Telephoto lenses let one get close to the action, even if it’s far away. Some telephoto lenses have variable zoom, meaning one can be close or farther away, and others are prime, meaning they have only one focal length. Either way, the benefits of shooting telephoto are that one can be far away from their subject which means the photographer is less distracting to the action. Another benefit of telephoto is that images shot from a distance can have beautiful, crisp foregrounds, with nicely blurred backgrounds. A final often desired effect of these lenses is distance compression; this quality means that from a distance, things look closer to each other than they really are (learn more in this Photocrati article).
Shooting telephoto is virtually ubiquitous for certain kinds of shooting, namely sports and wildlife, but there are plenty of other practical and aesthetic reasons to own a telephoto lens. If you’re interested in portraits, check out our top 10 best Nikon portrait lenses.
Regardless of your preferences, there is a Nikon-compatible lens that should fit your needs. Here are the top 10 best telephoto lenses for Nikon cameras.
1. Nikkor 70-200 f2.8 VR
For professional photographers and videographers looking for the absolute best Nikon telephoto and zoom lens, look no further. This lens is lightning quick at f2.8 and offers a superb zoom range; it’s universally praised as one of the best lenses in its class. There’s nothing better to have on your Nikon when it comes to events like sports, wildlife, concerts and weddings. The bokeh is creamy and the it’s tack sharp. It may be overkill for many, but for those looking for the best of the best, this is the telephoto lens for you.
- Vibration reduction image stabilization means 4 full stops of of stabilization
- Praised as all around state of the art
- Little to barrel distortion or chromatic aberration
- Extremely sharp, has very fast autofocus
- Priced for professional users only
- Overkill for most users, one can get comparably sharp images for much cheaper
- Minimum zoom distance is 3.6 feet
2. Nikkor 105mm f1.4 ED
For those looking for a blazing fast prime lens, the 105mm offers decent zoom and ridiculous speed. It doesn’t get much faster than f1.4. Needless to say, this lens is a low light beast. It’s the one to beat for portrait photographers as it takes stunning photos of people with beautifully blurred backgrounds. Users love the quality, speed, and its ability to be sharp– even while wide open at f1.4. Some minor drawbacks include its hefty two pound weight and high price, but if one is looking to take portraits and shots at a medium distance, this is as good as it gets for pictures or video.
- Praised as having best bokeh of comparable lenses (85mm)
- Sharp wide open unlike other lenses which are soft when at minimum f-stop
- Auto-focus is fast and effective
- Build quality is great, superb for shooting portraits
- Weighs 2lbs
- Overkill in specificity and quality for all but portrait photographers
- Doesn’t work as a macro lens (minimum focus distance is 3.3 feet)
3. Nikkor 80-400mm f4.5-5.6G ED VR
For the photographer who need a lens with insane reach and range, the 80-400mm offers a high-quality solution. Compatible with Nikon’s tele-converting adapters (See more about the 1.4x teleconverter here), one can essentially use this lens to capture subjects that are medium-close to quite far. It boasts vibration reduction, solid build quality, and a tripod collar for mounting. For wildlife and other distant photography, this is a very practical and effective lens. For video shooters, the aperture is a bit slow, but given the quality of the optics, it may work well in a robust videography arsenal. In any case, image samples speak for themselves, this is one versatile piece of glass.
Price: $2,096.95 (9 percent off MSRP)
- Tack sharp, even at 400mm
- Extreme range of 80mm to 400mm (120-600mm on APS-C size sensor)
- Solid build quality and tripod collar
- Compatible with 1.4x teleconverter ($225 from Amazon)
- Vibration reduction can soften images at 1/1000 and faster
- Some users complained about the quality of the tripod collar
- Minimum focusing distance of 5.7 feet
4. Nikkor 70-200mm f4 ED VR
As a budget option to the f2.8 70-200mm, this lens makes so much sense. It boasts superb optics and at only one-stop slower functioning, it’s basically the same lens. Users love it. One user who owns both stated that the f4 actually outperformed the f2.8 at higher apertures of f5.6 to f11. In the higher range, above f11, diffraction and other optical quality issues can come into play so it’s not better in every situation, but in some it absolutely is. Overall, this zoom lens delivers a tremendous amount of value for the price. At half the weight of the f2.8, it’s also a lot easier to carry around. For those who prioritize lightness and don’t need one stop faster or insane optical quality, the 70-200mm f4 offers better overall value to our number one on this list.
