Best telephoto zoom lens: 8 tested

Best telephoto zoom lens

Tamron SP AF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC USD - £340/$450

Tamron still offers one of the cheapest 70-300mm zoom lenses on the market, but it's a very basic and lacklustre affair. By comparison, this much newer design is stuffed with high-tech extras.

The Tamron SP AF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC USD is Tamron's first (and currently only) lens to feature USD (UltraSonic Drive) autofocus. Matched only by the Nikon 70-300mm lens in this group, this ring-type system gives super-fast and practically silent performance, along with full-time manual focus override.

There's a focus distance scale at the back end of the lens, under a viewing window, and focusing is fully internal, so there's no movement or rotation of the front element.

Its heavy-duty build helps to keep things steady during handheld shooting, aided by Tamron's four-stop optical stabiliser. Sadly, the stabiliser is omitted in the Sony-fit version of the lens. At least the Sigma 70-300mm OS gives Sony users the choice of using optical or sensor-shift stabilisation.

Build quality feels robust, although the zoom ring feels a little jerky and there's no weather seal on the mount.

Lab tests are a little disappointing, suggesting a lack of sharpness and poor colour fringing control at the 300mm end of the zoom range. In practice, however, fringing is normally only noticeable around extremely high-contrast edges towards the corners of the frame, such as dark tree branches against a very pale sky. Image quality is still sharp and punchy at 300mm.

Sharpness test

Best telephoto zoom lens

Plenty of contrast and, despite poor-looking resolution figures at 300mm, images appear very sharp and detailed.

Fringing test

Best telephoto zoom lens

Very high contrast edges near the corners of the frame produce a little colour fringing that's noticeable at the longest zoom setting.

Distortion test

Best telephoto zoom lens

No glaring distortions at any focal length setting throughout the zoom range. Pincushion distortion is most noticeable at 300mm.

Image test verdict

The Tamron may not look super-special based on lab data, but real world image quality is excellent in all sorts of different lighting conditions.

Read the full Tamron SP AF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC USD review