Sony Telephoto lenses - Complete guide
I keep on writing my Sony guides for the E-mount, for the brand’s mirrorless cameras. Today I’m talking about the best telephoto lenses for a Sony camera, focusing on the brand’s full-frame lenses. We also wrote a full article on Sony mirrorless cameras, and I think we’ve finally reached the end!
More recently, we have talked about the best Sigma lenses, but also the best Tamron and Samyang lenses for the Sony E-mount. We have also ended this Sony overview with a summary article about the best Sony lenses, gathering in a general way what you will find in our articles about 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm, but also the best macros or portrait lenses!
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In this article, I’m going to review what I consider to be the best choices if you’re looking to buy a Sony telephoto lens. If you are looking for a long focal length lens, you probably have in mind to shoot wildlife, sports or outdoor portraits for example. I’ll talk about all that below.
If you want to know all the lenses available from Sony, I invite you to visit our dedicated pages, updated on a regular basis. It’s a big effort to keep track of all the lenses released by all the brands. Here are all the lenses for Sony FE (full-frame) and for Sony E (for APS-C).
You will also find summary tables that will allow you to compare telephoto lenses with each other and make better decisions based on the criteria that are important to you and, of course, your budget.
For those of you who want to understand all the criteria to consider when choosing your Sony telephoto lens, I’ll remind you of all these points at the end of the article.
- Addition of two super telephoto zoom lenses available for the Sony E mount, the sigma DG DN 60-600mm f/4.5-6.3 S OS and the TAMRON 50-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di III VC VXD
Best Sony telephoto lenses (70 to 200mm)
Let’s start by talking about Sony telephoto lenses between 70 and 200mm. If you want to compare the lenses, here is a summary table which compares the main features of the 8 mentioned lenses (up to 200mm).
Sony prime lenses
I have classified the lenses from the shortest focal length (85mm) to the longest (135mm). Here is a summary table presenting, according to me, the key points to remember on each fixed focal length (between 70 and 200mm).
|Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG DN Art||Amazon B&H|
|Sony FE 85mm f/1.8||Amazon B&H|
|Sony 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS||Amazon B&H|
|Sigma 105mm f/2.8 DG DN MACRO Art||Amazon B&H|
|Sony 135mm f/1.8 GM||Amazon B&H|
|Samyang AF 135mm f/1.8 FE||Amazon B&H|
1. Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG DN Art
For those looking for an 85mm with a very large aperture, this Sigma remains in my opinion, the best lens to consider for a full-frame camera. This is an update of the old Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art, with a really amazing compacity (626g for 96mm long). This is better than the Sony 85mm f/1.4 GM, which I think is not as good and almost twice as expensive.
The build quality is obviously excellent, worthy of Sigma’s top of the range. There is an aperture ring (clickable), a classic manual focus ring, an AF/MF switch, but also a button to set the aperture and one to fix the focus. With 11 aperture blades, the bokeh remains excellent, even close dow. Many users consider the autofocus to be excellent, better than the Sony. Note that its very large aperture at f/1.4 will allow you to capture and highlight your subject perfectly in low light conditions.
2. Sony FE 85mm f/1.8
For a long time considered as the best value for money for people looking for an 85mm, things are changing with the release of the two Samyang mentioned as alternatives, or with the arrival of the Viltrox 85mm. The lens has a good build quality, a very good compactness, and several interesting features (AF/MF, button to hold focus, etc.). Its AF is said to be very good.
Regarding the image quality, it is also very good from the full aperture, even if the sharpness of the lens seems to be below the Sigma and Samyang mentioned above. The optical defects are relatively well managed on this lens, nothing special to say, except a resistance to flare said to be average.
In the end, this lens could be considered as interesting if you don’t want to go to a third party brand like Sigma and Samyang. It is a very good choice, but slightly more expensive than the Samyang f/1.4 mentioned above, which I would recommend in the first place.
3. Sony 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS
Even though this is indeed a dedicated macro lens, I wanted to quickly say a few words about it. This Sony 90mm f/2.8 has a very good build quality, benefits from an all-weather construction, stabilization (OSS) and offers an exemplary autofocus.
