Best Lens for Sports Photography

Whether you attended the UEFA Euro 2022 for women or you are just getting ready for the upcoming World Cup from Qatar, nothing compares to being there in person to support your favorite team.

However, if you are also into sports photography, chances are your smartphone will not provide the high quality you hope to see once the event is over.

Just like portraits or landscapes require certain lenses, the same rule applies to sports photography. Plus, there are a few rules you need to pay attention to.

The key to successful photography is giving the subject some space – you may not be able to get it too soon anyway. And even if you do, you do not want to be a nuisance.

Choosing the best lens for sports photography can be a bit tricky, but here I am providing some brief reviews about the best lenses I have had the opportunity to use. 

So, what do you need to know?

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Product

Best for

Why it stands out

Price

Check The Price

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM

Best Canon Lens

Superior image quality

$$$$

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM

Best Budget Canon Lens

Plenty of bells and whistles

$$$

NIKON NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S

Best Nikon Lens

Quiet, fast, and smooth autofocus

$$$

Sony E-mount FE 24mm F1.4 GM

Best Sony Lens

Outstanding sharpness

$$

Sony FE 135mm F1.8 G Master

Best Lens for Indoor Sports Photography

Plenty of control buttons

$$$

Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3G ED

Best Lens for Outdoor Sports Photography

Good adaptability

$

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED

Best Lens for Night Sports Photography

Super quiet motor

$$$

Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM

Best Lens for Low Light Sports Photography

Good focal length

$$

Fujifilm XF35mmF2 R WR

The Most Affordable Option

Affordability

$

I have been lucky enough to try out different lenses – some borrowed from friends sharing the same hobby, others as trials from certain brands or purchased because of their reputation. Here are some excellent recommendations that will not let you down.

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM – Best Canon Lens

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM

This is one of the most expensive sports photography lenses I have ever used – it made me drool just thinking about it before buying it. Indeed, it is an investment, so I mostly recommend it to professionals or those interested in starting a career in sports photography.

The magnification is simply impressive – 400mm, but it is also worth noting the f/2.8 aperture, which is quite wide. What does it mean? You can use the lens anywhere. It makes no difference if you shoot indoors, in a well-lit environment, or outdoors, in low light conditions.

Back to the 400mm, you can stand miles away and still get some great pictures.

The lens is fixed, meaning you cannot zoom. It may not have the versatility and adaptability of other lenses, and to be perfectly honest, it took me a while to get used to it, but once you master it, you will love the outcome.

From personal experience, fixed lenses provide better results sometimes because of the extra sharpness. There are fewer moving components, so they are less likely to break, not to mention wider apertures. 

The autofocus will not let you down, and I guess it is pointless to mention that image quality is flawless.

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Pros

  • Excellent sharpness
  • Wide aperture
  • Impressive image quality
  • Good for professionals
  • Durable design

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Cons

  • No ability to zoom in
  • Heavier than other lenses, at about 8 pounds

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM – Best Budget Canon Lens

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM

This Canon lens is one of the most popular choices. It is easy to tell why – you might have seen it before if you attend sports events. It stands out with its whitish accents and red ring. Just pay attention to photographers next time you head to a stadium, and you will see what I mean.

The best feature? The zoom. You can zoom in extremely closely, and believe it or not, there is no actual distortion involved. The picture is crisp and sharp, regardless of the angle you use. It has edge-to-edge sharpness, meaning it is sharp throughout – the middle, the edges, and so on.

You can snap close portraits of your favorite players or perhaps take a suggestive picture of every single player on the field. You can also capture action and target players running in the distance. The depth of field from the aperture is super soft, so there are no issues with it.

Apart from the sharpness, the tripod collar is probably my favorite feature and something I believe every lens should come with. You can get the lens on a tripod or a monopod, whatever – as long as you are tired of holding it, simply put it on top of something else and enjoy the same high-quality results.

The collar might get in the way, but here comes some more great news – you can unscrew it. I have tried and used dozens of high-quality lenses, and no other brand allows you to remove the collar – not something too fancy, but a convenient feature.

I need to clarify, though – this lens is part of the L line, considered a luxury one. Therefore, it costs a bit more than other lines. It does come with many great features, though – this unit, for instance, even includes temperature control.

I would still consider it a budget compared to other Canon lenses.

