best camera for sports photography


So, it's a great question. What is the best camera for sports photography? There're so many good cameras on the market, you're probably wondering where to start. This post will help you find out the 5 features to look for to get the best sports camera, as well as 5 good choices for your sports camera. There's also a helpful table for you to use to help you set your sports camera to the right shutter speed to get sharp photos.

There is one distinction you want to know about first. That's the differences between a sports camera and an action camera.

Sports photoCanon DSLR, 400mm lens, 1/1000 second

Action cameras are for the young at heart that want to record their activities as they participate. The Gopro is by far the most well-known action camera.  This post is all about choosing a good camera to use when you photograph sports when you're the spectator.

Here is a quick look at the 5 features to look for in comparing sports cameras. We'll dive into these more deeply in a minute. Take a look. They're all important to be aware of.


5 features of a good sports camera


1. VIEWFINDER

2. FAST FRAME RATE

3. FAST FOCUSING

4. ZOOM POWER

5. SHORT SHUTTER LAG

This is no longer a discussion of who makes the best sports cameras, Canon or Nikon. Those days are over, accept for professional photographers. These two companies were both the clear leaders at one point amongst all of the digital camera makers, but now there are many other companies that have candidates for the best sports camera.


What kind of camera do pro sports photographers use

Canon vs NikonNikon vs. Canon

Canon and Nikon are still by far the camera brands that professional sports photographers use. Some have switched to Sony and Fujifilm, but don't let that limit your search. Don't focus on a particular brand for a sports camera. Choose the best camera for the sports AND the other types of photography you like to shoot.

Before I just give you a list of the best sports cameras-I know we all like to get the quick answer-take a minute to see what camera features you need to look for first. Let's dive into the most important thing to recognize and then we'll visit the 5 features to watch when your figuring on which sports camera to buy.


what's the most important factor to consider?

Point and shoot cameraToo slow for sports

CAMERA TYPE.  DSLRs are easily the winner when it comes to the best kind of camera for speed and quality in shooting sports. The type of camera you use is the easiest way to separate good sports cameras from mediocre sports cameras.  DSLR cameras are better for sports photography because they focus faster, can shoot more frames per second, have very little shutter button delay, and have a bigger memory buffer.

More on that in a minute. DSLRs also have a huge assortment of quality sports lenses to choose from in terms of how powerful (magnification) they are and how fast (maximum aperture) they are.


Are mirrorless cameras good for sports photography

DSLR cameras are still a better choice than mirrorless cameras right now because of lens selection and cost. All DSLRs also have optical viewfinders. Some mirrorless cameras don't have viewfinders. This makes it much easier to follow fast paced action using a DSLR than you possible could on a camera with only an LCD screen.

YOU DON'T HAVE TO SPEND THOUSANDS ON A PRO DSLR CAMERA FOR GREAT SPORTS PHOTOS

Particularly with the DSLRs that have been introduced into the market in the last 2 years, newer cameras have such great technology built in that you're fortunate to be looking right now.

Point and shoot cameras, bridge cameras, and cell phone cameras can't possible perform to the level you need when you're photographing the fast action of sports or other activities that involve fast motion. 


the 5 features to look for

Now take a more detailed look on what features a good sports camera should have.

1. VIEWFINDER.  This is a must have feature. 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. I'd never recommend a camera without a viewfinder to shoot sports.

2. FRAMES PER SECOND (FPS).  How many photos can a camera take within a one second time period? The less time that passes between each photo taken means the more likely you are to have successfully captured that perfectly timed action photo. 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 having a nice strong chance of getting the right timing. Newer DSLRs and mirrorless cameras often have 8 fps or faster capabilities.

tennis serveA faster frame rate would have less gaps in the action.
My Canon 5D was released in 2005, so it's "ancient" technology.


I shot tennis star Jelena Jankovic with my Canon 5D M1 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. That's not great by today's standards, but it's still really good.

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.

3. FOCUSING SPEED. Your camera and lens combination must be able to focus fast when you have a moving target. Even the slightest delay can mean the difference between a sharp and a blurry action shot.


4. LENS MAGNIFICATION.  How much zooming power you need depends on distance to your subject. If you can get a lens with a nice range of zoom, like 5x or more, you'll find it more versatile to use.

The quality of lens is also important, but you don't need to buy a pro lens to get some great shots of your daughter playing soccer. A long time ago I made the mistake a cheap 100-300 Sigma zoom lens for $100 on ebay before I had the money to buy one of Canon's "L" telephoto lenses. 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 an early model DSLR which had a crop factor of 1.6 for it's sensor. So I thought that the corresponding 160 to 480mm zoom range would be great. The photos were bad. They were un-sharp and the lens produced a lot of chromatic aberration. Most recently, I've settle on a nice compromise between a crappy cheap and an expensive sports lens. For more on my newest sports lens, I wrote a detailed post on my Canon blog on the versatile Canon 100-400mm lens.

tennis backhandFrozen player - Blurred ball

5. SHUTTER LAG. It's that annoying delay between the instant you press the shutter button and when you actually take your photo. Traditional point and shoot cameras and cell phone cameras have a significant delay which makes timing your shot just right very challenging.


additional factors for a good sports camera

MAXIMUM SHUTTER SPEED. This isn't too much of a factor anymore. Nowadays just about every camera can give you extremely fast shutter speeds. Just check the shutter speed specs before you choose a camera for sports photography.  My first SLR was a Topcon Auto 100, made in the 1960s, and it's top shutter speed was a paltry 1/500 second.