This lens is primarily dedicated to macro photography fans, but can also be used for outdoor portrait photography, for example. The image quality is remarkable from the full aperture and the optical defects are very well managed. If you are looking for a macro lens that could be useful for portraits, this Sony 90mm remains an excellent choice.
4. Sigma 105mm f/2.8 DG DN MACRO Art
I am still staying in the world of lenses intended for macro photography first. This TIPA award winning lens offers outstanding build quality, near flawless optical quality and a very high quality autofocus (although not as good as the Sony 90mm). The lens also lacks stabilization.
The latter offers the best image quality if you are a macro fan. The 105mm focal length is perfectly suited for outdoor portrait photography, and the lens also offers all-weather construction.
For people looking for a very high quality macro lens and a lens that can also be used to produce nice background blur for portraits, this 105mm remains an excellent choice!
5. Sony 135mm f/1.8 GM
We get here into the excellence of what Sony can offer in this type of focal length. This 135mm f/1.8 Sony remains THE reference for serious portrait photographers. DSLR photographers used to use (and probably still do) the very good Nikon 135mm f/2 DC and the very famous Canon EF 135mm f/2L.
This lens offers an extraordinary image quality from full aperture, both in the center and on the edges/extremes. The build quality is flawless, with all the comforts that the GM range can offer (AF/MF switch, clickable aperture ring, focus limiter, etc.).
Its only flaw, if you can call it that, is its high price. Even if you get the best in this focal length range, you will have to be sure of its utility, mainly for outdoor portraiture. The only competition is the Zeiss Batis 135mm f/2.8, which is still cheaper, but overall not as good. If you are looking for the best lens on a full-frame camera to shoot portraits, you have found it!
6. Samyang AF 135mm f/1.8 FE
At the beginning of 2022, Samyang decided to release a superb 135mm f/1.8, the improved equivalent of what existed in DSLR version and with manual focus. This new lens offers an excellent alternative to the Sony 135mm GM which remains very good but very expensive. This version offers all the comfort needed to work on portrait photography while producing a remarkable image quality.
For less than 1000€, it is clearly the most interesting option if you are looking for a 135mm. Even if the AF is given a little less responsive than the Sony, in reality, you may not see any difference for standard use. A big favorite!
Here is a summary table of the 6 lenses mentioned above as well as the three alternatives mentioned below.
|Lens||Max. aperture||Filter||Dimension (D / L)||Weight||Min. focus distance||Best Price|
|Samyang 75mm f/1.8 FE AF||f/1.8||58mm||65 x 69mm||230g||69cm||Amazon B&H|
|Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG DN Art||f/1.4||77mm||83 x 94mm||630g||85cm||Amazon B&H|
|Samyang 85mm f/1.4 FE AF||f/1.4||77mm||88.0 x 99.5mm||652g||90cm||Amazon B&H|
|Sony FE 85mm f/1.8||f/1.8||67mm||82 x 78mm||371g||85cm||Amazon B&H|
|Sony 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS||f/2.8||62mm||79 x 130,5mm||602g||28cm||Amazon B&H|
|Sigma 90mm f/2.8 DG DN I C||f/2.8||55mm||64 x 61.7mm||295g||50cm||Amazon B&H|
|Sigma 105mm f/2.8 DG DN MACRO Art||f/2.8||62mm||74 x 133,6mm||715g||29,5cm||Amazon B&H|
|Sony 135mm f/1.8 GM||f/1.8||82mm||89.5 x 127mm||950g||70cm||Amazon B&H|
|Samyang AF 135mm f/1.8 FE||f/1.8||82mm||93 x 130mm||772g||69cm||Amazon B&H|
Apart from the six lenses mentioned below which I consider to be the best Sony short telephoto lenses, I thought I’d mention in a few words three alternatives that I think are very interesting to consider.
The Samyang 85mm f/1.4 FE AF is also a remarkable lens. Here, you get a lighter lens than the Sigma f/1.4, in an equally good build quality. The functionalities are less than on the Sigma and the autofocus could have been better according to the reviews. The image quality is really very good, even if you have to close to f/2 and then f/2.8 to get the best. The sharpness of the lens is better than the Sony 85mm F1.4 GM, that’s pretty good isn’t it? Some flare defects have been reported, but vignetting and distortion are rather well managed (and can be adjusted in post processing). In the end, for “only” 700€, this Samyang is a wonderful alternative for those who don’t have the budget to choose the Sigma f/1.4, at about 400€ more.
