Generally speaking, a super-telephoto lens covers focal lengths over 200mm. This is a special area of optics, usually requiring an equally special amount of money in exchange for the fine precision. You only have to check out the prices of super-telephoto prime lenses to get an idea of their specialist nature. If you’re looking for the best Canon super-telephoto lenses under $500, you have to be a little bit more strategic in your choices.
While there are affordable examples on the market within this budget, to snag a good lens will mean a few compromises along the way. This may mean a slightly narrower aperture, less robust build quality, and a few other factors which we will go into. But if you play your cards right, there’s no reason why the examples below can’t deliver great quality in the right hands.
1. Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM (Overall Winner)
The Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM is the first of our contenders. Technically, this is a zoom lens that covers the short to the top end of the medium telephoto range. Also, the lens even on a good day is slightly out of our budget, but when juggling around our price point, you can’t buy into a better zoom lens.
However, when the 70-200mm f/4L is strapped to a crop sensor camera, it provides a 112-320mm equivalent focal length, which slots nicely into our super-telephoto category. The lens itself has of a constant f/4 aperture, with an optical arrangement of one fluorite and two ultra-low dispersion elements, plus a Super Spectra coating on all elements for increased image clarity.
The lens features a focus limiter switch which constrains the focusing for two different areas. And being an L-series lens, it’s fully weather-proofed for all conditions.
For those who can’t quite afford the f/2.8 version of this lens, the f/4 has always been the next best thing. Surprisingly, when both lenses are set to f/4, they are equally as sharp, with professional-level quality throughout the focal range.
Essentially, if you don’t mind a little extra monetary outlay, this is a wonderful lens that is worth every penny. The only real downside to the lens is that it doesn’t have image stabilization. But in every other respect, it’s a professional-level solution. Plus, you also get the instant street cred of owning a Canon L-series zoom.
2. Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM
One piece of glass that fits nicely into our chosen focal range and budget is the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM. On APS-C models, this zoom provides a 112-480mm equivalent focal length, which should be long enough for anything from outside sports work to wildlife photography.
Optically, the lens features one Ultra Low Dispersion element to reduce aspects such as chromatic aberration while also improving image clarity. The lens barrel features a cool little LCD display to show pertinent exposure information, while also featuring an image stabilization system that is definitely needed at the longer focal lengths.
The NANO USM autofocus system is respectably quick to lock onto a subject, while also being quiet enough for both stills and video work. The variable aperture means that it works at its best in good light conditions, but when the lens is fed enough light, it provides a good deal of definition, especially in the middle of the focal range.
Considering the stretch this lens has to cover, it performs a remarkable job for the money while also providing a good deal of features at a cost-effective price.
3. Canon EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 III USM
If you need a lens that is even more cost-effective, then the Canon EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 III USM works equally well on full-frame and crop sensor cameras providing a 120-480mm equivalent focal length on the latter.
For under the $200 mark, you’re not going to get any of the fancy lens elements as featured in the zoom offerings above, but the lens does have a super Spectra coating for minimizing lens aberrations and increasing image detail. The lens features a micro Ultrasonic autofocus motor, which may not be quiet enough for video work, but is perfectly acceptable for general stills photography.
Considering the reach of this lens, it’s respectably weighted, coming in at only 480g. Although it’s not fully weather-proofed, it still feels robust enough for general use.
Image quality and detail are respectable for the price point, being a nice step up from the average kit lens. The lens unfortunately doesn’t feature image stabilization which means at the longer focal lengths a tripod will be ideally needed for the sharpest results. In every other respect, the 75-300mm is a cost-effective solution with an extremely long reach.
4. Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS II (Budget Winner)
Considering that the Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS II can be picked up for less than a high-end tripod, the cheap price point is no reflection on its features (apart from the lens mount which is not metal). Canon has essentially performed a top job of producing a good quality zoom, which even the beginner can afford.
On crop sensor cameras, the lens provides an 88-400mm view point, which is further enhanced with a four stops of compensation image stabilization system. Internally, the lens comprises of one ultra low Dispersion element, with a super Spectra coating. Plus, it also has a reasonably efficient DC Micro motor for autofocusing that also has full-time manual override.
Just like the other variable aperture lenses above, the 55-250mm works its best in reasonable light conditions. It’s bolstered by the image stabilization system which helps to achieve higher shutter speeds, and considering the very nominal price point, the 55-250mm does a respectable job of producing detailed imagery.
You may have to sacrifice in areas such as overall build quality and a rather plastic feeling lens barrel, but you always have to bear in mind what you are getting for the money, and in this respect, there are absolutely zero complaints.
Magnifying the Best Canon Super-Telephoto Lenses Under $500
Unfortunately, super-telephoto prime lenses for under $500 for the Canon platform is out of the question. But as shown by the examples above, it’s entirely possible to buy into a good quality zoom lens without breaking the bank. Which Canon super-telephoto lens under $500 you ultimately choose will depend on your favorite subject matter.
If your preferences are for a general all-rounder with the best possible optics, the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM is a great choice if you don’t mind spending a bit extra. But if you need that extra reach in the longer focal lengths with a touch of image stabilization, the Canon EF 70-300mm is also a great choice.