Best telephoto lens tested per focal point
How do you separate the men from the boys? The women from the girls? The camera tester from the sports photographer? With a good telephoto lens.
Give me a 500mm f/4 lens, and I'm impressed. Awed by the high build quality and high image quality. But I lack the experience to make really beautiful shots in practice with it. It is like giving a pill to a sick dog: the vet puts the pill in its mouth and holds the mouth closed until the pill is swallowed. "Piece of cake," you think. And when you try it yourself, you need band-aids afterwards.
That's how it is with a real telephoto lens.
Have you ever tried to photograph with a lens with a very long focal length? Occasionally, an amateur photographer comes with me when I get to test a really big telephoto lens. Without exception, they come back with lots of failed shots. That’s not the fault of the equipment, but due to a lack of experience.
Just getting your subject into the frame is an achievement. If that telephoto lens is also bright, you also have to be able to handle its weight.
Sony FE: Telephoto lenses (full frame)
Nikon FX: Telephoto lenses (full frame)
Canon EF: Telephoto lenses (full-frame)
Micro-43: Telephoto lenses
Canon EF-S: Telephoto lenses (APS-C)
Nikon DX: Telephoto lenses (APS-C)
Sony E: Telephoto lenses (APS-C)
But in the hands of Formula 1 photographer Peter van Egmond, a 500mm f/4 transforms from a growling monster into a friendly companion that does what Peter wants it to do. A lens that only seems to make keepers and masterpieces. If you practice a lot, you can do that too. This is our Good Stuff Awards list with the best telephoto lenses we have reviewed:
EVEN WITH teleconverter
I think that bright (f/2.8 - f/4) telephoto lenses with a focal length between 300 and 600 mm are the best lenses, and worth more than their price. Yet there are cheaper lenses with a shorter focal length that score even higher on image quality in our tests. This is because you have to place a telephoto lens at a great distance (20 meters to 60 meters, depending on the focal length) from the test card, to get the whole test card in the picture. These distances are similar in practice: you usually don't photograph a moose or polar bear from 2 meters away. But the air between the lens and the test card creates a lower contrast, if you use a telephoto lens. Also, the fact that the brightness decreases quadratically with the distance does not help when measuring the resolution of telephoto lenses. When choosing a lens, you are better off using the test overview per focal distance than the table in which we show all the test results. One thing remains is certain for me: You will be delighted if you use one of the lenses above. Even in combination with a teleconverter, they are very good.