- High quality videos and stills at reasonably fast f4
- Vibration reduction
- Only 7 inches long, 3.3 foot minimum focusing distance
- One stop slower than its 2.8 counterpart, but half the weight
- One user says performance is virtually indistinguishable from f2.8
- Minimum focusing distance of 3.28 feet
- Almost 2 lbs
- Some users had issues with slow focusing speed
- One user found build quality to be poor considering cost
5. Nikkor 18-300mm f3.5 – 6.3 VR
With great width and extremely tight shots, the Nikkor 18-300mm delivers a range that will leave few disappointed. At f3.5 to 6.3, it’s not the fastest gun in the west, but it does offer superb sharpness and reasonably fast auto-focus. It’s a great one stop wonder for those outdoor days where one wants to see far and close. At night time and in low light, this lens will not be playing to its strength, but it should still be useful considering the VR works up to four stops. This is a great lens for those who want superb optical, but don’t want to break the bank completely. There are cheaper options, but optical quality suffers, at least for this level of zooming.
- Quick autofocus
- Superb build quality
- Solid optical quality
- Fantastic range means it can be the only lens you leave the house with
- On the expensive side
- Variable aperture means one can’t shoot video with lens wide open
- A few users had issues with build quality
- One user found focus to be soft
6. Tamron 70-300mm f4-5.6
For those looking to save some cash and who may not need the width of the above lens, Tamron’s offering cuts several hundred dollars off the price with only minimal sacrifice otherwise. It includes its own version of image stabilization, has superb optical quality, and users love the quality of its construction. While one does sacrifice the ability to shoot wide-angle, the cost savings could be used to purchase a faster wide lens. While some may want the versatility, this lens fits the needs of those who would rather spend a bit less and get just as much zoom power.
- Image stabilization means taking pictures is easier
- One user said optical quality is comparable to L series lenses
- Users say the zoom range is sharp at any point
- Manual focus ring is smooth and nice
- Autofocus can be a bit on the slow side
- Some users found the image stabilization to be noisy
- One user found that the pictures ran on the dark side with this lens
7. Nikkor 55-300 f4.5-5.6 VR
The Nikkor 55-300 is a great deal. Boasting a range that most will find more than large enough for both portrait shots and distant telephoto, it’s quite a steal at a mere $396.95. Its included vibration reduction is critical for those distant shots and it also has a SWM, silent wave motor, to make your capturing as quiet as possible, ideal for not scaring off sensitive wildlife – or sports stars.
- Great colors and solid optical quality
- Superb value
- Captures sharp images at all distances
- Construction is high quality
- One user complained that lens itself was larger than expected
- Some found auto-focusing speed to be too slow
8. Nikkor 18-140mm f3.5 VR (Certified Refurbished)
For those who don’t mind a lens that’s used (but approved by Nikon), the 18-140mm offers a great bargain and a robust range for wide to telephoto shots. Sure 140mm isn’t that close compared to some of the lenses on this list, but it should more than suffice for human subjects (short of surveillance or other discreet activity). The focus motor is Nikon’s silent wave so it’s on the quiet side. This lens usually sells for almost $500 new, so it’s quite the deal.
- Wide-angle to telephoto range pleases many users
- Vibration reduction helps stabilize shots
- Great optics
- Goes for almost double the price when bought new
- Autofocus can be on the slow side
- One user said lens loses sharpness above 70mm
9. Nikkor 55-200mm f4 VRII (Certified Refurbished)
This lens has great image quality, a superb range, an unexpected feature: fixed aperture. Normally one expects to pay much more for this video-compatible lens. The worst thing that can be said about it is that it was a his a plastic mount, which some users found “felt cheap,” but for most, this lens will more than deliver and at an unbeatable price.
- Great range and optics and affordable price
- Smooth zooming means it works fine for video
- Vibration reduction aids shots at 200mm
- f4 can be a bit slow
- Plastic mount means taking lens on and off is clunkier, it can feel cheap
- Focus mode is fixed and not variable, you’re either shooting manual or auto
10. Big Mike’s 500/1000mm f8
If you’re interested in having massive zoom capability, but don’t need to the best of the best in optical quality, or you don’t want to spend a ton of cash, Big Mike is here to save the day. This cannon of a lens is completely manual, meaning its aperture and focus cannot be adjusted by the camera, you’ll have to do it all by hand. That said, if you can master this somewhat challenging task, you’ll be equipped with an optically decent lens that is more powerful than any zoom lens on this list. With its 2x teleconverter, this lens boasts an outstanding 1000mm focal length. While it’s not necessarily great for beginners, this may be the perfect lens to take an amateur into a more seasoned photographer’s skill set; manual focus and exposure are necessary skills. Overall, this lens offers a great value and a great time to those willing to learn it, but it won’t likely due for professionals due to its clunky nature and middling optics.
- Includes teleconverter for 2x range (500mm to 1000mm)
- Dirt cheap with insane range
- Great value for the money
- Good way to learn manual focusing and exposure skills
- f8 is very slow
- Manual only, no autofocus or aperture control
- Requires practice to use effectively
- Tripod is necessary
Still looking for the right Nikon Zoom Lens? Browse more top-rated Nikon Zoom Lenses on Amazon.