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Pros

  • Lots of useful bells and whistles
  • No distortion whatsoever
  • Excellent sharpness – from one edge to another
  • Removable collar
  • Good zooming capabilities

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Cons

  • Quite heavy, so you may need a tripod or monopod
  • The autofocus could act funny at times

NIKON NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S – Best Nikon Lens

NIKON NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S

I believe you cannot go wrong with Nikon, but then – just like for Canon, different Nikon lenses are made for different standards. This is the best lens for sports photography if you are a Nikon fan and want to stick to the brand.

Using it made me feel like I reached the top end in terms of technology – the type of lens that makes you feel like you will never need an upgrade again. It is great if you like super fast shutter speeds and a tight depth of field – basically, for those who are serious about photography.

Like a few other models in the Nikon range, it comes with a high-grade optical path – not less than four aspherical elements and a couple of ED parts. If you have used other high-end Nikon lenses before, you are probably used to the nanocrystal coat and the ARNEO technology.

Other than that, you have a button for lens functionality – fully customizable, as well as an info display. Again, those who used Nikon lenses before will also spot some differences. Where is the optical VR? The truth is you do not need it, mostly because of the short focal length range.

Bottom line, I find it hard to choose a better Nikon lens when it comes to image quality, sharpness and performance.

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Pros

  • Good value for money
  • Exceptional seal to keep moisture and dust out
  • Quiet, fast, and smooth autofocus
  • Consistency in exposure
  • Compact

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Cons

  • A bit heavy, despite the compact design

Sony E-mount FE 24mm F1.4 GM – Best Sony Lens

Sony E-mount FE 24mm F1.4 GM

This is the most advanced Sony lens I have ever used and definitely one of the high-end products on the market. It is simply perfect from many points of view, but I would not recommend it to a newbie – if you are new to photography, you would have no clue what to do with it.

It is mostly aimed at professionals, but also at advanced photographers who want to push their careers further. Since this is one of the latest releases from Sony, it obviously incorporates some of the latest technologies as well – the eight units in the G Master series.

If you have used other lenses from Sony, you might have noticed it – the brand is mostly about speed, resolution, and a compact appearance. This unit stands out for each of these standards. Sharpness is great throughout the whole frame, while the wide-angle capture everything from a long distance.

The aperture is a bit over the competition, but more importantly, you will appreciate the 11-blade circular design. It may raise a few question marks, but it provides smooth bokeh – not to mention its natural appearance.

It is very sharp from one edge to another – hardly any differences between the central part of the image and the edges. Also, it is important to mention the DDSSM – Direct Drive SSM, which guarantees a superior focus. 

The f1.4 aperture adds to the depth of field and exposure, while the XA elements guarantee high-resolution results that look like real life.

All these technologies and features come for a price, though, so expect to pay a bit more than for other Nikon lenses. Other than that, it weighs just under 16 ounces, which is a plus when compared to its direct competition.

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Pros

  • Compact design
  • Extraordinary sharpness and image quality
  • Consistent in sharpness
  • High lifelike resolution results
  • Lighter than other lenses

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Cons

  • Minimum distortion – professionals may notice it
  • May not always focus on what you want

Sony FE 135mm F1.8 G Master – Best Lens for Indoor Sports Photography

Sony FE 135mm F1.8 G Master

Suitable for Sony devices, this is probably the best lens for sports photography if you tend to attend indoor sports. It simply stands out in the crowd with the bright aperture, which allows you to shoot in slightly poor lighting conditions without ruining your shots.

However, while I do recommend this lens for indoor work, it is just as effective for outdoors and natural light. For instance, if you are into animal photography, you probably already know that noise could be an issue. This unit comes with a couple of actuators.

The so-called XD linear motors will keep the lens silent – great for events that require silence or animal photography. The same motors are responsible for the ultra-fast focus. You barely have a second in many situations – the focus needs to be there, and trust me, it will be.

The lens is a bit new compared to others. It does share some of the characteristics of other Sony lenses – I have tried previous models with XD linear motors before, as well as the Super ED glass. Well, you can find these features in this lens too.

Small twitches here and there make the lens suitable for those who want to become – or already are – professional. The body holds some handy buttons to save time and bring convenience – aperture ring and silencer, focus range limited switch, or a switch from AF to MF. Custom focus is also there.

