There’s never been a better time to jump into some of the best telephoto lenses under $300. This is because lens manufacturers have been stuffing ever-higher quality optics and features into their budget-friendly lenses, making this price point of telephoto lenses ever more appealing to both the beginner and those on a budget.
Many of these types of lenses are designed specifically for APS-C sensor cameras, while some examples can fit on both full-frame versions. As always, check compatibility between lens and camera before purchasing any type of lens.
As today’s rundown will encompass all lens makers, we will give a selection from not just same brand offerings, but also third-party makers. Unfortunately, these won’t include the newer Nikon Z and Canon R mounts, as there are simply no budget options at the moment.
1. Canon EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 III USM (Overall Winner)
The Canon EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 III USM produces remarkably good images, considering it can be picked up for less than $200. The lens is useful for full-frame and crop sensor cameras, providing a 120-480mm equivalent focal length on the latter.
This telephoto zoom lens may not have any of the fancy elements as found in higher-priced lenses, but it does offer a healthy optical arrangement of 13 elements nine groups, plus a Super Spectra coating for reducing any type of lens anomalies. A micro Ultrasonic motor has been added for autofocusing, which also has a full-time manual override.
At this price point you will have to forego some niceties such as image stabilization and rugged build quality. This along with a rather sluggish autofocus system, but in every other respect, this lens produces great images.
It’s worth noting that the lens needs a good deal of light due to its relatively narrow aperture, but if you work within the lens’ sweet area, the quality is very respectable for the money.
2. Nikon AF Zoom-NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4-5.6G
For the Nikon users out there, the AF Zoom-NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4-5.6G covers the same range as the Canon above. This lens works equally well on both FX and DX formats. Providing a healthy 105-450mm on DX-format cameras, this lens can cover everything from portraits to wildlife images.
All lens elements have been treated to a Super Integrated coating and while it does offer autofocusing, it’s only with cameras that support D-type lenses.
Just like the Canon version above, the NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4-5.6G provides surprisingly good image quality for the price point. It will need a fair degree of light to produce the best image quality and the edges of the frame can be a little soft at times. But operating within the workable zone of this lens, it produces respectable images in this price range.
3. Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 APO DG MACRO
We had to include some sort of third-party zoom lens in this mix, simply to cover as many lens mounts as possible. The Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 APO DG MACRO is available for Canon, Sony, Nikon, Pentax, and Sigma camera mounts, and has the added benefit of built-in autofocus.
There’s a respectable amount of good quality optics in this lens, which comprises 14 elements in 10 groups. Plus, the lens features a heaping of special coatings on all lens elements to increase color balance, while also reducing lens artifacts.
The macro workings on this lens are in reality 1:2, which means it’s not really a true macro reproduction lens, but still good enough for small subjects.
The autofocus on this lens may not be the fastest or most efficient in the world, but with the right amount of light, it’s relatively good at capturing action. Image quality is a step up above a regular kit lens and is reasonably efficient at capturing wildlife if you don’t mind deliberating over the shots.
4. Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM
The Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM covers a slightly wider angle of view than the rest on this list. This lens is designed specifically for APS-C cameras with an 88-400mm equivalent focal length. It features a very useful optical image stabilizer with four stops of compensation.
The lens benefits from one Ultra-Low Dispersion element, with a Super Spectra coating for better image clarity. Plus a DC Micro autofocus motor, which also has a full-time manual override.
The optical stabilization system is a much-needed asset at longer focal lengths. In this case, it helps tremendously to achieve low shutter speeds and more keeper images. Color and contrast are better than expected, with a natural degree of saturation where it counts. Sharpness levels are also respectable, with the ideal working area being around f/8.
For Canon users out there who want a very budget telephoto lens that also benefits from image stabilization, you simply can’t go wrong with this offering.
5. Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di LD Macro (Budget Winner)
Once you step below the $200 mark for any type of telephoto lens, you’re really asking a lot of the manufacturers. Somehow, Tamron has packed a lot into the 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di LD Macro with a 1:2 macro reproduction ratio and a very lightweight design.
This telephoto lens features a good bunch of Internal Surface and multiple-layer coatings for reducing the likes of lens flare and ghosting. A dedicated macro switch allows macro photography within the 180mm to 300mm focal range.
At this price point usually everything is a bonus, with the Tamron hitting its stride with sharpness around f/5.6-f/8 to a good degree. Obviously, you’re not going to get the tack-sharp detail of a high-end telephoto lens in this package, but the Tamron performs far better than expected with a very respectable amount of background blur or bokeh at the longer focal lengths.
The lens could have benefited from image stabilization, but at the price point, this feature would be a big ask. However, considering the nominal asking price and when the lens is working in good light conditions, it’s a wonderful option for the price.
Which Are the Best Telephoto Lenses Under $300?
When dealing with the best telephoto lenses under $300, there’s going to be some inevitable compromises. Image quality is where everything ultimately counts and if you’re on a tight budget, you can still buy into respectable optics.
If you’re on the Canon or Nikon platform, then the obvious choices are the first two entries on our list. For everybody else, the Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 DG MACRO is a worthwhile option that also benefits from a Macro mode to capture the smallest subjects in life.