If you're looking for the best zoom lenses on the market, you've come to the right place. If you're wondering what exactly a zoom lens is, we can help with that too. A zoom lens essentially gives the photographer the ability to change the focal length; they can be wide-angle, telephoto, or something in between the two.
The best zoom lenses can be a vital part of any photographer's inventory, especially when they're partnered up with one of the best cameras. While they can be slower in terms of aperture, they compensate by using longer exposures and in terms of astrophotography, the longer lenses' ability to view deep into the cosmos can rival a few telescopes on the market.
Feel free to check out our round-up of the best lenses for astrophotography as this guide is dedicated only to the best zoom lenses on the market. The best zoom lenses can turn out to be sizable and heavy, so if you are looking to get one, we recommend considering one of the best camera backpacks to help you out and one of the best tripods for night or longer shoots.
If that's not enough, we also have more related content whether you're looking for the best camera deals, best cameras for astrophotography or best photo editing apps. However, if you want to check out the best zoom lenses on the market, and what makes them so good, all you have to do is read the round-up below.
Best zoom lenses deal
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Best zoom lenses deal May 2023
Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 G Master OSS:
was $2384.33, now $1998 at Amazon
With a huge 16% off, now is a great time to buy this Sony zoom lens, bringing it closer to the price of the 70-200mm Sigma competitor. You'll undoubtedly achieve spectacular image quality from this all-purpose, wide-aperture zoom.
Best zoom lenses 2023
Best zoom lenses 2023 ranked
We're not holding back at the top of this list, as this zoom lens from Sony is a titan. If you're looking for versatile gear that will give you precisely what you want for deep-sky shooting and astrophotography or in an earthly setting, like shooting wildlife, sport or anything else, this high-quality lens is definitely the one.
This is a lens that stands up incredibly well to the torture test of being shot with the aperture wide open, which is a must-have if you're considering using it for astrophotography. The center of the image is almost absurdly sharp, even when fully zoomed in at 600mm.
There are further practical benefits, the lens' 600mm maximum zoom chief among them. Admittedly, this does cost you a little light as the aperture can only be opened as wide as f/6.3 once you crank it in, which will cost you either shutter speed or ISO (or a bit of both).
When you consider the potential weight of a 600mm lens with a faster aperture and the image quality capabilities of modern sensors, the compromise is worth the cost, particularly if you have a recent, full-frame camera capable of decent image quality at high ISOs. The huge amount of magnification on offer allows for some spectacular photographic opportunities. Did we mention this lens costs just a shade under $2,000?
Drawbacks? We can think of a few, not the least of which being the 4.7 lbs weight, to which you will obviously need to add a camera. That means, in most cases, you'll need to be using a suitably powerful star tracker for the best results, which will be a significant extra cost. You'll also need a tripod capable of withstanding that payload.
Nikon makes some bold claims about its range of S-Line lenses. The S-Line is designed as the best zoom lenses for mirrorless Z-mounts, promising edge-to-edge sharpness and superb optical quality wide open, with the latter of particular interest to astrophotographers.
Currently hovering around the $2,400 mark (quite a bit cheaper than Canon's identically specified RF-mount lens), this has already built up a spectacular reputation for sharpness, as we can attest to in our Nikon Nikkor Z 70-200mm f/2.8 S-Line review. Indeed, if image quality, rather than budget, is your priority, and you’re committed to Nikon’s Z platform, it’s hard to imagine why you'd look anywhere else for this kind of mid-telephoto lens. Going off-brand is also an option — Sigma's 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM is an appealingly-priced option, but you'd need to spring for the FTZ mount adapter as well as the lens, and the Sigma version doesn’t have anything like the reputation of Nikon’s own stellar glass.
The Nikon Nikkor Z 70-200mm f/2.8 S-Line is one of the best zoom lenses thanks to a long list of advantages, including a large maximum aperture, optical image stabilization and customizable Fn buttons. The top OLED panel, which takes the place of the conventional focus distance marking ring, is also a highlight. This can be configured to show focus distance, but alternatively, aperture size, focal length, ISO, and even depth of field are all options. We also like the lens's control ring, allowing further flexibility.
For astrophotography, there's always the argument that extreme focal distances are king, and at 200mm this doesn't necessarily fill that brief. Nonetheless, at 3.1 lbs, this lens won't overwhelm the majority of star trackers and provides photos that are sharp enough to withstand all but the most aggressive of crops. A future classic.
Is it too early in the reign of mirrorless cameras to start referring to DSLR lenses as 'classics?' If it isn't, this beauty of a lens from Nikon is surely deserving of the title.