At about 3.6×5 inches, this is one of the smallest lenses on the market – not too heavy either, of course. It is based on magnesium alloy – both light and durable. Shooting outdoors too, I found the weather seal to be excellent – no issues whatsoever.

Back to sports photography, the f/1.8 aperture will give you a wider approach and allow you to use your artistic skills – such as blurring the background and isolating subjects.

So, if you are a basketball or volleyball fan, you can not go wrong with Sony FE 135mm F1.8 G Master. It is an excellent choice.

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Pros

  • Excellent indoors, but very good outdoors too
  • Works wonders in low light conditions
  • Multiple controls and buttons for convenience
  • Small and compact
  • Durable – both the material and the weather seal

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Cons

  • There are better choices if you are into video shooting

Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3G ED – Best Lens for Outdoor Sports Photography

Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3G ED

I have tried several crop sensor lenses in my projects, but nothing beats this one. The Nikon 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3G will not disappoint. 

The thing that drew my attention straight away? Value for money. The variable aperture lens provides great value for money and a unique experience.

Now, in terms of range adaptability, it is almost impossible to find something more versatile – trust me, I tried. You can go from a wide angle to the tightest zoom you can think of, regardless of the sport or situation. It is a unique addition to all sorts of situations, regardless of your position.

An adaptable range is a must if you have no clue where your position will be. Sure, you will know where you will be, but if you have never been there, you cannot tell how far the action will be. Therefore, a bit of versatility will make your job easier. Adaptability is a critical element of being effective in photography.

The lens comes with optical stabilization, while the focusing distance goes extremely close. You could be in the last seats in a venue or a stadium, and you would still be able to capture some exquisite shots. Since you may also have to run around or move all the time, the lens will support you with its weight.

The compact design simply adds to its attractive profile.

Now, if you have taken professional pictures before, you already know that going both wide and very time when zooming comes with some drawbacks. You cannot have everything perfect, so this ability brings in a bit of distortion.

However, let me tell you one thing – the distortion is minimum. If you are new to photography, you will not even notice it. If you are an expert, you will feel it, but it will not ruin your work, so there is nothing to be concerned about.

Talking about slightly negative things, the variable aperture adds to the difficulty of using the lens in low light conditions. On the same note, do not expect the depth of field to be extremely shallow – but then again, the pluses of the lens easily outweigh these slight minuses.

All in all, if you often attend baseball, soccer, football games, or even motorsport events and want to get some great action shots, it is a good lens.

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Pros

  • Great in terms of adaptability
  • Compact and lightweight
  • Great value for money
  • Outstanding versatility
  • Reliable performance

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Cons

  • A bit of distortion due to the high degree of adaptability
  • Better alternatives if you shoot in low light conditions

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED – Best Lens for Night Sports Photography

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED

If you are after something silent, search no more – the AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED will not let you down. However, you are after night photography rather than silence. Nikon’s masterpiece will pleasantly surprise you with its capabilities, regardless of the lighting condition.

The maximum aperture is not impressive – just f/2.8. However, the silent motor and the night capabilities make up for it. Whether you are into sports photography, nighttime wildlife, or you just love snapping photos in town after sunset, this lens will not let you down.

The wide angle is what drew my attention in the first place – I tried it outdoors first, got some nice landscapes, the beautiful night sky, and so on. When it comes to sports photography, there will be a bit of light anyway.

In terms of design and construction, get ready to be impressed – a couple of extra-low dispersion elements, three aspherical elements, and an aspherical extra-low element for dispersion. Moreover, you have a high refractive element too.

The result? Little to no aberrations. Only a professional may be able to find an issue.

Nikon has gone even further. Contract and color richness are just as good. Normally, night photography is a bit of a nightmare because of ghosting and flare, but Nikon took care of these with its nano crystal coating, as well as the integrated coating.

Furthermore, a fluorine coating is added on top, so dist and dust are less likely to settle on the lens.

Some might be slightly disappointed by the aperture, but in my opinion, this is an actual advantage. The aperture is across the focal range and is responsible for high-quality shooting at night – or at least in poor lighting conditions.

Whether you take pictures at an event or are about to come up with a night gallery, this model will not drop or increase the aperture – a common issue with normal zoom lenses, especially when you play with the zoom. Forget about these problems.

