Sports photography is popular nowadays, and there are numerous professional sports photographers that make for a living by shooting this kind of photography. Fortunately, there are a plethora of lenses available on the market, which are specifically crafted for this purpose. But still, choosing the right one for you isn’t the easiest job in the world, but instead, it is very complex, to be honest!
In addition, I’ve been asked numerous times to write an article where I will offer the best lenses for photography, and as a matter of fact, I’m always up for a challenge, since photography, and everything that is connected to it is something that I absolutely love. In other words, photography has taken a huge part of my life, and I really love to help people and to shoot at the same time!
That’s why, in this article, I will name you the 5 best lenses for sports photography (in my opinion), so in the end, you be the final judge whether they are worthy of your attention or not!
Are you ready? I think yes, so let’s get started right away!
The 5 Best Lenses For Sports Photography
Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 40-150mm F2.8 PRO
Sony Alpha 70-350 F4.5-6.3 G OSS
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L is III USM
Best For Sharp & Clear Images
Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E
Best For Landscape Photography
Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 300mm f/2.8G ED
Best Multipurpose Lens
5. Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 40-150mm F2.8 PRO
The Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 40-150mm F2.8 PRO would be an excellent choice for you, especially if you’re owning a Micro Four Thirds camera, because this lens covers a wide telephoto zoom range and it is known for outputting exceptionally sharp results!
Speaking of the design, this lens isn’t the most compact lens that you can find on the market, because it is chunky, however, at the same time it is compact enough to let you hold it conveniently so that you can shoot comfortably for a longer period of time.
Also, this model has weather-sealing which by default makes it be a strong candidate for sports photography, since moisture, dust, and freezing temperatures won’t cause troubles to the lens, and to you of course since you will be the one that will be shooting, right?
Moreover, the manufacturer has also implemented a so-called Z.E.R.O Coating which is an anti-reflective coating whose purpose is to eliminate any potential ghosts and flares that may be present as a result of shooting under bright daylight. But, if you take a closer look at this unit you will also notice a programmable Lens Function Button of which you can take advantage and feel the benefits of having instant one-touch access to the functions you’ve been using frequently.
In terms of the performance and features, the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 40-150mm F2.8 PRO covers a field of view which is equivalent to an 80-300mm zoom of a full-frame system, has a constant f/2.8 aperture and what got my attention the most, is its ability to easily focus up to 2.3 feet and provide a magnification of 1:2:3 at its maximum zoom!
Furthermore, if you’ve been curious about the focal range, I’d like you to know that this lens has a focal length that ranges from 40-150mm, and if you’re shooting at 40mm f/28, then I have good news for you! The results will surely fascinate you because images will be extremely sharp, and this pattern continues at 70mm f/2.8 and at even at the highest range the results are really good with a minimal dip in sharpness.
Another great thing about this unit is its ability to control chromatic aberrations and the distortion which isn’t present throughout the entire zoom range!
Last but not least, you mustn’t only use this lens for shooting photos, due to the fact that thanks to the presence of its linear drive motors which are MSC ( Movie and Still Compatible), will be there for you to guarantee you a very silent focusing and aperture performance, so you shouldn’t feel restricted to try yourself as a videographer as well!
To conclude, I strongly recommend you consider this super telephoto lens, mostly because of its strong build quality, consistent and strong performance, as well as because of its versatility, and if you ever decide to purchase it, I’m sure that you will assure yourself of the quality of this lens.
4. Sony Alpha 70-350 F4.5-6.3 G OSS
Hey owners of Sony Alpha cameras! I have excellent news for you! The Sony Alpha 70-350 is a new, super-telephoto APS-C lens that has found its place on Amazon in 2019, and it didn’t take long before it received positive critiques by the sports photographers!
Aesthetically speaking, this model sports a sleek, and compact, polycarbonate body that measures 5.6 x 3.0 ( HxW), and weighs around 1.4 pounds which makes it pretty adequate to be paired with any of Sony’s APS-C a6000-series cameras! But, let its compactness do not fool you, because Sony has incorporated a weather-sealing as well, and this is surely one of the biggest highlights regarding the design of this lens since you will have complete freedom to shoot everywhere you want!
