So, it's a great question. What is the best camera for sports photography? This post will help you find a decent sports camera. It's not a topic as highly contested as the famous Canon vs Nikon camera debate.
Many even turn it into a discussion of what company makes the best sports cameras, Canon or Nikon. These two companies were both the clear leaders at one point.
Camera Format. It's the easiest way to differentiate a camera as a good or bad camera for sports photography. The DSLR is by far the winner for speed and quality in shooting sports. DSLR cameras are better for sports because they focus faster, can shoot more frames per second, and have a bigger buffer.
More on that in a minute. DSLRs have a huge assortment of quality sports lenses to choose from in terms of how powerful (magnification) they are and how fast (maximum aperture). DSLRs also have a viewfinder. This makes it much easier to follow fast paced action.
The GoPro is the clear winner when it comes to a sports camera for those photographers that like to shoot photos while participating in a sport or action-oriented activity.
Most point and shoot cameras and compact cameras cannot be considered as the best camera for sports. Those with bigger optical zoom capabilities are better cameras for sports photography than those that have limited lens zooming. Cell phone cameras are the worst for sports.
A viewfinder is a must. It's very awkward to try and follow action by looking at an LCD screen on the back of a camera. A good camera for sports photography needs to have a viewfinder.
Speed in frames per second (FPS). The less time that passes between each photo taken means the more likely you are to have successfully captured the best photo at just the right time. It really depends on the sport and how fast it is to estimate the minimum FPS needed. Generally speaking, 5-7 frames per second is a minimum for professional level sports.
I shot tennis star Jelena Jankovic with my Canon 5d at 3 frames per second. It was barely fast enough to record her serve. The newer Canon 5d Mark III shoots at 6 frames per second.
Cameras that do not have a reflex mirror that has to flip out of the way have a big design advantage in achieving a high FPS. MIrrorless cameras fall into this category.The Sony Alpha SLT-A77 can shoot at an amazing 12 frames per second. It's not cheap, but it's definitively a remarkable example of camera technology that you would brag about if you own one. The Sony SLT-AT77 uses a Translucent Mirror and it is a whole lot cheaper than the high-end Canons or Nikons that professional sports photographers use.
Continuous Shooting - The BUFFER refers to the number of back-to-back shots the camera can take and save to memory before the FPS starts to slow down.
Lens choice and quality - It all starts with the quality of lens. The light has to go through the lens to get to your camera's sensor .A long time ago I purchased a cheap 100-300 Sigma zoom lens for $100 on ebay before I invested in my Canon 70-200 f2.8. The Sigma budget lens was going to be used to photograph the local high school soccer games.
Boy was I disappointed. I used it with my old Canon 10D which had a crop factor of 1.6 for it's sensor. So I thought that the corresponding 160 to 480 zoom range would be great. The photos were un-sharp and the lens produced a lot of chromatic aberration.
Shutter speed isn't too much of a factor anymore. Modern cameras have extremely fast shutter speeds. My first SLR was a Topcon Auto 100, made in the 1960s and it's top shutter speed was 1/500 second.
That might be acceptable for perhaps most sports where the action is only moderately fast, but not good enough for faster professional sports to stop the action effectively.
Shutter Lag is the delay between the instant you depress the shutter button and when the shutter actually opens to make the exposure.
Traditional point and shoot cameras have a significant delay which makes timing your shot just right very challenging.
One possible accessory you should consider: Once you have the best camera and the best lens, you might consider a monopod. Monopods are also a very valuable piece of photography to have for the sports photographer.
Here are three of the on-line retailers I've used for camera equipment. Time shave changed since the old days of ordering through Porters mail order or driving to the local camera store.
It's just a personal preference for me-I like shopping from home and I like reading the reviews that consumers have written about the products. No matter where you buy, Amazon is a great place to read the reviews on a given product first, BEFORE you buy.
Battery Life. Most pro sports photographers use battery grips, accessories that double the number of photos they can take without a recharge and make vertical orientation less taxing on their arms and wrists.
All of these consideration come into play as well as your personal preferences and the specific sport that you are photographing.
So in conclusion, there simply isn't one best camera for sports photography. There are many factors to consider. The good news is that you have many choices to consider.
Enjoy the search for your best sports photography camera and have a blast. Just don't take too much time. You might miss that one great shot.
Have a blast shooting sports!
What's the best sports photo you ever took? Want to share it? What sports camera did you use?