Samyang also offers another cheaper alternative, the Samyang 75mm f/1.8 FE AF. With a really awesome compactness (230g / 69cm long), and a customizable knob (with the “Lens Station” of the brand), this lens of the Samyang “Tiny Series” offers a remarkable image quality, even if you’ll have to close to f/2.8 to get a perfectly homogeneous image. For less than 400€, I don’t see how not to consider it for people with a smaller budget, looking for a light but high quality lens, if you want to shoot outdoor portraits for example. It will also be very useful in low light conditions.
Finally, Sigma recently released the Sigma 90mm f/2.8 DG DN I C, a lens from Sigma’s famous “I” series. The result is a compact and relatively light lens, perfectly suited for portrait photography. The build quality is top of the line from Sigma. However, in my opinion, the price appears too high (around 600€), especially compared to the Samyang 85mm f/1.4, the Samyang 75mm f/1.8 and Sony 85mm f/1.8.
Best Sony zooms lenses
When it comes to telephoto lenses under 200mm, I would really only recommend two lenses. Below is a summary table of the 2 lenses mentioned as well as alternatives.
The table below shows the main features to remember about the Sony zooms mentioned below.
1. Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 GM II
At the end of 2021, Sony finally decided to release a Mark II version of its first 70-200mm f/2.8 which was getting old, and frankly, was even outdated by the competition, especially by my Tamron 70-180mm which I mention below.
So Sony released its 70-200mm f/2.8 GM II, which comes to catch up and surpass on all points the first version of their 70-200mm. This Mark II offers an exceptional image quality from full aperture, and closing it down a stop does not improve things much, on the whole focal length. The lens has the luxury of being 500g lighter than the Mark I! Otherwise, we find all the classic comfort of GM lenses: AF/MF switch, distance limiter, 3 stabilization modes and, for the first time on a Sony zoom, an aperture ring.
Of course, the 3000€ price tag is a bit harsh, but you have here the best 70-200mm lens available today, all brands included. For those who have a smaller budget and are looking for a quality lens, I invite you to read the info on the Tamron below!
2. Tamron Di III 70-180mm f/2.8 VXD
Not everyone will have the luxury nor the means to afford the Mark II version of the Sony 70-200mm f/2.8. Tamron has hit the nail on the head with this 70-180mm, and it was the first zoom lens I decided to buy when I switched to a mirrorless camera. I must say that after several months of use, I am not disappointed!
The build quality is very good (although not as good as a GM, of course), its AF is very responsive and its size remains very good. Tamron decided to reduce the focal length to 180mm to reduce the weight of the lens and keep the same filter diameter (67mm) as on the other zooms (17-28mm and 28-75mm) and prime lenses (20mm, 24mm, 35mm). However, this Tamron doesn’t have all the comfort that a GM could bring you with stabilization, focus limiter, AF/MF switch or aperture ring.
The image quality is really very good, and this from full aperture. All reviews confirm that the lens is sharper than the Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 Mark I, and even the f/4 version. However, the image quality is a bit more inferior at long focal lengths (180mm), with the presence of a strong pincushion distortion.
Still, proposed at a price of “only” 1200€ on average, this makes it a more than serious lens to consider if you are looking for a versatile lens, with a large aperture, and also suitable for reportage photography, outdoor portraits, and even some wildlife photography (if the animals are relatively close).
Here is a summary table of the two lenses below, as well as possible alternatives.
|Lens||Max. aperture||Filter||Dimension (D / L)||Weight||Min. focus distance||Best Price|
|Tamron Di III 70-180mm f/2.8 VXD||f/2.8||67mm||80x149mm||810g||85cm (0,27mm to 70mm in MF)||Amazon B&H|
|Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 GM II||f/2.8||77mm||88 x 200mm||1045g||40 - 82cm||Amazon B&H|
Sony zooms alternatives
If you are looking for a small telephoto lens (under 200mm) for your Sony camera, the possibilities are not huge. I won’t detail the other choices but I would mention :
- The Mark I version of the 70-200mm f/2.8 is no longer of interest in my opinion, being far below the Mark II (thankfully!), but also below the Tamron 70-180mm,
- Sony also offers a stabilized 70-200mm f/4 at more or less the same price as the Tamron 70-180mm. From what I’ve read, the Tamron offers better image quality as well. I don’t really see a situation where buying the Sony f/4 would be more interesting (for more or less the same compactness, even if the Sony offers an internal zoom).
