Best budget telephoto zoom lenses

Nikon 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G AF-S DX ED VR - £290/ $400

Like the slightly smaller and lighter Nikon 55-200mm lens, this newer model is built exclusively for APS-C cameras, so it's still reasonably compact. Despite its fairly small size, it offers the biggest 5.5x zoom range of any lens tested, stretching from an equivalent 82.5mm to 450mm.

Unlike the 55-200mm's VR system, this lens features Nikon's later generation of the technology, which is good for four stops of stabilisation. That's especially handy with the extra telephoto reach of the lens.

A build-quality improvement is that the mounting plate is metal rather than plastic. However, the 55-300mm VR is the only Nikon in the group that doesn't have internal focusing. The rotating front element is a pain when you're using rotation-sensitive filters. One nice touch is that the clip-on lens hood is particularly easy to attach compared with most bayonet-fitting models.

Autofocus is quick and quiet throughout most of the zoom range, although it slows a bit at the maximum 300mm focal length. The VR system gives more consistent results than the Nikon 55-200mm's, and it lives up to its four-stop claims. Optically, this proved to be one of the sharpest lenses on test.

Lab test results

Best budget telephoto zoom lenses

See full-res image

Best budget telephoto zoom lenses

See full-res image

Sharpness

At 55mm and 135mm, centre sharpness is excellent. While this drops at the longest focal length, detail is still good.

Fringing

Signs of fringing are low, with only the smallest appearance of a blue or red edge at 300mm.

Distortion

Across the focal range this lens shows visible signs of distortion, with the highest pinch distortion result at 135mm.

Image quality verdict

Sharpness at the widest and middle focal lengths is excellent, but the level of pinch distortion obvious at 135mm is rather high.

Score: 4/5

Read the full Nikon 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G AF-S DX ED VR review