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Pros

  • Incredibly quiet motor
  • Impressive wide-angle focal range
  • No ghosting and flare
  • No chromatic aberrations
  • Consistent aperture as you mess with the zoom

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Cons

  • Aperture is limited and could be an issue for some

Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM – Best Lens for Low Light Sports Photography

Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM

The Art series from Sigma stands out with its value for money, but this is not everything. It has an exquisite sharpness, but it lasts for ages if well looked after. The 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art makes no exception.

It might be an unwritten rule, but the 85mm focal length is most commonly used for portrait photography. Sure, there is a fine line between portrait and sports photography – even action shooting can count as portrait photography if you find a good subject.

This Sigma lens stands out because it can work wonders in any type of lighting condition. It is excellent when there is plenty of light on your subject, but it is just as effective – if not even better – in low-light conditions. You can use it indoors or outdoors after sunset; the results will surprise you.

Its external capabilities are given by the wide-open aperture. You do not even need to slow the shutter speed. In fact, I shot some extraordinary pictures without even needing to push the ISO – find the right subject and topic, and you will love the outcome.

Sigma’s lenses are suitable for more devices. This one in particular works well with full frame cameras – make sure your camera can support it first. The maximum aperture provided is f/1.4. This standard provides access to plenty of light captured through the lens, even if the lighting conditions are not ideal.

The final result? A well-exposed image, yet I have experienced different results based on the angles, shade, and so on.

Other than that, as you look around this lens, you will notice a couple of super low dispersion elements. There is also an aspherical element. The purpose is to ensure spherical aberration is well looked after – other aberrations will also be kept under control.

At the same time, the super multi-layer coating is good against ghosting – I had no issues whatsoever, and I used this lens for quite a while. Flares will also be reduced, whether you use the lens at night or in abundant light.

The result? High contrast photography with plenty of colors.

It is also worth noting that a different version of this lens – the 85mm f/1.4 DG DN Art – comes with pretty much the same features. However, the lens is designed for mirrorless systems.

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Pros

  • Good focal length for different types of photography
  • Available in a few different camera mounts
  • Durable design
  • Excellent sharpness
  • Compact construction
  • Good in all sorts of lighting conditions

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Cons

  • Heavier than other similar models

Fujifilm XF35mmF2 R WR – The Most Affordable Option

Fujifilm XF35mmF2 R WR

A professional may not necessarily do with a Fujifilm lens, but hear me out – this is the best lens for sports photography if you are new to this industry, you are trying to get some experience, or you work for a local magazine or newspaper.

It does most of the things big-name lenses do, but at a lower level. Practically, if you zoom in, you may not have the same high level of sharpness. You may not be able to see Ronaldo’s sweat on the pitch from a mile away either.

But then, who needs pictures counting thousands of pixels? If you are an amateur or you work locally, this lens will surprise you with its results – not to mention the excellent value for money. 

I find it suitable for complete newbies and more advanced users who need a backup lens or a budget one.

Fujifilm has made it pretty clear with its 35mm prime lenses – after all, this is the third release from the Japanese brand. In terms of looks, you will find more similar options – f/1.4, for example, which is quite fast, not to mention the f/2 variant. This is the most affordable one in the series, though.

In terms of capabilities, this lens brings in the main features of 50mm focal length, mostly associated with full frame cameras. The maximum aperture is also relatively fast – quite surprising for this price, if I may add. Sure, it may not have an aperture control ring – like the XF35mm f/2, but you can do without it.

Another thing worth some consideration is the seal – well, it does not have one. You do not have a weather or dust seal, but you cannot expect one for this price. It is not such a big deal, though – just make sure you protect the lens and avoid using it in bad weather unless you have a good cover.

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Pros

  • Great value for money
  • Can do what more expensive lenses do
  • No random bells and whistles
  • Great compatibility with more cameras
  • Good for pros and amateurs

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Cons

  • A bit of distortion in raw files

Choosing Best Lens for Sports Photography – Our Buying Guide

Choosing the best lens for sports photography may seem easy, but as you dig deeper, you realize there are plenty of challenges. The main challenge is the fact that you photograph moving objects. Sure, you can snap portraits while players are standing too, but most commonly, they will move.

