Best Nikon Z telephoto lenses, for portrait/sport to wildlife photography
In 2018, Nikon joined Sony in the full frame mirrorless camera market with the Z6 and Z7. As they switched to the Z-mount, Nikon had to develop a new range of lenses. In 4 years, the mount range has been expanded, although there is still a lot to do. Nikon has released a few telephoto lenses for this mount, which this article will present to you so that you can choose the one that will suit you best. In this article, we will talk about the best current Nikon Z telephoto lenses, mainly for the brand’s full frame Z cameras. If you’ve recently purchased a Nikon Z body, we also wrote a comprehensive article on the best wide-angle lenses for Nikon Z.
For convenience, I will divide the lenses into 2 categories: “portrait” and “sports” lenses, i.e. lenses covering focal lengths between 70 and 200mm maximum, and “wildlife” lenses, i.e. lenses offering focal lengths above 200mm.
Check out my practical photography packs. It's a simple, fun and entertaining way to learn and improve in photography, especially in the field!
By the way, if you are looking for some lenses for your camera, we summarized all the existing Nikon Z lenses on a page updated regularly.
Nikon Z portrait/sport telephoto lenses - from 70 to 200mm
The table below gives you the most important characteristics of each lens.
|Nikon Z 85mm f/1.8 S||Amazon B&H|
|Nikon Z 70-200mm f/2.8 S VR||Amazon B&H|
|Nikon Z 24-120mm f/4 S||Amazon B&H|
|Nikon Z 105mm f/2.8 S MC VR||Amazon B&H|
Below, you will find a comparison of the main features of the following lenses.
1. Nikon Z 85mm f/1.8 S
In the fall of 2019, along with the Z-mount cameras, Nikon released this 85mm f/1.8 S, one of the first 3 lenses produced for this mount. Compared to the less high-end and optically complex DSLR version, the mirrorless version has gained weight and size.
Although the DSLR version was already very popular and very good, the new version is even better with a very high image quality, excellent from f/2.8. The construction is in line with the other S lenses, very good and all-weather. The AF is not the fastest, so it’s more of a portrait lens than a sport lens, although it can be used anyway. Probably one of the best 85mm f/1.8.
This level of quality is a bit expensive since it costs 950€, much more than the DSLR version, but it is hard to find better in this category.
2. Nikon Z 70-200mm f/2.8 S VR
In early 2020, Nikon released one of the iconic full frame pro zooms, a 70-200mm f/2.8. This one loses a little weight compared to the DSLR version but is even bulkier.
The image quality is excellent from full aperture, and this at all focal lengths, a great performance despite a slight drop at 200mm that will be barely noticeable. The construction is high-end, like the 14-24mm and 24-70mm f/2.8, with an LCD monitor. The AF is very fast and quiet, making it ideal for sports photography. The stabilization is effective and helps with this type of focal length, especially with such a bulky lens.
For 2950€, this is not a lens for amateurs, but like any 70-200mm f/2.8 manufacturer. You can rely on it, but it is common on this kind of pro zoom, whatever the brand.
3. Nikon Z 24-120mm f/4 S
At the end of 2021, Nikon released a 24-120mm f/4, successor of the DSLR version which had been quite successful. This new version shows an increase in performance.
The 24-120mm f/4 S offers a nice image quality, although the edges are behind at full aperture, and a good build quality. The AF is relatively fast and quiet. The focal length range starts well before telephoto, but it is capable of reaching 120mm, thus covering 50, 85 and 105mm focal lengths, popular for this type of photography. If the AF is not especially fast, it will be suitable for sports use to some extent.
For 1250€, a price in line with the 24-105mm f/4 competitors, this zoom offers a nice versatility, ideal for many uses.
4. Nikon Z 105mm f/2.8 S MC VR
In June 2021, Nikon announced the release of the first native Z-mount macro lens, the 105mm f/2.8 S VR. Compared to the DSLR version, this one is longer, but loses a few dozen grams.
