What is the best lens for sports?

Photographers that shoot indoor sports typically face one of the biggest challenges in the photography world.

Basketball, volleyball, soccer, gymnastics, wrestling, dance etc. The lighting for these events,  is usually dim, so the photographer is often confined to one location while the participants move around… a lot.

An indoor sports lens needs to have a very wide aperture to enable a shutter speed fast enough to adequately stop the action. A fixed focal length (or prime) lens is often a good choice as these lenses typically get the widest apertures.

How to choose a lens for sports?

 How much do you need?

For the large majority of sports, a 200mm will be more than enough to get either your main subject or the surroundings. If using a zoom like the 70-200mm, you’re also covered for smaller arenas.

If you know you’ll be far away from the action then a 300mm or even 400mm lens would be better (and sometimes even too short!)

One thing you should note is that if you have a crop sensor camera, then every lens you put on will act as if it is 1.5x longer due to the crop factor of nikon or more depending on  the  sensor you have. In reality, this means that a 100mm lens you put on an DX will have the same field of view as a 150mm lens on a full frame camera (100mm x 1.5 = 150mm). This is a huge benefit if you want to get as close to your subject without spending a ton of money. Both types of sensors are excellent for sports though.

Fast auto focus 

This is a must! With people constantly moving, you want a lens that can not only quickly focus, but accurately as well.

Sports cameras need to be fast. To keep up with the action, look for a camera with a fast burst speed. While 5 fps or so is decent for a DSLR, if you are buying a compact camera or mirrorless, look for something that hits 10 fps if possible. You’ll also want to avoid buying the cheap memory cards, since they can actually slow your camera down too.

Lets take a look at our top picks broken down into lenses and camera bodies.

(This list is not from best to worst but simply our top pics that we think are perfect for a variety of action sport scenarios.)


Top ten sports picks (lenses)- Our Recommendations

  1.  Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM: A 70-200mm F/2.8 lens is one of the best zoom lenses available in any focal length range, but the 70-200mm range works well for many indoor sports purposes. These lenses have very impressive image quality and very fast/accurate AF. This is our ideal first choice for an indoor action zoom lens.
  2. Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G ED AF-S:For indoor sports where you can often be really close to your subject, the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G ED is our top pick for both DX and FX shooters that want an all-around, high quality zoom.It’s got an f/2.8 aperture at all focal lengths which is more or less a requirement for shooting movement indoors, and has great image quality and fast auto focus.The length is good for close sports and also for a ton of other things; from weddings, portraits, traveling etc. In a way, this could be the only lens you use! 
  3. Nikon AF-S 200-500mm F/5.6E ED VR: This Lens Spans a long, versatile zoom range, the AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR is a telephoto zoom lens characterized by a constant f/5.6 maximum aperture for consistent performance throughout the zoom range. The optical design incorporates three extra-low dispersion glass elements to reduce chromatic aberrations and distortions for increased sharpness and color accuracy. A Silent Wave Motor AF system produces fast, near-silent focusing performance that suits both stills shooting and movie recording which can instantly be manually overridden by simply turning the manual focus ring.  (this is not an indoors lens, unless you’re willing to raise the ISO). 
  4. Sony FE 70-200mm F/2.8 GM OSS Lens: For indoor sports with bad lighting, having f/2.8 is crucial. It’s also perfect if you’re looking to blur the background, or shoot outside really early/late during the day. You can always raise your ISO, The FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS from Sony covers portrait-length to telephoto perspectives. Characterized by both its fast f/2.8 maximum aperture and inclusion of OSS (Optical SteadyShot) image stabilization, this lens is ideally-suited for handheld shooting of distant and fast-moving subjects.
  5. Canon EF-S 17-55mm F/2.8 IS USM:  This APS-C format-only lens will work well for close action or to capture the venue environment. This is not a canon L series lens, but the image quality it delivers is on par with those lenses with the prominant red ring. Ring USM-driven AF is fast and accurate and Image stabilization.
  6. Sony FE 85mm F/1.4 GM: For wedding, concert, portrait, night time or close sports photography, we recommend the Sony FE 85mm F/1.4 GM because the quality and sharpness are top notch. There’s just something about 85mm length on cameras that makes it magical for photography. The depth of field looks shallow even when stopped down a bit because your focal length is quite long, but obviously shooting at f/1.8-f/2.8 makes bokeh and background look amazing. Compared to f/2.8, aperture f/1.4 gives you a little bit more than 1 extra stop of light so you can get sharper shots with less blur. It might not matter outside, but inside every third-stop of extra light can make a huge difference.
  7. Canon EF 400mm F/2.8L IS II USM: When your indoor needs call for the most focal length available, this is the lens to get.  The image quality and performance it delivers will set your performance apart from the rest.
  8. Nikon AF-S 50mm F/1.4G:  The Nikon 50mm f/1.4G is a fan favorite prime for both newcomers to photography and more advanced users looking for quality in a lightweight lens. On Nikon DX cameras, it’s equivalent to a 85mm lens which is an ideal length for close sports, as well as portraits and everyday/lifestyle photos. 
  9. Canon EF 300mm F/2.8L IS II USM: The 300L IS II is every bit as good as the 400L IS II in all regards, but in a wider focal length. You can expect impressive images from this lens with an equally-well-performing camera behind it.
  10. Nikon AF-S 300mm F/2.8G VR IIThe Nikon AF-S 300mm f/2.8G ED VR II Lens delivers superior professional performance with speed and incredibly sharp images which photographers have come to expect from Nikon. This fast lens is perfect for sports photojournalism, wild life photography and a wide range of subjects that require super telephoto focal lengths. Nikon’s VR II (Vibration Reduction) image stabilization allows handheld shooting at up to 4 shutter speeds slower than would otherwise be possible.

