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Best zoom lenses: fast wide and telephoto zooms ideal for astro and more

Best zoom lenses: Image shows camera with telephoto lens attached
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you're looking for the best zoom lenses on the market, you've come to the right place. If you're wondering what a zoom lens is exactly, we can help with that too. Essentially, a zoom lens allows the photographer to adjust the focal length, and they can be wide-angle, telephoto or somewhere 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. 

Naturally we 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 Sony zoom lens for image quality

Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 G Master OSS

(Image credit: Sony)

Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 G Master OSS

A fantastic piece of kit that, while not the longest, compensates with excellent image quality

Specifications

Mount: Sony E-mount
Focal range: 70-200mm
Aperture range: f/2.8 constant
Filter thread size: 77mm
Weight: 3.3lbs

Reasons to buy

+
Super image quality
+
Large maximum aperture
+
Well built

Reasons to avoid

-
Longer focal lengths available for cheaper
-
Sigma’s cheaper lens is competitive

You can make a strong argument that a quality 70-200mm should have a place in every photographer’s kit bag, and lenses as great as Sony’s 70-200mm exemplify why.

You can look at the specs, of course – the 2.9x zoom range makes it practical, compositionally speaking – while the f/2.8 aperture gives you plenty of incoming light, allowing you to shoot either shorter shutter speeds or lower ISOs at night. Optical image stabilization is included as well, giving you a little more latitude handheld.

Above all else, we really think the G (Gold) stamp is warranted for this lens, and it's fully deserving of it. It's also worthy of having as higher place on our best zoom lens list as it does. There's no doubting 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; it is perhaps fair to say that most astrophotography relies on good weather, so perhaps the former of those is unlikely to be sternly tested, but if you’re looking for an all-purpose zoom, this is a great one. Our only hesitation? The Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM holds its own in terms of image quality, and costs significantly less. Worth hiring both to see which you prefer.

Best Sony lens for deep sky photography

Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G Master OSS

(Image credit: Sony)

Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G Master OSS

A bit pricey, but a really practical buy for astrophotographers as it has loads of focal length – just bear in mind you’ll need a good star tracker to make this work

Specifications

Mount: Sony E-mount
Focal range: 200-600mm
Aperture range: f/5.6-6.3
Filter thread size: 95mm
Weight: 4.7lbs

Reasons to buy

+
Superb image quality
+
Impressive focal length for astrophotography
+
Well made

Reasons to avoid

-
At almost 5lbs makes for awkward star tracking
-
Expensive

We're not holding back at the top of this list as this zoom lens from Sony is another titan. If you're looking for a bit of versatile gear that will give you exactly 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.

Almost preposterously sharp at the center of the image – even fully zoomed in at 600mm – this is a lens that stands up supremely well to the torture test of being shot with the aperture fully open, which is a must-have if you’re considering this for astrophotography.

There are further practical benefits, the lens’ 600mm maximum zoom chief among them. Admittedly, this does cost you a little light – the aperture can only be opened as wide as f/6.3 once you crank it all the way in, which will cost you either shutter speed or ISO (or a bit of both). However, when you consider the potential weight of a 600mm lens with a faster aperture, as well as 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. And, did we mention this lens costs just a shade under $2,000?

Drawbacks? We can think of some, not least the 4.7lbs weight, to which you’ll obviously need to add a camera. That means, in most cases, you’ll need to be using a suitably powerful star tracker for best results, which will be a significant extra cost.

Best medium-telephoto Nikon lens

Nikon Z 70-200mm f/2.8 S-line lens image on wooden table

(Image credit: Andy Hartup)
Absolutely spellbinding image quality, although could be overkill for some

Specifications

Mount: Nikon Z-mount
Focal range: 70-200mm
Aperture range: f/2.8 constant
Filter thread size: 77mm
Weight: 3.1lbs

Reasons to buy

+
One of the very best 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses out there
+
Large maximum aperture great for astrophotography

Reasons to avoid

-
Cutting edge tech = cutting edge price
-
Longer focal lengths available for the same, or less, money

Nikon makes some bold claims about its range of S-Line lenses. Designed to be the very best zoom lenses available for its mirrorless Z-mount, the S-Line claims to offer edge-to-edge sharpness, plus excellent 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 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 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 pluses keep piling up, making the Nikon Nikkor Z 70-200mm f/2.8 S-Line one of the best zoom lenses – a big maximum aperture and optical image stabilization chief among them, but we also like the customizable Fn buttons and futuristic OLED panel on the top, which replaces the traditional focus distance marking ring. 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 control ring on the lens, allowing you 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. But at 3.1lbs, this is a lens that won’t overwhelm most star trackers, and produces images sufficiently sharp that they’ll survive all but the most assertive of crops. A future classic.