If you take a look on the front, you will notice its element that does support 67mm filters, as well as its zoom ring that is positioned to sit toward the front, and interestingly, it is wrapped in ridged rubber with engraved marks including 70, 100, 135, 200 and 300mm, so you can easily switch the positions any time you feel like you require that.
On the barrel, there’s a function button that sits between the zoom ring and the focus, and although it is set to lock focus by default, you can manage to change this and configure it to perform in another way without any problem.
When it comes to the performance, the Sony Alpha 70-350 F4.5-6.3 G OSS uses the extreme Dynamic linear motor technology, which according to Sony means that this unit will track and focus onto fast-moving subjects very quickly, and when this lens is used in conjunction with APS-C bodies, it will allow a truly advanced real-time AF performance so that you can capture the most dynamic moments without having issues at all!
Moreover, this unit employs a 7-blade circular aperture which definitely comes handy, whereas, if you shoot at 70mm f/4.5, you will be amazed by the end results because those who have been shooting with this claim that they really liked the strong, edge to edge performance, and I think that you will not be different at all!
At 200m f/5.6, the results are still great, however, at f/22 and f/29 you will notice a bit of drop which is normal though. If you want to push the lens to its boundary, at 350mm, you will still be satisfied by the results, however, some decrease can be felt if you’re really looking to find this!
I would also like to mention that the autofocus is nothing less than excellent, because this lens does not have any problem tracking fast-moving objects, and chances that you will ever miss a target are set to the minimum if not 0!
In the end, my only remark regarding this lens is that it creates some distortion, but honestly, you may not even notice it, since I’m a perfectionist and I most of the time I strive for flawless performances, which doesn’t happen at all, right? Anyway, if you see some distortion, you can manage to correct this by using Adobe Lightroom and you will be good to go!
Overall, if you’re an owner of a Sony APS-C camera and at the same time, if you’re keen on investing in a quality lens that will never disappoint you, then the Sony Alpha 70-350 F4.5-6.3 G OSS would be a top option for you!
3. Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L is III USM
The Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L is III USM is a professional-grade lens that is specifically designed to help the professionals shoot sports photography and have tremendously good-looking end results, regardless if the sports event is held indoors or outdoors!
To begin with, this is a full-frame lens that boasts a strong build, weather-sealed construction that comes with a fluorine coating to the front and rear elements which basically means that you won’t deal with “smudges”, while at the same time, you’d be restricted-free in terms of shooting since if you’re shooting outdoors, moisture and dust won’t affect the lens negatively!
For your information, Canon has divided the 24 elements into 19 groups, and each of them is made of high-grade glass plus a fluoride element that is followed by five ultra-low dispersion glass elements. Sounds pleasing, doesn’t it?
On the barrel, the middle section consists of physical toggle switches with a focus limiter of which you can take advantage and tailor the distance meant for subjects from 2.5 meters to infinity, or from 1.2 meters to infinity!
Also, you will find two, relatively big, rubber-covered control rings of which the zoom rings are located at the camera body and has embedded marks at 70, 100, 135, 200mm positions, so for now, I’m really satisfied with the body.
Moving on, the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L is III USM comes armed with an 8-blade circular aperture which is something that I absolutely favor, because the aperture will contribute a lot to the performance since it boosts the image quality, so if you prefer having a nice subtle background blur, well, you’d be able to do that!
When it comes to the optical image stabilization, the one of this lens is strong enough to output a performance at up to 3.5 stops of shake correction, and if you ask me, I think that Canon did an excellent job here because you will have an opportunity to be more than satisfied since you will shoot blur-free photos that says a lot regarding the consistency of this lens.
Now, let’s talk regarding the distortion. This lens controls the distortion pretty well, in fact, at 70mm you will notice just a small distortion that will not affect the image quality at all, and this is just proof that nothing is perfect in this world. At 135mm, the same pattern continues, whereas, at 200mm, like is the case with most of the lens, you can see more distortion, however, you can eliminate its presence by turning on your in-camera correction if you’re shooting JPG images, or by using Adobe Lightroom if you prefer to shoot RAW imagery.
