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15 Best Super-Telephoto Lenses to Buy in 2022

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I’m a wildlife photographer, and I love taking close-ups of animals. But they can be pretty skittish, so I often have to shoot from a distance. Fortunately, it’s much easier with a super-telephoto lens. That means anything over 400mm, which is the point at which lenses start to get very heavy—and expensive!

Nick Dale stands carrying a Nikon 800mm lens
Nick Dale stands carrying a Nikon 800mm lens © Andy Skillen

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What to Look for in Super-Telephoto Lenses

There are four main factors for super-telephoto lenses:

All those come at a price, though. You might have to compromise a few different ways:

  • Buy zoom lenses rather than primes.
  • Buy a third-party lens from Sigma or Tamron.
  • Buy a lens with a narrower maximum aperture.

We’ve divided the list of zoom lenses into 12 telephoto lenses for DSLRs and 3 for mirrorless cameras.

Best Super-Telephoto Lenses for DSLRs

There are plenty of zoom lenses available for a DSLR. Everything depends on your camera brand and on how far your budget stretches!

15. Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM

  • 4-stop optical image stabilization with single-shot, panning, and exposure-only modes
  • 3.7m close focus
  • 52mm drop-in filter
  • 146x383mm
  • 7.03 lb (3.19 kg)

Part of the premium L-Series of Canon telephoto lenses, this lens is designed for sports and wildlife photographers who need sharpness, fast autofocus, and exemplary performance in low light.

Strengths

  • Wide maximum aperture
  • Very sharp
  • Fast, near-silent autofocus
  • Lightweight

Weaknesses

  • Not much of an improvement on the previous version

Picture of a Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM super telephoto lens

14. Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x

  • 4-stop optical image stabilization with single-shot, panning, and exposure-only modes
  • 2m close focus
  • 52mm drop-in filter
  • 128x366mm
  • 7.98 lb (3.62 kg)

Another lens in Canon’s premium L-series. This one has the added benefit of a built-in extender (or teleconverter) that pushes the focal length range out to 280-560mm.

This lens has plenty for sports or wildlife photography, and it is still—crucially—light enough to handhold. That explains why professional photographers have one in their bags!

Strengths

Weaknesses

  • Tripod collar can’t be removed
  • Autofocus is not as good in low light or with extender

Picture of a Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM super telephoto lens

13. Canon EF 600mm f/4 L IS III USM

  • 5-stop optical image stabilization with single-shot, panning, and exposure-only modes
  • 4.2m close focus
  • 52mm drop-in filter
  • 168x448mm
  • 6.72 lb (3.05 kg)

This is another L-series lens that’s great for sports, wildlife, or photojournalism. It’s also light enough to handhold, with a new design shifting most glass elements backward to improve balance and handling.

It’s the sixth generation of Canon’s 600mm f/4 series and the third version with image stabilization. And it encapsulates the very best in lens technology.

Strengths

  • Wide maximum aperture
  • High build quality
  • Very sharp
  • Fast and precise autofocus

Weaknesses

  • Tripod collar can’t be removed

Picture of a Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM super telephoto lens

12. Canon EF 800mm f/5.6 L IS USM

  • 4-stop optical image stabilization with single-shot, panning, exposure-only modes, and tripod detection
  • 6m close focus
  • 52mm Drop-in Filter
  • 163x461mm
  • 9.92 lb (4.5 kg)

This lens is the longest in Canon’s current range, and it’s excellent for getting close-ups or images of distant animals if you’re a wildlife photographer. I had an 800mm lens for many years, and I took around two-thirds of all my shots with it.

However, it is about the same weight as this one from Canon. That means it was just too heavy to handhold for more than a few seconds at a time.

Strengths

  • High build quality
  • Very sharp
  • Fast and precise autofocus

Weaknesses

  • Too heavy to handhold
  • Maximum aperture is only f/5.6

A picture of a Canon EF 800mm f/5.6L IS USM super telephoto lens

11. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR

  • 4.5-stop vibration reduction with Normal and Sport mode
  • 2.2m close focus
  • 95mm screw-on filter
  • 108×267.5mm
  • 5.07 lb (2.3 kg)

This lens is designed for the “enthusiast” rather than the professional. Still, it outperforms the 150-600mm counterpart from Tamron in terms of focusing ability and performance in low-light conditions or with a teleconverter.

It also has a constant maximum aperture of f/5.6—an advantage over similar third-party lenses.