The image quality is excellent from full aperture, like any macro worthy of the name. The build quality is exemplary and all the useful macro features are present: distance limiter, focus distance/magnification ratio display, and stabilization. The AF is not the fastest, as is often the case with macro lenses, but still allows you to shoot portraits.
For 1200€, we have the best Z-mount macro lens, and interesting for portraits. By the way, I mention it in detail in my article on the best current Nikon Z macros.
Below is a comparison of the lenses mentioned so far.
|Lens||Focal length||Max. aperture||Filter||D/L||Weight||Min. focus distance||All-weather construction||Stab.||Best Price|
|Nikon Z 85mm f/1.8 S||85mm||f/1.8||67mm||75 x 99mm||470g||80cm||YES||NO||Amazon B&H|
|Nikon Z 70-200mm f/2.8 S VR||70-200mm||f/2.8||77mm||89 x 220mm||1440g||50-100cm||YES||YES||Amazon B&H|
|Nikon Z 24-120mm f/4 S||24-120mm||f/4||77mm||84 x 118mm||630g||35cm||YES||NO||Amazon B&H|
|Nikon Z 105mm f/2.8 S MC VR||105mm||f/2.8||62mm||85 x 140mm||630g||29cm||YES||YES||Amazon B&H|
Telephoto lenses for sports/animal Z - Beyond 200mm
At the time of writing, there is still a limited choice of very long focal length lenses for the Nikon Z mount. Few third-party brands offer this type of lens.
|Tamron 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3 Di III RXD Z||Amazon B&H|
|Nikon Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 S VR||Amazon B&H|
|Nikon Z 400mm f/4.5 S VR||Amazon B&H|
|Nikon Z 600mm f/4 S TC VR||B&H|
|Nikon Z 400mm f/2.8 S TC VR||B&H|
|Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 S VR||B&H|
The following table lists the main features of the telephoto lenses listed below.
1. Tamron 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3 Di III RXD Z
At the end of 2022, Tamron released, this time under its own name, its first Nikon Z-mount lens. As usual, Tamron starts with a traditional entry-level telephoto zoom lens, the 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3, which they have been selling for a few years in Sony E mount.
As is often the case with this type of zoom, if the center is good even at full aperture, sharpness quickly diminishes when approaching the edges and it will be better to close one or two stops to improve homogeneity without reaching an excellent level. The AF is correct but can be a bit slow, the RXD engine remains limited, even more so when compared to the VXD engine that Tamron uses on its latest releases. Optical defects are usual, with vignetting and distortion but which can easily be corrected, the flare resistance is rather good and the chromatic aberration well controlled. We may regret the lack of harmonious bokeh and the absence of stabilisation, although with the stabilized sensors of most Nikon Z cameras, this won’t be a huge problem.
For 700€, it is currently the only option offering such long focal lengths for a reasonable price, with Nikon’s 100-400 costing more than 4x as much. If you are a beginner in wildlife photography or want a lightweight, affordable telephoto zoom, this is a great choice.
2. Nikon Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 S VR
At the end of 2021, following Sony’s example, Nikon decided to release a Z-mount 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6, the same focal length and aperture as the Sony GM.
The image quality is very good at full aperture at all focal lengths, but that’s what you’d expect from a lens of this type because if it’s not good at full aperture, there’s little chance that it will improve when closing. The build quality is top of the line, with an LCD monitor. The AF is fast and silent.
For 3000€, the price is similar to the Sony GM, a bit high, but in line with the competition.
3. Nikon Z 400mm f/4.5 S VR
In July 2022, Nikon releases a 400mm f/4.5. The brand had already introduced a very high-end and expensive 15000€ f/2.8 version. It is therefore interesting that Nikon decided to propose a more affordable version, even if the price is still high, since it costs about 3700€.
This 400mm, for this price, offers an obviously remarkable image quality and very well controlled optical defects. The AF is fast and precise and the stabilization is efficient. The interest of this lens with its f/4.5 aperture, in addition to its lower price than its big brother f/2.8, is to be lighter and more compact.
