Best budget Nikon telephoto zoom

24th Dec 2011 | 15:00

Best budget Nikon telephoto zoom

The best zoom lenses for Nikon DSLRs, for under £500

Budget telephoto zoom lenses explained

There's no shortage of quality in the 18-55mm and 18-105mm kit zoom lenses that are supplied with current Nikon DSLRs. However, one thing they lack is telephoto reach, so a 'telephoto zoom' is likely to be the first additional lens you buy. Top professional telephoto zooms such as the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II will set you back upwards of £1,650.

Thankfully, there are plenty of good-quality alternatives for a quarter of the price or even less. They're certainly not all created equal though, and there are some important factors to bear in mind before reaching for your wallet.

There are two main types of telephoto zoom lens available. Some are designed for full-frame cameras such as the Nikon D700, while others are created specifically for Classic Advanced Photographic System (APS-C) cameras such as the D3100, D5100, D7000 and D300s.

Whereas full-frame cameras have sensors that are the same size as a frame of 35mm film, APS-C sensors are smaller. The upshot is that the image circle produced by an APS-C lens (or what Nikon calls a 'DX' lens) doesn't need to be as large asa full-frame, or 'FX', lens.

With a reduction in the size of the image circle comes the possibility to downsize the physical construction of the lens itself. Therefore, DX lenses are usually smaller and lighter than FX lenses of a similar zoom range.

Best budget telephoto zoom lenses

In this test group, the Nikon Nikkor AF-S DX VR 55-200mm f/4-5.6G IF-ED, Nikon Nikkor AF-S DX 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR and Sigma 50-200mm f/4-5.6 DC OS HSM lenses are designed for APS-C cameras.

The Nikon Nikkor AF-S VR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED, Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 APO DG Macro, Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 DG OS, Tamron AF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di LD Macro and Tamron SP 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC USD lenses are full-frame compatible.

Back in the days of 35mm film, 70-300mm was the classic zoom range for non-professional telephoto lenses. Nikon DX-format cameras have a 'focal length multiplier', or 'crop factor', of 1.5x. This means that by multiplying the actual focal length of a lens by 1.5 you'll get the 'effective' focal length of using it on a full-frame camera.

That's why most telephoto zoom lenses designed for APS-C cameras have zoom ranges of about 50-200mm – the zoom range effectively becomes 75-300mm, in keeping with convention.

If you're not fussed about saving size and weight, there's plenty to be said for fitting a full-frame telephoto zoom to your DX-format Nikon. For starters, the classic 70-300mm zoom range gives you an effective 105-450mm, so you get much more telephoto reach at the long end. Also, you'll only be using the central part of the full-frame image circle, where sharpness and all-round optical quality peak. There's also less danger of 'vignetting' (darkened image corners), for the same reason.

One drawback, though, is that at very long effective telephoto lengths of about 450mm, camera-shake becomes an ever-present danger. The rule of thumb is that to avoid it you need a shutter speed that's at least as fast as the reciprocal of the focal length. At450mm, say, you'd need a minimum shutter speed of 1/450 sec (that's 1/500 sec in use).

With a maximum available aperture off/5.6 at the telephoto end of the zoom range, this can be tricky in anything other than bright, sunny conditions without increasing the sensitivity (ISO). That's where image stabilisation comes to the rescue.

Some manufacturers now build sensor-shift image stabilisation into their camera bodies, but Nikon opts for optical stabilisation within the lens, which it calls Vibration Reduction (VR). The system tends to be very effective, especially at long telephoto focal lengths, and many of Nikon's latest VR lenses offer a four-stop advantage.

This means that where you'd need a shutter speed of 1/500 sec to avoid camera-shake, you can shoot at just 1/30 sec and still expect to get sharp, shake-free images with some degree of consistency. Sigma and Tamron have their own, independently developed stabilisation systems.

Yet more choices are to be made when it comes to autofocus motors. Most current Nikon lenses feature AF-S (Silent Wave) ultrasonic autofocus, but there are actually two different types. Basic AF-S features a small ultrasonic motor that drives gearwheels to focus the lens.

