We have a few criteria to tick off today. Let’s pretend you’re in the scenario of needing a camera lens for the Nikon platform and wouldn’t mind trying out the third-party types.
You also need a lens with a reasonable reach but don’t need it to zoom too far. You may also have specific subjects in mind to capture, such as less intrusive wedding shots or reasonably close wildlife. In this particular setting, the best medium telephoto third-party lenses for Nikon cameras are the first to check out.
But what is a medium telephoto lens in the first place? Usually, it’s a focal length over 60mm, no longer than 300mm, and can encompass both prime and zoom lenses. The third-party bit is basically every lens not made by Nikon or any other same-as-camera-make brand like Canon or Sony.
You’re also going to have the dilemma of whether to choose a prime or zoom lens. Do you opt for the versatility of a zoom lens or go all-in on one focal length? Both lens types have their pluses and minus points, depending on the situation. Therefore, we will cover a selection of each and see why they are a good match for this focal range.
1. Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sports (Overall Winner)
There’s a simple reason why the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sports is always recommended as a top choice medium telephoto zoom. The lens features great optics, like-for-like features as Nikon’s own version and far more affordable.
Let’s be honest, if money was no object we would all dive into the same-make versions, but when we have to work to a budget, it’s the quality of optics in exchange for our pennies is what counts.
To cover this focal length with aplomb, the Sigma has an optical arrangement of 24 elements in 22 groups. In the optical mix there’s one Special Low Dispersion and nine F Low Dispersion elements, plus a Super Multi-Layer coating. The front element has also been treated to a water and oil repellent coating.
To keep everything steady, an optical stabilization system has been included. A Hyper Sonic autofocus motor with full-time manual override joins additional features such as a focus limiter, different stabilization modes, and a programmable function button.
This lens is designed for the working professional and you can see why. The lens displays wonderful sharpness throughout the aperture range, with an amazing amount of creamy bokeh where it counts. Essentially, if you cannot afford the same-make version, the Sigma is a great second option.
The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art is generally considered a good portrait-length lens. Being a prime lens, it doesn’t have zoom ability, but it does have a very wide f/1.4 aperture and that extra slither of definition.
The optical arrangement of 14 elements and 12 groups also includes two SLD, one anomalous, and one aspherical element for the clearest images. It also features a Hyper Sonic autofocus motor and a rock-solid Thermally Stable Composite lens barrel.
This lens is a heavyweight beast coming in at 1.13kg, and with its 86mm front filter thread size, ensures plenty of light gathering. The Sigma 85mm provides just the right amount of compression for portrait work and provides a slightly more zoomed-in look for general photography.
On the downside, the lens does exhibit chromatic operation at f/1.4, but this clears up nicely by f/2. In total, this is a great portrait lens for the money if you don’t mind giving your biceps a good workout.
It’s usually the case that if someone is needing a third-party 70-200mm zoom, the competition is between the Sigma above and the Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2. The Tamron has some nice standout features such as the five-stops-of-compensation image stabilization system.
The Tamron has an optical arrangement of 23 elements in 17 groups, plus one XLD and five low dispersion versions. To enhance the optical qualities, BAND and BBAR coatings have been applied to all elements and everything is contained inside a fully dust and moisture resistant lens barrel. The lens also has a fluorine coating on the front element to protect against dust and fingerprints.
The image stabilization system is one of the standout features with three modes of operation. These include one mode for general use, one for panning shots, and a mode for stabilization at the point of capture.
The Tamron easily provides professional-level quality throughout the aperture and focal range while being a touch lighter than the Sigma version above, if weight saving is one of your criteria.
If you need the majority of your shots in the medium telephoto zone, but also need some extra length on occasions, the Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sports can fit the bill. This lens doesn’t come cheap at just a touch over $3000, but that’s the price you pay for a constant f/2.8 aperture and such a long focal range.
To maintain top-quality throughout the focal range, an optical arrangement of 23 elements in 18 groups has been included. This arrangement also includes two F Low Dispersion and one Special Low Dispersion elements, along with a Super Multi-Layer coating to reduce ghosting and lens flare.
An optical stabilization system offers four stops of handheld compensation with two modes of operation, plus a Hyper Sonic autofocus motor has been included which is extremely quick and fast.
This lens is a great solution for sports photographers who need the light gathering ability and speed of an f/2.8 lens with optics offering a very healthy zoom range.
5. Sigma MACRO 105mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM (Budget Winner)
For the more budget-minded, the Sigma MACRO 105mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM is at the shorter end of the telephoto spectrum, but it has the benefit of a 1:1 macro mode. The lens is equally capable on DX-models providing a 157.5mm equivalent focal length.
Two Special Low Dispersion elements have been included, with a Super Multi-Layer Coating, wrapped around a floating elements system for consistent image quality. An optical stabilization system is also featured, providing extra handheld stability.
The main complaint with the macro side of things isn’t the full-sized 1:1 reproduction or image quality. It’s that the lens uses a smaller aperture for closer subjects. However, as we are testing out its telephoto capabilities, the macro side of things can be seen as just an added bonus.
For the likes of sports photography or even portraits, this Sigma prime produces excellent images for the money with a very useful f/2.8 aperture. This lens also produces very respectable bokeh, which is an ideal trait for portrait shots.
Zooming into the Best Medium Telephoto Third-Party Lenses for Nikon
As with any type of photography, you first need to define your main subject matter before choosing your focal lengths. Sometimes this can be easier said than done if you need to capture a bit of everything or simply need as much versatility as possible.
All the medium telephoto third-party lenses for Nikon above will provide plenty of quality and reach, while also producing professional-level quality.