I personally love this lens, and i even ranked it as the best zoom lens for Canon T3i in our roundup of lenses for the T3i.
In conclusion, the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L is III USM deserves your attention, so give this lens a try, because from the moment you start using this lens, your shooting experience is going to be heavily boosted!
2. Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E
The Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E is undoubtedly one of the best lens for sports photography, and if you’re owner of a Nikon camera, then this unit will suit your needs, because it is a real workhorse of a lens! Why is that? Let’s find out!
Design-wise, this lens measures 6 x 3.4 (HD), weighs around 2.4 pounds, and therefore, it may not be the smallest lens you can encounter on the market, however, this doesn’t mean that you won’t feel comfortable to shoot with it. In fact, you will not only feel comfortable but at the same time, this size is very common with fast pro-grade lenses!
In addition, the build quality is excellent, and you’ll unlikely feel or notice wobbling regardless of the part of the lens you’re taking a look at!
The main components that comprise this lens is its composite barrel that holds a lot of glass stored at the inside, a fast-performing focus motor that does not output a significant noise, whereas, the optical design packs three aspherical elements, two extra-low dispersion, single aspherical extra-low dispersion element, high-refractive-index elements and a Nikon Fluorine Coat that protects the front and rear glass. If we put all of these things into one, then do not be surprised regarding the final results, because you won’t have issues such as ghosting, flare, chromatic aberration/chromatic aberration!
Speaking of the performance, the Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E outputs fascinating results in terms of sharpness, even if you opt to use it wide open at f/2.8, and the performance is relatively the same even if you’ve had stopped down the lens.
If you stop down to f/4 while zooming in to 70mm, the results are really good, and the same can be said for 50mm/f.5.6, but, of course, at 70mm the results are a bit better.
Nikon didn’t stop here though, they’ve also implemented a Vibration Reduction Image Stabilization technology, to ensure that the performance is going to be consistent and that you’d always be able to achieve great results anytime you start to shoot!
Namely, you can shoot sports and videos easily, and as I’ve stated previously, you won’t find ghosting, coma, chromatic and spherical aberrations which are indeed thrilling!
1. Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 300mm f/2.8G ED
The Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 300mm f/2.8G ED stands for premium, regardless if you see through the prism of price, performance or look, this sports lens is simply ideal for professional sports photographers that would like to elevate the quality of their pictures and their own experience to a whole new level!
From a design perspective, this model can be considered as “bulky” because it weighs 6.4 pounds, and measures 10.5 x 4.9″ (HD), but, despite being a bulky lens, its build quality is indeed one of the strongest points of this unit.
The reason is very simple though because the AF-S FX NIKKOR 300mm f/2.8G ED holds a tough, weather-sealed construction and it is based on the Nano Crystal Coating technology, so the benefits you get in a return are indeed plenty. To be more precise, you can shoot without any problems under a variety of different conditions, whereas, as you’re doing that, you won’t deal with ghosting and flare. Who doesn’t like this?!
Moreover, this unit is stylish as well, and you can instantly notice this if you take a look at its matte-black barrel which is wrapped in a hard rubber that stretches toward the front, as well as its manual focus ring of which you can take advantage and if you set it’s through of about 200-degrees, you can set its minimum focus distance to infinity without a fuss at all!
Around the lens, there are multiple controls, including the VR which is followed by a couple of toggle switches that sit on the left side.
So, in terms fo the design, I’m very pleased to see this piece of art!
But now, let’s talk about the performance and the features.
First and foremost, I have to inform you about the distortion. Those who’ve had an opportunity to shoot with this claim that there’s literally no visible distortion to speak of, JPG format images look strong, whereas, RAW photographers can always remove/reduce the presence of vignette by using software tools.
Another great thing about this lens is its fast-aperture of f/2.8 which is optimized to provide edge-to-edge sharpness for both FX and DX-format DSLR cameras made by Nikon, therefore, this lens can be considered as one of the best if not the best lens for sports photography!
