I'm starting out with photography and currently have a D3100 with the 18-55mm kit lens. I want to get an entry level telephoto, but my research has led me to conclude that if I stick with this I'll eventually want to switch to the FX format body, so I'm looking for an FX telephoto lens. Because the DX body of the D3100 does not have a focus motor, I need a lens with integrated autofocus motor. The only lens I saw that fit what I'm looking for had no motor.

I don't much care about the minimum focal length. I'd like the max to be around 300mm. I guess a 200mm FX lens would be almost 300mm on my camera, but not quite the length I'd like if I upgrade.

Are these criteria reasonable? Will I be able to find anything below $200?

Edit: Or are all FX format lenses motorless because they are intended for the larger body cameras with motor in them. Logically this makes sense because if you're carrying multiple lenses that's just useless added weight.

  • 1
    "my research has led me to conclude ... [an FX camera]", what reasons are there? Unless you are swimming in money, get the most out of your D3100. It is a good camera. If you have FX, you'll realise that you can take even better images with a medium format camera, and so on. Explore what you got first.
    – Unapiedra
    Aug 30 '13 at 13:39
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    You can get the 70-300 mm f/4-5.6 for a bit more than $100 used. I'm not 100% sure it has a focus motor. The 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VR is said to be optically better and it has a focus motor. It costs $300+ used/refurbished. Both work on FX. I agree with others that by limiting yourself to FX you're limiting your choices and increasing the costs to a point where it's probably not worth it, especially considering the budget you mentioned.
    – Szabolcs
    Aug 30 '13 at 15:16
  • @Szabolcs, The older 70-300 f/4-5.6 is optically terrible (I tried it, have it available). It does not have a focus motor. The newer f/4.5 is optically quite nice (I have it, and am happy with it).
    – Unapiedra
    Aug 30 '13 at 20:20
  • @Unapiedra Good to hear. I was looking at the older version for a while and then decided to get the VR one, which I'm happy with.
    – Szabolcs
    Aug 30 '13 at 21:08

Not going to happen, full frame lenses are much more expensive to make than APS-C. $500 will only get you a basic full frame lens (which will still be pretty decent but limited.) Most quality zoom lenses for full frame are in the $1000 and up range with the top end ones for telephoto being $2000 or more.

You have the right idea with wanting to invest in glass that you can use with better bodies in the future, but in general, the body is only half the cost of the camera system. The comparable quality lenses usually cost almost as much. (For example, the $3300 Canon 5D Mark iii pairs nicely with $2400 L series lenses and could easily still get improvements out of using $6000+ telephoto primes.) I had an $600 telephoto lens, but when compared with the $2400 telephoto lens I got the resolution alone was more than 4 times better.

My recommendation to you would be to buy cheap if you need something in that focal range and can't afford more right now and then try to save for something good if you really want to accumulate better gear. If you want to move to full frame and get the most out of it, I'd suggest saving and spending at least $1000 per lens, though if you go third party, you can save a bit on that (though it may also have compatibility issues with newer camera bodies in the future, though most of the good ones seem pretty reliable about updates).

It's a lot to spend, but you'll still realize a great increase in the quality of pictures taken on your "cheap" DSLR as well.

  • Thanks for the perspective. So you think I should just stick with getting a DX telephoto?
    – Kir
    Aug 30 '13 at 14:31
  • @Kir - start by getting the lenses you NEED to cover your shots. Then worry about building up. Lenses generally hold value pretty well, so if you buy a used DX, you will probably be able to sell it for near what you pay for it if you care for it well. Then, save until you have what you need to buy the lens you intend to use long term. My main point is just not to spend a bunch on a top quality DX lens, just get whatever you can get by on until you can afford to get the lens you really want to have long term.
    – AJ Henderson
    Aug 30 '13 at 14:34
  • Thanks AJ. I will do that. I hope you enjoy your weekend!
    – Kir
    Aug 30 '13 at 14:53
  • The big problem here is the motor, not the FX lens (of which plenty have been made - for 35mm cameras, some of them in good quality and available cheap). Oct 9 '19 at 20:00

Here's the basic problem with expecting a sub $200 telephoto lens to be good enough to consider using on an FX body later on: it ain't gonna' happen. The lens may fit and allow you to take pictures with it, but the results are going to be determined by the marginal quality of the lens rather than by the exceptional quality of the body.

There are FX telephoto lenses with motors in them, but they are going to cost you a lot more than $200. If you one day decide to upgrade to a full frame FX body, the $200 you spend on a telephoto lens now is going to be a drop in the bucket to what you will need to spend to get a telephoto lens capable of matching the ability of that body.

A lot of people new to photography assume it is all about the camera body when the truth is in terms of hardware it is much more about the lens. A great lens on an average body is capable of much better images technically speaking than an average (or worse) lens on the top of the line pro bodies.

You will likely have a more positive experience in the long run if you concentrate on finding the best DX telephoto lens you can afford now. Due to the smaller image circle needed by DX format sensors, it is possible to design and build a DX lens for less than an FX lens that would yield the same optical performance when mounted on a DX body.


You should not be looking to buy an FX lens. If your budget is $200 you won't find any lens. Don't restrict yourself to FX. An FX camera costs at least $1500 (D600, price out of memory). If you cannot afford a lens for $500, how can you afford a FX camera?

You can get the 70-300mm Nikkor lens (the one with built-in focus motor) for $550, or so. This works for FX, too.

Why do you want an FX format body anyway? Especially for telephoto usage it is just expensive and not quite worth the costs. (My opinion of course, depends a lot on the circumstances, etc)

INFO: Yes, I realise this doesn't answer the question fully. The answer is that it is not possible to get a motorised FX 300mm lens for $200. This was just an attempt to maybe help along.

  • I suppose I'm trying to combine multiple motivations. It's not about what I can afford but about what I want to invest right now versus later. It seems that the general opinion is that overall FX is better, and the sensor size helps with higher-iso shots. Those cameras are getting cheaper anyway. With that in mind it seems silly to me to spend thousands of dollars on DX lenses that would become useless to me anyay.
    – Kir
    Aug 30 '13 at 13:53
  • Are there any telephoto lenses above $1000 that only work on DX? I doubt it.
    – Unapiedra
    Aug 30 '13 at 19:44

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