Best Nikon all-rounder for DSLRs

Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 FL ED VR lens on a tripod

(Image credit: Jason Parnell-Brookes)
Superseded by some mirrorless lenses (including Nikon’s own), but still more than capable

Specifications

Mount: Nikon F-mount
Focal range: 70-200mm
Aperture range: f/2.8 constant
Filter thread size: 77mm
Weight: 3.1lbs

Reasons to buy

+
Practical focal length and aperture combination
+
Beautifully built
+
Very tempting second-hand purchase

Reasons to avoid

-
Deep sky photography calls for more reach
-
Better quality available on Nikon’s mirrorless cameras

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. Optically outstanding, this has been a mainstay of professional photojournalists for years, and now nearing its fifth birthday, 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.

Built for full-frame cameras (denoted by the FX in its name), this excellent bit of kit also ticks the box for “big aperture,” with its largest f-stop of f/2.8 providing plenty of light. Other lenses may be longer, but few telephoto lenses allow for this much light transmission, hence it’s status as 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.

Indeed, the only thing we’d say about this lens is that if you have – or are thinking of getting soon – a mirrorless Z-series camera, you’d be well advised to spend your money on the sharper, newer Z-mount S-Line 70-200mm (above), which compares well in terms of price but is optically superior.

Best Nikon lens for deep sky photography

Nikkor AF-S 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens on a tripod with a blue background

(Image credit: Jason Parnell-Brookes)
Ultra-long, ultra-heavy, but pretty bright because of its relatively large aperture – this is a great all-rounder

Specifications

Mount: Nikon F-mount
Focal range: 200-500mm
Aperture range: f/5.6 constant
Filter thread size: 95mm
Weight: 5.1lbs

Reasons to buy

+
Great image quality
+
Very tempting combination of focal length and maximum aperture size
+
All-round hero for those interested in multiple photographic disciplines

Reasons to avoid

-
Very heavy
-
Will require an uprated star tracker

By any standards, the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR is a spectacular amount of lens for the money. Costing just under $1,400, we found in our review this up-to-the-second piece of glass offers a really amazing amount of bang per buck. Wildlife photographers: consider your prayers answered.

And astrophotographers? It’s not bad at that, either. Let’s start with focal length, which goes up to an impressive 500mm. It also has a constant aperture, which means unlike other superzoom lenses here the aperture doesn’t close down, meaning less light reaches 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 cost.

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 4.2lbs, while this is a little heavier at 5.1lbs. In some cases that might notch you over the limit in terms of tripod or star tracker capacity, although it’s worth remembering that using a lens with this kind of formidable focal length will generally require a pro-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 and an almost 1lb reduction in weight.

Best budget mid-telephoto lens

Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM

(Image credit: Sigma)
Excellent quality, affordable price, bright maximum aperture – what’s not to love?

Specifications

Mount: Sigma SA-mount, Canon EF-mount, Nikon F-mount
Focal range: 70-200mm
Aperture range: f/2.8 constant
Filter thread size: 82mm
Weight: 4lbs

Reasons to buy

+
Top-notch specs at an affordable price
+
Sensible maximum aperture
+
Really good image quality

Reasons to avoid

-
Heavy compared to other similar lenses
-
Longer lenses could be more practical for some types of astrophotography

It’s a funny old world: it used to be that Sigma was the brand you went for when you couldn’t afford to stay on-brand – that is, buy a lens from the same company that made your camera. These days, Sigma is punching well above its weight with its range of high-end lenses, and the 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM is a beautiful case in point, making it one of the best zoom lenses out there.

It's more affordable than other zoom lenses in this list, 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 has to be said) Z and RF mount lenses. 

When we tested the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM we thought there are lots of good points – a sensible while not overwhelming focal length, as well as a large maximum aperture that will allow you to keep either shutter speed or ISO 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. In both cases, of course, you’re giving up more than a stop of aperture at the long end – although that long end is much, much longer. If you’re not in the market for an up-to-the-second mirrorless lens, this is very much worth looking at.

