When it comes to shooting architecture, landscapes, sports, wildlife and travel images, an increasing number of serious enthusiasts and pros are turning to extreme telephoto lenses to capture compelling images.
To keep you up to date on this emerging niche, we’ve selected a sample of fascinating super-telephoto lenses with prices ranging from (gasp!) $79.95 to $12,999. And nearly of them provide actual or effective focal lengths of 500mm and up. Need I say you’re bound to find something here that will pique the interest of just about any serious outdoor shooter in your customer base?
Extreme Telephoto Lenses for Serious Shooters
Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM | S
Sigma’s impressive fast 500mm is the new flagship of the company’s Sports lens line. It’s understandably large (15 inches long with a 5.7-inch diameter) and weighs 7.3 pounds. But it is beautifully balanced, and its magnesium alloy barrel helps make it lighter and easier to manage than many of its competitors.
The lens incorporates one SLD (super-low dispersion) element as well as two FLD (fluorite equivalent) elements to minimize aberrations and achieve outstanding imaging performance. Moreover, an advanced optical stabilizer (OS) system provides a 4-stop advantage in minimizing the effects of camera shake. It also features a hypersonic motor (HSM) for quick, quiet AF and a rounded, 9-bladed diaphragm for artistic bokeh. A new Intelligent OS algorithm in its optical stabilization system allows for effective panning. Furthermore, the lens is splashproof. In Canon EF, Nikon F and Sigma SA mounts, $5,999. sigmaphoto.com
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 600mm f/4E FL ED VR
Nikon’s flagship FX/DX-format 600mm super-telephoto lens features a state-of-the-art optical design that reduces its weight by nearly three pounds from the previous model. Delivering pro-caliber image quality, it features two fluorite as well as four ED (extra-low dispersion) glass elements to virtually eliminate chromatic aberrations and increase sharpness. In addition, Nano Crystal and Super Integrated coatings enhance light transmission and reduce flare and ghosting.
The lens also employs a silent wave motor for fast, precise, quiet AF and an exclusive electromagnetic aperture mechanism for enhanced exposure control and stability. And Nikon’s VR (vibration reduction) IS system provides 4 stops of image stabilization for handheld and low-light shooting. Other features also include: internal focus with full-time manual override; a protective fluorine coating on the front element; a removable, rotatable tripod/monopod collar with ball bearings for smooth adjustments; and apertures to f/22. At 17 inches long, it weighs 8.4 pounds. $12,299.95. nikonusa.com
Tamron SP 150–600mm f/5–6.3 Di G2
This is a seriously upgraded, full-frame, 4x super-telephoto zoom. It employs a new optical formula that includes three LD (low dispersion) glass elements to reduce chromatic aberrations as well color fringing over its zoom range. Furthermore, BBAR (broad-band antireflection) and eBAND (extended bandwidth & angular-dependency) multicoatings minimize flare and ghosting, as well as improve light transmission.
It also incorporates an ingenious flex zoom lock that enables locking the zoom at any focal length position, along with a conventional zoom lock. Enhanced Vibration Compensation (VC) provides image stabilization up to 4.5 stops. A ring-type ultrasonic silent drive AF motor provides quick, precise AF plus full-time manual focus. The lens also features moisture-resistant construction and an easy-to-clean fluorine-coated front element. In addition, it provides an amazing 225–900mm-equivalent focal length range with APS-C-format cameras. At 15.5 inches long, it weighs 6.9 pounds. In Nikon, Canon and Sony A mounts, $1,300. tamron-usa.com
Canon EF 800mm f/5.6L IS USM
Canon’s longest telephoto lens employs aspheric elements as well as fluorite, UD and super UD (ultra-low dispersion) elements to achieve an extraordinarily high level of optical correction. It also features an ultrasonic motor (USM) for fast, quiet, precise AF with manual focus override. Its two-mode image stabilization system (IS) offers still and panning options that provide up to a 4-stop anti-shake advantage in handheld shooting.