- There is also another possible alternative from Sony, the Sony FE 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 G OSS. Even though the lens offers stabilization and a longer focal length, its price is higher than the Tamron and its aperture remains unattractive for my taste. If you need a longer focal length, you might as well go for the super telephoto lenses mentioned below (150-600mm, or even 200-600mm, for almost the same price and better image quality),
- For small budgets and people looking for a telephoto lens of this type, you also have another possibility with Tamron which proposes a 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3 Di III RXD. Positive point, we are clearly below the price of the 70-300mm from Sony (less than 600€).
- Finally, for Sony APS-C camera owners, there is an entry-level option from Sony, the Sony E 55-210mm f/4.5-6.3 OSS, a decent telephoto lens to start with this type of focal length. Sony also offers the Sony E 70-350mm f/4.5-6.3 G OSS, which has a rather good reputation but at a high price, I think (900€).
Best Sony super telephoto lenses (beyond 200mm)
I detail here what I consider as the best super telephoto lenses, beyond 200mm. The choices aren’t huge at Sony, but you still end up with 5 zooms you can consider and two prime, overpriced lenses for the pros and the wealthy!
Here is a summary table of all the telephoto (zoom) lenses below that compares the main specifications of each lens.
Sony super telephoto zoom lenses
The table below lists the important features to remember about each super telephoto zoom lens.
|Tamron 150-500mm f/5-6.7 Di III VC VXD||Amazon B&H|
|Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG DN S OS||Amazon B&H|
|Sony 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS||Amazon B&H|
|Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG DN OS Contemporary||Amazon B&H|
|Tamron 50-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di III VC VXD||Amazon B&H|
|Sigma DG DN 60-600mm f/4.5-6.3 S OS||Amazon B&H|
1. Tamron 150-500mm f/5-6.7 Di III VC VXD
Tamron was the first manufacturer to release an alternative to the classic Sony lenses, offering this 150-500mm. It is the most compact lens of the “150-600mm” trio, even if its focal length limits you to 500mm, and the lens has a less bright maximum aperture at the end of the zoom (f/6.7, although it is only at 500mm, otherwise Tamron offers the same maximum apertures, or even slightly more open depending on the focal length) than the others. In terms of dimensions, we are not far from the 100-400mm from Sigma.
Also noteworthy, the Tamron offers only 7 aperture blades, which will have a slight influence on the quality of bokeh in the background. Combined with a shorter focal length compared to its main competitors, the background blur is slightly less blurred. In case your background is far enough away, you won’t really see a difference.
Regarding the image quality, it is remarkable and given as good as on the Sigma 150-600mm or the Sony 200-600mm (except on a high resolution sensor where the Sony remains the winner). In the end, the real difference is not in image quality. A good point remains its compactness and the fact that it can be stored more easily in a camera bag.
In the end, this Tamron remains an excellent telephoto lens for a full-frame Sony camera. The image quality is remarkable, even if the management of optical defects is given as less good than on the Sigma 150-600mm. As I write this article, the prices between the Sigma and the Tamron are almost identical, give or take 100€, depending on where you look. For the same price, I would tend to recommend the Sigma which offers a longer focal length, a better aperture at the end of the zoom and a better build quality. However, the Tamron has the big advantage of being more compact. So what do you think?
2. Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG DN S OS
Competing directly with the Tamron 150-500mm, Sigma has just released an excellent 150-600mm, a new version of the existing DSLR 150-600mm which had a very good reputation. This telephoto lens is lighter than the DSLR version of the day, even if the lens still weighs 2 kg. The lens has 9 diaphragm blades, which, combined with the 600mm, allow to achieve nice background blur.
The build quality is excellent (better than the Tamron) and offers a set of buttons (AF/MF switch, 3 stabilization modes, a button to change the fluidity of the zoom ring and a customizable AF button). Its autofocus is given as very good, but below the 100-400 and 200-600mm Sony. As far as image quality is concerned, it is just as good as the Tamron or the Sony 200-600mm.
