Extreme Telephoto and Zoom Lens Roundup

Share

Say the word “telephoto” and many shooters automatically think “Oh, telephotos bring things closer.” Now while this is true—particularly in the mind’s eye of newbies to the sport—the imaging abilities of telephoto lenses go well beyond “bringing things closer,” especially when you start shooting with progressively longer optics.

The thrust of this roundup is longer focal length telephotos, which for our purposes, are lenses that take in angles of view of 8.3° or less. In real-world terminology, 8.3° translates into the angle of view of a 300mm lens on full-frame (24 x 36mm) cameras, while 200mm lenses for APS-C format cameras (1.5x or 1.6x crop factor) translate into a lens of 300mm or even longer. This group includes compact DSLRs, Sony NEX cameras and Samsung’s NX200. And for Four Thirds-format cameras (2x crop factor) we’re talking about lenses of 150mm and up.

Just as wide-angle lenses capture “the big picture” of whatever lies before your camera’s lens, telephotos zero in on the details of the scene. Depending on the distance of your subject from the camera and the aperture at which you’re shooting, telephotos can be quite adept at isolating your subject from the background or foreground. This is especially true of wider-aperture telephotos, which are very frequently the lenses of choice among fashion and beauty photographers.

In addition to their ability to bring distant subjects closer or isolating your subject from its foreground and background, telephotos also compress the apparent distances between objects within the frame. In the case of cityscapes, buildings that are blocks apart can appear as if they’re flat as billboards plastered one upon another. (Similarly, wide-angle lenses seemingly expand the apparent distances between foreground and background objects in a scene, which is why real estate agents love them so much.)

One issue that’s unique to telephotos—especially the longer and faster ones, has to do with weight and mass, which can add up quickly. Unless you’re being paid a bundle for shooting pro sports or a fashion spread for Vanity Fair or can afford to travel with a pack mule, an elephant or a Sherpa or two, one should consider the cost of hauling around a Canon EF 400/2.8L IS USM when a Canon EF 400/4 DO IS USM will do the job at half of the weight and bulk.

And if there’s a choice of purchasing the lens that tickles your fancy with or without image stabilization, be advised the extra shekels you’ll spend for the image-stabilized version can often be the difference between a not-quite-sharp picture and a real keeper.

