The typical telephoto lens is such a cool way to zoom into a subject from a distance. This type of lens is useful for anything from wildlife to action shots and even portraits, but they don’t have to cost the earth.
Cheap telephoto lenses for Canon cameras are a niche unto themselves and are generally for those taking their first steps into the telephoto realm. No matter if your camera is a DSLR or the mirrorless variety, there should be a telephoto lens out there to fit your needs and pocket.
Many of the more budget-friendly options are designed for APS-C cameras, as these are the most cost-effective. Some of the lenses we have included also work on full-frame camera bodies, but it’s always a good idea to check for compatibility before you buy.
Another benefit of telephoto lenses is that most manufacturers try and cram in as many features as possible. Not only to give you a taster of more advanced lenses, but also to provide the most rounded features possible. In any case, the lenses which we have shortlisted provide great value for money with a good helping of included features.
1. Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM (Budget Winner)
The Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM hits our number one spot not just its lovely optics, but also for its range of features and ability to work on both full-frame and APS-C DSLR camera bodies.
For such a long-reaching lens, it’s actually quite lightweight at 710g and compact at 80.01 x 145.54 mm. The internal lens arrangement consists of 17 elements arranged in 12 groups, with one UD element.
The Nano USM autofocus system takes the best aspects of both USM and STM motors, providing quick and quiet functionality for both stills and video shooting. On top of this, the image stabilization system offers four stops of compensation and a handy LED display on the lens barrel shows pertinent exposure information.
Image quality is wonderful from this lens and considering all the packed-in features, it’s really only bested by Canon’s own L-series models. The only real downside to this lens that it’s not the best operator in low light conditions, but the image stabilization system can still provide low shutter speeds relative to the lens’s focal length.
It’s not surprising that a Tamron lens is making an appearance somewhere on this list, as they always produce optics favorable to the wallet. In this case, it’s the Tamron SP 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC USD which packs a punch with Vibration Compensation (VC) offering four stops of compensation.
One Low Dispersion (LD) and one Extra-Low Dispersion (XLD) element have been included to reduce lens flare, increase contrast, and control color saturation. An Ultrasonic Silent Drive covers autofocusing which is surprisingly quick and quiet. The lens barrel features a manual override and the usual AF/MF switch.
When the aperture is stopped down between f/5.6-f/8, crisp images are provided with a reasonable amount of color saturation. With the VC system allowing for some extremely low shutter speeds in the right situations, the lens has excellent performance for the money.
The inclusion of the Tokina atx-i 100mm f/2.8 FF MACRO is to show that a telephoto prime lens is available for reasonable money. Conveniently, this case also has Macro abilities and a wide f/2.8 aperture.
Strictly being in the short telephoto camp, this lens provides a 160mm equivalent focal length on crop sensor camera bodies, a 1:1 maximum magnification, and a 30cm minimum focusing distance.
Multilayered coatings have been applied to the individual elements to reduce ghosting and flaring, while unique features such as the One-Touch Focus Clutch Mechanism allow instant switching between auto and manual focusing.
A focus range limiter has been added to lock the focusing range into the macro mode, with additional hard stops at the end of the range for more accurate manual focusing.
For any macro type lens, sharp images at the micro-level are key, which this lens provides with just the right amount of color saturation and contrast.
In the interest of variety, the Rokinon Reflex 300mm f/6.3 ED UMC CS offers features not found in other typical telephoto lenses. Providing an equivalent focal length of 480mm for APS-C sensors, this lens uses a unique optical arrangement which makes the lens far more compact for its focal length.
And with dimensions of only 64.52 x 76.2mm and an overall weight of 270g, this lens is definitely compact. It is a manual focusing only lens, but it doesn’t take long to adjust the smoothly turning focusing ring to hit the ideal focus points.
Although this lens may not be able to compete with all the other lenses on this list in terms of overall optical quality, its unique workings may just tip the balance. This is not only because of its very compact nature, but the lens design also offers very compressed images and unique bokeh effects.
If this lens is going to be used for wildlife or action shots, it will need plenty of light and ideally a tripod setup. However, if you like the idea of experimenting with a less than normal 300mm prime lens, the Rokinon may just be the ticket.
5. Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM (Budget Winner)
When it comes to cost-effective Canon telephoto lenses, you can’t do much better than the Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM. Useful on both full-frame and crop sensor camera bodies, this lens provides plenty of range to capture even the most skittish of wildlife.
An Ultra-Low Dispersion element and a Super Spectra coating have been added to the optical mix, along with image stabilization that offers 3.5 stops of compensation. An STM stepping motor handles autofocusing duties, while the respectable seven-blade rounded diaphragm can be opened up to produce reasonable bokeh effects.
Obviously the optical qualities won’t be able to compete with lenses costing hundreds more, but considering the very minimal asking price, it does a wonderful job for the money.
Including the Best Cheap Telephoto Lenses for Canon
As you can see from the examples above, you don’t have to spend a huge amount of money to gain good optical qualities from a telephoto lens. The best cheap telephoto lenses for Canon cameras may only be a shortlist, but they pack in so many features and qualities that they can cover most photography situations.
The cost-effectiveness is also amplified if you consider that L-series Canon lenses can range into the thousands. Telephoto optics have never been more affordable.