Best budget telephoto zoom lenses

Nikon 55-200mm f/4-5.6G AF-S DX IF-ED VR - £200/ $250

This Nikon DX lens is designed specifically for APS-C cameras, rather than full-frame ones, and combines a useful 82.5-300mm effective zoom range with a remarkably compact, lightweight build. Indeed, it's less than half the weight of the full-frame Nikon 70-300mm VR lens, and only about two-thirds its length.

At first glance, the fun-size 55-200mm still manages to pack in plenty of useful features, such as AF-S (Silent Wave) autofocus and VR, as well as internal focusing. This means that the front element neither extends nor rotates during focusing.

Dig a little deeper, though, and the lens looks a bit less inspiring. It's the only one in our test group to have a plastic mount rather than a metal one, and the first-generation VR only gives a three-stop benefit instead of the four-stop bonus of VR II, which is fitted to the other two Nikon lenses on test.

At the lens's widest apertures, sharpness is merely adequate at short and medium focal lengths. It doesn't improve at 135mm, even when stopped down to the test aperture of f/8. But this lens is impressive at the maximum focal length of 200mm. Vignetting is also well controlled, while autofocus is rapid and accurate.

Lab test results

Best budget telephoto zoom lenses

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Best budget telephoto zoom lenses

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Sharpness

Centre sharpness at 55mm and 200mm is average, but at 135mm images show signs of softening.

Fringing

Across the focal range and frame, fringing is minimal, with only a slight sign of a blue edge.

Distortion

At 55mm the Nikon lens shows mild barrel distortion, while at 135mm and 200mm there is visible pinch distortion.

Image quality verdict

Fringing and distortion across the focal range are poor and the drop in sharpness in the middle of the focal range is disappointing.

Score: 3/5

Read the full Nikon 55-200mm f/4-5.6G AF-S DX IF-ED VR review