In addition, a focus preset function, focus range limiter and AF stop function facilitate convenient operation in the field. The beautifully finished lens is sealed against weather, dust and moisture, and magnesium alloy construction keeps its weight down to a manageable 9.9 pounds. It’s 18 inches long. $12,999. usa.canon.com
Sigma 150–600mm f/5–6.3 DG OS HSM | C
This versatile, high-performance, full-frame super-telephoto zoom in Sigma’s Contemporary line is surprisingly compact and lightweight. It’s 10.2 inches long and weighs 4.3 pounds. Its excellent balance enhances its handheld performance. It features two FLD and three SLD elements to achieve impressive sharpness and outstanding color correction.
Sigma’s hypersonic motor enables fast, precise, quiet AF, while an updated optical image stabilizer with an accelerometer improves horizontal and vertical panning. With weatherproof construction, it includes zoom lock and manual override switches and comes with a lens hood and rotatable tripod collar. In addition, it has smudge-resistant fluorine coatings on its front and rear elements. It’s also compatible with the Sigma USB Dock to enable customization and adjustment options. In Canon, Nikon and Sigma mounts, $989. sigmaphoto.com
Olympus M.Zuiko ED 300mm f/4 IS Pro
This amazingly compact, well-balanced 600mm-equivalent, f/4 lens is made for Micro Four Thirds cameras. It incorporates three super ED, one E-HR (extra-high refractive) and three HR glass elements to minimize chromatic and spherical aberrations. As a result, it produces outstanding clarity and sharpness across the image field, even wide open. Moreover, A Z Nano coating is applied to individual elements to reduce lens flare and ghosting to improve contrast and color fidelity.
An upgraded, built-in 5-axis IS system integrates with the electronics in the top-tier Olympus OM-D camera to provide an impressive 6 stops of anti-shake-effect control. Moreover, its movie & still compatible AF system with a manual focus clutch delivers fast, quiet and decisive AF and manual focus performance over a range of applications, including video recording. Other features include: weatherproof construction; a removable, rotatable tripod collar; a built-in lens shade; and also a lens function (L-Fn) button for easy adjustments. It’s 9 inches in length and weighs 3.25 pounds. $2,499.99. olympusamerica.com
Vivitar 500mm f/8
This elemental, “back-to-the future,” manual-focus lens requires a simple, readily available camera-specific T mount to attach it to almost any DSLR, SLR or mirrorless camera. Since T mounts have no mechanical or electronic connections, the fixed-f/8-aperture lens will only work in manual- or aperture-priority modes.
However, it does cover full-frame digital and film cameras, is multicoated to minimize flare and comes with a built-in, rotatable tripod collar. The ultra-telephoto lens measures just under 12 inches long and weighs 1.4 pounds. If its specs sound like something out of the 1960s, they are. But so is the price! $79.95. vivitar.com
Kowa 500mm f/5.6L
This telephoto lens/scope is from Kowa, a venerable Japanese optical company that made some fascinating cameras back in the day. And they’re still a leading maker of spotting scopes. With suitable adapters (not included), this excellent, high-quality super-telephoto lens can be used as a 350/800mm lens on full-frame or APS-C-format Canon, Nikon and Pentax DSLRs. It can also be mounted on Micro Four Thirds mirrorless cameras.
The compact lens features 7-element, 7-group construction and stops down to f/11. It has a 9-bladed diaphragm and includes a robust, removable, rotatable tripod platform. The lens can also be adapted for use as a superb spotting scope. It measures 13.4 inches and weighs 4.34 pounds. $3,250. kowaproducts.com
Sony FE 100–400mm f/4.5–5.6 GM OSS
This new G Master, full-frame, E-mount long telephoto zoom is relatively compact. It measures just over 8 inches long. It uses one super ED and two ED elements to deliver maximum resolution and sharpness with minimal aberrations. The pro caliber glass uses a fast, precise direct drive supersonic motor AF system and Optical SteadyShot (OSS) technology for outstanding handheld performance.
In addition, it is the first Alpha lens to include a zoom torque adjuster that provides mechanical control of the zoom ring torque. It also has a focus range limiter to accommodate various shooting styles. Other features include: internal focus; antireflective Nano AR coating; a dirt- and fingerprint-resistant fluorine coating; and dust- and moisture-resistant construction. While geared for sports and wildlife photos, the lens focuses down to 3.22 feet for an impressive 0.35x max magnification ratio. It weighs in at 3 pounds. $2,499.99. sony.com