As we found in our Nikon Nikkor AF-S FX 70-200mm f/2.8 FL-ED VR review, this lens is optically outstanding and has been a mainstay of professional photojournalists for years. Now over five years old, and with fierce competition from Nikon's own mirrorless version (above), it's well worth scouring online auctions for well-cared-for examples of this excellent lens.
This excellent piece of equipment also ticks the "big aperture" box, with its largest f-stop of f/2.8 permitting in plenty of light, and was designed for full-frame cameras (denoted by the FX in its name).
Even though some other lenses are longer, few telephoto lenses permit as much light transmission, earning it the title of one of the best zoom lenses. And, while it might lack the impressive super telephoto zoom credentials of others, at 3.1lbs it's easily portable and doesn’t require a particularly high-end motorized star tracker, albeit with a slight dependency on the camera you pair it with.
The one thing we will say about this lens is that if you already own, or are considering purchasing soon, a mirrorless Z-series camera, you'd be wise to spend your money on the sharper, more recent Z-mount S-Line 70-200mm (above), which is price comparable but optically superior.
By any standards, the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR is a spectacular amount of lens for the money. Usually costing just under $1,400, we found in our Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR Lens review that this piece of glass offers amazing bang for the buck. Wildlife photographers: consider your prayers answered.
And astrophotographers? It's not bad at that, either. Let's start with the focal length, which can reach up to an exceptional 500mm. It also has a constant aperture, which means unlike other superzoom lenses, the aperture doesn't close down to reduce the light reaching the sensor as you zoom in. At f/5.6 it's not the fastest super telephoto you'll ever own, but if you really want that extra stop of light you'll need to add an extra zero to the price.
Weight is an important factor to consider when looking for the best zoom lenses. If you’re looking at the Sigma 150-600mm you’ll be buying into 4.2 lbs, while this is a little heavier at 5.1 lbs. In certain situations, that could push you past the capacity of your tripod or star tracker, but it's important to keep in mind that utilizing a lens with this sort of powerful focal length will often require a professional-grade tracker anyway.
Our only caveat? The Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM (below) is very, very good, and is priced similarly. It's a little darker when zoomed all the way in — f/6.3 compared to the Nikon's f/5.6, which is a bit of a downer, but on the other hand, you do get another 100mm of reach as well an almost 1lb reduction in weight.
In our review of the Canon RF 28-70mm f2 L USM lens, we were seriously impressed at the image quality this lens produces. It has an insane amount of glass and a whopping 95mm filter thread so it lets a ridiculous amount of light in — so when shooting wide open at f2 it does incredibly well in low light situations, even if it's not the best focal length for astrophotography.
We found the lens tracked moving subjects extremely well, and the eye tracking was very impressive. It also, shockingly, gave no lens flare when shooting directly into the sun, which is almost unheard of. It's fully weather sealed, but, sadly, has no image stabilization. That said, it's such a big, bright lens that we wouldn't have noticed that it didn't have IS.
There are two reasons why this lens didn't get five stars from us — its size & weight, and its price. As fat & heavy as this lens is, it's equally as expensive, which makes it pretty inaccessible for a lot of shooters. That said, if you have the cash, and don't skip arm day at the gym, we think you'd get on very well with everything this lens can do.
- Read our Canon RF 28-70mm f/2L USM Lens review.
Canon's introduction of the RF-mount for its pro range of mirrorless cameras was greeted with cautious optimism by photographers until they got their hands on Canon's new pro-series lenses, at which point optimism gave way to unbridled joy. Photographers all around the world have long desired Canon's L-series lenses, and the L-series RF lenses somehow manage to elevate the line to a whole new level.
The RF 70-200mm f/2.8 is a case in point. Yes, it's expensive, but from our Canon RF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM review we found the image quality is absolutely and utterly spellbinding. From the center to the corner of nearly every image you shoot, sharpness and contrast abound.
It's fantastically made, weatherproof, and, if you're in the market for this focal range (as opposed to something a bit better suited for deep sky photography), this is arguably the very best 70-200mm f/2.8 lens available.
In addition to excellent image quality and a fast maximum aperture that enables quicker shutter speeds and lower ISOs, there are some great features. For example, we like the control ring, which can be customized to adjust any number of camera settings. The Canon version of the 70-200mm f/2.8 lens has a front element that drives out when you zoom in, making it more compact than other 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses. That means the lens is just 146mm long when it's retracted, a welcome statistic for anyone whose bag is already crammed full of star-chasing gear, cameras, lenses, power banks, and astronomy accessories.
