The terms ‘cheap’ or ‘budget’ have always been relative depending on your standpoint. If we are looking at lower prices telephoto lenses compared to a 10k model, then a thousand dollar lens seems very affordable. However, cheap telephoto lenses for Nikon cameras can be far more cost-effective, especially when first starting off.
For the Nikon platform, the varieties available usually come in FX or DX mount formats and in many cases have other goodies such as stabilization. Also, cost-effective lenses usually, but not always, have a good range of focal lengths which should give plenty of scope for many types of photography.
One other consideration is that you don’t necessarily have to stick to Nikon branded glass. Many third-party makers have gained in popularity for making cost-effective lenses that are easily snapping at the heels of same-brand versions.
1. Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 55-200mm f/4-5.6G ED VR II (Overall Winner)
There’s a lot of glass packed into the Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 55-200mm f/4-5.6G ED VR II, making it one of the best cheap telephoto lenses for Nikon cameras. On a DX mount camera, the lens has an equivalent focal length of 82.5-300mm, making it a good choice for anything from portraits to wildlife and action shots.
Optically, the lens is made up of 13 elements arranged in nine groups, with an extra-low dispersion element and a Super Integrated Coating to reduce the likes of lens flare and ghosting. The included Silent Wave Motor may not be the fastest Nikon version out there, but it still gives a reasonably speedy response with decent levels of accuracy.
The standout features on this lens are it’s very compact size and light weight of only 300g, making it a nice travel companion. The Vibration Reduction system provides four stops of compensation and is a nice inclusion. Although the lens may not have the widest aperture for good low-light performance, its overall usefulness and cost-effectiveness make it the clear winner.
The Tamron 70-210mm f/4 Di VC USD provides a lot of range on DX models, with a 105-315mm equivalent focal length. The VC image stabilization helps enormously in this regard, as the four stops of compensation are most needed for aspects such as wildlife photography.
The constant f/4 aperture is accompanied by 20 elements in 14 groups and the overall weight of 850.5g is far more manageable than equivalent 70-200mm lenses.
Although the optics in the Tamron may not be on the same par as Nikon’s own 70-200mm zooms, the Tamron is also a lot more cost-effective, while still providing high-end features such as a moisture-resistant construction.
Equally useful on both FX as well as DX-format bodies, the Tamron SP 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC USD has standout features such as an Ultrasonic Silent Drive autofocus motor, Vibration Compensation with four full stops of compensation and a wide-ranging reach. It’s also a lightweight offering at only 765g.
Although the lens is in the cost-effective zone, it still has fancy glass elements, in the form of Low Dispersion and Extra-Low Dispersion versions. These perform a wonderful job of providing very good sharpness levels throughout the aperture range with plenty of contrast and control over lens anomalies such as color fringing.
This lens may be manual focus only and not exactly the most obvious brand, but it provides respectively sharp images and high-definition for the money. On DX camera bodies, the focal length works out at 202.5mm, wrapped around an extra-low dispersion element and constant f/2.8 aperture.
The lens features a built-in lens hood and is surprisingly well-made from an all-metal construction. This lens is surprisingly sharp with the aperture wide ope, anf it handles lens anomalies very well. Definition of images and contrast are well-defined, and the lens also reasonably compact, with an overall weight of 700g.
Although the Mitakon Creator 135mm may not be an obvious choice as a medium telephoto prime lens, the resultant images are far better than expected for the reasonable price point.
5. Vivitar 500mm f/8 (Budget Winner)
When it comes to cheap telephoto lenses for Nikon cameras, you’re going to be hard pushed to buy a cheaper version than the Vivitar 500mm f/8. The Vivitar is pushing the boundaries of cheap lens performance, and we are still scratching our heads to how they can even make a lens at this price point.
Focusing is manual only and the internal lens elements have a multicoating, but none of the fancypants optical elements of higher-end lenses. Although the lens only weighs 638g, it comes with a tripod mount, but at 297.94mm long and with its constant f/8 aperture, the lens almost looks comical, like something from an old-style spy movie.
One aspect with the Vivitar is that at this price point, you really don’t have many expectations which counts in the lens’s favor, especially considering a 2x Teleconverter comes with the kit. This essentially doubles the focal length, but also up’s the aperture to f/16.
Surprisingly, the lens provides reasonable quality images, which do have slight softness across the frame, especially with the Teleconverter. Also, the minimum aperture of f/8 and with the teleconverter f/16, means the lens can only be used in very good light conditions.
Essentially, if you want the cheapest telephoto lens around and want to look like a 1970’s detective, this is the lens for you.
Scoping Out the Best Cheap Telephoto Lenses for Nikon
When it comes to telephoto lenses for Nikon cameras, it’s always a good policy to buy the best glass you can afford. In some cases, this can mean spending thousands on the highest quality glass, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t good all-rounders which are more budget-friendly.
The lenses we have listed above all provide good quality glass and images for the money, with a good amount also offering image stabilization. Like most technologies, prices drop over time, which means even at the budget end, we can still buy into good quality glass tht will perform very well in most circumstances.
The offerings above will make a good starting point if this is your first foray into telephoto lenses. In summary, all these lenses offer a wide variety of features for an affordable price point.