Last updated: August 9, 2021

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Telephoto lenses not only look professional, they also produce higher quality images. Compared to a normal lens, a telephoto lens can better capture and focus on distant objects (even moving objects in sports photography).

Today, telephoto lenses can be purchased on the internet for as little as €50, but you should check carefully whether they are suitable for the camera you are using and whether they have the necessary functions on board. To achieve a good photo result, you should be prepared to spend a little more for the telephoto lens of your SLR or mirrorless camera. For a good image stabiliser or auto-focus motor, for example.

In order to shed some light on the subject of telephoto lenses, we have compiled the following telephoto lens test 2021 for you.




Summary

  • A telephoto lens is a lens that has a longer focal length and a smaller angle of view than a normal lens, for example, to better show distant objects.
  • Telephoto lenses are divided into portrait, standard and super-telephoto lenses, each covering different areas of photography such as portraits or sports photography.
  • The telephoto lens does not always fit the sensor in the camera. The sensor controls the size of the image, so a suitable lens can improve the image quality, while an unsuitable lens can worsen the image quality.

The Best Telephoto Lens: Our Choices

Telephoto lenses: buying and evaluation criteria

Here are a few criteria that should make it easier for you to evaluate and buy a telephoto lens. Since telephoto lenses can quickly become a little more expensive, you should also take a longer look at the criteria here to avoid getting lost in a "back and forth" after the purchase.

Generally speaking, you should only buy a telephoto lens worth around €500 if you have already internalised the necessary background knowledge on the subject of photography. Here, then, are a few thought-provoking tips.

Lens mount

You should know that there are several ways to connect your lens to the camera. Nowadays, there are two types: lens bayonet and lens thread. While the lens thread is mainly offered for commercial use, the bayonet mount is found today in the consumer sector with most interchangeable lenses.

The bayonet catches are manufacturer-specific and mechanically constructed differently and have different names. Nikon F for Nikon cameras, Pentax K for Pentax cameras, Micro Four Thirds for Olympus/Panasonic or Canon EF are the best-known representatives.

Image stabilisation

You should know that the longer the focal length of a telephoto lens, the more susceptible it is to short, quick jerks. In order to be able to fix the subject in spite of this, you need these mechanisms to take a sharp photo.

With a telephoto lens, the image stabiliser is enormously important. It provides important protection against camera shake when photographing distant objects.

The larger the focal length, the more useful the image stabiliser. Of course, it is also a cost factor, but you should think twice before saving in the wrong place.

A distinction is made between optical and digital image stabilisers. While the former intervene directly, i.e. analogue in the optics of the lens, the latter are digital processors that support the image processor of the camera.

Focal length

Here you are spoilt for choice. For the beginner, a 50-250mm telephoto lens is enough to capture 98% of his subjects in good quality. If you want more, you need an ultra- or super-zoom telephoto lens to get "even closer" to the desired subject.

Telephoto lenses with a variable focal length also offer the flexibility to reduce the magnification again if this is desired for a particular shot.

Professionals whose subject is at a fixed distance and who therefore place greater value on the optics used internally look here at fixed focal length telephoto lenses such as the Canon L "white series" familiar to the layman from the football stadium.

Here, only the wallet is the final limit, as the use of a lens, which is also very expensive, for one type of subject is fixed by the fixed focal length.

Aperture

The aperture or diaphragm opening controls how much light falls on the sensor. In addition, the lighting also controls the depth of field of the subject and therefore an incorrect aperture can quickly lead to a number of "unsuccessful shots" (the photos are too bright or too dark).

If you as a photographer want to be the master of the distribution of sharpness in the subject to be photographed, you should therefore not neglect the aperture.

In general, the more options the aperture offers, the better, because the physical principle applies: the wider the aperture, the smaller the depth of field, and the smaller the aperture, the greater the depth of field.

Sensor compatibility

Sensor compatibility is also an important component to consider before buying a lens. After all, the telephoto lens must harmonise with the image processor in the camera in order to get the best possible image from the combination of the two. The sensors are image processors that convert the optical light into a digital image.

Often they also bear the names of the manufacturers or names given to them by their manufacturers. the Micro-Four-Thirds sensor, for example, is a sensor developed by Panasonic and Olympus and of course only works for cameras from these manufacturers. Pentax Q or Nikon CX are other sensors specially developed by manufacturers for the telephoto lenses.

With the APS-C sensor, there is even a sensor developed in 1996 for 35mm format 35mm shots available for the telephoto lenses currently available.

Medium format and full format round off the range of sensors for telephoto lenses, which is why I would like to say once again: it is better to take a closer look at the sensor compatibility of the telephoto lens you are interested in to avoid a rude awakening with bad photos later on.

Telephoto lenses: frequently asked questions and answers

Here are some selected questions from search engine users on the subject of telephoto lenses.

Often, beginners in particular first have to pore over some specialist literature here or consolidate relevant websites in order to familiarise themselves with the scientific background of the optics of telephoto lenses and their functions.

Teleobjektiv

A telephoto lens has many adjustment possibilities. The more you know about it, the easier you can use it. (Image source: Rocco Stoppoloni / Unsplash)

To clarify the most important questions, we have already answered some of them for you here.

Who is a telephoto lens suitable for?