The more advanced, ring-type AF-S features two large rings that fit just inside the circumference of the lens, and offers faster, near-silent autofocus performance. What's more, the focus ring doesn't rotate during autofocus, and you also get full-time manual focus override.

Of the lenses tested here, only the Nikon Nikkor AF-S VR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED and Tamron SP 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC USD have ring-type ultrasonic autofocus. Both of the other Nikon lenses and the Sigma 50-200mm f/4-5.6 DC OS HSM (Hyper Sonic Motor) lens use the more basic form. The remaining lenses are fitted with somewhat noisier standard electric motors.

The Nikon Nikkor AF-S DX VR 55-200mm f/4-5.6G IF-ED, Nikon Nikkor AF-S VR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED, Sigma 50-200mm f/4-5.6 DC OS HSM and Tamron SP 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC USD lenses use internal focusing. The front element doesn't rotate during focusing, which makes it easier to use rotation-critical filters such as circular polarisers.

Key telephoto zoom lens features

Best budget telephoto zoom lenses

A quick guide to what to look out for when buying a telephoto zoom lens for your camera.

Zoom range

A 50-200mm lens will give you an effective zoom range of 75-300mm, whereas a 70-300mm model provides a more powerful telephoto reach of up to 450mm.

Image stabilisation

Not all lenses have optical stabilisation, though many of the latest Nikons, Sigmas and Tamrons offer it equivalent to four stops, for sharp handheld shots.

Autofocus motor

Standard electric motors are often quite noisy and slow. Ultrasonic ones are quieter and faster, while ring-type ultrasonic systems are the fastest, and nearly silent.

Shutter release

A shutter release prevents you destabilising the tripod when you press the shutter and with prices under £30, there's really no excuse not to get one. If you don't have one to hand, you can try using the self-timer – just be prepared to make several attempts if the lighting conditions change.

Maximum magnification

At their closest focus distances, the Sigma 70-300mm APO and Tamron 70-300mm AF lead the way with a 0.5x macro facility. The maximum magnification of other lenses in the group is about 0.25x.

Maximum aperture

The largest aperture on budget telephoto lenses is usually f/4 or f/4.5 at the shortest focal length, reducing to f/5.6 at the maximum zoom setting.

Sensor type

Nikon FX, Sigma DG and Tamron Di lenses are fully compatible with both full-frame and APS-C camera bodies. DX, DC and Di II lenses are designed specifically for APS-C cameras and produce smaller image circles.

Shooting tips

Fit a filter

When you're shooting into the distance with a telephoto, haze in the atmosphere can degrade your photos. A UV filter can help, and will also protect the front lens element from scrapes and scratches. Check the filters size before you buy.

Use the lens hood

All the lenses on test come complete with a hood. With telephoto shots, these can greatly reduce ghosting and flare. Lenses that use internal focusing have petal-shaped hoods, reflecting the fact that their front element doesn't rotate.

Normal vs Active VR

Some Nikon lenses feature Normal and Active modes in their Vibration Reduction system. Normal is for regular use, while Active is meant to be used when you're shooting from a vibrating platform such as a moving train or car.

Telephoto lens buying tips

Best budget telephoto zoom lenses

Weighty decisions

A heavier telephoto lens can be an advantage, because more weight makes it easier to avoid camera-shake at long focal lengths, especially when you're panning.

Hold steady

A good-quality optical stabilisation system makes for much greater consistency when you're attempting to get sharp handheld telephoto shots.

Slow going

Autofocus speed tends to decrease at the long end of the zoom range in telephoto lenses. This is most noticeable in 70-300mm lenses.

Noise reduction

Ultrasonic autofocus systems are generally much quieter than the more basic electric motors fitted to some lenses.

On the move

Faster, ring-type ultrasonic autofocus, as fitted to the Nikon 70-300mm VR and Tamron 70-300mm VC USD, is better for tracking fast-moving subjects.

Time to downsize

Choosing a 50-200mm or 55-200mm lens specifically designed for DX-format Nikons saves on size and weight while still enabling a generous 300mm effective telephoto focal length.

Mind the gap?

There's no need to worry about the gap in focal length between an 18-55mm kit lens and a 70-300mm telephoto zoom. In practice, this really isn't a problem.