I’d also like to mention that the AF-S FX NIKKOR 300mm f/2.8G ED focuses quickly, and it is very quiet at the same time, the reason behind this is it internal Silent Wave Motor, whereas, the out of focus performance is nothing less fantastic, thanks to its rounded, 9-blade diaphragm that outputs a truly fascinating rendering performance!
To summarize, the Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 300mm f/2.8G ED is a must-have lens, especially if you can afford it, since this unit has everything that will guarantee you phenomenal results for sports photography!
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Sports Photography Lens Buying Guide
In this section, I will be focused on providing you with some tips that you should consider before you make an actual purchase. All of the tips that will be mentioned here are very important because they will prevent you from being disappointed with the final results, so let’s start right away and find out what I’ve prepared for you!
First and foremost, I’d recommend you prioritize those lenses that have a weatherproof construction because if you’re planning to shoot sports matches, most of them will be held outdoors. So, having protection against rain, snow, and wind, is always important because although these lenses may be more costly, still, they are worthy because the external environmental factors will not do harm to your lenses!
Another thing you should be careful about is the type of lens. Make sure you get a telephoto lens, because a telephoto lens will let you capture better photos in various situations.
Image Stabilization System
This is surely crucial in photography, due to the fact that having a sports lens with image stabilization, it means that the camera shake will be dramatically reduced, and this by default, means that fast-moving objects will be captured nicely, and this is what you want at lenses for sports photography!
Autofocus & Shutter Speed
Autofocus speed is one of the most important factors in sports photography. If you’ve been thinking why is that, well, the reason is very simple though, because if your sports lens has a fast autofocus speed, then you can effectively capture the critical moments of the game!
Shutter speed is also very important, especially in sports photography.
In general, the recommended focal length range should be between 50-400mm, because at these ranges, the presence of distortion is minimal and simply ideal for this kind of photography.
As you already know, not all lenses are equal, nor all of them share the same cost. Even though I always recommend to my audience to keep tight on budget, for sports photography you do really need quality lenses and they are usually costly! Either way, you don’t have to own the most expensive one, but still, if possible, always strive to get the one that offers the best value for its price!
Since most of the time you will be capturing photos of sports from a range, I recommend you get a good zoom lens. Having a zoom lens will let you capture good looking photos, no matter how far you are from the action. Every lens can zoom, but having a proper zoom lens will let you take the photos without compromising on the quality.
Since most of these lenses have good zooming capabilities, you can even use them as a lens for astronomical imaging. However, if you do it professionally, i would suggest you get a proper one for that field instead.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Q: What are the best lens for sports photography?
A: Well, this depends on the brand of your camera, there are sports lenses that are specifically designed to be used with Nikon cameras, Canon, Pentax and Sony. However, you can consider “the best” those listed in this article, because they are suitable for the cameras made by the aforementioned brands.
Q: Are lenses for sports photography worth it?
A: Absolutely yes. This is not a marketing “trick”, but in fact, lenses specialized for this type of photography are known for producing the best results.
Q: Do I really need lenses for sports photography?
A: Although you’re not obliged to own one, still, if you strive to get the best possible results of your camera and of the surrounding you’re set into, then having own will bring you numerous benefits. So, I would say that having one will surely mean a lot to you.
Q: What does a fast lens actually mean?
A: First of all, fast lenses are very important for sports photography, and what does this means is that these lenses employ a motor that ensures quick autofocus which means that you can effectively shoot the most crucial moments.
So, what’s your favorite lens for sports photography? Since, by now, chances that you’ve set an eye on one of them is very high, right? Either way, I would like you to know that regardless of your choice, each of them is unique in its own way, and you won’t go wrong with any of them!
This article is mostly focused on shooting sports from a distance. If you are the one that performs the sport – for example, skateboarding, then you should look for a camera specialized in that. You can read our article on the best skateboarding cameras here.
The Panasonic GH4 is one of the most recommended cameras when it comes to capturing sports videos, so i also recommend you check out our Panasonic GH4 Lens buying guide article.
If you’re still in doubt or have some questions, feel free to contact me because I’m always available to help you and to break every doubt you have regardless if it is about lenses or about anything else that belongs in the field of photography!