Good starting telephoto lens?


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Jun 14, 2013
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Hey people,

Just thought I'd ask around in the forum and see if anyone had suggestions on a decent telephoto lens to buy? I shoot with a Canon t3i and I have the 55-250mm lens, but I know it's meant to be an extremely affordable one and with that comes a bit less quality. (I don't think it's a BAD lens, just interested in what might be better).

I'm not yet shopping for any huge telephoto lenses (though eventually I'm going to want something larger for wildlife work).. I'm just looking for a good starter in a similar focal length... 70-200mm? Do I want to think about maybe a range out to 300mm? What's a good long lens to add to the bag without having to bust the bank?

Thanks for any and all suggestions in advance.
I think up to 300 is fairly ideal (and plenty) for wildlife in almost all situations, except perhaps some birds.
For portraiture, 70-200 is probably more reasonable, to avoid excessive weight and complexity and issues that come with larger zoom ranges, if you won't be using the 300 end of a range anyway.

There are a ton of options for both of these in the Canon lineup, though. There's like 6-7 different 70-200 lenses, a handful of different 70-300 lenses, a couple of 100-300 I think? Etc. etc. All with various combinations of image stabilization or not, nice wide max apertures or slowish 5.6 ones, and so on, and all for vastly varying sums of money. What is your budget, and what are your probable lighting conditions?
Gavjenks, I might have to go bigger for birds later, but if 300mm is plenty for most other wildlife I may consider a lens up to that range. I'd like to get a bit higher quality, faster lens, so what are my options there? I don't need to have Canon gear, as long as I can use the lens with the t3i and the quality is good. I'm not looking to buy the cheapest thing I can get my hands... but I'd like quality in maybe a bit more affordable range than some of Canon's fast telephotos.
IMO the best bang for your buck in mid-range 300mm zooms for Canon is the 70-300 f/4-5.6 IS USM. very sharp, quite good AF, IS is probably the most effective of any non-L lens I've used.

The Tamron 70-300 VC f/4-5.6 is probably about as good image quality, but a used one is only like $50 cheaper than a used Canon, and it is almost half a pound heavier.

I don't see any serious competitors in the niche from Sigma.
Cool.. that's what I needed. I don't mind paying.. just wanted to know who had the quality for the money.

If the price difference is that slight vs. weight I'll probably just stick to Canon.

Thanks for the reply.
Sigma 100-300 f/4. One of the best lenses they make IMO.
You have a 250, yet you want to look for something in the 200 range? That makes no sense. You have more reach now with what you have. The 70 vs. 55 on the wide end won't make much of a difference. There's a trick called taking a few steps back or forward that compensates for that difference.

If it's a 2.8 you're after, then there's no such thing as not busting the bank with a telephoto. If you really need a 2.8, I recommend getting the big brand (Canon in this case) because it's essentially a lifetime investment. Any pro will tell you the big glass is built like a tank. I own only Nikon lenses. I've dropped three of them, one on pavement that cracked the mount, and they continue to work flawlessly.

So it comes down to what exactly you need or want in a lens and why. There's no one answer. The best way to pick a lens is to be honest with your needs and budget. The choices should present themselves. Don't be too particular about "quality." You need to master light, exposure and a whole bunch of other stuff before it pays to be picky about hardware. Getting the good stuff won't hurt, but having it doesn't improve photography.
IMO the best bang for your buck in mid-range 300mm zooms for Canon is the 70-300 f/4-5.6 IS USM. very sharp, quite good AF, IS is probably the most effective of any non-L lens I've used.

I am glad you mentioned the 70-300 f/4-5.6 IS USM. My wife has moved on to the 100-400L and I have had the 70-200 f/4L with the 1.4 extender stuck to my camera for a while. I seriously need to use the 70-300 while I am driving myself crazy trying to figure out what direction I want to go for more length.
hirejn.. in this case it pays to be a little picky about quality. I don't feel that the 55-250 is a bad lens... but it is a cheap one with a couple of minor issues.. at certain focal lengths, it tends to warp the image perspective slightly. I've noticed it a couple of times, did some homework and figured out it was a known issue with this lens.

Taking a couple of steps forward or backward (composing with my feet) is not a new concept to me.. I was not as concerned with reach as I was with the image quality of the lens.
I think up to 300 is fairly ideal (and plenty) for wildlife in almost all situations, except perhaps some birds.

I'm guessing that your definition of wildlife and mine are a bit apart. 300mm may be fine for that elusive squirrel, hopping rabbit or some animals in a zoo, 300mm is not long enough for the more wild versions of wildlife.

When I am in the mountains in NM I never use anything less than 400mm and generally 600mm is what I am using. If a bear or cougar is filling your viewfinder with a 300mm lens we have a word for you. It is called LUNCH!!! Deer, Elk, Wolves and the like are skitterish around humans, 300mm doesn't get you close enough. When I am up north 300mm gets you too close to Moose. They are not skitterish and can be down right mean.

To the OP, choosing a lens become easier when you define what you mean by "wildlife" or what ever he intent of the lens is going to be.
LOL. Yeah.. didn't plan on getting too close to any dangerous animals with a 300mm... I'm new to photography but handle myself just fine outdoors. I'm not new to tracking animals, being isolated or safety in that kind of environment.

In my area there's not much in the way of dangerous wildlife and until I get ready to travel and go for those shots I won't fret too much over the big telephotos.

For what I'm doing the range to 300mm is adequate while I learn. What interests me is getting good quality at the ranges I'm working at.. if another lens between 200-300mm can provide me with much better quality than the 55-250 I got with my camera, I'm interested.

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