Top 10 camera bodies

  1. Canon 1Dx Mark II: Canon EOS-1D X Mark II is a camera that has immense power, phenomenal speed and a remarkable combination of innovation and refinement. Building on a heritage of sophisticated innovation, the camera is amazingly fast and is capable of speeds up to 14 fps (up to 16 fps in Live View mode) which can be captured at a burst rate of up to 170 RAWs using a CFast 2.0 card. An improved 61-point AF system delivers clean, sharp images quickly and even in dim light.
  2. Nikon D4S 16 Megapixel HD-SLR: The Nikon D4S DSLR features a full-frame, FX-format 16.2MP CMOS sensor and EXPEED 4 image processor to produce high-resolution still imagery full resolution stills can be captured at 11 fps for approx. 200 shots with full AE and AF functionality, noise-free photos and videos up to ISO 25,600 (expandable to a mind-boggling ISO 409,600 equivalent at Hi4) The imaging prowess of this camera is further enhanced by an equally refined 51-point autofocus system, which can be configured to utilize five AF points as a single focusing point in the Group Area AF setting for heightened initial subject recognition. The 3D Color Matrix Metering III system, along with the 91,000-pixel RGB sensor, also benefits the focusing abilities of the D4S as well as provides accurate exposure metering to suit a vast array of subjects and lighting conditions.
  3. Nikon D5 FX-Format Digital SLR Camera Body (XQD Version)Qualifying itself as the flagship model in Nikon’s DSLR lineup, the D5 is positioned as a truly fast, highly precise machine for professional photographers. Revolving around a full-frame, FX-format 20.8MP CMOS sensor and EXPEED 5 image processor, this workhorse touts an impressive 12 fps continuous shooting rate with full-time AF and AE, an expandable sensitivity range that goes up to ISO 3280000 Matching the imaging versatility, the Nikon D5 is also characterized by its redeveloped Multi-CAM 20K 153-point AF system, which incorporates 99 cross-type sensors for refined precision when tracking moving subjects or working in difficult lighting conditions.
  4. Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Mirrorless Camera:  The OM-D E-M1 Mark II is a fast, durable, and versatile Micro Four Thirds mirrorless camera.. Revolving around a high-resolution 20.4MP Live MOS sensor and TruePic VIII image processor, The E-M1 Mark II sports a truly fast 60 fps continuous shooting rate with an electronic shutter, 18 fps with continuous autofocus, and 15 fps with a mechanical shutter. The sensor and processor also avail a top expanded sensitivity of ISO 25600 to support shooting in difficult lighting conditions, and sensor-shift-type 5-axis image stabilization also helps to minimize the appearance of camera shake for sharper handheld shooting. Additionally, the sensor’s design also incorporates 121 on-chip phase-detection points, all of which are cross-type, along with 121 contrast-detection areas for fast and precise focusing and subject tracking performance.
