There’s almost an innate fascination we all have with telephoto lenses, having the ability to see far beyond what the human eye can usually view. These types of optics can cover anything from 85mm and upwards, with prices that range just as far. But if you’re working to a certain budget, you need to be canny with your choices. For that reason, we bring you a shortlist with the best Canon telephoto lenses under $500.
As today’s list isn’t restricted to any particular lens type, we can take a look at both zoom and prime lenses. Both camps of glass offer good lenses with a good heap of features, and in some cases include highly capable image stabilization systems. The lens you choose will ultimately depend on your individual circumstances, subject matter, and personal ways of shooting.
1. Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM (Overall Winner)
Scraping in just under the $500 mark, we present the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM. Usually, in this price band or lower, we would recommend a prime lens. The reasoning here is to pour all your resources into the quality of one focal length (which you could argue is the same at any price point). But instead, we’ve gone for overall versatility this time around, which this lens has in abundance.
For a lens under our proposed top price point, the 70-300mm slots in some very usable features, such as a four-full-stops-of-compensation image stabilizer. The lens is equally capable on APS-C models, providing an equivalent 112-480mm focal length. The lens barrel has a very handy display for pertinent exposure settings and comes with a respectable weight of 710g, which is very reasonable considering the range this lens covers.
In general, you won’t be disappointed with the sharpness levels of this telephoto zoom. The lens provides accurate detail throughout the zoom range and the stabilization system is very capable of achieving low shutter speeds.
Bokeh or background blur is very easy to achieve at the longer focal lengths, making this lens a good choice for areas such as wildlife or sport shooting. The only downside is that the variable aperture needs a good amount of light to work at its best.
The Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM is a long-standing favorite of portrait photographers, providing just the right reach for flattering images. The lens is very capable on crop sensor cameras, providing a much longer 136mm length.
Typical of many good-quality prime lenses, this example has a nice wide f/1.8 aperture for shallow depth of field shots, while also providing good low-light capabilities. A Super Spectra coating has been applied to all lens elements to improve image clarity and reduce the likes of lens flare and ghosting.
Although this offering comes in at a cheap price point, it’s always been a good lens for both amateurs and professionals alike. There’s no complaints here about the detail this lens can provide, with the lens being sharp even at f/1.8. Essentially meaning, if you want to travel light and don’t want to spend an exorbitant amount on a slightly wider aperture, you can’t go wrong with the 85mm f/1.8 USM.
Although the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM may provide a standard view on full-frame cameras, an 80mm viewpoint is achieved on crop sensor versions. A 50mm lens is one of the most versatile primes on the market, meaning this lens can be used in virtually any type of photography scenario.
The lens provides a wonderfully bright f/1.4 aperture, wrapped around an optical design of seven elements in six groups. The arrangement also including two high refractive index elements and a super Spectra coating for added image clarity.
Just like the 85mm version above, the 50mm f/1.4 is very capable in low light conditions and produces wonderful bokeh for portrait shots. To give you a good idea of how good value this lens is in reality, you only have to check out the price of its f/1.2 counterpart for comparisons.
The inclusion of the Canon EF-M 55-200mm f/4.5-6.3 IS STM is to show that EF-M mount users haven’t been left out of the equation. On this particular platform, the focal length comes in at 88-320mm, which is a very useful range for anything from portraits to wildlife shots.
The lens itself features an aspherical and UD element for increased image clarity, plus an image stabilization system offering 3.5 stops of handheld compensation. This feature is almost essential for the longer focal lengths.
The lens is ridiculously light, weighing in at only 260g, which means it can double up as a very handy travel companion. Where this lens excels is in the sharp focus it provides throughout the focal range, with a good helping of vibrant colors and deep contrast. This offering makes for a very good accompaniment for the likes of the Canon EOS M50 or M6 cameras.
5. Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS II (Budget Winner)
Considering that the extremely affordable Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS II can be picked up for less than a posh meal at a good restaurant, it offers a surprising amount of features for the money. On the Canon EF-S-mount, the lens provides an 88-400mm focal length which should be enough range for all types of long-distance shooting.
Added to the optical mix is one Ultra-Low Dispersion element, with a Super Spectra coating and a DC Micro autofocus motor with manual focusing override. Another wonderful feature at this price point is the four-full-stops-of-compensation stabilization system, which in many ways makes up for the slower variable aperture.
Even if this zoom lens cost a few hundred dollars more, it would still be an amazing value. If you’re in the camp of not knowing yet which telephoto lens to plump for without spending a whole heap of cash, the EF-S 55-250mm provides great image quality that will last you for many years.
Summary of the Best Canon Telephoto Lenses Under $500
All the Canon telephoto lenses under $500 above will provide great image quality and features, which with proper use can cover everything from the short to long telephoto range. In reality, there is no one size that fits all, as the ultimate decision will be down to your favorite subject matter.
Then there’s the decision between the zoom or prime varieties. You can’t beat the versatility of a zoom lens, but there’s also a special something about a prime lens that you can only fully appreciate when you’ve used one in the real world.