In the hood

Fitting the lens hood supplied with a telephoto lens not only guards against ghosting and flare but also protects the front element from knocks and scrapes.

Wide open

You often need to shoot at maximum aperture to maintain sufficiently fast shutter speeds, especially at long zoom settings. Therefore, good optical performance with the lens 'wide open' is key.

Mix and match

Lenses in which the front element doesn't rotate during focusing are much easier to use with rotation-sensitive filters such as circular polarising or graduated filters.

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

Best budget telephoto zoom lenses

Nikon 55-200mm f/4-5.6G AF-S DX IF-ED VR - £200/ $250

This Nikon DX lens is designed specifically for APS-C cameras, rather than full-frame ones, and combines a useful 82.5-300mm effective zoom range with a remarkably compact, lightweight build. Indeed, it's less than half the weight of the full-frame Nikon 70-300mm VR lens, and only about two-thirds its length.

At first glance, the fun-size 55-200mm still manages to pack in plenty of useful features, such as AF-S (Silent Wave) autofocus and VR, as well as internal focusing. This means that the front element neither extends nor rotates during focusing.

Dig a little deeper, though, and the lens looks a bit less inspiring. It's the only one in our test group to have a plastic mount rather than a metal one, and the first-generation VR only gives a three-stop benefit instead of the four-stop bonus of VR II, which is fitted to the other two Nikon lenses on test.

At the lens's widest apertures, sharpness is merely adequate at short and medium focal lengths. It doesn't improve at 135mm, even when stopped down to the test aperture of f/8. But this lens is impressive at the maximum focal length of 200mm. Vignetting is also well controlled, while autofocus is rapid and accurate.

Lab test results

Best budget telephoto zoom lenses

See full-res image

Best budget telephoto zoom lenses

See full-res image

Sharpness

Centre sharpness at 55mm and 200mm is average, but at 135mm images show signs of softening.

Fringing

Across the focal range and frame, fringing is minimal, with only a slight sign of a blue edge.

Distortion

At 55mm the Nikon lens shows mild barrel distortion, while at 135mm and 200mm there is visible pinch distortion.

Image quality verdict

Fringing and distortion across the focal range are poor and the drop in sharpness in the middle of the focal range is disappointing.

Score: 3/5

Read the full Nikon 55-200mm f/4-5.6G AF-S DX IF-ED VR review

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

Best budget telephoto zoom lenses

Nikon 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G AF-S DX ED VR - £290/ $400

Like the slightly smaller and lighter Nikon 55-200mm lens, this newer model is built exclusively for APS-C cameras, so it's still reasonably compact. Despite its fairly small size, it offers the biggest 5.5x zoom range of any lens tested, stretching from an equivalent 82.5mm to 450mm.

Unlike the 55-200mm's VR system, this lens features Nikon's later generation of the technology, which is good for four stops of stabilisation. That's especially handy with the extra telephoto reach of the lens.

A build-quality improvement is that the mounting plate is metal rather than plastic. However, the 55-300mm VR is the only Nikon in the group that doesn't have internal focusing. The rotating front element is a pain when you're using rotation-sensitive filters. One nice touch is that the clip-on lens hood is particularly easy to attach compared with most bayonet-fitting models.

Autofocus is quick and quiet throughout most of the zoom range, although it slows a bit at the maximum 300mm focal length. The VR system gives more consistent results than the Nikon 55-200mm's, and it lives up to its four-stop claims. Optically, this proved to be one of the sharpest lenses on test.

Lab test results

Best budget telephoto zoom lenses

See full-res image

Best budget telephoto zoom lenses

See full-res image

Sharpness

At 55mm and 135mm, centre sharpness is excellent. While this drops at the longest focal length, detail is still good.

Fringing

Signs of fringing are low, with only the smallest appearance of a blue or red edge at 300mm.

Distortion

Across the focal range this lens shows visible signs of distortion, with the highest pinch distortion result at 135mm.

Image quality verdict

Sharpness at the widest and middle focal lengths is excellent, but the level of pinch distortion obvious at 135mm is rather high.