For those who can’t afford the f/2.8 version or simply want a lighter lens to carry in the field, Nikon offers here an excellent option that I would personally like to see in other brands, especially Sony since it is the brand of my equipment.
4. Nikon Z 400mm f/2.8 S TC VR
At the beginning of 2022, Nikon released its first prime telephoto lens with a large aperture: the 400mm f/2.8 S. It features an integrated teleconverter that can be turned on the lens, making it a 560mm f/4.
The image quality is exemplary, classic on a high-end fixed focal length of this kind (fortunately at this price, haha), as well as the build quality with all the possible features on a high-end Nikon lens. Its built-in teleconverter allows it to become a 560mm f/4, allowing it to be more or less two lenses in one for the same price. The AF is very fast and quiet.
For almost 15000€, this is a very high-end lens, reserved for wildlife pros (or amateurs who would hesitate between a car or a lens, haha).
5. Nikon Z 600mm f/4 S TC VR
At the end of 2022, Nikon announces the 600mm f/4 S TC VR. With its 17250€ price tag, this lens is obviously destined to an elite for intensive use in sports and wildlife photography.
Its optical quality is very high, but that’s the least you can expect at this price! It has a built-in teleconverter that allows you to take advantage of an equivalent 840mm focal length without digitally cropping into the image and without taking your eye off the viewfinder. The stabilisation is very effective and the AF is very efficient, which is the least you can expect from a lens of this range and price.
If you have money and your use requires a lens of this level, have fun, because it is a very high level lens.
6. Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 S VR
April 2022, Nikon announced an 800mm f/6.3, atypical by its maximum aperture, but also by its design which uses Fresnel lenses supposed to reduce weight and size.
The image quality is excellent from full aperture, and it is fine considering the relatively limited maximum aperture. The construction quality is again very high-end, with LCD control screen and place to integrate filters. The AF is fast and silent.
For 7300€, this is again an outstanding lens at an exceptional price that will not be for everyone (let’s comfort ourselves by saying that it is almost half the price of the 400mm f/2.8, haha).
Here is the comparison of the lenses mentioned above.
|Lens||Focal length||Max. aperture||Filter||D/L||Weight||Min. focus distance||All-weather construction||Stab.||Best Price|
|Tamron 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3 Di III RXD Z||70-300mm||f/4.5-5.6||67mm||77 x 150mm||580g||75-98cm||80-150cm||NO||Amazon B&H|
|Nikon Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 S VR||100-400mm||f/4.5-5.6||77mm||98 x 222mm||1435g||75-98cm||YES||YES||Amazon B&H|
|Nikon Z 400mm f/4.5 S VR||400mm||f/4.5||95mm||104 x 234.5mm||1245g||2,5m||YES||YES||Amazon B&H|
|Nikon Z 600mm f/4 S TC VR||600mm||f/4||Build-in||163 x 437mm||3260g||4,3m||YES||YES||B&H|
|Nikon Z 400mm f/2.8 S TC VR||400mm||f/2.8||46mm||156 x 380mm||2950g||250cm||YES||YES||B&H|
|Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 S VR||800mm||f/6.3||Build-in||140 x 385mm||2385g||500cm||YES||YES||B&H|
The Z-mount being relatively recent, there are only a few alternatives, especially as third-party brands were already rarely making lenses going beyond 200mm in DSLR.
However, let’s mention the 85mm f/1.8 Viltrox at 330€ (with AF). Obviously, at this price, you can’t expect the image and build quality of the Nikon S, but at least you have the possibility to have a bright 85mm without spending almost 1000€. The Viltrox also tend to suffer from poor AF and are constantly being updated to fix bugs. Their resistance to flare and chromatic aberrations is not exceptional either.