   Format Coverage   Image Stabilized  Min Focus  Filter Size  Weight
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 300mm/f/2.8G ED VR II Full Frame - APS-C Yes  7.5' (2.3m) AF / 7.2' (2.2m) MF 52mm Rear 6.4lb (2900g)
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 300mm/f/4D IF-ED Full Frame - APS-C No 4.8' (1.45m) 77mm 3.2lb (1440g)
Nikon AF-S 400mm/f/2.8G ED VR Full Frame - APS-C Yes 9.5' (2.9m) AF / 9.2’ (2.8m) MF 52mm Rear 10.2lb (4620g)
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 500mm/f/4G ED VR Full Frame - APS-C Yes 13.1' (4m) 52mm Rear 8.6lb (3880g)
Nikon AF-S 600mm/f/4G ED VR Full Frame - APS-C Yes 16.4' (5m) 52mm Rear  11.2lb (5060g)
Nikon AF VR Zoom-Nikkor 80-400mm/f/4.5-5.6D ED Full Frame - APS-C Yes 7.5' (2.3m) 77mm 3lb (1360g)
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 200-400mm/f/4G ED VR II Full Frame - APS-C Yes 6.6' (2m) AF / 6.4' (1.95m) MF 52mm Rear  7.4lb (3360g)
Nikon 70-300mm/f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED AF-S Full Frame - APS-C No 4.9’ (1.5m) 67mm 1.6lb (745g)
Nikon AF Zoom 70-300mm/f/4-5.6G Full Frame - APS-C No 4.9’ (1.5m) 62mm 0.9lb (425g)
Canon EF 300/4.0L IS USM Full Frame - APS-C Yes 4.9’ (1.5m) 77mm 2.6lb (1190g)
Canon EF 300/2.8L IS II USM Full Frame - APS-C Yes 6.6' (2m) 52mm Rear 5.2lb (2350g)
Canon EF 400/2.8L IS II USM Full Frame - APS-C Yes 8.86' (2.7m) 52mm Rear   8.5lb (3850g)
Canon EF 400/4 DO IS USM Full Frame - APS-C Yes 11.5' (3.5m) 52mm Rear  4.3lb (1940g)
Canon EF 400/5.6L USM Full Frame - APS-C No 11.5' (3.5m) 77mm  2.8lb (1250g)
Canon EF 600/4L IS USM Full Frame - APS-C Yes 18' (5.5m) 52mm Rear  11.8 lb (5360g)
Canon EF 800/5.6L IS USM Full Frame - APS-C Yes 19.7' (6m)  52mm Rear  9.9 lb (4500g)
Canon EF 70-300/4.5-5.6 DO IS USM Full Frame - APS-C Yes 4.6' (1.4m) 58mm 1.6lb (720 g)
Canon EF 70-300/4-5.6 IS USM Full Frame - APS-C Yes 4.9' (1.5m) 58mm 1.4lb (630 g)
Canon EF 70-300/4-5.6L IS USM Full Frame - APS-C Yes 3.9' (1.2m) 67mm 2.3lb (1050g)
Canon EF 75-300/4-5.6 III USM Full Frame - APS-C No 4.9' (1.5m) 58mm 1.1lb (480 g)
Canon EF 100-400/4.5-5.6L IS USM Full Frame - APS-C Yes 5.9' (1.8m) 77mm 3lb (1380g)
Sony 300/2.8G  Full Frame - APS-C No 6.6' (2m)  42mm Rear  5.1lb (2300g)
Sony 70-300/4.5-5.6 Full Frame - APS-C No 4' (1.2m) 62mm 1.75lb (800g) 
Sony 70-400/4-5.6 Full Frame - APS-C No 5' (1.5m) 77mm 3.3lb (1500g)
Pentax smc DA* 300/4 ED(IF) SDM APS-C No 4.6' (1.4m) 77mm 2.4lb (1070g)
Pentax smc DA 55-300/4-5.8 ED APS-C  No 4.6' (1.4m) 58mm 1lb    (440 g)
Pentax 60-250mm/f4 ED DA* SDM APS-C No 3.6' (1.1m) 67mm 2.3lb (1043g)
Panasonic Lumix G Vario 45-200/4-5.6 MEGA O.I.S Micro Four Thirds Yes  3.3' (1m) 52mm 0.8lb (380 g)
Panasonic Lumix G Vario 100-300/4-5.6 MEGA O.I.S. Micro Four Thirds Yes  4.9' (1.5m) 67mm 1.2lb (520 g)
Panasonic Lumix G X Vario PZ 45-175mm/f4-5.6 ASPH Power O.I.S. Micro Four Thirds Yes 3' (0.9m) 46mm 0.5lb (210g)
Olympus Zuiko Digital ED 300/2.8 Four Thirds No 7.9' (2.4m) 43mm Rear 7.25lb 3290g
Olympus Zuiko Digital ED 90-250/2.8 Four Thirds No 8.2' (2.5m) 105mm 7.2lb 3270g
Olympus Zuiko Digital ED 70-300/4-5.6 Four Thirds No 3.3' 1m (MF) / 3.9' 1.2m (AF) 58mm 1.4lb 620 g
Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 75-300/4.8-6.7 Micro Four Thirds No 3'  / 0.9m (at 75mm) 4.9'  /1.5m (at other focal lengths)  58mm 0.9lb 430g
Tamron SP 70-300/4-5.6 Di VC USD Full Frame - APS-C Yes 4.9' (1.5m) 62mm 1.7lb (765g)
Tamron SP 200-500/5-6.3 Di LD (IF) Full Frame - APS-C No 8.2' (2.5m) 86mm 2.7lb (1226g)
Sigma 300/2.8 EX APO DG HSM Full Frame - APS-C No 8.2' (2.5m) 46mm Rear 5.3lb (2400g)
Sigma 500/4.5 EX DG APO HSM Full Frame - APS-C No 13.1' (4m) 46mm Rear  6.9lb (3100g)
Sigma 800/5.6 APO DG HSM Full Frame - APS-C No 23' (7') 46mm Rear  10.5b (4740g)
Sigma 70-300/4-5.6 DG OS Full Frame - APS-C Yes 4.9' (1.5m) 62mm 1.3lb (610g)
Sigma 120-300/2.8 EX DG OS APO Full Frame - APS-C Yes 4.9-8.2' (1.5-2.5m) 105m 6.5lb (2950g)
Sigma 120-400/4.5-5.6 DG OS HSM APO Full Frame - APS-C Yes 4.9' (1.5m) 77mm 3.9lb (1750g)
Sigma 150-500/5-6.3 DG OS HSM APO Full Frame - APS-C Yes 7.2' (2.2m) 86mm 4.2lb (1910g)
Sigma 50-500/4.5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM Full Frame - APS-C Yes 1.6-5.9' (0.5-1.8m) 95mm 4.3lb (1970g)
Sigma 300-800/5.6 EX DG APO IF HSM Full Frame - APS-C No 19.7' (6m) 46mm Rear 12.9lb (5870g)
Sigma 200-500/2.8 EX DG APO IF Full Frame - APS-C No 6.6-16.4' (2-5m) 72mm Rear 34.6lb 15700g)

