A medium telephoto lens has a heap of worthwhile uses, generally working within the 70-200mm zone. This focal range is great for anything from portraits to wildlife shots, allowing quite a bit of distance between yourself and a subject.
For those out there who are on a strict budget and on the Nikon platform, there are a good bunch of lenses in this price bracket, hence the reason for bringing the best Nikon medium telephoto lenses for under $500.
As we are sticking to a strict budget, we are going to be covering both the options of prime lenses along with zooms. This is because certain folk need the versatility of a zoom lens, while others prefer to stick to one focal length. This may seem counterintuitive to pick a prime lens over a zoom, but a prime lens can generally provide a wider aperture and that extra sliver of sharpness where it counts.
Neither choice is right or wrong, it just depends on your own needs and shooting circumstances.
1. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4G (Overall Winner)
The Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4G may seem a hair out of the medium telephoto range, but on DX-models the focal length comes in at 75mm. On full-frame cameras, this lens will provide a standard viewpoint, also providing a very useful f/1.4 aperture.
The lens benefits from a Super Integrated coating for reducing any type of lens artifacts and increasing color and clarity throughout the aperture range. A silent wave motor has been included for covering autofocusing, with full-time manual override, while internally a nine-blade rounded diaphragm goes a long way to produce excellent bokeh effects.
The main reasons for recommending this lens is that it is super sharp throughout the aperture range. Even at f/1.4 and a very shallow depth of field, the lens has loads of detail where it counts.
If you’re going to go all in with a $500 budget on a prime lens, you simply can’t go wrong with the versatility of a 50mm lens for many different types of photography.
Another high-quality prime lens is the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G. On the DX-format it comes in at 127.5mm, while on the FX-format this focal length is ideal for portrait work. It has a very useful f/1.8 aperture for separating the subject from the background.
Just like the lens above, this 85mm lens features a Super Integrated Coating for improved optical performance. With other similarities such as a silent wave motor to cover autofocusing duties and the usual full-time manual override.
This lens produces a wonderful depth of color and contrast without being overbearing with the widest aperture still exhibiting sharpness from the center to the edge of the frame. The lens is respectably lightweight at only 350g, which can’t be said for some of the other heavyweight offerings out there at this focal length, such as the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art.
For the very competitive price of just under $400, the 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3G ED VR offers a 105-450mm equivalent focal length on DX-cameras, plus a four-stop Vibration Reduction system for the medium telephoto range. The lens is a very lightweight package coming in at only 450g, making it an ideal travel companion.
The optics are wrapped around 14 elements arranged in 10 groups, with one extra-low dispersion element and a Super Integrated Coating. An AF-P pulse motor has been included which should be quite enough for video use. The lens barrel is kept simple with all controls being performed in-camera.
This lens may not be able to handle low-light conditions like its more expensive Nikon 70-200mm counterpart, but with reasonable lighting levels, the lens is wonderfully sharp between f/5.6-f/8 for this price of lens. Essentially, if you need to travel light and need a good quality lens with a healthy image stabilization, the 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3G ED VR is a very nice option.
The Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR is another example of a zoom lens. It has a long reach 82.5-450mm equivalent focal length on the DX-format and also benefits from Vibration Reduction.
The lens includes one high refractive index and two extra-low dispersion elements, with the usual Super Integrated Coating applied to all elements. The Vibration Reduction system offers up to three-stops of compensation which is a worthwhile addition, especially at the longest focal lengths.
This lens will be an ideal solution for those who predominantly shoot outside, capturing things like wildlife and sporting events. Just like the other zooms on this list, the 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR provides great optics for the price point and won’t weigh you down with its light weight of 580g.
5. Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 55-200mm f/4-5.6G ED VR II (Budget Winner)
For those who are diving into their first zoom lenses, it may seem odd recommending shorter focal ranges over the longer versions. Generally, shorter focal ranges need less optical correction, which usually results in better final images. The Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 55-200mm f/4-5.6G ED VR II slots firmly into this camp, with an 82.5-300mm equivalent focal length on DX-format cameras.
One extra-low dispersion element has been slotted into the optical arrangement, with the pre-requisite Super Integrated Coating. With all the optics arranged in 13 elements in nine groups. The Vibration Reduction system has a healthy four stops of handheld shooting compensation which does a remarkable job at the longer focal lengths.
This lens is very adept at producing creamy bokeh at the longest focal lengths, with a good degree of defined colors at its price point. You may have to forego ultimate build quality and use the lens at f/5.6 and above, but it is a great all-rounder if your budget is very tight.
What Are the Best Nikon Medium Telephoto Lenses for Under $500?
Recommending prime lenses over zooms as our best picks for Nikon medium telephoto lenses for under $500 is simply to eke out the most quality for the money. You will be sacrificing versatility in the respect of zoom ability, but what you do gain is a wider aperture for low-light work and a wonderful shallow depth of field for portraits.
Then again, there are circumstances where a cheap zoom lens is the only option, especially when your back is against the wall. In these scenarios all the zoom lenses listed above should provide you good quality optics for this price bracket.