If you have tried to shoot an event – or perhaps your kid’s sports event, you probably know already how difficult it is to get a focused shot. Newbies may try their all-purpose lenses, but such issues will most likely lead to motion blur. 

Now, what do you need to look for in a lens for sports photography?

Type of lens

There are more types of lenses you can rely on for sports photography. Some popular options include wide angle, prime, telephoto, and zoom lenses. Each of them can help in one way or another, but at the end of the day, I recommend experimenting to find what truly works for you.

Keep in mind that apart from portrait, you will need a lot of motion. You need to capture the moment. A camera allows lots of customization and small details, such as ISO or the shutter speed. However, the physical attributes are just as important.

Capturing motion

The idea of capturing motion is fairly simple to understand. Basically, the faster your shutter is at opening and closing, the less time the sensor will be open. In other words, the action will be frozen relatively fast, with no blur.

In many situations, the ISO and shutter speed are under camera control. However, the lens makes the difference because of the exposure triangle. The aperture? Also controlled by the lenses. The larger the aperture is, the more light gets into the camera.

All about the focus

Top-notch autofocus is critical in sports photography. When matching a camera and lens, you need to ensure they are compatible – not technically, but in terms of communication. A fast focus manipulation is imperative.

The focusing distance is just as important. If you plan to shoot sports at a close angle, ensure that the lens can focus over long distances. You may not always be next to the pitch or court, so you need a good focus. Do not forget about the sharpness either, not to mention chromatic aberrations.

Shutter speed and motion

The shutter speed makes the difference between capturing motion and capturing blurred images. The faster your shutter is, the more movement you can actually capture. At the end of the day, there are sports out there that require super speeds, while others can be captured with regular lenses too.

Unlike most expectations, let me make it clear to you – the shutter speed will not determine the quality of the image. But then, a fast shutter will keep the image sharp, meaning the shutter speed can affect the quality in an indirect way.

A low ISO will also add to the image quality.

To help you get an idea, volleyball is a relatively slow-moving sport, while tennis is normally fast. They both need you to freeze the motion, but the shutter speed is different for them. Shutter speeds also affect the light, but this is not necessarily important on a sunny day.

How about the focal length?

Based on the sports you want to capture, you may need different lenses for different environments – different focal lengths as well. The focal length is most important when you are in a long distance. For example, some sports may require more than just a single lens.

Generally speaking, professionals mostly rely on three focal ranges:

  1. Tight wide angle lens
  2. Long telephoto lens
  3. Medium telephoto lens

If you truly want to cover everything, you need three zoom lenses – 24-70mm, 70-200mm, and 100-400mm. If you are after a super telephoto lens and you want a wide aperture, the focal length is not adjustable.

Try shooting one competition or event with one camera and lens only. Then, try out more lenses. See what you prefer – after all, what works for some photographers will not work for everyone else.

Price

In a world where everyone pays attention to technical details, the price is often overlooked, yet it can often put newbies off. For example, a lens for professionals can be quite expensive. One for amateurs or one to be used as a backup can easily cost two or three times less.

Before looking for lenses, make sure you know what your camera needs – double check the manual and pay attention to the mount type. With time, as your passion develops and you gain more experience – or perhaps become a professional, chances are you will get more lenses for different circumstances.

Best Lens for Sports Photography – Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What type of lens should I use for sports photography?

Classic 70-200mm lenses – often made by Canon – represent the most popular option in television and media. Such cameras have little to no distortion, while the one from Canon allows zooming in very close too. Try out different types and figure out yourself what works for your style.

What focal length of lens is best for sports photography?

Again, the 70-200mm focal length is one of the most popular choices, and for some good reasons. It can provide good zooming capabilities and subject images, but it can also capture both slow moments and moving or running subjects. Its versatility makes it stand out in the crowd.

Is wide-angle lens good for sports photography?

Many professionals – and even amateurs with a bit of experience – will also end up carrying a wide-angle lens. This feature allows them to capture wide images – athletes, the actual location, the crowd around them, and the environment.

Final Thoughts

It is difficult to define the best lens for sports photography. Different people can swear by different lenses. It pays off trying out different models until you understand what works best for your style – it may take time, but it is totally doable.

Furthermore, the experience will inevitably come with time, and small details can point you in the right direction.

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