  5. Fujifilm X-T2 Mirrorless Camera: The FUJIFILM X-T2 is the ultimate mirrorless camera packed with all the features you need. Equipped with a 24.3MP APS-C X-Trans CMOS III image sensor and the X-Processor Pro Engine, users will be able to capture finely detailed imagery quickly and with low noise at sensitivities up to ISO 51200. This powerful combination permits rapid image capture at up to 8 fps with full AF tracking or at up to 14 fps using the silent electronic shutter. In terms of AF, the X-T2 uses an Intelligent Hybrid system with 325 points that ensure accurate, fast tracking of subjects in all modes. 
  6. Canon EOS 7D Mark II: Designed with a penchant for speed, the EOS 7D Mark II DSLR Camera is characterized by its APS-C-sized 20.2MP CMOS sensor, dual DIGIC 6 image processors, and a top continuous shooting rate of 10 fps. Both a 65-point all cross-type phase-detection AF system and Dual Pixel CMOS AF technology benefit fast, accurate focusing performance for both optical viewfinder and live view shooting.
  7. Nikon D810 36.3 Megapixel: The Nikon D810 DSLR Camera takes its place as the high resolution option in the Nikon DSLR lineup. It features a 36.3MP FX-format CMOS sensor without an Optical Low Pass Filter for extremely sharp and detailed still imaging. With the addition of the EXPEED 4 Image Processor, performance speed is increased compared to the EXPEED 3 and noise is effectively reduced throughout the ISO range. Continuous shooting speed in FX format is 5 fps and in DX format hits a maximum of 7 fps.
  8. Sony Alpha A7R II Mirrorless Digital Camera: The Alpha a7R II Mirrorless Digital Camera is the world’s first full-frame 42.4-megapixel Exmor R back-illuminated structure CMOS sensor which takes mirrorless imaging to another level. This sensor design both improves low-light operation and speeds up data throughout, enabling fast high-resolution stills and UHD 4K video recording. Working with the BIONZ X image processor, these images can be produced at sensitivities up to ISO 102,400 and at a continuous 5 fps shooting rate. Five-axis SteadyShot INSIDE image stabilization has also been implemented, compensating for vertical, horizontal, pitch, yaw, and roll movements.
  9. Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5 Mirrorless Camera: The Lumix DC-GH5 Mirrorless Micro Four Thirds Digital Camera provides an outstanding imaging platform for video and still photography. At the heart of the camera is a 20.3MP Digital Live MOS sensor and a newly developed Venus Engine processor.  12 fps continuous shooting, and sensitivities up to ISO 25600. The camera features a built-in 5-axis sensor stabilization, which can compensate for up to 5 stops of shutter speed. The advanced DFD autofocus system that can lock on in just 0.05 seconds, as well as 6K PHOTO at 30 fps and 4K PHOTO at up to 60 fps.
  10. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV: The EOS 5D Mark IV builds on the powerful legacy of the 5D series, offering amazing refinements in image quality, performance and versatility. Superb image quality is achieved with Canon’s all-new 30.4 Megapixel full-frame sensor. Focus accuracy has been improved with a refined 61-point AF system and Canon’s revolutionary Dual Pixel CMOS AF for quick, smooth AF for both video and Live View shooting. Fast operation is enhanced with Canon’s DIGIC 6+ Image Processor, which provides continuous shooting at up to 7.0 fps. 

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