Finally, Sigma signs here a very nice telephoto lens for Sony photographers. We have a very high quality lens, offering remarkable images, a very good AF and a price that seems fair for this type of lens. For a price similar to the Tamron 150-500mm, I would tend to recommend the Sigma, although photographers looking for an equally good, more compact telephoto lens will prefer to go with the Tamron. It remains to be seen if the loss of 100mm of focal length is worth it for your practice or not!
3. Sony 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS
This Sony 200-600mm is the longest zoom lens available from Sony and has a constant size. Specifically, the lens does not extend (unlike the Tamron/Sigma mentioned above), making the lens much more bulky, heavy and long (2,1 kg for 32cm long). To carry it, it’s still quite complicated.
The build quality is worthy of the top of the range Sony and you find all the classic comforts of a lens of this type (AF/MF switch, a customizable AF button, a distance limiter and 3 stabilization modes). Concerning the image quality, it is obviously remarkable, but not really better than Sigma/Tamron. The reviews speak of a better sharpness, visible only in the center on high resolution sensors.
However, the price is still much higher than the Sigma and Tamron mentioned above (around 2000€), and I’m not sure it’s worth considering. Note that it is the only telephoto lens with this focal length range that is compatible with Sony teleconverters.
4. Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG DN OS Contemporary
I’m stepping out of the classic trio mentioned below by quickly introducing you to the Sigma 100-400mm which remains a real treasure. The build quality of this 100-400mm is just as good, or almost, as the Sony. However, the latter has a slightly smaller aperture than its competitor, the Sony 100-400mm, which I decided to place as an alternative. The Sigma is also lighter (1,1 kg vs 1,5 kg of the Sony, with a foot collar).
You will find almost the same buttons on the Sigma as on the Sony, except for the customizable AF button which does not exist on the Sigma. The image quality is excellent and almost equal to the Sony. The difference will only be seen at 400mm and on a very pixelated sensor. Its autofocus is known as excellent.
To conclude, this Sigma 100-400mm attacks the Sony equivalent frontally, and unless you absolutely want to use a teleconverter with your 100-400mm, I see no reason not to consider this Sigma compared to the Sony, which costs more than double…
5. TAMRON 50-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di III VC VXD
While there was already a Tamron 150-500, Tamron decided to release in December 2022 a 50-400mm f/4.5-6.3. This lighter and more compact lens will compete directly with the 100-400mm from Sigma who will release shortly after a new 60-600mm, more versatile and with a longer focal length, but also much more expensive/heavy.
The image quality is said to be excellent, even at full aperture. Reviews show that it offers better images than the 100-400mm from Sigma, although the latter is still cheaper. The image quality is given as fairly close compared to the Tamron 150-500mm. Compared to the 100-400mm from Sony, the Tamron is much cheaper, but unfortunately heavier. The AF of the Sony is however said to be better in comparison. Regarding optical defects, the weak points are vignetting and significant distortion, which can be corrected very well in post-processing via software. Chromatic aberrations are well managed.
In conclusion, Tamron offers here with this 50-400mm a nice versatile lens, allowing to shoot a little wider than the classic 100-400mm. The lens is compact/light and also offers a magnification ratio of 1:2 at 50mm, which will allow to try proxyphotography at this focal length. It’s a pity that the tripod collar is not included.
6. Sigma DG DN 60-600mm f/4.5-6.3 S OS
January 2023, a few months after releasing the 150-600mm Sport for mirrorless cameras, Sigma releases another lens that they used to provide for DSLRs, the 60-600mm f/4.5-6.3 which some people call the “Bigma”. However, it introduces several new features compared to the 150-600.
First, while it might be said that a lens that covers a wider focal length range will often be less good optically, this is not the case with this 60-600mm which seems to be better than the 150-600 and other telezooms, even Sony’s 200-600mm. Then, it has a new generation autofocus from Sigma which allows it to be even more responsive and comes close to the Sony G and GM performance. Finally, the stabilization has also been improved and allows to stabilize 7 stops instead of about 5 for the 150-600mm. The flare resistance is not the best but it is not unusual for this type of zooms and in the field images made with them rarely have this problem. Chromatic aberrations are well controlled and, at worst, easy to correct.
