Best telephoto zoom lens: 8 tested

Best telephoto zoom lens

Nikon AF-S 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR - £420/$590

A major step up from most lenses in the group, the Nikon AF-S 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR has a much more professional feel to it. Build quality feels excellent and high-tech finery starts with ring-type ultrasonic autofocus (only matched by the Tamron SP AF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC USD on test).

This has the potential to deliver very fast autofocus performance, complete with full-time manual override. You also get a focus distance scale, which is neatly mounted beneath a viewing window. Focusing is fully internal, so the front element neither moves nor rotates during focusing.

Further benefits over the Nikon AF-S DX 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR include a more sophisticated VR system. Both are rated at four stops, but this lens features dual-mode stabilisation, which adds an 'Active' setting.

One thing that's shared by both is a rubber O-ring on the mounting plate. This gives weather-sealed protection against dust and moisture, similar to the system used in most Canon L-series lenses.

Autofocus is super-fast and practically silent, and the manual override saves messing around with switches if you want to nudge the focus setting. Distortions are quite minimal and colour fringing is low.

Our lab tests indicate that sharpness could be better at the long end of the zoom range. but in real-world shooting we got pin-sharp shots time after time, with excellent contrast and superb all-round image quality.

Sharpness test

Best telephoto zoom lens

Despite disappointing lab results at 300mm, sharpness and contrast are extremely good throughout the entire zoom range in real-world shooting.

Fringing test

Best telephoto zoom lens

There's a touch of colour fringing towards image corners at 300mm, but all Nikon's recent and current bodies tune this out automatically.

Distortion test

Best telephoto zoom lens

There's very little apparent distortion at any zoom setting. The 70-300mm beats Nikon's 55-300mm lens in this respect.

Image test verdict

Image quality is absolutely superb, and the Nikon does especially well to eek out every last drop of contrast under gloomy lighting conditions.

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