Best budget telephoto zoom lenses

Nikon has packed plenty of top-level features into the Nikkor AF-S VR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED, including ring-type AF-S autofocus that's super-quick and practically silent. There's also VR II stabilisation, which gives a consistent, four-stop anti-shake benefit complete with an additional Active mode for shooting from a vibrating platform.

The resolution at the maximum 300mm zoom setting wasn't as impressive in our lab tests as we'd expected, but the lens delivered the sharpest shots in the group for real-world shooting, time after time.

The Tamron SP 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC USD is close in terms of features. However, sharpness at the longest zoom setting really was quite disappointing, especially at the largest available aperture of f/5.6. The cheaper Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 DG OS proved much better in this respect, and costs £50 less than the Tamron.

Of lenses designed specifically for DX-format cameras, there's a clear winner in Nikon's Nikkor AF-S DX 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR. It's better built than the smaller Nikon Nikkor AF-S DX VR 55-200mm f/4-5.6G IF-ED, and its stabiliser works more effectively than those in both that and the Sigma 50-200mm f/4-5.6 DC OS HSM lenses. The optical quality of the Nikon 55-300mm proved impressive too.

For handheld use, image stabilisation offers such a major advantage that lenses such as the Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 APO DG Macro and Tamron AF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di LD Macro seem pretty much obsolete.

They're only worth a look if you're on a tight budget. Even then, if you have a DX-format D-SLR, we'd sacrifice the extra bit of telephoto reach and go for the Nikon Nikkor AF-S DX VR 55-200mm f/4-5.6G IF-ED or Sigma 50-200mm f/4-5.6 DC OS HSM.

It's the most expensive lens on test but it's also the best, so if your budget will stretch this far, the Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G AF-S IF-ED VR is the one to go for.

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