Strengths

  • High build quality
  • Very sharp
  • Fast and quiet autofocus
  • Lightweight

Weaknesses

  • No nano-coating
  • Full zoom needs almost 180 degrees of rotation
  • Sample variation means some lenses may not be as sharp as others
  • Poor autofocus with fast-moving, erratic subjects
  • Not weather-sealed

Picture of a Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR super telephoto lens

10. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/4 E FL ED VR

  • 4-stop vibration reduction with Normal and Sport mode
  • 3.6m close focus
  • 40.5mm drop-in filter
  • 140x387mm
  • 6.61 lb (3.09 kg)

This lens is a much lighter version of the old Nikon 500mm f/4 G, with the weight savings coming from a couple of extra fluorite elements at the front. It’s probably the sharpest 500mm lens on the market!

Strengths

  • High build quality
  • Very sharp
  • Fast and quiet autofocus
  • Lightweight

Weaknesses

  • None!

Picture of a Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/4E FL ED VR super telephoto lens

9. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4 E FL ED VR

  • 4-stop vibration reduction with Normal and Sport mode
  • 4.4m close focus
  • 40.5mm drop-in filter
  • 166x432mm
  • 8.40 lb (3.81kg)

This lens is the slightly longer equivalent of the Nikon 500mm f/4, aimed at professional sports and nature photographers. It has a wide maximum aperture and a sophisticated autofocus system for good low-light performance.

It shows Nikon’s usual level of sharpness and camera build quality. The introduction of lighter fluorite elements at the front also makes it much easier to handle than the previous version—although it’s still heavier than the latest 600mm Canon equivalent.

Strengths

  • High build quality
  • Very sharp
  • Fast and quiet autofocus

Weaknesses

  • Too heavy to handhold comfortably

Picture of a Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4E FL ED VR super telephoto lens

8. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 800mm f/5.6 E FL ED VR

  • 4-stop vibration reduction with Normal and Active modes
  • 5.9m close focus
  • 52mm drop-in filter
  • 160x461mm
  • 10.1 lb (4.59 kg)

This is the longest Nikon lens and the one I owned until very recently. If you don’t mind the weight and don’t often need to handhold, then this is the lens for you!

The sharpness of the images is outstanding, and it paired very well with my old Nikon D850. It comes with a 1.25x attachment.

Strengths

  • Exceptionally sharp
  • Fast and quiet autofocus
  • Great bokeh
  • Supplied teleconverter pushes focal length to 1000mm

Weaknesses

  • Too heavy to handhold
  • Can’t be used with any other teleconverters

Picture of a Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR lens (with 1.25x attachment)

7. Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens

  • 4-stop optical stabilization with two modes for static and panning shots, including an intelligent optical stabilization (OS) system
  • 3.5m close focus
  • 46mm drop-in filter
  • 145x380mm
  • 7.00 lb (3.31kg)

This is Sigma’s flagship lens for sport and nature photography. It provides sharp images with a fast and accurate autofocus system and a wide maximum aperture.

One Special Low Dispersion and two Fluorite Low Dispersion lens elements help minimize chromatic aberration and distortion and preserve image clarity.

Strengths

  • Wide maximum aperture
  • Excellent image quality
  • Fast autofocus

Weaknesses

  • No exposure-only image stabilization mode for erratic subjects

Picture of a Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports super telephoto lens

6. Sigma 60-600mm f/4.5-6.3 DG OS HSM | S

  • 4-stop optical stabilization (OS) with intelligent OS for panning shots (modes 1 and 2)
  • 2.6m close focus
  • 105mm Screw-on Filter
  • 120.4×268.9mm
  • 4.00 lb (2.7 kg)

This is the only 60-600mm lens on the market. It offers such a huge zoom range that you could look at it as two lenses in one!

It also has a reasonably lightweight body composed of magnesium alloy, carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic, and a thermally stable composite. However, the maximum aperture is a little narrow and gets narrower as you zoom in.

Strengths

  • Wide zoom range
  • Sharp and contrasty
  • Fast autofocus
  • Short minimum focusing distance

Weaknesses

  • Rather large and heavy

Picture of a Sigma 60-600mm f/4.5-6.3 DG OS HSM | S super telephoto lens

5. Sony 500mm f/4 G SSM

  • No optical stabilization, as Sony single-lens translucent (SLT) cameras have a stabilization sensor instead
  • 4m close focus
  • 42mm Drop-in Filter
  • 140x368mm
  • 7.61 lb (3.46 kg)

This is another lens designed for the professional wildlife, sports, and action photography market. It ticks all the boxes in terms of features but doesn’t offer quite the same sharpness as the equivalent lenses from Canon and Nikon. Plus, it is too heavy if you primarily shoot handheld.

Strengths

  • Homogeneous sharpness across the frame
  • Wide maximum aperture
  • High contrast
  • Fast autofocus

Weaknesses

  • Slightly soft images
  • Reduced contrast when shooting wide open
  • Too heavy to handhold for long

Picture of a Sony 500mm f/4 G SSM super telephoto lens

4. Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2

  • 4.5-Stop vibration compensation with three modes (standard, panning, and exposure-only)
  • 2.2m close focus
  • 95mm screw-on filter
  • 140x368mm
  • 4.40 lb (2.01 kg)

This new lens is an upgraded version of the SP 150-600mm G1, which Tamron first introduced in December 2013. It provides better overall optical performance and faster autofocus speed.