A telephoto lens is an accessory of a semi-professional SLR or mirrorless camera that is more suitable than the standard lens for various special shots.

However, it also requires a bit more background knowledge for proper use, which is why a telephoto lens is aimed more at the buyer clientele of advanced or professional photographers (who have the necessary background knowledge for use).

What types of telephoto lenses are there?

If you want to buy a telephoto lens, there are different types of telephoto lenses with very different characteristics. We have compiled the most important advantages and disadvantages in a small table.

Type Advantages Disadvantages
Portrait lenses Perfect representation of details of e.g. faces in close-ups Require daylight
Standard telephoto lenses Optimal for travel and nature photography (large areas can be captured from a distance) Risk of camera shake
Super telephoto lenses Allows photographing fast moving objects from a long distance Heavy, need tripod
Mirror lenses Very compact with long focal length Susceptible to flare, bokeh (circles of blur)

The portrait lens is perfectly optimised for shooting portraits due to its focal length, speed and optical design. If your DSLR also has a video mode, you can also use this lens for VLOGs and other close-ups.

The shallow depth of field creates a small field where, for example, the face is very sharp while the background is automatically blurred (bokeh effect).

Teleobjektiv

What sensor does my camera actually have? And does my lens fit this sensor perfectly? All this should be clarified before buying (Image source: Mika Baumeister/ Unsplash)

Standard telephoto lenses are those with a focal length between about 135 and 200 mm (based on 35 mm cameras). The standard telephoto lens is often used in travel or nature photography. To take good photos with it, it is advisable to use a tripod to prevent camera shake.

In 35mm format, telephoto lenses with a focal length of 200mm or 300mm or more are called super telephoto lenses. For wildlife and sports photography, super telephoto lenses are used with high speed, fixed focal length and high weight. They are also used automatically with a tripod because of their heavy weight.

Mirror lenses are a special design that makes it possible to construct very compact lenses for long focal lengths due to the "folded" beam path.

Mirror lenses have some special features due to their design. Due to their internal construction of mirrors and lenses, ring-shaped reflections are more common with this type of lens. Mirror lenses are available for 35 mm cameras with focal lengths between 250 mm and 2000 mm as well as for medium format cameras.

What does a telephoto lens cost?

The price of a good telephoto lens can vary greatly. Depending on the focal length required and the digital and optical systems used, the price sometimes increases significantly. The prices for telephoto lenses start at about 230€ for an entry-level telephoto lens and go up to 16,000€ for a professional fixed focal length telephoto lens, e.g. from Canon's white series.

Before buying, the buyer only has to decide what equipment he wants to buy for his shots and what price he is willing to spend for it. After that, everyone will find the "perfect telephoto lens" for them, because the choice is huge and almost every telephoto lens can be screwed onto any camera via adapters.

Product Price
Entry-level telephoto lens approx. 230€
Advanced telephoto lens 500-1000€
Fixed focal length telephoto lens for professionals from 2.000€-16.000€

While beginners usually buy a telephoto lens with a value of 230€ and are satisfied with it, advanced photographers set the requirements and also the prices a little higher.

Useful additional functions such as superzoom, better image stabilisers and quieter focusing motors quickly become decisive reasons to buy.

However, if the telephoto lens is also used commercially and the photographer strives for "the perfect shot", the purchase of a telephoto lens can be compared to the purchase of a small car.

Sums of up to €16,000 are spent here for corresponding fixed focal length telephoto lenses in magnesium-reinforced housings with certified manufacturing methods.

But buyers of these telephoto lenses also know a lot about the setting options and functions, are professional photographers or use the telephoto lens commercially, such as the football reporters in the stadium.

What are the alternatives to a telephoto lens?

If you don't want to work with a telephoto lens, you can also switch to a universal zoom lens. These usually have shorter focal lengths. For professional photographers, there are also telephoto lenses with fixed focal lengths, which are of course more specialised in their use and more expensive to buy.

Alternative Description
Tele-zoom lens Zoom lens
Universal zoom lens Zoom lens
Fixed focal length telephoto lens Fixed focal length

For the beginner or advanced amateur photographer, buying a telephoto zoom or universal zoom lens is certainly more sensible than buying several lenses with fixed focal lengths for different photographic subjects.

When purchasing a lens, a lot is also regulated by the photographer's budget and here, although there is a trend towards ever better and more expensive zoom lenses, there is also a certain rationality and calculation in the possible uses.

For example, people use more expensive zoom lenses to capture different motifs, but not lenses with fixed focal lengths the equivalent of a small car that are only suitable for one type of motif.

Conclusion

Buying a telephoto lens can be compared to buying a small car, but it is certainly not comparable to buying a consumer good or a product of daily use.

It requires some thought about the possible uses even before the purchase and a suitably expensive camera must already be available along with other accessories such as apertures, etc. The buyer must also have a higher budget. The buyer must also have a higher level of knowledge about the use of the telephoto lens in order to buy such an object purposefully.

Furthermore, the buyer is already more deeply involved in the subject of photography and can also already handle and understand the high amount of technical data well.

Before buying, the potential buyer should have already done a product and price research on corresponding portals, e.g. on the Internet, in order to filter out the telephoto lens with the best price and the best equipment offer.

If these two requirements are met, the complex purchase of a telephoto lens becomes an easy task for this buyer.

Picture source: welcomia / 123rf

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