Best for travel photography

The Canon RF 24-240mm zoom lens

(Image credit: Future)
Not ideal for astrophotography in terms of reach or aperture, but a great all-rounder that’ll make a decent job of everything you throw at it

Specifications

Mount: Canon RF-mount
Focal range: 24-240mm
Aperture range: f/4-6.3
Filter thread size: 72mm
Weight: 1.7lbs

Reasons to buy

+
Lightweight and flexible
+
Fantastic travel lens
+
Good image quality

Reasons to avoid

-
Dark maximum aperture plus short focal length for astrophotography
-
Longer lenses available elsewhere for the same cash

This lens has a nearly endless list of practical applications, thanks to its excellent 10x zoom range. 24mm — zoomed out — is properly wide-angle, lending itself to a range of general-purpose travel photography; meanwhile 240mm – zoomed in – is a proper telephoto focal length, allowing you to do all but the most ambitious wildlife or sports photography. All for around the $900 mark.

For all its image quality, which is pretty impressive in that regard, we thought in our review of the Canon 24-240mm that it has quite a bit of work to do. For the same money, a keen astrophotographer could get Sigma’s 150-600, 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 for the money there are better options.

Of course, Sigma’s 150-600mm is a ridiculously great choice for walking around a foreign city, taking everything from architectural shots to intimate portraits due to its size and weight. But, if you’re using an RF-mount lens and want something to shoot the night sky, we’d advise looking at either Sigma’s gentle giant, or perhaps Canon’s own spellbinding 100-500mm.

Best long-range budget lens

Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM C

(Image credit: Sigma)
Affordable, very long, and with more than acceptable image quality, this lens could be the beginning of a great astrophotography rig

Specifications

Mount: Sigma SA-mount, Canon EF-mount, Nikon F-mount
Focal range: 150-600mm
Aperture range: f/5-6.3
Filter thread size: 95mm
Weight: 4.2lbs

Reasons to buy

+
Generous focal length
+
Competitive maximum aperture
+
Very affordable for the impressive specs

Reasons to avoid

-
Third-heaviest lens here
-
Will need a high-end star tracker

You cannot deny that for the money – just under $900 the last time we checked – 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. It’s heavy at 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, which means buying this lens is probably the beginning of some fairly serious expenditure rather than the end. Expect to do your fair share of trial and error here.

The pluses? This is an eminently portable lens, and the large zoom range allows you plenty of compositional options. The 600mm focal length is practical, astronomically speaking, and although better image quality is certainly possible at this extreme 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 $11,000 price. Nikon’s equally excellent 200-400mm is, similarly, better, but costs $7,000. For astrophotography on a budget, with multiple lens mounts, and at a price many can afford, this is a superb buy.

Best Canon zoom lens

Lens, tripod mount, and hood image for Canon RF 70-200mm f2.8 lens review_Lauren Scott

(Image credit: Lauren Scott)
Very nearly the last word in image quality for RF-mount cameras, and surprisingly light. This is incredible for pixel-peepers

Specifications

Mount: Canon RF-mount
Focal range: 70-200mm
Aperture range: f/2.8 constant
Filter thread size: 77mm
Weight: 2.4lbs

Reasons to buy

+
Surprisingly light
+
Fantastic image quality
+
Fast maximum aperture

Reasons to avoid

-
Longer focal lengths available elsewhere
-
Not cheap

Canon’s introduction of the RF-mount for its pro range of mirrorless cameras was greeted with cautious optimism by photographers, right up until they got their hands on Canon’s new pro-series lenses, at which point optimism gave way to unbridled joy. Canon’s L-series lenses have always been the envy of other photographers, and its L-series RF lenses somehow find a way to take the series to a whole new level.

The RF 70-200 f/2.8 is a case in point. It's expensive, yes, but from our 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 that there is.

Apart from great image quality and that fast maximum aperture – allowing for faster shutter speeds and lower ISOs — there are some nice features. For example, we like the control ring, which can be customized to adjust any number of camera settings. It’s compact as well — where other 70-200 f/2.8 lenses zoom internally, the Canon version has a front element that drives out when you zoom in. 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, and lenses.

You pay for the quality, of course, and for this much money you could easily afford a much longer zoom lens, which for astrophotographers with a suitable star tracker might well be the 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.


How we test the best zoom lenses

In order 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 look at 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.

Other things to consider

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, and the more you have, the longer your lens is. 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 actually 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.

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