Recommended Nikkor / Nikon telephoto lenses for action, sports, wildlife and portrait photography
 
 


If you want to get close to a distant subject, you need a telephoto lens. These are ideal for sports and wildlife photography, along with capturing candid shots of people at a distance. They’re also great for getting closer to details in both natural and urban environments which are lost in a larger view. Their broad flexibility coupled with a desire to zoom-closer than a standard kit lens makes a telephoto model the natural choice when most people start shopping for a second lens.

There’s a large variety of telephoto lenses out there and the first question you need to ask yourself is how close you want to get to your subject. If you’re shooting portraits or close-range action, then a zoom in the equivalent range of 70-200mm will be ideal, and Nikon offers a superb model.

 

If you need to get closer to mid-range action or start photographing wildlife though, then you’ll want at least 300mm at your disposal, and if you really get into wildlife, and especially bird photography, you’ll want the longest lens you can afford.

Vibration Reduction (VR for short) is invaluable at high magnification and if you’re shooting subjects which move quickly, then SWM focusing is also very useful; Nikkor lenses with SWM focusing motors are labelled AF-S models, and these will autofocus on all Nikon bodies including entry-level models.

Anyone shooting action or working in low light will also appreciate a lens with a larger aperture, indicated by a small f-number, such as f2.8. These may make the lens bigger, heavier and more expensive than models with average apertures, but have the major advantage of gathering more light. This allows quicker shutter speeds to be selected, which in turn enable you better freeze action or reduce camera-shake without having to increase your camera's sensitivity and compromise the image quality. Smaller f-numbers also allow you to achieve greater blurring on backgrounds, which is desirable on many action, wildlife or distant portrait shots.

Note when I mention FX bodies I'm referring to full-frame models like the D600 and D800. When I mention DX bodies, I'm referring to cropped-frame models like the D3200, D5200 and D7000. If you’d like to learn more about lens specifications, from focal lengths to f-numbers, please see my lens guide. If you find the information here useful, please support me by shopping at the stores below and if you have any questions about lenses, feel free to ask in the forum!



 
Nikkor AF-S DX VR 55-200mm f/4-5.6G IF-ED review

Specifications

Focal length:
55-200mm
Aperture: f4-5.6
Lens mount: DX
Equiv on DX: 83-300mm
FX compatible: No
Anti-shake: Yes
AF motor: SWM
Closest focus: 110cm
Filter thread: 52mm
Hood: HB-37
Optics: 15 el. / 11 groups
Diaphragm blades: 7
Weight: 335g
Size: 73x100mm

     
The Nikkor DX 55-200mm VR is an affordable telephoto zoom designed for owners of entry-level DSLRs; as a DX model, it’s not compatible with FX bodies. The DX 55-200mm VR picks-up where the standard 18-55mm kit lens stops, extending the equivalent coverage to a maximum of 300mm. Impressively for the price, there’s quick and quiet SWM focusing with works on any Nikon body and VR to iron-out camera-shake. A great telephoto zoom for those on a budget.


 
Nikkor AF-S DX VR 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR

Specifications

Focal length:
55-300mm
Aperture: f4.5-5.6
Lens mount: DX
Equiv on DX: 83-450mm
FX compatible: No
Anti-shake: Yes
AF motor: SWM
Closest focus: 140cm
Filter thread: 58mm
Hood: HB-57
Optics: 17 el. / 11 groups
Diaphragm blades: 9
Weight: 580g
Size: 77x123mm

     
The Nikkor DX 55-300mm VR extends the reach of the popular DX 55-200mm by 50%, while crucially costing less than most 70-300mm models. Like the model above, it's designed for DX-format bodies and picks-up where the DX 18-55mm kit lens stops, but this time extends the equivalent reach to a considerable 450mm. It'll also autofocus on any body and features Vibration Reduction. If you want to get as close as possible to a distant subject on a limited budget, it's worth spending the extra over the 55-200.


 
Nikkor AF-S VR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED review

Specifications

Focal length:
70-300mm
Aperture: f4.4-5.6
Lens mount: F-mount
Equiv on DX: 105-450mm
FX compatible: Yes
Anti-shake: Yes
AF motor: SWM
Closest focus: 150cm
Filter thread: 67mm
Hood: HB-36
Optics: 17 el. / 12 groups
Diaphragm blades: 9
Weight: 745g
Size: 80x144mm

     
The 70-300mm VR is the next step-up in the Nikkor telephoto range. As above, there’s quick and quiet SWM focusing with works on any Nikon body and VR to iron-out camera-shake. The big differences though are a longer focal range and compatibility with both DX and FX format bodies. The optical and build quality are also superior, making it a much classier lens overall for those who can afford the higher asking price.



 
Nikkor AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II review

Specifications

Focal length:
70-200mm
Aperture: f2.8
Lens mount: F-mount
Equiv on DX: 105-300mm
FX compatible: Yes
Anti-shake: Yes
AF motor: SWM
Closest focus: 140cm
Filter thread: 77mm
Hood: HB-48
Optics: 21 el. / 16 groups
Diaphragm blades: 9
Weight: 1,540g
Size: 87x209mm

     
The Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8G VR II is the latest version of its premium telephoto zoom. Like the model above it’ll autofocus on any Nikon body, features VR to counteract camera-shake and is compatible with both DX and FX bodies. What makes it really special though is the constant f2.8 aperture allowing faster exposures for action shots and delivering nice blurred backgrounds for portraits. This aperture makes the lens relatively large, heavy and pricey, but it remains a coveted option.



 
Nikkor AF-S 70-200mm f/4G ED VR review

Specifications

Focal length:
70-200mm
Aperture: f4
Lens mount: F-mount
Equiv on DX: 105-300mm
FX compatible: Yes
Anti-shake: Yes
AF motor: SWM
Closest focus: 100cm
Filter thread: 67mm
Hood: HB-60
Optics: 20 el. / 14 groups
Diaphragm blades: 9
Weight: 850g
Size: 78x179mm

     
If you like the 70-200mm range but don't need the f2.8 focal ratio, then consider the f4 version here. It's smaller, about half the weight and comfortably more affordable, while delivering excellent results across the frame. The f4 version also focuses much closer than the f2.8 model: 1m vs 1.4m, allowing it to be more effective for macro work. And even though it won't deliver as shallow a depth of field as the f2.8 version, it'll still render nice blurred backgrounds on portraits.



 
Nikkor AF-S 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR review

Specifications

Focal length:
80-400mm
Aperture: f4.5-4.6
Lens mount: F-mount
Equiv on DX: 120-600mm
FX compatible: Yes
Anti-shake: Yes
AF motor: SWM
Closest focus: 175cm
Filter thread: 77mm
Hood: HB-65
Optics: 20 el. / 12 groups
Diaphragm blades: 9
Weight: 1,570g
Size: 96x203mm

     
If you want a quality telephoto zoom with longer reach, then go for the Nikkor AF-S 80-400mm VR. Compatible with both DX and FX bodies (and delivering equivalent coverage up to 600mm on the former), it’s ideal for capturing distant action or wildlife, while VR ensures any camera-shake is ironed-out. Be sure to get the latest AF-S version of this lens which replaces a 13 year-old model, equipping it with superior optics, autofocus and stabilisation.



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