Regarding manual focus lenses, there are also:
|Lens||Focal length||Max. aperture||Filter||Best Price|
|Samyang MF 85mm f/1.4 Nikon Z||85mm||f/1.4||72mm||Amazon|
|Laowa 100mm f/2.8 2x Ultra Macro APO||100mm||f/2.8||67mm||Amazon|
|Meike 85mm f/2.8 Macro||85mm||f/2.8||Non||Amazon|
|TTArtisan 90mm f/1.25 Z||90mm||f/1.25||72mm||Amazon|
The FTZ ring, and its recently announced version II, allows you to adapt F-mount lenses, but you’ll have to wait for new native options to operate the Z-mount at full capacity.
What if I have a Nikon Z APS-C body?
I’m not going to write a detailed article about the best Nikon Z APS-C lenses because at the time of writing this article, I can count them on the fingers of my hand, haha. However, if you own a Nikon Z APS-C body, there are two telephoto lenses to consider: the Nikkor Z DX 18-140mm f/3.5-6.3 VR and the Nikkor Z DX 50-250mm f/4.5-6.3 VR.
These two lenses are obviously different, but both are stabilized. If you are looking for a telephoto lens suitable for an APS-C body and you have a smaller budget, these are two possible options. The 50-250mm might be an interesting option for people who are looking to increase their focal length while trying a “cheap” entry-level telephoto lens (under 400€).
Choosing your telephoto lens - Reminders
It is generally considered (on full format sensors) that a telephoto lens has a focal length greater than 70mm. Beyond 200mm, it can be found under the term super telephoto.
Telephoto lenses are generally purchased to shoot distant elements that cannot be approached up close and/or to isolate and highlight a subject. Classic subjects for using a telephoto lens are portraits, wildlife and sports photography.
There is no easy answer as to what focal length you “should” use depending on the type of photography. For sports and portrait photography, we will often recommend focal lengths between 70 and 200mm which remain bright (from f/1.8 to f/2.8 for example for now) and allow both to isolate the subject more easily and to be able to shoot with a faster shutter speed.
Wildlife photography often requires longer focal lengths, depending of course on your subject. Generally, a minimum of 200mm will be necessary, 400/500mm for birds at least, to give an idea.
For the moment, as long as third-party brands do not allow them to produce lenses for the Z-mount, you will have no choice but to buy Nikon and spend a lot of money…
A few quick words on the maximum aperture. You can remember in a general way that having a lens with a large aperture will allow you to:
- Shoot faster,
- Isolate your subject better by making it stand out from your background,
- Reduce the depth of field (extent of the sharp area on the subject).
Of course, a “bright” zoom lens, i.e. with a large maximum aperture (e.g. f/2.8) will be heavier, bigger and more expensive than a lens opening “only” at f/4. It’s mainly a question of choice and budget here, even if you have few alternatives at the moment, anyway.
Even if most of the lenses mentioned in this article are stabilized (except for the 85mm Z and the 24-120mm Z), it is an interesting question to ask. Long lenses are often relatively heavy and the risk of camera shake is clearly higher than with a shorter lens (standard or wide-angle).
Knowing that you will often use telephoto lenses on moving subjects, it seems to me more interesting to have a lens with a larger aperture (to be able to shoot faster) than to have a stabilized lens that will allow you to lower your exposure time. But generally speaking, as I said, telephoto lenses are often stabilized!
Also note that all Nikon Z cameras have built-in sensor stabilization, which means that even if your lens doesn’t have it, it will still help you to avoid motion blur at slow shutter speeds.
So there you have it, the best Nikon Z-mount telephoto lenses, still fairly few in number and generally quite high-end and expensive, that you can find that are suitable for portrait, sports and wildlife use.
I hope this article will help you make your choice and that you will be satisfied with your eventual purchase. Feel free to add options in the comments if you know of any.
If you enjoyed this article and it helped you in your choice, you can support our work by going through the links in our article for your purchase. We are indeed getting a small commission without it costing you more, of course. In return, this allows us to keep our blog independent, without advertising and without direct connection with brands.
In any case, I also invite you to read our article on the best current Nikon Z lenses, which includes all available focal lengths!
See you soon