Best telephoto zoom lens: 8 tested

Best telephoto lenses to get you closer to your subject

Best telephoto zoom lens

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

This is the only lens tested here that's specifically designed for APS-C format cameras, so it's not compatible with full-frame bodies. We've included it anyway because, unlike most APS-C format telephoto zooms that have a 55-200mm or 55-250mm zoom range, the Nikon AF-S DX 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR stretches all the way to 300mm.

There's some smart sophistication in places, such as Nikon's latest-generation Vibration Correction, which gives a four-stop advantage in avoiding camera shake. In other areas, it's less refined and closer to the Canon lenses.

For example, the front element rotates during focusing, and the AF-S autofocus is a motor-based ultrasonic system instead of the more advanced ring-type version fitted to the Nikon AF-S 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR. This lens lacks a focus distance scale, but at least a hood is included.

Autofocus is a little quicker than in the Canon lenses here, but still lacks the full-time manual override facility of ring-type ultrasonic systems. Handling feels assured and, despite it being an APS-C format lens, it's still bigger and heavier than the Canon 75-300mm full-frame lens.

Sharpness is very good throughout the zoom range and colour fringing is well controlled. Our only slight criticism is that the extra zoom range seems to push distortions up a bit. They're most noticeable as barrel distortion at 55mm, changing to pincushion distortion in the central region of the zoom range.

Sharpness test

Best telephoto zoom lens

Best at its shortest 55mm focal length, sharpness gradually reduces throughout the zoom range and is worst at 300mm.

Fringing test

Best telephoto zoom lens

Chromatic aberrations are barely noticeable at any focal length throughout the zoom range, making it a strong performer.

Distortion test

Best telephoto zoom lens

Fairly low considering the extra-large zoom range, distortion is noticeable at mid-range zoom settings, where there's some pincushion distortion.

Image test verdict

APS-C format cameras need to use the entire image circle of this lens, but even so corner-to-corner performance is particularly impressive.

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