Budget-Minded Extreme Zooms and Mirror Lenses

Though they may not necessarily be up to spec in terms of resolving power, construction and weatherproofing compared to many of the OEM long zooms and telephotos costing hundreds if not thousands of dollars more, we also carry a selection of long focal length lenses from Rokinon, Phoenix, Vivitar and Bower that will set you back $109.95 to $349.95 tops. The priciest of these lenses are the ultra-long 650-1300mm f/8-16 T-mount zooms from Rokinon, Bower, Vivitar and Phoenix.

Now mind you, the zoom lenses in this class are relatively slow in terms of maximum f-stop range—and that’s when you’re shooting at their wider focal lengths; they’re all manual focus and they come with universal T-mounts. These are the key reasons they’re priced well below their faster counterparts.

In addition to these baseball bat-sized extreme zooms, we also carry a selection of 500mm and 800mm T-mount mirror lenses, which are small and light enough to fit into your coat pocket or the lens compartment of any mid-size camera bag. Like the 650-1300mm zooms, mirror lenses are also slow (f/5.6, f/6.3 or f/8), which is why they’re small, light and inexpensive. The 500- and 800mm mirror lenses are available from Bower, Phoenix, Vivitar and Rokinon.

Due to their optical design (they’re basically short mirror-based telescopes), mirror lenses rely on a series of internally mounted circular mirrors that progressively magnify the light entering the front of the lens barrel. Out-of-focus highlights in mirror-lens photographs are rendered as soft, circular rings commonly referred to as “donuts.” Some people love them and some people hate them. Regardless, in the right hands, mirror lenses can capture graphically strong imagery.

All of the above-mentioned extreme zooms and mirror lenses cover the image fields of full frame imaging sensors and can be used via T-mount adapters with most popular DSLRs.

Extreme Zoom Lenses

   Format Coverage   Image Stabilized  Min Focus  Filter Size  Weight
Rokinon 650-1300mm/f/8-16 (Manual Focus) Full Frame - APS-C No 16.25' (5m) 95mm 6lb (2721.6g)
Bower 650-1300mm/f/8-16 (Manual Focus) Full Frame - APS-C No 16' (5m) 95mm 4.4lb  (2000g)
Vivitar 650-1300mm/f/8-16 (Manual Focus) Full Frame - APS-C No 16' (5m) 95mm 4.9lb (2222.6g)
Phoenix 650-1300mm/f/8-16 (Manual Focus) Full Frame - APS-C No 16' (5m) 95mm 4.4lb  (2000g)

Mirror Lenses

   Format Coverage   Image Stabilized  Min Focus  Filter Size  Weight
Rokinon 500mm/f/6.3 ED Mirror Full Frame - APS-C No 6.1' (2m) 95mm 2lb (907.2g)
Rokinon 500mm/f/8 Mirror Full Frame - APS-C No 5.6' (1.7m) 72mm - Front / 30.5mm - Rear 2lb (907.2g)
Rokinon 800mm/f/8 Mirror Full Frame - APS-C No 11' (3.5m) 105mm 3lb (1360.8g)
Bower 500mm/f/6.3 Mirror Full Frame - APS-C No 6.1' (2m) 105mm - Front / 34mm - Rear 1.4lb (650g)
Bower 500mm/f/8 Mirror Full Frame - APS-C No 5.7' (1.7m) 30.5 Rear 0.7lb (330g)
Bower 800mm/f/8 Mirror Full Frame - APS-C No 11.5' (3.5m) 105mm - Front / 30.5mm - Rear 1.9lb (880g)
Vivitar 500mm/f/6.3 Mirror Full Frame - APS-C No 6.6' (2m) 30.5mm - Rear 1.4lb (651g)
Vivitar 500mm/f/8 Mirror Full Frame - APS-C No 5.7' (1.7m) 30.5mm - Rear 1.2lb (521.6g)
Vivitar 800mm/f/8 Mirror Full Frame - APS-C No 5.7' (1.7m) 30.5mm - Rear 2.9lb (1292.7g)
Phoenix 500mm/f/8 Mirror Full Frame - APS-C No 5.6' (1.7m) 30.5mm - Rear 0.8lb (360g)
Phoenix 500mm/f/6.3 Mirror Full Frame - APS-C No 6.6' (2m) 95mm - Front / 34mm - Rear 1.6lb (703g)
Phoenix 800mm/f/8 Mirror Full Frame - APS-C No 11' (3.4m) 105mm - Front / 30.5mm - Rear 2.1lb (948g)

Do you have any questions about this forest of extreme telephoto lenses? Please post your questions in the Comments section below. We’re pleased to hear from you.