Score: 4/5

Read the full Nikon 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G AF-S DX ED VR review

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

Best budget telephoto zoom lenses

Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G AF-S IF-ED VR - £410/ $590

When you pick up the 70-300mm VR, the first thing you notice is how much bigger and heavier it is than the other Nikons on test. The extra weight made the lens feel steadier in our hands, especially at long focal lengths and when panning. It's also compatible with full-frame and DX-format Nikon SLR bodies.

The advanced VR II optical stabiliser has the same four-stop advantage as the Nikon 55-300mm VR, but this time it comes with an additional Active mode for shooting from unsteady platforms.

It's also the only Nikon on test to feature ring-type AF-S, for super-fast, near-silent autofocus, with full-time manual override (which allows you to manually focus even in autofocus mode).

In our lab tests, sharpness was excellent throughout most of the zoom range, though it did drop off at maximum zoom. However, when we shot handheld at 300mm the lens consistently gave really crisp-looking images, with great contrast. This shows that you need both real-world and lab tests to get a true idea of a lens's character.

Resistance to ghosting and flare is particularly good, and the super-fast autofocus would be great for sports photography.

Lab test results

Best budget telephoto zoom lenses

See full-res image

Best budget telephoto zoom lenses

See full-res image

Sharpness

Sharpness at 70mm and 135mm is above average, but drops steeply as the focal length increased to 300mm.

Fringing

At both 200mm and 300mm there are visible signs of blue fringing towards the edge of the frame.

Distortion

Barrel distortion matches the other Nikons at maximum focal length. But at 300mm pinch distortion is the lowest.

Image quality verdict

Sharpness at 70mm and 135mm is good, although this lens shows a fairly high result for fringing across the available focal range.

Score: 5/5

Read the full Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G AF-S IF-ED VR review

Sigma 50-200mm f/4-5.6 DC OS HSM

Best budget telephoto zoom lenses

Sigma 50-200mm f/4-5.6 DC OS HSM - £179/ $159

There are many similarities between this Sigma and the Nikon 55-200mm VR. Both are designed exclusively for DX-format Nikons and are almost identical in size, though the Sigma is a little heavier. They also both feature basic (rather than ring-type) ultrasonic autofocus and have internal focusing with non-rotating front elements. The Sigma's OS (Optical Stabiliser) is rated at four stops rather than three, but the effectiveness was the same in our tests.

Notable differences include the Sigma having a metal mounting plate rather than a plastic one, and the lens features a focus distance scale that's lacking on Nikon's 55-200mm VR and 55-300mm VR models. The focus ring is also easier to use for manual focusing. However, because the ring rotates during autofocus, it's easier to foul its action with your fingers when holding the lens.

In terms of sharpness, optical quality is the opposite of that of Nikon's competing 55-200mm VR lens. The Sigma optic is more typical of telephoto zooms, delivering its sharpest images at shorter and mid-range focal lengths. At the maximum available aperture of f/5.6 and 200mm setting, the sharpness drops off considerably.

Lab test results

Best budget telephoto zoom lenses

See full-res image

Best budget telephoto zoom lenses

See full-res image

Sharpness

Overall, the Sigma's 50-200mm centre sharpness is the lowest, not helped by its disappointing result at 200mm.

Fringing

At 50mm and 135mm, colour fringing is low, and there is only a faint sign of a blue edge at 200mm.

Distortion

There are signs of barrel distortion at 50mm. At 200mm, pinch distortion is the most visible in the test.

Image quality verdict

Levels of sharpness and colour fringing are average, but the level of distortion – from barrel to pinch – proved to be the highest in the test.

Score 3/5

Read the full Sigma 50-200mm f/4-5.6 DC OS HSM review

Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 APO DG Macro

Best budget telephoto zoom lenses

Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 APO DG Macro - £200/ $239

Bearing Sigma's 'DG' designation, not 'DC', this lens is designed for both full-frame and APS-C D-SLRs. Its APO (Apochromatic) design includes no less than three SLD (Special Low Dispersion) lens elements in a bid to reduce chromatic aberration, and a 'Macro' badge shows the lens's close-focusing capability. The super-close focus is available in the 200-300mm zoom range via a switch on the lens barrel. This zoom setting and the minimum focus distance of 95cm deliver a0.5x macro facility.

