The Nikon AF-S 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR is our favourite telephoto zoom lens from this test. It feels more like a pro lens than anything else here, but is available to buy at a reasonable price.
For action sports and wildlife photography, which are food and drink for telephoto zoom lenses, you need speed. The ring-type ultrasonic autofocus system fitted to the Nikon AF-S 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR is remarkably responsive, super-fast, practically inaudible and supremely accurate.
Couple this with an extremely effective Vibration Reduction system that easily lives up to its four-stop claims and features an 'Active' mode for enhanced anti-shake, and the Nikon looks a top performer. That performance is fully backed up by superb optical quality that delivers stunning images time after time.
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By contrast, the Nikon AF-S DX 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR is a bit of a poor relation, with its downgraded motor-driven autofocus system and single-mode stabiliser. Even so, its optical quality is very impressive.
The Tamron SP AF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC USD is the only lens in the group to match the Nikon 70-300mm's ring-type ultrasonic autofocus, and it also has a highly effective four-stop stabiliser. Its build quality isn't quite as good as the Nikon lens's, but it feels reassuringly robust nonetheless.
It's just a shame that Tamron took the decision to omit the stabiliser from the Sony-fit version of the lens, because we generally find that optical stabilisation works far better than sensor-shift systems, especially when used for telephoto shooting.
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By contrast, Sigma includes stabilisation on the Pentax and Sony versions of its 70-300mm f/4-5.6 DG OS lens, giving the choice of using optical or in-camera stabilisation.
Compared to some of the latest lenses, both Canon lenses look a bit dated and lacking in features. Their optical quality isn't particularly great either. The Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 APO DG Macro and Sony 75-300mm f/4.5-5.6 are the also-rans of the group.