Traditionally, long telephoto lenses need a good amount of glass to maintain top-level image quality. That is why most of Sony’s telephoto range is in the higher-priced tiers. But as today’s focus is on the best Sony telephoto lenses under $250, we decided to look to third-party lens makers for the most affordable, budget-friendly versions.
The third-party manufacturers in this price bracket have a distinct advantage, as they all tend to offer fantastic value in exchange for good lenses in a wide range of focal lengths. As the telephoto range can stretch from 80mm and above, the lens you choose will ultimately be down to your favorite subject matter and which focal length fits the bill.
1. Samyang 85mm f/1.4 AS IF UMC
Samyang has a bunch of 85mm prime lenses in their inventory, with the 85mm f/1.4 Aspherical IF being a good lens under our proposed budget. At this price point, you will have to deal with a manual focusing only lens and a manual aperture ring. But don’t feel too bad, as some of the highest-quality lenses around are manual focus only, too.
The focal length of 85mm creeps just into the telephoto zone and is traditionally a good solution for portrait shots. To help in this area, an f/1.4 aperture has been included, which goes a long way to create creamy background blur. To maintain image quality throughout the lens, an aspherical element has been included, along with a UMC multi-coating to maintain overall image quality.
For a lens to offer a f/1.4 aperture at this price point is a great feature in itself. But more importantly, this lens provides excellent sharpness for the price, with very good center sharpness at f/1.4 and the best results across the frame from f/4. Therefore, if portrait work is more your thing, this is an excellent lens for the money.
2. Tokina SZX SUPER TELE 400mm f/8 Reflex MF
Normally, a 400mm prime lens would cost you an arm and a leg and any other appendages you can think of. But a reflex design of lens cuts down the size and cost dramatically by using internal mirrors to achieve the same focal length. To maintain the overall image quality, a multilayer antireflection coating and other special treatments have been added to each mirrored surface.
This lens is also manual focus only and having an aperture of f/8 means it needs a fair degree of light to work at its best. In terms of overall sharpness and image rendition, the Tokina is respectable for its price point. And it also has the unique characteristic of rendering autofocus highlights in a doughnut shape.
Where the Tokina SZX SUPER TELE 400mm f/8 Reflex MF has a distinct advantage is in providing a very compact long telephoto lens for those times when you need to travel extra light. The lens is definitely an interesting design and a unique take on the traditional telephoto lens.
3. Rokinon 300mm f/6.3 UMC CS
This Rokinon Reflex 300mm lens follows the same design criteria as the Tokina above, cramming a 300mm focal length into very small package that only weighs 318g. This is also a manual focusing only lens, with the addition of a extra-low dispersion element and a UMC coating for improved overall image rendition.
This lens has a slightly wider aperture at f/6.3, with largely the same optical qualities as the lens above and the same unique bokeh characteristics, just at a shorter focal length.
4. Sony DT 55-200mm f/4-5.6 SAM II
The Sony DT 55-200mm f/4-5.6 SAM II is designed specifically for the Sony A mount, providing an equivalent wide expanse of 82.5-300mm. This focal range basically covers the short to long telephoto lengths, which is ideal for anything from portraits to wildlife shots.
The lens comes with a variable aperture, which is expected for a zoom lens at this price point. The internal optics consist of an extra-low dispersion glass element to remove chromatic aberration and to maintain image clarity. The ‘SAM’ part of the name comes from the Smooth Autofocus Motor, which is reasonably fast and quiet in person.
The price point of this lens has to be its overall consideration since we’re looking specifically for Sony telephoto lenses under $250. Fortunately, the Sony DT 55-200mm f/4-5.6 SAM II fits the bill, with very decent optics for the price and a slight step up from the average kit lens.
5. Tamron Telephoto AF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di LD Macro (Budget Winner)
If you need a good all-rounder zoom lens which covers a wide focal range, the Tamron Telephoto AF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di LD Macro comes in at a very cheap price with some top features. The lens may have a variable aperture, which means it needs plenty of light to perform, but it more than makes up ground by offering a macro mode.
The macro mode has a 1:2 reproduction ratio, which isn’t fully life-size, but is still very good at filling most of the frame with a subject. The macro mode also kicks in between the 180mm to 300mm focal lengths, providing a nice, zoomed-in look to all subject matter.
A somewhat traditional lens, this Tamron telephoto provides its sharpest results from f/5.6-f/8, and considering its light weight of only 438g, this lens will make a great all-around solution to cover a large range of shooting scenarios. Considering the very nominal asking price for this lens, it’s a great way to get started with the most common of telephoto focal lengths.
This entry-level all-rounder gets a full breakdown in our Tamron Telephoto AF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di LD Macro review.
Sony Telephoto Lenses Under $250 Are Few, but Your Options Are Good
To eke out the best optical quality and images in Sony telephoto lenses under $250, it’s advisable to start with prime lenses. This lens group generally provides the widest apertures, with the sharpest details as exemplified by the Samyang 85mm f/1.4. The lens comes in at a nominal price point for this type of prime and it can still provide plenty of image quality where it counts.
However, if you’re on a really tight budget and prefer the versatility of a zoom lens, then you can’t go wrong with the Tamron AF 70-300mm. Considering the focal lengths this lens covers with the addition of a macro mode, Tamron is more or less giving away this lens.
If none of the lenses above convince you to part with your hard-earned money, maybe it’s time to look in a new price bracket. You can read these other buying guides to help you find a Sony telephoto lens if you prefer a step up in quality and features:
Sony Telephoto Lenses Under $500