For regular telephoto shooting, the absence of an optical stabiliser is a setback, and while the basic electric autofocus motor was fairly quick, it was quite noisy. The front element also extends and rotates during focusing.

Impressive throughout most of its zoom range, this Sigma lens's sharpness drops off at the long end of the zoom range, especially towards the edges of the frame. Sharpness at 300mm is poor across the whole frame at small apertures of f/16 to f/32, which you might want to use to increase depth of field in macro shooting. The lens's 'APO' badge proved justified, with low levels of chromatic aberration, though image contrast is often bad in low light.

Lab test results

Best budget telephoto zoom lenses

See full-res image

Best budget telephoto zoom lenses

See full-res image

Sharpness

At 70mm, the Sigma APO produces thebest sharpness result in our test. But detail levels drop at 300mm.

Fringing

Fringing at all focal lengths and across the frame is minimal. Close analysis shows a faint green/blue edge.

Distortion

This shows the least amount of barrel distortion at 70mm. Distortion across the rest of the focal range is average.

Image quality verdict

This lens scored two of the highest results for sharpness at 70mm and 135mm, and came second in the test for fringing and distortion.

Score 2/5

Read the full Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 APO DG Macro review

Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 DG OS

Best budget telephoto zoom lenses

Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 DG OS - £300/ $359

It might seem that the newer 70-300mm OS lens is simply Sigma's older model with an optical stabiliser. In fact, it's completely different. But what you gain in a highly effective four-stop optical stabiliser, you lose elsewhere. This lens only has one SLD (Super Low Dispersion) element, not three, and the macro facility disappears altogether. Even so, it's a good trade-off – optical stabilisation has become a must-have feature for handheld telephoto shooting with effective focal lengths of up to 450mm.

Neither of Sigma's 70-300mm lenses have ultrasonic autofocus so, as with the APO version, this lens's focusing is fairly quick but quite noisy. Again, the front element rotates when it focuses, making filters such as circular polarisers tricky to use. Compared to Sigma's 70-300mm APO lens, the OS is 60g heavier, 4mm longer and has a larger filter thread (62mm, not 58mm).

In our tests, the stabiliser on this lens performed more consistently than the Sigma 50-200mm's. And even though the DG lacks the competing Sigma 70-300mm lens's APO label, chromatic aberration was even less noticeable. Sharpness improved slightly when we shot at the maximum aperture at 300mm too.

Lab test results

Best budget telephoto zoom lenses

See full-res image

Best budget telephoto zoom lenses

See full-res image

Sharpness

The Sigma 70-300mm puts in a good, consistent performance, with only the smallest drop in sharpness at full zoom.

Fringing

This Sigma shows the least fringing in the test, with little to no signs at all focal lengths and across the frame.

Distortion

At 135mm the Sigma shows the least pinch distortion in the test; at 70mm and 300mm distortion was average.

Image quality verdict

The Sigma 70-300mm produces the best results in the test across the board for sharpness, colour fringing and distortion.

Score 4/5

Read the full Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 DG OS review

Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6 AF Di LD Macro

Best budget telephoto zoom lenses

Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6 AF Di LD Macro - £135/ $165

At roughly half the price of many telephoto zooms, Tamron's 70-300mm is nevertheless designed for use with both full-frame and APS-C D-SLRs, as denoted by its 'Di' suffix. It shows its age though, lacking Tamron's VC (Vibration Compensation) optical stabilisation.

One thing to watch out for is that, prior to February 2008, the Nikon-fit version of this lens was made without a built-in autofocus motor, so early models can only be used in manual focus mode on cameras such as the D3100 and D5100, which lack an in-camera autofocus drive motor.

Like the Sigma 70-300mm APO, this lens features a0.5x macro facility, this time available in the 180-300mm zoom range.

The Tamron is quite light for a full-frame 70-300mm lens, but this is reflected in the build quality, which feels a bit cheap and plasticky.

A capable performer throughout the 70-200mm zoom range, the Tamron shows the strain towards its maximum 300mm focal length. Sharpness drops off, made worse by a lack of stabilisation for handheld shooting. Based on a standard electric motor, autofocus proved painfully slow in our tests, especially at long focal lengths.