Against the 150-600, if you can handle the extra weight, only the price difference can be a drawback as it is 2400€ or 1000€ more, but if it had cost less than 2000€ the 150-600 would have been in a poor place. An excellent choice to have a great versatility for wildlife photography, in particular.
The table below summarizes the main characteristics of super telephoto lenses available for the Sony E-mount.
|Lens||Max. aperture||Filter||Dimension (D / L)||Weight||Min. focus distance||Best Price|
|Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG DN OS Contemporary||f/5-6.3||95mm||86 x 199.2mm||1140g||112 - 160cm||Amazon B&H|
|Tamron 150-500mm f/5-6.7 Di III VC VXD||f/5-6.7||82mm||93 x 210mm||1720g||60 - 180cm||Amazon B&H|
|Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG DN S OS||f/5-6.3||95mm||109.4 x 263.6mm||2100g||58 - 150cm||Amazon B&H|
|Sony 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS||f/5.6-6.3||95mm||111.5 x 318mm||2115g||240cm||Amazon B&H|
|Tamron 50-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di III VC VXD||f/4.5-6.3||67mm||88.5 x 183.4mm||1155g||25-150cm||Amazon B&H|
|Sigma 60-600mm f/4.5-6.3 S OS DG DN||f/4.5-6.3||105mm||119.4 x 279.2mm||2495g||45-260cm||Amazon B&H|
Sony zoom alternatives
Here, I decided to make things simple by proposing only one real alternative: the Sony FE 100-400 mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS. As mentioned above, it is indeed an excellent lens, no doubt about it, but in my opinion the price (approximately 2600€) does not seem to be justified compared to the Sigma which is now at less than 1000€.
Sony super telephoto lenses
The table below summarizes prime super telephoto lenses for Sony cameras.
|Sony 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS||Amazon B&H|
|Sony 600mm f/4 GM OSS||Amazon B&H|
1. Sony 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS
Sony offers this excellent lens for all people looking for a telephoto lens for wildlife and/or sports photography. Obviously, as with all GM lenses, this lens has all the classic comforts: 3 stabilization modes, several customizable settings buttons and the classic MF/AF switch. The AF is obviously of very high level and will be perfectly able to follow the best Sony cameras, like the A9/A9II and the A1.
As you can imagine, this beast comes at a price that only professionals or (more than) wealthy amateurs will consider…
2. Sony 600mm f/4 GM OSS
Sony has released in parallel to the 400mm f/2.8, mentioned above, this 600mm f/4 which offers, as you can imagine, an extraordinary image quality at all apertures. We find the same options as on the 400mm, for an even higher price…
Reminder - criteria to choose a telephoto lens
As I said in the introduction, there are some criteria to take into account when choosing your telephoto lens. Besides the notion of budget which is not really a technical criteria by itself, I would advise you to consider the following criteria.
Choosing a zoom or a prime lens?
In my opinion, this is the most important factor to consider when making your purchase. You will have the choice between a fixed focal length lens and a zoom lens (variable focal length). Everyone is going to have their own ideas here, and I would say it’s basically a matter of choice. Here are some interesting points in my opinion:
- If I exclude the two overpriced prime lenses from Sony (400 and 600mm), there simply aren’t any affordable prime lenses beyond the Sony 135mm f/1.8 GM, which is already quite expensive. So I’d say that if you need a long focal length (longer than 135mm), for example for wildlife/sport photography, you’re going to have no choice but to go for a zoom lens, either from Sony or a third party brand (Sigma/Tamron). The only case that I think would be interesting to choose a telephoto lens with a fixed focal length is if you are going to use it for portraiture, mainly outdoors. In such a case, you have several options at affordable prices, especially in the 85mm to 105mm range. The only zooms that cover these focal lengths are the classic 70-200mm.
- The maximum aperture of your lens will also be a consideration. You won’t get anything better than a full aperture of f/2.8 on a zoom lens, while a prime lens can offer you f/1.8 (85 and 135mm Sony) or f/1.4 (85mm Samyang and Sigma). Still, these fixed focal lengths will probably limit you to outdoor portrait photography (because you will need some distance). If this is your case, it’s worth considering (often for less money) a fixed focal length rather than a 70-200mm type zoom, which will be more expensive and less bright.
