Best budget telephoto zoom lenses

Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G AF-S IF-ED VR - £410/ $590

When you pick up the 70-300mm VR, the first thing you notice is how much bigger and heavier it is than the other Nikons on test. The extra weight made the lens feel steadier in our hands, especially at long focal lengths and when panning. It's also compatible with full-frame and DX-format Nikon SLR bodies.

The advanced VR II optical stabiliser has the same four-stop advantage as the Nikon 55-300mm VR, but this time it comes with an additional Active mode for shooting from unsteady platforms.

It's also the only Nikon on test to feature ring-type AF-S, for super-fast, near-silent autofocus, with full-time manual override (which allows you to manually focus even in autofocus mode).

In our lab tests, sharpness was excellent throughout most of the zoom range, though it did drop off at maximum zoom. However, when we shot handheld at 300mm the lens consistently gave really crisp-looking images, with great contrast. This shows that you need both real-world and lab tests to get a true idea of a lens's character.

Resistance to ghosting and flare is particularly good, and the super-fast autofocus would be great for sports photography.

Lab test results

Best budget telephoto zoom lenses

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Best budget telephoto zoom lenses

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Sharpness

Sharpness at 70mm and 135mm is above average, but drops steeply as the focal length increased to 300mm.

Fringing

At both 200mm and 300mm there are visible signs of blue fringing towards the edge of the frame.

Distortion

Barrel distortion matches the other Nikons at maximum focal length. But at 300mm pinch distortion is the lowest.

Image quality verdict

Sharpness at 70mm and 135mm is good, although this lens shows a fairly high result for fringing across the available focal range.

Score: 5/5

Read the full Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G AF-S IF-ED VR review