Telephoto lenses are a great way to capture distant objects. While they are usually the preserve of sports and wildlife photographers, telephoto lenses can also be used for anything that grabs your creativity, such as portraits to discreet street photography. For those on a tight budget, Canon telephoto lenses under $250 can still provide good optical qualities, while also being very affordable.
But what defines a telephoto lens in the first place? Generally, these are lenses over the 85mm focal length, with subcategories of short, medium, and long to play with.
As we are also generally keeping to a budget, the choices will be much more narrow, with some compromises needed such as plastic lens barrels. But with careful selection, it’s still entirely possible to snag a workhorse lens that will provide years of use and wonderful image quality.
1. Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM (Overall Winner)
Firstly, a disclaimer that the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM is roughly $50 out of our budget range. But in exchange, you will own one of the most cost-effective portrait lenses for the Canon platform. This little lens has been a long-time favorite for Canon users on a budget who prefer the 85mm focal length with the most value for money.
The lens itself is wrapped around an optical design of nine elements in seven groups. Plus a Super Spectra coating has been applied to all lens elements to reduce artifacts such as ghosting and lens flare. The tried-and-tested ring-type Ultrasonic motor is respectably quick and efficient at locking onto focus, with full-time manual override.
The Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM has a wide enough aperture for fantastic background or bokeh effects, and it’s wonderfully sharp where it counts. Even at f/1.8, this lens is very sharp across the frame, producing lots of fine detail for portrait work.
It’s generally advisable in this price bracket to go all-in on a prime lens for ultimate quality. This means you won’t be disappointed with this offering, as you will have to pay three times the price for a serious jump up in optics.
2. Tamron 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC
If you’re not completely decided on one particular focal length, then a zoom such as the Tamron 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC can fit the bill. As an APS-C camera lens, the focal length comes in at 28.8-320mm, which covers everything from relatively wide-angle to long telephoto shots.
A much-needed asset at the longer focal lengths is image stabilization, which can be easily turned on and off via a simple switch on the lens barrel. The Tamron has a moisture-resistant build and a handy little lens lock switch, all contained within a reasonable overall weight of just 400g.
Considering the price of this telephoto lens, it doesn’t provide cheap results, but rather very satisfactory images throughout the focal range. This makes it a top draw as a general walkabout lens and a very worthwhile zoom lens for the money.
3. Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS II
I think Canon wants to make a point with the EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS II that it houses an image stabilization system. The words are emblazoned on the lens barrel for all to see, which is a valid point when you get four stops of anti-shake compensation for a lens under $200.
This lens covers the 88-400mm focal range on crop sensor cameras, which should be long enough for the shyest of wildlife. An Ultra-Low Dispersion element and Super Spectra coating have also been included for increased image clarity and a DC Micro Motor for handling autofocus duties with manual override.
Considering the price point of this zoom lens, it’s probably one of the best Canon telephoto lenses under $250, with a reasonable amount of image quality throughout its focal range.
4. Canon EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 III USM
The Canon EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 III USM has a very healthy 120-480mm focal range on APS-C models. While it leaves out niceties such as image stabilization, the lens still provides very respectable optics.
Although there aren’t any fancy elements housed in the lens barrel, the lens still has a Super Spectra coating for increased image quality. Plus a quick and efficient micro Ultrasonic Motor has been added, which is very respectable at locking onto moving subject matter.
As with many zoom lenses in this price bracket, it features a variable aperture. This means the lens will need a fair degree of light for the clearest images, but if you don’t mind working within the apertures of f/5.6-f/8 most of the time, this zoom lens can provide a good deal of color and contrast in a very cost-effective package.
5. Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 APO DG Macro (Budget Winner)
Sometimes you’re left scratching your head wondering how a lens manufacturer has produced a zoom in this price range which still provides good quality. Sigma seems to have achieved this feat with the 70-300mm f/4-5.6 APO DG Macro for a price that’s less than a bunch of quality lens filters.
The Sigma comes in with a 112-480mm reach on APS-C cameras, while also having an optical arrangement of 14 elements in 10 groups. The lens has some fancy elements in the form of two Special Low Dispersion versions to correct any lens anomalies. Plus a handy macro mode that works between the ranges of 200-300mm, with a magnification of 1:2.9 to 1:2.
For Canon telephoto lenses under $250, you have a more limited working range, with the best results coming in between 70mm and 200mm. But if you’re working to the tightest of budgets and still need a respectable quality zoom, the Sigma is a decent offering to shortlist.
Final Results from the Best Canon Telephoto Lenses Under $250
The shortlist above proves that it’s entirely possible to buy into good lenses without breaking the bank. Most offerings in this price bracket will feature a variable aperture, needing a good deal of lighting to work at their best. Some have image stabilization which is a much-needed feature at the longer focal lengths, but those without this feature, it’s advisable to use a tripod as much as possible.
In essence, if you don’t mind operating within a more narrow working zone, all the Canon telephoto lenses under $250 above will provide respectable image quality. As originally mentioned, it is preferable to buy the best possible prime lens in this price bracket, but if you’re really dead set on a zoom, examples like the Tamron 18-200mm provide an amazing amount of quality for the price.