Best Telephoto Lens for Canon Digital SLR Cameras?

First published on: Monday, 23 July 2007

“StevnJ9971”, who owns a Canon EOS 350D / Digital Rebel XT, asks this question at and got a lot of helpful replies.

Here’s a summary of the discussion which covers both telephoto zoom and fixed (non-zoom) lenses.

Note: Where a link to lens image samples on Pbase is provided, refresh your browser to get another set of random gallery thumbnails.

Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM

Ouimzie finds the 70-300mm to be sharp even when zoomed out to a focal length of 300mm, and prefers it over the 70-200mm f/4L on travels.

Related resources:

Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM (and non-IS version)

Note that Canon has two versions of this lens, the version without Image Stabilization (non-IS) and the one with. As expected, the IS version costs twice as much as the non-IS one.

For birding, wildlife and if you want great results at a longer focal length, aVolanche suggests going for a used 70-200mm f/4L lens, which works well when the lens is zoomed out to 280mm and paired with a Kenko 1.4x Pro 300 TC (teleconverter)

Related resources:

Advice on lens selection

Gene L wrote up a great post on factors to consider before deciding on which lens to get.

  • For serious birding and / or nature photography on a budget, it’s best to save your money and get the Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM (pricing and deals | sample images and reviews) or the Tamron SP AF 200-500mm f/5-6.3 Di LD (IF) (pricing and deals | sample images) lenses. The 400mm f/5.6L (it’s not a zoom lens, and neither is it cheap at $1000) in particular is touted as the best in its class and a huge number of bird and nature photographers swear by it. The Tamron is popular among photographers that want a lens with zoom flexibility and something cheaper.

  • For portability and zoom flexibility well beyond walk-around lenses, the compact and lightweight 70-300mm IS is the obvious choice. Image stabilization is a boon when light levels are low.

  • Even though the 70-200mm f/4L non-IS lens produces fantastic images, lack of IS (coupled with a max. wide open aperture of only f/4) and a maximum focal length of 200mm might prove to be limiting for general low-light and travel photography.

For sports photography, fotoriffic lists the following options:

  • For daytime sports shot outdoors, any of the lenses previously mentioned works well simply because one doesn’t need the large open apertures at f/2.8 or faster. Even image stabilization is not required with bright light

  • Lens choices are more restricted (and gets more expensive) if you’re shooting sports indoors or at night.

  • The Canon EF 100-300mm f/4.5-5.6 USM (pricing | sample images) and Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM lenses come with ring-type USM which allows for very fast auto focusing. He makes additional comments comparing the 100-300 to Canon’s EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 III (pricing | sample images), saying that for the money, it’s hard to find another lens that can give the same good image quality and all-round flexibility offered by the 100-300mm.

  • When the 70-200mm f/4L is paired with the Canon 1.4X extender (which effectively converts the 70-200mm f/4L lens into 98-280mm f/5.6), he gets images with better quality than from the EF 100-300 alone (but at a much higher price tag).

  • For dedicated sports photography, the Canon EF 200mm f/2.8L II USM (pricing | sample photos) is suggested. You get to enjoy the benefits of a prime lens that has a nice f/2.8 wide-open aperture for low-light photography. When greater reach is required without sacrificing image quality, it can be paired with the Canon 1.4x extender mentioned above (this combination now becomes a 280mm f/4 lens).A side note on the Canon 200mm f/2.8 lens — I think you’ll be amazed at the portrait samples you see on PBase shot with this lens (my portraiture pics: #1, #2 and #3). That and the amazing bokeh are the bonuses you get for being able to open up the lens at f/2.8. It’s also reasonable good for shooting birds and wildlife provided they’re not too small or far away. Again, refer to the samples for more examples.Bryan P’s latest Canon 40D samples from a Mets vs Marlins Major League Baseball game is also a a stunning example of the kind of photos you can expect to get with this lens.


All Canon Lenses – Main page.

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