Telephoto vs. Zoom Telephoto lens

Discussion in 'Nature' started by reetesh_ranjan, Dec 8, 2003.

  1. I am new to nature photography. I am looking for telephoto lenses
    and reviews thereof. I was looking for different lenses on the web
    and I hit telephoto and zoom telephoto lenses. What is the
    difference between them apart from zoom telephoto ones being much
    cheaper? I have a Nikon N80. Does the type of camera matter in
    choosing a right telephoto lense?
  2. Zooms lenses are not always cheaper than telephoto lenses. They're cheaper if the manufacturer has cut corners in the design and construction but if you compare equivalent quality lenses then a zoom ought to be more expensive than a non-zoom telephoto.<P>

    Since you are new to nature photography I suggest not buying the latest and most expensive thing because at this point you don't know how deep you want your involvement to be. Once you have some experience and have a better idea what your likes, dislikes and personal working style are you can replace the initial lens with one that better meets your needs.
    Consider a zoom of moderate focal length range and aperture, for example an 80-200mm f/4 or so as an all-around lens. At medium apertures the performance will usually be quite good as long as you avoid backlit situations. The better non-zoom telephoto lenses will perform better at wider apertures and with backlight but if you don't know if you like to use the lens in these conditions, buying one now could be an expensive mistake.
    If you want to photograph wildlife you'll need something longer than 200mm. My main lens for wildlife is 400mm and my long lens is 560mm, both non-zooms.
  3. Should have a look at the learning section here on The more expensive glass generally lets more light in, allowing you to shoot at faster shutter speeds and also may use the camera manufactures better grade of glass (ED for Nikon, L for Canon). Also it can be the APO lenses which are more expensive. Others factors can include IS or VR (makes it more handholdable), focus speed (USM for Canon), etc. Generally there are 3 grades, the best is going to have it all like the 70-200 2.8 IS, but then there will be a grade below that which is as good (or close) optically, but weighs and costs much less, like the 70-200L f/4 USM. This is the Canon lens I have, mostly for weight savings. It has sharpness that is equal to the 2.8, weight is half as much and the cost was almost 1/3 of the IS 2.8. There will also be a consumer grade that most serious shooters stay away from, this is the f/4.5-5.6 stuff usually. Its ok for the average Joe, but if you get serious about photography you will outgrow it very soon.
  4. jbq


    They're not necessarily cheaper. Actually, for a similar level of quality they are usually more expensive. Nikon's announced 200-400 f/4 or Sigma's 300-800 f/5.6 both cost several thousand dollars, a lot more than e.g. a 300mm f/4.

    The long end of cheap telephoto zooms is no match for "real" lenses. Canon has an excellent 400mm f/5.6. It is significantly sharper at f/5.6 than their excellent 100-400mm image-stabilized zoom at f/11.

    If you're really into nature photography, don't consider yourself tied to any brand. Any given good lens will be so expensive that you'll be able to afford to stick a cheap body to it. e.g. a Canon 400mm f/5.6 plus an Elan 7 will cost you $1300, and there isn't much on the Nikon side that'll compete with that (plus, try to find a new Nikon *body* for $1300 that has mirror lock-up!!!).
  5. This site has a lot of user reviews/ratings on a wide range of lenses.

    Under '35mm Primes' and '35mm Zoom' (N for Nikon) you will find lots of info for what your choices are. It's not uncommon for a beginner to start off with a zoom and work their way towards primes as they gain skill and knowledge of what they want and why. Good luck!
  6. To answer your primary question, a telephoto lens is a fixed focal length, while a zoom telephoto includes a range. So, a 200mm lens is a telephoto, while an 80-200mm is a zoom telephoto.

    Also, with your N80, you want an autofocus lens. (At this point, I don't think you'd want to deal with using an AIS lens work with your N80.)
  7. Check out for some reviews of lenses and such...great site. Good luck.
  8. For 35mm shots, I use a Nikon N80. My philosophy is to buy the cheapest camera body I can (film) and put the money on the tripod. Most wildlife shots will require a decent tripod first--something you don't seem to be thinking of. For a lens, look at either buying a used Tokina 400mm f5.6 (non-zoom) around $250, a used Sigma 400mm f5.6 (non-zoom, with 77mm filter not 72mm) around $450, or the Nikon 80-400mm VR lens at $1,200. The last lens is the one I currently have. There's really not much in between that Sigma 400mm for $450 and the Nikon for $1,200. Some people report good results with the Sigma 50-500mm lens but I have't tried it. And once again, the tripod is absolutely crucial. The least expensive one that will do the job would be a Bogen 3001, and the 3021 would be noticeably better with a 400mm lens. Attached is a photo taken with Gitzo 1325 CF tripod, Nikon N80, Nikon 80-400mm. I call the photo, "Sniffing an Opportunity." Kent in SD
  9. "What is the difference between them apart from zoom telephoto ones being much cheaper?"

    One other item, in case this isn't clear. A prime telephoto lens (fixed focal length) is generally sharper (better image quality) than a zoom telephoto (variable focal length).

    Cheers, Greg
  10. Rateesh
    You didn't mention your budget or subject. If you are into birds you need longer lens like 500mm or 600mm. If you are into big animals 300-400 should be enough. If you have 4000-5000 to spend you can get super telephoto lenses like AF-S 500mm OR AF-S 600MM. If you have around 2000 you can get either a used Sigma 500mm (my lens) or Nikkor 600/5.6 Manual focus or AF 300/2.8 and a teleconverter. If you can spend around 1000 then get a 300/2.8 Manual Focus. My last choice would be a Sigma or Tokina 400/5.6 which you can buy for around 500-600. All above lenses are for Nikon. If you want to buy a Canon camera then EF 400/5.6 USM would be my first choice for a starter. There are 100's of choices. Good luck

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