- Compactness will also be an element to take into account. A prime lens opening at f/1.4 will weigh around 500/600g, while even the lightest zoom (my Tamron 70-180mm) already weighs 850g. The new Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS II weighs about 1kg.
In conclusion, I would say that for wildlife or sports, the zoom will be more suitable and sometimes the only choice (depending on the sport). For portraiture, I would advise to take a fixed 85mm and move your legs. You will often get better results for less money.
Which maximum aperture to choose?
Here again, things are not so simple. The very long lenses, beyond 200mm (in zooms), only propose maximum apertures of f/5.6, or even 6.3/6.7. Knowing that there is no prime lens (affordable, I exclude the 400/600mm at more than 12000€) in this focal length range, you have no choice.
If you need a shorter focal length (between 70 and 200mm), the question of choosing a larger aperture will arise. And larger aperture means switching to a prime lens. As a reminder, having a larger aperture will allow you to :
- Get more pronounced foreground or background blur compared to a zoom lens at f/5.6 (when you shoot, your depth of field will be shorter).
- Shoot faster. Remember, if you have an aperture that is twice as large (e.g. from f/4 to f/2.8) you can shoot twice as fast (increase your shutter speed).
- Finally, if you know the famous exposure triangle, you also know that instead of shooting twice as fast, you can decrease the ISO by 2 thanks to a larger aperture. This is interesting, especially when the light decreases.
For example, if you have “f/4, 1/500th, ISO 1000”, having a maximum aperture at f/2.8, you can choose:
- f/2.8, 1/1000th, ISO 1000 (shoot faster, therefore)
- f/2.8, 1/500th, ISO 500 (reduce the ISO by half)
Obviously, the choice of your Sony telephoto lens will depend on your use. If you use your telephoto lens for portraiture or reportage, I would say that a fixed focal length with a large aperture might be ideal, unless you prefer a 70-200mm zoom lens which will generally be heavier, more expensive and less bright. For landscape, the zoom will surely be more interesting because it is more versatile.
For wildlife, you will have to turn to a 100-400 or 150-600mm. It will be suitable for domestic animals as well as wild animals (safari type), and even insects (dragonflies for example).
For sports photography, we will try to use a lens with a large aperture to freeze the action more easily and blur the background. Ideally, 400/600mm is preferable, but unless you are a professional or a wealthy amateur, few photographers will afford it. For relatively close indoor sports (like handball, boxing, etc.), I would recommend a 70-200mm f/2.8 rather than a super telephoto lens instead.
To choose a stabilized lens or not?
Most 70-200mm lenses will be stabilized anyway (with the exception of the Tamron 70-180mm I own). Super telephoto lenses (100-400, 150-600, 200-400mm) are also stabilized.
The question will be mostly about small telephoto lenses with focal lengths under 200mm. Most of these lenses will not be stabilized anyway. For portraiture, stabilization is not really necessary because the subject is relatively static. And most Sony cameras have stabilization on the sensor.
Weight and size?
It will depend on you and your use. For some, saving 100 or 200g is important. For others, it doesn’t matter. As mentioned above, zooms will generally always be heavier and longer than prime lenses.
Choosing a tropicalized lens?
Most of the lenses mentioned in this article are tropicalized. Here, everything will depend on the conditions in which you will shoot. If you often shoot in tropical areas, humid, with a lot of rain, it may be worth considering a lens with an all-weather construction. If you shoot mostly in conventional conditions, this is by no means a requirement.
Should I choose a Sony lens or a third party lens?
Everyone will have their own opinion on this, but the days when Sigma and Tamron were justthird party brands that you had to pray to “get a good batch” are over. Today, several third party brands, mainly Sigma and Tamron (and to some extent, but a step behind, Samyang), offer lenses as good as Sony lenses, for very often much less money. Each one has his own opinion!
That’s it, I’m reaching the end of this very long article. I think I gave you all the information to know the best Sony telephoto lenses. You should be able to make an informed choice. Know that the majority of these lenses are of very high quality and you can’t really make a bad choice when choosing a lens from this list.
If you want to go further, I invite you to read how to shoot with a long focal length!
See you soon,