Of course, you pay for quality, and for this amount of money, you could easily get a lens with a considerably longer zoom range, which for astrophotographers using a good star tracker could very well be the top priority. But, if image quality is a hill you're happy to die on — which for photographers with pro aspirations could well be the case — your Canon RF-mount camera will rarely be happier than when this lens, one of the best zoom lenses available, is attached.
- Read our Canon RF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM review.
You can make a strong argument that a quality 70-200mm should have a place in every photographer’s kit bag, often making up one-third of the 'holy trinity', and lenses as great as Sony’s 70-200mm exemplify why.
Of course, you can look at the specifications. The 2.9x zoom range makes it useful from a compositional standpoint, and the f/2.8 aperture lets in enough light, enabling you to shoot at night with either slower shutter rates or lower ISOs. Optical image stabilization is included as well, giving you a little more latitude handheld — handy as it's such a big lens.
Above all else, we really think the G (Gold) stamp is warranted for this lens, and it's fully deserving of it. There's no doubt that it's sharp with the aperture open and that improves throughout its aperture range — albeit most astrophotographers will be at the opened-up end.
It's well-built, too — the all-metal body feels tough and its moisture and dust sealed. Though it's perhaps fair to say that most astrophotography relies on good weather and clear skies, so perhaps the former of those is unlikely to be harshly tested, but if you’re looking for an all-purpose zoom that can handle anything you throw at it, this is a fantastic one. Our only hesitation? The Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM more than holds its own in terms of image quality, and costs significantly less. Worth hiring both to see which you prefer.
You may notice that all of the lenses on this list are full-frame compatible lenses, but we couldn't help but include this APS-C lens from Sony. It isn't the longest focal length you'll come across, but we think that, although there isn't much competition out there, it's one of the best zoom lenses that you can put on an APS-C Sony camera.
In our Sony E 16-55mm f/2.8 G Lens review, we found that although it won't cover longer focal lengths, this lens is an absolute workhorse and can handle almost anything you throw at it. It's incredibly sharp and has a constant aperture of f/2.8, so it'll let a good amount of light in even when fully zoomed in at 55mm. And as it zooms out to 16mm on the lower end, it would be a great lens to use for astrophotography, too. It's a very versatile lens and could turn its hand to all sorts of photography styles, and it's compact and fairly lightweight, too, so would be great for throwing in your camera bag to take traveling with you.
Though, there's no denying that this is a very expensive lens — especially for one that doesn't have any image stabilization. This could be an issue for some considering that currently, there are only two APS-C cameras from Sony that have in-body image stabilization (the Sony A6600 and A6500). That said, you can't deny that this lens is a beauty.
- Read our Sony 16-55mm f/2.8 G Lens review.
In the past, when you couldn't afford to stay on-brand and purchase a lens from the same manufacturer as your camera, you would turn to Sigma. The 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM is a stunning example of how Sigma is now punching well above their weight with their variety of high-end lenses, making it one of the best zoom lenses available.
It's more affordable than other zoom lenses here (excluding the sale prices), at just under the $1500 mark, and compares well to legacy DSLR lenses of the same focal length and aperture combination. It also compares well to Canon and Nikon's (quite brilliant, it must be said) Z and RF mount lenses.
In our Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM review we found that the lens has a number of positive qualities, including a sensible but not overwhelming focal length and a large maximum aperture that enables you to keep your ISO or shutter speed under control. As with all equipment, there are compromises. Here the biggest factor is weight — at 4lbs you're knocking on the door of some far longer lenses such as the Nikon 200-500mm or Sigma's own 150-600mm. Of course, even though the long end in both cases is substantially longer, you still lose more than a stop of aperture there. If you're not necessarily in the market for the most up-to-date, brand-new lens, this lens is definitely worth considering.
- Read our Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM review.
This lens has a nearly endless list of practical applications, thanks to its excellent 10x zoom range. When zoomed in, 240mm is a true telephoto focal length, allowing you to shoot everything but the most ambitious wildlife or sports photography. Zoomed out, 24mm is a legitimate wide-angle, making it suitable for a variety of general-purpose travel photography.
For all its image quality, which is pretty impressive in that regard, we thought in our Canon RF 24-240mm f/4-6.3 IS USM review that it has quite a bit of work to do. For the same money, a keen astrophotographer could get Sigma’s 150-600mm f/5-6.3 (below), which compares favorably in terms of image quality, has the same largest aperture when zoomed in, but is 3.5 times longer in terms of maximum focal length. By no means does that make the Canon 24-240mm bad for astrophotography, but there are better options for the price.
Of course, given its size and weight, the Sigma 150-600mm is an extremely strong choice for exploring a foreign city and shooting pictures of anything from architecture to intimate portraits.
