Telephoto lenses are a creative and fun way to keep a little distance from the action, while also allowing for tight, defined shots. Most photographers have or want some sort of good quality long lens in their kit bag, but choosing Nikon telephoto lenses under $500 takes more strategic thinking.
Affordable lenses within this budget range come in the form of the prime or zoom varieties. With careful selection, optics in this area will give a good amount of reach, with features in some cases like image stabilization. We have quite a few options to choose from today that cover everything from the short to long telephoto range.
1. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G (Overall Winner)
The Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G slots into our number one spot as a lens under our budget that also delivers top quality. It may initially seem counterintuitive to buy into a prime lens rather than a zoom, but primes generally have all the quality thrown into one particular focal length, rather than over a range.
The 85mm covers the short telephoto range and provides a 127.5mm view on DX-models. These focal lengths are ideal for anything from portraits to wildlife photography. Being a prime lens, the 85mm has a wide-than-a-zoom-lens aperture of f/1.8. A super integrated coating is applied to all lens elements for better image definition.
From amateurs to professionals alike, this 85mm lens provides wonderful sharpness throughout the aperture range with heaps of good quality color and contrast with a nice creamy bokeh. The 85mm focal length is traditionally a good option for portrait photography. When in the right hands, this is one of those good lenses that can be used for any type of short telephoto work.
The 18-140mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR is a lens that covers the short telephoto range on full-frame cameras while providing a 27-210mm viewpoint on DX-models. The reason for slotting this lens in at this particular point is because it doesn’t have too far a zoom stretch meaning the quality levels are kept in check. The other zooms on this list provide a longer reach, but this particular example provides the best overall quality.
The lens itself houses one extra-low dispersion element plus a super integrated coating to reduce all lens anomalies. A vibration reduction image stabilization system has been included and provides four stops of compensation, which works great for handheld photography.
As this zoom covers some very useful focal lengths, it acts as a great all-rounder for many types of photography. It may have a variable aperture which isn’t the best in low-light conditions and display some vignetting in the corners when the aperture is wide open, but in every other respect, it’s a fantastic lens for the money.
One lens that is great value for money and covers a healthy range is the 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3G ED VR. When this lens is used on DX-models, it provides an even further reach of 105-450mm, making it good enough for anything from sports to wildlife photography.
The lens itself contains one extra-low dispersion element with Nikon’s super integrated coating for increased image definition. The AF-P pulse autofocus motor is reasonably quick, but maybe not quite enough for complete video use. But what is most helpful for the longer focal lengths is the included vibration reduction system, providing four stops of compensation.
This lens is a great lightweight solution for all your medium telephoto needs and provides respectable sharpness and color rendition in exchange for a reasonable price. Also, the lens above may have better optical qualities, but it loses in the overall length department to the 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3G ED VR.
This DX-format lens covers the equivalent view of 82.5-300mm and is wrapped around a very lightweight barrel of only 300g. Like most of the zooms on this list, it has a variable aperture, accompanied by a four-stops-of-compensation vibration reduction system.
A low dispersion element and super integrated coating increases image quality, while the quick and quiet Silent Wave autofocus motor is respectably fast at locking onto a subject.
The vibration reduction system works extremely well at the longer focal lengths, and although the zoom has a variable aperture, it’s well adept at producing creamy bokeh with close-up subjects, which is ideal for portrait shots. Essentially, this is far from a cheap lens that produces very worthwhile images at a very affordable price point.
5. Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR (Budget Winner)
The 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR is a discontinued lens, but can still be easily picked up for just a few hundred dollars. Designed specifically for the DX-format, the lens provides an 82.5-450mm equivalent focal length, which provides a good deal of coverage for anything from close sports events to the shyest of wildlife.
The lens contains a good deal of optics, with an arrangement of 17 elements in 11 groups. Included in the optical mix is one high reflective index and two extra-low dispersion elements. These are bolstered by a super integrated coating to reduce the likes of lens flare and ghosting.
Nikon’s vibration reduction system has been included with three stops of compensation, and the nine-blade rounded diaphragm helps out for those shallow depth of field shots. Just like the lenses above, the 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR is a great all-rounder lens, covering the short to long telephoto range with adequate amounts of image quality for the price.
Zooming into the Best Nikon Telephoto Lenses Under $500
Generally, when we are looking at zoom lenses under the $500 mark its to find something that is a good all-round, which is also great value for the money. As always, which of the options above you choose will be largely dependent on your chosen subject matter, but there is also the consideration of fully diving into a prime or zoom lens solution.
A prime lens will give you the ultimate in sharpness and wide apertures. But a zoom lens will give you the most overall versatility in the respect of focal lengths choices.
If you need to cover the widest focal range without sacrificing quality, all the Nikon telephoto lenses under $500 above will cover your needs. These examples also being high enough quality to give you years of great images.