Tip to buy a telephoto lens

A Guide for Buying a Telephoto Lens

Telephoto lenses are used by photographers to capture specific details or distant objects. This Buzzle article acts as a handy guide for buying a telephoto lens. Use it to make a smart purchase.
Buying Tip
Take your DSLR to the lens store, pick different lenses of your choice, and click a few shots. The one that feels comfortable in your hand and satisfies your image needs is the perfect lens for you!

Telephoto lenses have a narrower angle of view as compared to other lenses, which means that distant objects are magnified without affecting the image quality. Thus, to shoot a closeup of a distant subject, these lenses are used. They work best in situations where it is impossible (or not safe) for photographers to get physically close to the subject. Thus, wildlife and sports photographers make an extensive use of these lenses. We, at Buzzle, give you a complete telephoto lens buying guide.

Focal Length

Before we get to the details, let us take a look at a typical telephoto lens. Some of these lenses can be coupled with anti-shake features (tripod collar), while others may opt for hoods that protect from dust and damage!

Telephoto Lens
This is a telephoto lens with 300mm focal length.

Telephoto lenses are available in two types. The first type comes with a fixed focal length. This means, it offers a fixed zoom range. However, if you are into professional photograCphy, you will not appreciate this feature. Thus, the most sought-after telephoto lens has flexible zoom capabilities, i.e., variable focal length. This will give the photographer a zoom range that he can work with.

Focal length is the distance that tells you how much of a scene will be captured, and how much portion will be magnified. Short focal length means less magnification, while longer focal length means higher magnification. Telephoto lenses are generally used for focal lengths beyond 50mm. However, you won't find many in that range. You can look for lenses between 70 - 200mm for portrait, product, and nature photography. The ones with 300 - 600mm focal lengths can be used for sports and wildlife photography. Depending on the focal length, these lenses are categorized as: (i) Short telephoto lens (70 - 135mm) - Portraits; (ii) Medium telephoto lens (135 - 300mm) - Close sports action; and (iii) Super telephoto lens (300mm+) - Wildlife, far sports, nature.

While short lenses are the cheapest of the lot, they are used for close to medium working range. Super lenses are costliest and also have a far to very far working range. The other factors that differentiate these lenses are their weight and sizes. The short lenses are the lightest of the lot and also the smallest. Super telephoto lenses are the heaviest and are huge ones. However, the weight and size of the lenses are secondary factors that you consider when opting for them. The primary factor is the focal length, depending on the type of photography that you are involved in.

Focal Length Photography Type
70 - 200mm Portrait
300 - 600mm Wildlife and Sports

Lens Types for Full frame or APS-C Cameras

While you purchased your DSLR, you would have made a choice between APS-C sensors or full-frame sensor cameras. The APS-C sensors are smaller in size and are used in entry-level DSLRs, whereas a full-frame sensor is found in professional cameras. These sensors have the same size as the traditional 35mm film frame, and provide high-quality images. While browsing through lens guides on Nikon, Canon, Sigma, or any other camera website, you will find EF, DX, Di, etc., abbreviations being used. Knowledge about these types is necessary to find the right series of telephoto lens for your camera type.

Lens Type Manufacturer Used in
EF Canon Full frame or APS-C
EF-S Canon APS-C
FX Nikon Full frame or APS-C
DX Nikon APS-C
DT Sony APS-C
Di Tamron Full frame or APS-C
Di II Tamron APS-C

Aperture

Like any other lenses, aperture value plays an important role in choosing the right telephoto lens. The aperture value is expressed as F8 or f/8. The smaller the value of F, the larger is the aperture. This means the camera will capture more light, leading to reduced depth of field. For these lenses, if there is a shallow depth of field (long focal length), a little part of the image will be in focus. Thus, you need to adjust the focal length to click closeup shots.

Aperture Photography Type
Below F8 Portrait
F8 - F11 Wildlife and Sports

Image Stabilization

The telephoto lens can get heavy on your camera, causing image blurring. However, this depends on the type of telephoto lens you choose. The lens that has a longer focal length has the maximum image blurring problems. Thus, it is necessary to buy a tripod or monopod along with this lens. However, given the usage of this lens by wildlife photographers, it is difficult for them to carry tripods everywhere. Thus, they can opt for lenses with optical stabilization, which allow the photographer to take many shots without having to worry about camera shake. The other accessory that you should buy along with the lens is a tripod collar. This accessory is attached to the lens to avoid the camera from tripping over the tripod. If you are considering buying a super telephoto lens, a tripod collar is a must.

Popular Products

We have divided the lenses into different types of photography along with the most popular products in that category.

Wildlife Photography

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM
Nikkor AF VR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6D ED
Sigma 120-400mm f/4.5-5.6 DG APO OS HSM Nikon

Landscape Photography

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II
AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II
Tamron SP 70-300mm ƒ/4-5.6 Di VC USD

Sports Photography

Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS USM
Nikon 300mm f/2.8G ED-IF II AF-S VR-II Nikkor Lens
Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM

Few Tips

Finally, we leave you with a few tips to shoot sharp images with your telephoto lenses.

Use shutter speeds that are at least equal to the focal length that you set. The thumb rule is to shoot at a shutter speed that's equal to 1/focal length or greater.
Use high speed films, say ISO 400+, as these are sensitive to light. Thus, you will get good-quality images, even though there is little light in the shot.
Use apertures of f5.6 or greater, so as to keep the shot focus on the subject and blur out the surroundings.
Use a tripod wherever possible.
You can use expansion tubes with telephoto lens in order to shorten the focusing distance of the lens for macro photography.

Apart from the aforementioned points, it is necessary to check the price of these lenses. Many of these can cost you a bomb, while the others will cost almost half the price. If you do not want to spend much, you may need to compromise on the image quality. So, as per your need, take a wise decision.
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