- Read our Canon RF 24-240mm f/4-6.3 IS USM review.
You cannot deny that for the money — this is a heck of a lot of lens. Its longest focal length of 600mm is enough for relatively deep sky astrophotography and is the longest lens on offer here on our best zoom lenses list. Indeed, it's very much at the long end of what's possible in a DSLR or mirrorless lens, period. There's Sigma's own 300-800mm, or Nikon's 200-500mm, or Canon's RF 100-500mm, but very little beats this, especially for the money.
Let's get the cons out of the way first. As per our Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM review, this lens is a heavy 4.2lbs, and the maximum zoomed-in aperture of f/6.3 isn't a huge amount of fun, particularly if you're looking to transition from the world of ultra-wide, ultra-large-aperture photography. You'll always be at either higher ISOs, longer shutter speeds, or both, and you'll also need to be on a high-end star tracker in order to get steady results at this lens' long end. That all means that buying this lens is probably the beginning of some fairly serious expenditure rather than the end.
The advantages? This is an extremely portable lens, and the large zoom range allows you plenty of compositional options in many different photography styles. Astronomically speaking, the 600mm focal length is practical, and while higher image quality is certainly possible at this extremely long focal length, you'll have to shell out significantly to get it — Canon's 200-400mm L-series springs to mind, then springs away just as quickly thanks to its eye-watering $11,000 price. Nikon's equally excellent 200-400mm is, similarly, better, but costs $7,000. This is a superb buy for astrophotographers on a (comparatively low) budget, with multiple lens mounts.
- Read our Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM review.
How we test the best zoom lenses
To guarantee you're getting honest, up-to-date recommendations on the best lenses to buy here at Space.com we make sure to put every camera lens through a rigorous review to fully test each product. Each lens is reviewed based on a multitude of aspects, from its construction and design, to how well it functions as an optical instrument and its performance in the field.
Each lens is carefully tested by either our expert staff or knowledgeable freelance contributors who know their subject areas in depth. This ensures fair reviewing is backed by personal, hands-on experience with each lens and is judged based on its price point, class and destined use. For example, comparing a 150-600mm superzoom telephoto lens suitable for a full-frame camera to a sleek little wide-angle prime destined for a crop sensor wouldn’t be appropriate, though each lens might be the best performing product in its own class.
We look at how easy each lens is to operate, whether it contains the latest up-to-date imaging technology, and its weight and portability. We'll also make suggestions if a particular lens would benefit from any additional kit to give you the best viewing experience possible.
With complete editorial independence, Space.com are here to ensure you get the best buying advice on camera lenses, whether you should purchase one or not, making our buying guides and reviews reliable and transparent.
The best zoom lenses: What to look for
When looking for the best zoom lens with a long focal length (i.e. more magnification), you need to know a few things before you start. Focal length is measured in millimeters; the more you have, the longer your lens is — the closer to the action you can get.
Telephoto lengths start at around 70mm, and super-telephoto is generally regarded as anything longer than 400mm. So, if a lens has a focal length of 70-300mm, it starts with a reasonable amount of magnification (a little more than the normal human field of view) and can zoom in to 300mm, which is a significant amount of magnification.
There are a few other factors to consider as well when shopping for the best zoom lenses. Aperture size is a really important one — the aperture is the adjustable hole in the lens that light passes through, and the bigger it is, the more light can get through at once, with a relational effect on shutter speed (how sharp your image is, in simple terms) and ISO (how sensitive your sensor is and how noisy your image is).
Aperture sizes are described as f-stops, with an f/2.8 aperture being much bigger than an f/5.6 aperture. For night photography we recommend going for a lens with the biggest aperture you can afford, especially if you're planning to shoot long-exposure tracked shots. For simple pictures of the moon, you can get away with cheaper lenses with smaller apertures as the moon reflects so much light.
When looking at the best zoom lenses, you also need to consider image stabilization, also known as IS, VR (Vibration Reduction), OS (Optical Stabilizer), and OSS (Optical SteadyShot). This can be worth its weight in gold if you’re planning to shoot images at night without a tripod, as the lens will detect tiny amounts of movement and move its glass elements within to keep your image steady.
Finally, those looking for equipment that will travel long distances in a camera backpack — or be used on a star tracker system — should be wary of weight. There's the obvious — a big, heavy, long focal length lens with image stabilization and a big aperture will be more exhausting to carry — but if you want to use your lens for deep-space photography on a motorized star tracking system, you'll need to be watchful of how much your lens and camera weigh together, and consider if your star tracker can handle the extra baggage.