Owning a long lens at some point in our photography careers has always been a right of passage. The reasons for this are as numerous as the users, such as having instant binocular or telescopic vision.
Unfortunately for the budget-conscious, the highest quality super-telephoto lenses command an equally high price. For those seeking out the best Nikon super-telephoto lenses under $500, there are examples around, chock full of features and with very good optics for the price.
A super-telephoto lens is generally longer than 300mm. High-end prime lenses are usually the one-stop-shop in this department. To fit into our affordable criteria while still delivering top-end quality, these lenses have to fit into the zoom crop sensor or DX-model category.
On full-frame sensors, the examples below still give a very long reach. These lenses are good enough for most situations unless you really need to capture that rare example of wildlife four miles away.
1. Nikon AF-P DX NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3G ED VR (Overall Winner)
For any examples of a very long lens under the $500 mark, we are generally treated to examples that are more rounded in features. The Nikon AF-P DX NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3G ED VR slots nicely into this pocket, providing a 105-450mm equivalent focal length on crop sensor cameras. If this focal range isn’t long enough for you, then you need to move into the world of telescopes or save up for a full-blown dedicated prime lens.
Internally, the lens features an extra-low dispersion element to correct for any lens aberrations, and each element has been treated to a super integrated coating to improve image quality and clarity. An AF-P pulse motor handles all the autofocusing duties, which may not be quiet enough for video use, but is very respectable for any type of stills photographer.
The included vibration reduction system offers four stops of compensation and works very well at the longer focal lengths. All its workings are handled in-camera, along with the option to choose between auto and manual focus.
Although the variable aperture on this lens isn’t the fastest in the world, it works well in reasonable light conditions and is very adept at producing natural blokeh at the longest focal lengths. Considering the price and overall facilities, this is a great lens for a variety of shooting situations.
The Nikon NIKKOR Z DX 50-250mm f/4.5-6.3 VR is in the camp of good lenses for the mirrorless Nikon Z-mount, with an equivalent reach of 75-375mm on DX-models. Cost-effective glass is starting to become the norm for the mirrorless format, which means we can start to enjoy all the lovely rounded features as we did previously on DSLR formats.
To maintain overall image quality, one extra-low dispersion element has been included with a super integrated coating. The optics are wrapped around a total arrangement of 16 elements in 12 groups. A very efficient stepping motor has been included, with full-time manual override, which works great for both video and stills use.
A vibration reduction system adds five stops of compensation, with the new and now default programmable control ring which can be used to change many different exposure settings. Rounding off the specs list is a seven-blade diaphragm that is reasonably adept at producing a shallow depth of field at the longest focal lengths.
The overall consensus with this lens is that it’s a wonderful zoom for the money. When this lens is attached to a Nikon Z6 or Z7, it provides plenty of resolution and detail. If you’re currently searching for a cost-effective long zoom for a swanky new Nikon mirrorless camera, this is a good lens to shortlist.
If you need a zoom lens that’s a bit more compact and lightweight, then the Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 55-200mm f/4-5.6G ED VR II could fit the bill. On the DX-format, this lens provides an 82.5-300mm equivalent focal length, which is a great range for anything from sports to wildlife photography.
Just like the offerings above, this example has one extra-low dispersion element and a super integrated coating to maintain image quality. A Silent Wave Motor covers autofocusing with full-time manual override, which works very well in reasonable light conditions. A Vibration Reduction system has also been included with four stops of handheld compensation.
This telephoto zoom lens may need good light conditions to work at its best, with the sharpness results coming from the aperture range of f/5.6-f/8, but once you learn to work with this lens in this zone, it can provide very respectable image quality for the price point.
This lens may not reach as far as the examples above. But in general, shorter zoom lengths need less optical corrections, which should give you more peace of mind for overall optical quality.
4. Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR (Budget Winner)
For a zoom lens with all the goodies that the lenses above provide, but at the most value-conscious price, then the Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR is a likely option. As this is a discontinued lens, it can be picked up for far less than the options above, with an equal amount of facilities.
This lens stretches from the medium to long telephoto range, with an even longer reach on DX-formats, providing an 82.5-450mm equivalent focal length. One high reflective index and two extra-low dispersion elements have been included, along with a pre-requisite super integrated coating to reduce lens flare and ghosting along with increasing color and contrast.
A three-stops-of-compensation vibration reduction system has been incorporated, which works wonders at the longer focal lengths. For the likes of wildlife photography, this lens is a very cost-effective solution and can easily stop fast action in reasonable light conditions. At the longer focal lengths it’s easy to separate the subject from the background and you’ll need a serious hike up in price to gain better optics.
Narrowing Down the Best Nikon Super-Telephoto Lenses Under $500
Producing quality images at very long focal lengths as shown by the examples above, is easily achievable under $500. Fancy features such as vibration reduction don’t just add value to the lens, but also work great in practice. If you don’t have a tripod at hand, this is a great way to make sure all your images are as sharp as possible.
Just like any lens choice, the ideal is to try before you buy. But if you want to dive straight into one of the Nikon super-telephoto lenses under $500 above, they should all provide good quality in this price range.