Lab test results

Best budget telephoto zoom lenses

See full-res image

Best budget telephoto zoom lenses

See full-res image

Sharpness

Sharpness peaks at 135mm. Centre sharpness is average for the group at 70mm but detail drops at 300mm.

Fringing

Signs of fringing across the frame and at all focal lengths are consistently rare, especially at longer focal lengths.

Distortion

Pinch distortion is worst at 135mm, but at the widest and narrowest focal lengths distortion is low to medium.

Image quality verdict

The Tamron's performance was unexceptional, and it sits firmly in the middle of the group for sharpness, colour fringing and distortion.

Score 2/5

Read the full Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6 AF Di LD Macro review

Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6 SP Di VC USD

Best budget telephoto zoom lenses

Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6 SP Di VC USD - £350/ $449

Tamron's new 70-300mm lens packs a host of features. From the SP (Super Performance) stable, it's a Di (Digitally Integrated) lens suitable for both full-frame and APS-C bodies. Tamron has also managed to pack in VC (Vibration Compensation) and USD(Ultrasonic Silent Drive).

The VC lived up to Tamron's four-stop claims in our tests, and the ring-type USD autofocus was only rivalled by the Nikon 70-300mm VR lens's in this group. The former's was very fast, extremely quiet and has full-time manual override. The focus ring doesn't rotate during autofocus, and is positioned at the rear of the lens barrel within easy reach. Build quality is vastly superior to that of Tamron's 70-300mm lens, the only failing being that the zoom ring on our review sample was slightly lacking in smoothness.

Things start off well enough at the 70mm end of the zoom range, and good optical performance is maintained up to a focal length of about 250mm. At the maximum 300mm telephoto setting, however, sharpness takes a nosedive. At f/5.6 it delivered the lowest resolution of any lens on test. It's a shame, because in all other respects this Tamron lens has a lot to offer.

Lab test results

Best budget telephoto zoom lenses

See full-res image

Best budget telephoto zoom lenses

See full-res image

Sharpness

Centre sharpness at 135mm is high. However, detail is lost at 200mm, with the lowest result in the test.

Fringing

Although this Tamron lens shows one of the higher results for fringing in the test, visible signs are hard to spot.

Distortion

Signs of distortion across the focal range are comparatively low, producing better-than-average results for this test.

Image quality verdict

Centre sharpness at 135mm is very good, but images at 200mm and beyond lack detail. Fringing also proves an issue at 135mm.

Score 4/5

Read the full Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6 SP Di VC USD review

Verdict - the best budget telephoto lens

Best budget telephoto zoom lenses

Nikon has packed plenty of top-level features into the Nikkor AF-S VR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED, including ring-type AF-S autofocus that's super-quick and practically silent. There's also VR II stabilisation, which gives a consistent, four-stop anti-shake benefit complete with an additional Active mode for shooting from a vibrating platform.

The resolution at the maximum 300mm zoom setting wasn't as impressive in our lab tests as we'd expected, but the lens delivered the sharpest shots in the group for real-world shooting, time after time.

The Tamron SP 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC USD is close in terms of features. However, sharpness at the longest zoom setting really was quite disappointing, especially at the largest available aperture of f/5.6. The cheaper Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 DG OS proved much better in this respect, and costs £50 less than the Tamron.

Of lenses designed specifically for DX-format cameras, there's a clear winner in Nikon's Nikkor AF-S DX 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR. It's better built than the smaller Nikon Nikkor AF-S DX VR 55-200mm f/4-5.6G IF-ED, and its stabiliser works more effectively than those in both that and the Sigma 50-200mm f/4-5.6 DC OS HSM lenses. The optical quality of the Nikon 55-300mm proved impressive too.

For handheld use, image stabilisation offers such a major advantage that lenses such as the Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 APO DG Macro and Tamron AF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di LD Macro seem pretty much obsolete.

They're only worth a look if you're on a tight budget. Even then, if you have a DX-format D-SLR, we'd sacrifice the extra bit of telephoto reach and go for the Nikon Nikkor AF-S DX VR 55-200mm f/4-5.6G IF-ED or Sigma 50-200mm f/4-5.6 DC OS HSM.

It's the most expensive lens on test but it's also the best, so if your budget will stretch this far, the Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G AF-S IF-ED VR is the one to go for.

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