Telephoto lenses come in all shapes and sizes, ranging roughly from the 80mm focal length and above. This group can be further split up into short, medium, and long telephoto lenses, coming in either prime or zoom versions. As today’s rundown covers the best Sony telephoto lenses under $500, we have to balance both affordable examples with top-quality optics.
This means that to keep our chosen lenses in our budget range, we have fewer options to choose from than normally expected. We’ve also thrown in a third-party example. Not just for variety’s sake, but also to show that if you don’t mind straying out of the Sony camp, the options become wider.
1. Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 (Overall Winner)
The Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 is just a touch over our budget, but worth every penny as a good lens at this focal length. If you don’t mind purchasing a used or refurbished version, you can find this lens under our proposed budget. On crop sensor cameras, the focal length comes in at 127.5mm, which sits in the middle of the short telephoto zone.
Within any high-quality prime lens, there needs to be a wide aperture, which in this case is an f/1.8, rounded nine-blade version. Optically, the lens features one extra-low dispersion element for increased image definition, contained within an overall optical design of nine elements in eight groups.
One handy feature on this lens is the focus hold button, which can be used to either hold the focus position or control other functions of the lens.
The 85mm focal length has traditionally been a good choice for portraits, and the FE 85mm f/1.8 stands out in this regard, being better served for mid to full-length portraits. The lens is relatively sharp at f/1.8, but provides the most definition from f/4 and upwards.
Ultimately, this lens may not be sharp as its Sony f/1.4 counterpart, but that lens is twice the size and weight and costs far more. This means that if you don’t mind a little distance between you and the subject, this lens provides plenty of definition in exchange for its asking price.
2. Sony FE 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS
When we’re juggling with any type of budget, there will always be a few caveats involved. On full-frame cameras, the 28-70mm range isn’t exactly telephoto, but on crop sensor cameras, the equivalent focal length of 42-105mm covers the short telephoto range.
This lens benefits from having optical image stabilization and a very reliable and fast autofocus system. To keep all the light rays in check, three aspherical elements have been included in the overall optical design of nine elements in eight groups. The lens has also been sealed against dust and moisture, so it can be used in relatively mild weather conditions.
The stabilization system helps the lens catch up to its f/2.8 counterpart in terms of handheld shutter speeds, but the variable apertures still need a reasonable amount of light to capture the most tack sharp results. From f/5.6 this lens is very sharp across the frame. Essentially, if you want a very cost-effective zoom lens that covers the most useful focal lengths for the likes of the Sony a7 II, then the 28-70mm is very good value for money.
3. Viltrox AF 85mm f/1.8 FE II
The Viltrox AF 85mm f/1.8 FE II covers our third-party offering, which is also not from the usual sources. Just like many current third-party lenses, the AF 85mm f/1.8 FE II offers a lot more than initially expected, providing respectable definition in a medium weight package of 484g.
To make sure the image quality is kept as consistent as possible, one extra-low dispersion, one aspherical, and four other special elements have been included. With all elements being treated to an HD Nano multi-layer coating to reduce lens flare and ghosting, along with water resistance for the front element.
Viltrox may not be the most familiar lens manufacturer, but they still produce good lenses and we were pleasantly surprised by its overall sharpness levels. Even at f/1.8, the center of the frame is sharp, with corner sharpness only slightly behind, being the most detailed from f/2.8. The f/1.8 aperture also produces a pleasing bokeh, with a nice transition of colors, without being jittery.
This lens would make a good solution for those who shoot mostly portraits or as a good quality short telephoto lens on crop sensor cameras providing a 127.5mm equivalent focal length.
4. Sony E 55-210mm f/4.5-6.3 OSS (Budget Winner)
The Sony E 55-210mm f/4.5-6.3 OSS is far from being a cheap zoom lens, but rather a very cost-effective way to cover the short to medium telephoto range. On crop sensor cameras, the focal length comes in at 82.5-315mm, which should give enough stretch to capture everything from portraits to wildlife images.
Two extra-low dispersion and two aspherical elements have been added to the optical mix to correct for any lens aberrations, while an optical stabilization system helps out tremendously at the longer focal lengths. This feature also makes the lens a good choice for those who prefer the video side of things and are on a limited budget.
For the sharpest results, the lens will need to be stopped down to f/8 where sharpness levels are very respectable. Due to the variable aperture, the lens will need a fair degree of light. But if you can deal with the lens’s narrow working zone, it’s a very cost-effective way to get your hands on a stabilized telephoto zoom lens.
Narrowing Down the Best Sony Telephoto Lenses Under $500
Telephoto lenses usually need a good degree of optical correction, which means the glass doesn’t usually come cheap. But as shown by the Sony telephoto lenses under $500 above, if you don’t mind a little juggling in terms of features, there are some pretty respectable examples to be snapped up.
For the best overall optical quality, you can’t go wrong with a prime lens in our budget range, which is why we have put an 85mm prime in our top spot. This is a great lens for the likes of portrait images. But if you need a zoom lens that also features image stabilization at the most cost-effective price, then the Sony E 55-210mm is a very viable option.
As per our usual mantra, it’s a good idea to try these examples out in the real world before you buy. By doing this, you don’t just see how each lens performs, but you may also may be pleasantly surprised with how a prime lens compares to a zoom and vice versa.