Best budget telephoto zoom lenses

Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6 AF Di LD Macro - £135/ $165

At roughly half the price of many telephoto zooms, Tamron's 70-300mm is nevertheless designed for use with both full-frame and APS-C D-SLRs, as denoted by its 'Di' suffix. It shows its age though, lacking Tamron's VC (Vibration Compensation) optical stabilisation.

One thing to watch out for is that, prior to February 2008, the Nikon-fit version of this lens was made without a built-in autofocus motor, so early models can only be used in manual focus mode on cameras such as the D3100 and D5100, which lack an in-camera autofocus drive motor.

Like the Sigma 70-300mm APO, this lens features a0.5x macro facility, this time available in the 180-300mm zoom range.

The Tamron is quite light for a full-frame 70-300mm lens, but this is reflected in the build quality, which feels a bit cheap and plasticky.

A capable performer throughout the 70-200mm zoom range, the Tamron shows the strain towards its maximum 300mm focal length. Sharpness drops off, made worse by a lack of stabilisation for handheld shooting. Based on a standard electric motor, autofocus proved painfully slow in our tests, especially at long focal lengths.

Lab test results

Best budget telephoto zoom lenses

See full-res image

Best budget telephoto zoom lenses

See full-res image

Sharpness

Sharpness peaks at 135mm. Centre sharpness is average for the group at 70mm but detail drops at 300mm.

Fringing

Signs of fringing across the frame and at all focal lengths are consistently rare, especially at longer focal lengths.

Distortion

Pinch distortion is worst at 135mm, but at the widest and narrowest focal lengths distortion is low to medium.

Image quality verdict

The Tamron's performance was unexceptional, and it sits firmly in the middle of the group for sharpness, colour fringing and distortion.

Score 2/5

Read the full Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6 AF Di LD Macro review