Items discussed in article

Add new comment

Hey is the Vivitar 650-1300mm lens compatible for a d5100, looked all over found noting. It also seems to be the best quality image of all those lenses.

Hello;

The Vivitar 650-1300mm f/8-16 Manual Focus Lens features a 650-1300mm zoom range, but has only one effective aperture at any focal length, which progresses from f/8 at 650mm to f/16 at 1300mm.

The lens uses multi-coated elements for reduced flare and increased light transmission. For the price range, its an excellent choice.

It features a T-mount, and simple T-mount adapters screw on the lens and make this lens adaptable to fit almost any current or even discontinued camera model including your D5100.

If I were to get this lens..  the Rokinon 650-1300mm/f/8-16 (Manual Focus)..  what t-ring adapter would I need for my canon 7D?

The General Brand T-Mount SLR Camera Adapter for Canon EOS would connect the  Rokinon 650-1300mm f/8-16 Manual Focus Lens to the Canon EOS 7D DSLR camera.

Sir, I am planning to buy the Extreme zoom lens (650-1300mm). In that, which brand amoung Vivitar, Bower, Phoenix and Rokinon is the best for Canon 550D. I am opting the lens for birds and animal photography. Thanks.

Hi,

I saw the mirror lenses, but I noticed the Samyang 500mm f/8.0 Preset Telephoto T-mount Lens and its other brandings (ie Bower, Rokinon, etc.) weren't on the list.

Would these be as good if not better than the mirror options, the thought of using the older preset aperture system doesn't bother me nor does the size/weight?

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/859182-REG/Samyang_SY500P_500mm_f_...

Ignoring the resulting need for long exposures, can the Samayang 2X Converters be stacked?

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/859196-REG/Samyang_2X_2x_Multiplie...

Thanks!

Hello Extreme Telephoto,

I just stumbled across your site on the internet while looking for a stabilizer for my telephoto lens. My lens does not have image stabilization and shooting the moon with 2600mm always looked a little out of focus. I finally realized it was not the focus but the small vibration the camera sees even with tripod on solid ground. I use a remote shutter but it does have a wire attached I try to remain still. Is there a vibration stopper for this problem? If not what do you recommend.

                            Thanks,

                                  Freddie Porter

Hello,

One important issue to remember is the moon is moving, so what you are seeing maybe motion blur depending on your exposure time. If your lens is focused to infinity,  focus should not be a concern. If your lens does not have a tripod collar and the weight of your 2600mm set up is being held via the camera's tripod socket, the camera lens combo could be creeping downwards due to the weight. One other concern could be vibration from the reflex mirror. If your camera has mirror lock up, you might try using it after you frame your shot.

There is a way around the fixed apture on mirror lens, and it is simple.  For the 500 Vivitar lens the front can take a 72 mm filter.  By taking a clear filter and painting a ring of black paint on it you can change the apture of the lens.  It will also help with lens distortions, and focusing the CAT lens.  It also helps if you do not like the donut! Being a little sloppy with the ring you will notice the same sloppy effect in the final i,age instead of the donut.  Now you can make stars.

Want a third apture, get another filter and do some more painting.  Just do not go too far in using the paint.  At some point what you will have done is make an expensive lens cover.

For bigger mirror lens you can use cardboard rings (donuts) and be sure to paint them black to cut down on reflections.

This trick works only with the CAT lens.

What would be a great telephoto/macro lens for a beginner on a Nikon D300?

If you’re looking for a single lens which is both telephoto and offers a macro ability, Sigma offers a version of their 70-300mm lens which has a macro setting at the 300mm mark.  It is very useful in macro mode for capturing shots of bugs/flowers etc but from a greater distance than a regular dedicated macro lens would.  For regular telephoto work it is also a good lens option (and affordable).  See the link below for the recommendation:

http://bhpho.to/1lfdDHD

I just purchased a Canon 70D and it has a 70-300mm lens as well as a 2x converter. I enjoy photographing wildlife and I need something that will bring the subject closer than what I can get with my current lens. I have been using a Sony HX300 which can take pics up to 1200mm (digital), but I wanted to move up from a point and shoot camera. 

If you are looking for something longer than your 70-300mm lens, you might look at one of the new 150-600mm lenses that have come out from both Tamron and Sigma.  Depending on your teleconverter, you would be able to use it with these lenses, which would get you to 1200mm.  Keep in mind, though, that autofocus will not be supported when you use a teleconverter with one of these lenses.