It also features vibration compensation enhancements, fluorine coating, a flex zoom lock, and an optional custom-made 1.4x teleconverter. It’s designed for amateurs who’d rather not spend quite so much as the professionals but want to squeeze that last drop of sharpness out of their images!

Strengths

  • Sharp images
  • High contrast
  • Fast autofocus
  • Flex lock allows the zoom lens to be set in any position
  • Very lightweight
  • Arca-Swiss compatible tripod foot
  • Various anti-reflection coatings

Weaknesses

  • Diffraction at f/14
  • Autofocus tends to hunt
  • Slightly soft wide open at 600mm
  • With a 1.4x teleconverter, the maximum aperture of f/9 means most autofocus systems won’t work
  • Noticeable focus breathing

Picture of a Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 super telephoto lens

Best Super-Telephoto Lenses for Mirrorless Cameras

There are very few extreme telephoto lenses available for mirrorless cameras, and Nikon doesn’t have a single one over 400mm! This will change in the next couple of years, but Canon and Sony are currently the market leaders.

3. Canon RF 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1 L IS USM

  • 5-stop optical image stabilization with single-shot, panning, and exposure-only modes (and an extra stop is available when using it with the Canon EOS R5 or R6)
  • 0.90 at 100mm, 1.2m at 500mm close focus
  • 77mm screw-on filter
  • 93.8×207.6mm
  • 3.00 lb (1.53 kg)

This lens is part of Canon’s premium L-series. It is a specialist mirrorless lens designed for sports and nature photographers who need sharpness, fast autofocus, and portability. The weather sealing and lens coatings also make it a durable kit.

Strengths

  • Very sharp over the whole focal length, even wide open
  • Fast and accurate autofocus (especially when paired with the eye-tracking of the Canon R5 and R6)
  • Light and compact body

Weaknesses

  • Variable maximum aperture means average performance in low light, especially when zoomed in at f/7.1
  • Slight chromatic aberration in the corners

Picture of a Canon RF 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1 L IS USM super telephoto lens

2. Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS

  • 3-mode optical SteadyShot for regular shots, panning, and erratic subjects
  • 2.4m close focus
  • 95mm screw-on filter
  • 111.5x318mm
  • 4.66 lb (2.115 kg)

This is another lens designed for wildlife, sports, and action photography. It boasts excellent image quality, and its affordable price shows that it’s aimed at the “enthusiast” market.

Strengths

  • Sharp images
  • Smooth bokeh
  • Stabilization removes camera shake—even down to 1/60 s handheld!
  • Very lightweight
  • Fast autofocus
  • Easy-to-remove tripod foot
  • Internal zoom

Weaknesses

  • Narrow maximum aperture
  • Reduced contrast when shooting wide open
  • Too heavy to handhold for long
  • Slower autofocus with the 1.4x teleconverter
  • No full-time manual focus override
  • No zoom lock
  • Color fringing in video

Picture of a Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS super telephoto lens

1. Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS

  • 3-mode optical SteadyShot for regular shots, panning, and erratic subjects
  • 2.4m close focus
  • 40.5mm drop-in filter
  • 163.6x449mm
  • 6.70 lb (3.04 kg)

This belongs to the premium G Master series of lenses. It is the longest lens in the Sony line-up and the lightest 600mm lens on the market.

Designed for wildlife, sports, and action photography, it boasts excellent image quality and rapid, precise autofocus. I already have the 400mm f/2.8… and this is next on my list!

Strengths

  • High resolution
  • Wide maximum aperture
  • Smooth bokeh
  • Lightweight
  • Fast autofocus optimized for Sony mirrorless cameras such as the Alpha 1
  • Easy-to-remove tripod foot

Weaknesses

  • Slight vignetting
  • Optical SteadyShot doesn’t add much stability

Picture of a Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS super telephoto lens

Conclusion

If you shoot wildlife like me, I’d go mirrorless and pair a Sony 600mm f/4 with a Sony Alpha 1. However, not everyone can afford the best super-telephoto lenses at any price. If your budget doesn’t stretch that far, I recommend going for the Sony 200-600mm with a cheaper mirrorless camera such as a second-hand Sony A7.

Finally, if you already have a DSLR and can’t face trading it in, I’d start saving for either the Nikon AF NIKKOR 800mm f/5.6 E or the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4 L with a built-in extender. But most importantly, which is the best super-telephoto lens for you?

Try out our Wonderful Wildlife e-book to learn how professionals capture fantastic animal photos!

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