300 f4.5-5.6
The Nikkor 55-300 offers a great value for those looking for great optics and a medium to tight range. The aperture may move slightly, but from 4.5 to 5.6 really isn’t bad for a zoom with this kind of range. Needless to say, the vibration reduction feature adds a tremendous benefit, especially when one is dialed in at a full 300mm.
Users love the optical quality, colors, and compact size. While it may not offer wide views, if you’re willing to make that compromise, this lens take great images.
Price: $307.01 (23 percent off MSRP)
- Accurate colors
- Vibration reduction is praised
- Sharp images with great contrast
- Build quality is solid
- One user found it to be too long
- Struggles in low light
- One user found auto-focus slow
4. Nikkor 18-140mm f3.5 (Certified Refurbished)
This Nikon 18-140 offers a great deal to those who need a lens that performs from wide to medium-close. It has Vibration Reduction, and a silent wave motor, meaning it’s perfect for capturing moments close and distant, especially animals that may be distracted by a noisy lens. Users love how sharp it is and it’s highly recommended. It sells for almost $500 new.
- Wide angle to solid telephoto lens
- Vibration reduction prevents blurry shots
- Excellent optics
- Metal mount for durability
- Great all around lens at affordable price
- Certified refurbished lens
- Autofocus can be slow
- One user had an issue with the plastic ring between lens and lens hood mount
5. Nikkor 55-200mm f4 (Editor’s Choice)
As a budget option, the Nikkor 55-200 is an awesome choice. It’s sharp, has a great range, and has fixed aperture, meaning it will work for footage in additional to stills. Users love the image quality, collapsible size, and manual focus ring. One minor qualm, and the reason the price is so low, is that this lens uses a plastic mount. Still, for most users, this is the budget option that truly sacrifices very little for an amazing price.
Price: $146.95 (58 percent off MSRP)
- Lens with great range at low price
- Lightweight, sharp, and collapsible
- Best price with solid versatility
- Zooms smoothly
- Vibration reduction helps with most shots
- f4 is on the slow side
- Mount is plastic meaning can feel cheap
- Focus mode is either auto or manual, no “m/a” to go between
- Great upgrade from a point and shoot
Still looking for the right Nikon Zoom Lens? Browse more top-rated Nikon Zoom Lenses on Amazon.