Using long telephoto lenses is an addictive hobby and once you get the bug, you will always be wanting for more reach. No matter if your outlet is wildlife, sports or events, that extra bit at the telephoto end is always a great advantage. Generally, the highest quality zooms lenses don’t have a huge focal range, simply to reduce optical anomalies, but luckily the best 70-300mm lenses are within this category.
This focal range category is aimed more at the serious enthusiasts, but that doesn’t mean the lenses here can’t produce great image quality in the right hands. Let’s have a closer look at the options out there and the facilities they provide. Plus, we’ll look at a few other options slightly out of this focal range, which provide great quality for the price.
1. Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM (Overall Winner)
The L series of zooms from Canon always denotes great quality, which is exactly the case with the EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM. Optically, this lens features 19 elements in 14 groups, with two ultra-low dispersion elements and a fluorine and Super Spectra coating. An Optical Image Stabilizer provides up to four stops of compensation, with two modes available for single shots and panning work.
Canon’s ring-type Ultrasonic Motor (USM) provides the usual quick and efficient operations, along with a floating focus mechanism to maintain image quality throughout the zoom range. Usually, a zoom lens with this much reach can lose either center or edge sharpness as it approaches the telephoto end, but the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM stays very sharp throughout the zoom range.
The aperture may also seem relatively slow, but in reasonable levels of light, this lens provides solid and consistent images. This results in one of the more expensive lenses on this list, but in return provides very good image quality for Canon devotees.
For the Canon users out there who need a more cost-effective solution in the 70-300mm range, there is the option of the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM. Coming in at roughly half the price of the L series version, this lens centers around 17 elements arranged in 12 groups, with one UD element, four stops of compensation image stabilizer, and rounded nine-blade diaphragm.
A Nano USM motor covers autofocusing, which basically incorporates both ring type USM and STM systems. The lens is also optimized for APS-C cameras, providing an equivalent focal length of 112-480mm. Externally, there is a helpful LCD display on the lens barrel, providing a readout for things like focusing distance, stabilization amount, and focal length.
Optically, the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM provides very good sharpness throughout its zoom range and is very quick to lock into focus, even on high-contrast subjects. The lens is not going to approach L-series quality throughout its range, but for its price point, it delivers excellent images and works equally well for video applications with the efficient Nano USM motor.
If you need a truly cost-effective lens in the 70-300mm department, then the Tamron AF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di LD MACRO 1:2 is worth a look. Available for a range of camera mounts, the Nikon version features a built-in motor to drive all their DSLR cameras. Plus, the lens has a macro mode between 180mm and 300mm, with a close focusing distance of 95cm.
As for the optical design, the lens includes one LD glass element, along with 13 elements arranged in nine groups and weighs in at a reasonable 435g. The macro mode works better than expected, providing nice clean images with good subject separation. But focusing can be very slow and can be loud at times.
The Tamron AF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di LD MACRO 1:2 may not be the greatest on this list for overall optical facilities, but considering its cheap price point, the lens provides good quality images, higher than the price suggests.
For Sony users, a high-quality offering in the 70 to 300mm range comes in the form of the Sony FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G OSS. Two extra-low dispersion and four aspherical elements reduce lens anomalies. It also comes with a Nano AR coating, and a nine blade rounded diaphragm provides top-end bokeh quality.
Sony’s Optical SteadyShot image stabilization system is incorporated, which links up nicely with in-camera stabilization. Plus, a linear autofocus motor gives quiet autofocus performance and almost silent running when used for video work. On the lens barrel itself are conveniently located buttons which are customizable, along with a focus range limiter for fast-moving subjects.
The Sony FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G OSS is dust and moisture sealed, with rubberized control rings, showing off its high-end build quality. Image quality is sharp even at the telephoto end and although the aperture isn’t the fastest around, in reasonable light levels, the detail, color, and contrast can’t be faulted. All this makes it a great zoom solution if you need an all-in-one long telephoto lens.
5. Nikon AF-P DX NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3G ED VR (Budget Winner)
The Nikon AF-P DX NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3G ED VR is a cost-effective long telephoto lens, designed for the DX-format, providing an equivalent focal length of 105-450mm. Internally, the lens features 14 elements arranged in 10 groups, one extra-low dispersion element, and a Super Integrated coating to reduce internal reflections and the effects of ghosting and flaring.
An AF-P pulse motor covers autofocusing duties, which is reasonably quick and quiet. A seven-blade diaphragm for those out of focus effects and Nikon’s VR (Vibration Reduction) image stabilization system have been added, providing up to four stops of compensation.
The lens barrel itself has being kept simple with a large zoom ring and heavily indented manual focusing ring. Images from the Nikon AF-P DX NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3G ED VR are remarkably sharp considering the price, and feature pleasing looking bokeh effects with good separation between subject and background. The VR also works extremely well. In summary, this lens offers great optical quality for the price and won’t let you down in the field.
Choosing 70-300mm Lenses
Hopefully, this list will help you decide between the best 70-300mm lenses. If you want to get more specialized in the telephoto arena, then a standard option is to opt for a 70-200mm zoom. These lenses don’t stretch as far as a 70-300mm, but are built to last and even the f/4 versions provide exceptional image quality.
Although quite expensive, examples like the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM provide stellar optics and super sharp images, if you need more telephoto reach. Nikon has its own version, the AF-S NIKKOR 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED, which is ridiculously expensive, but shows there are options outside the scope of 70-300mm.
Then again, you could choose one of the 300mm prime lenses currently available, which may be far more expensive than an all-in-one 70-300mm lens, but you won’t be disappointed with the ultimate sharpness and detail that these lenses can provide.
However, for more generally use, the 70-300mm lenses listed above will certainly serve you very well as cost-effective solutions, which in many cases come with image stabilization and very great optics for the price.