That would be acceptable for sports where the action is only moderately fast, but not good enough for faster professional sports to stop the action effectively.

CONTINUOUS SHOOTING. How many total photos can you take in a real quick sequence before the memory buffer fills up? The buffer refers to the number of back-to-back shots the camera can take and save to memory before the camera freezes up temporarily to process and save the images to your memory card.

BATTERY LIFE.  Many 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. I think that's overkill for the casual sports photographer like you and me. DSLR cameras have great battery capacity and it's a lot easier and cheaper to just buy a 3rd party backup battery instead. 


best place to buy the best camera for sports

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.  You have dozens of choices on where to buy a good sports camera and that's an in depth topic for another day.

No matter where you buy, Amazon is a great place to read the reviews on a given product first, BEFORE you buy. Then purchase from your favorite source.


what camera settings for sports photography

Sports mode camera settingSports Mode

Most beginning sports photographers want to know the exact camera settings to get the best shot. There are two ways to go. It does vary a bit, depending on the type of sports action you are shooting and the lighting conditions at the time, but here are the quick guidelines to use.

Most pros shoot sports use a shutter speed of 1/000 of a second as a starting point and they often set their aperture of the lens to its widest setting. Rather than just take the "set it and forget it" mentality of your camera's SPORTS MODE, adopt the curiosity of a child and try these two camera settings instead. You can read about all of the camera settings, including sports mode, in this post on camera settings.


1. SHUTTER PRIORITY. To get that sharp look where the action appears to be frozen, you need a really quick shutter speed. Shutter priority mode lets you set the shutter speed and the camera will take care of the rest to give you a properly exposed photo.

No matter what camera you use for your sports photography, this is the preferred setting to give you control over the exact amount of sharpness (or motion blur) you want.

The key is to know the sport you are photographing enough to pick the right shutter speed.

Frozen action1/800 Second

The shutter speed chart below gives you a few starting points for the best shutter speed to use for various sports. Your distance and your angle to the movement of your subject both affect what shutter speed your camera needs to be set on to get perfectly sharp photos.

You won't know the exact perfect shutter speed until you experiment a little. It's best to go a little faster than you need to and then you know you've got it covered. Here's a table to give you a starting point on how to set your camera's shutter speed for good sharp sports photos.


camera shutter speed for sports

Table of Best Shutter Speeds For SportsSports Photography Shutter Speed Recommendations


2. APERTURE PRIORITY. Particularly when you have changing light conditions, like sun and shade or uneven lighting on the sports field, you might want to simply set your aperture at it smallest f/stop number (its widest opening).

If you combine that with setting the ISO (the camera's sensitivity) manually at a high number, your camera will then give you the fastest shutter speed it can and still maintain a proper exposure.

Using aperture priority sounds counterintuitive when you want to control shutter speed, but essentially you're optimizing the camera to get the fastest shutter speed with the conditions that are present.. 

Steer wrestlerAperture = f/2.8


 Tips for Taking Sports Photos 

The camera you use is vitally important is the success you have shooting sports, but your technique should not be forgotten as an important part of the equation.

1. MOVE IT. Find a position where the angle you choose gives you a nice background behind your subject. I can't tell you how many otherwise good sports photos are ruined because of distracting backgrounds. Finding a unique perspective to have your camera in can often produce the most interesting sports photos. 

2. APERTURE. Shooting at a wide open lens aperture will give you a shallow depth of field which may help make the background blur. It depends on subject and background distances. Change your position on the sidelines to anticipate a good spot where the background is plain when you photograph the moving sports target. 

3. ISO. Use the highest ISO where you still satisfied with the quality of image that your camera delivers. Sometimes, when the light is low, you'll have to really max out your ISO just to get into the right range of fast enough shutter speeds.


5 recommended sports cameras

These 5 cameras are all good candidates. I kept this list to good sports cameras for beginners with affordable price tags. The first four of them are very affordable. The Sony a6100 is the cheapest sports camera on the list and the Canon 90D came in as the most expensive.

As an Amazon affiliate I receive a small commission from qualifying purchases, at NO added cost to you.

small sports dslr


The Canon SL2 is among the smallest DSLRs ever made. It can shoot continuously at maximum speed of 5.0 frames-per-second (fps) and has max shutter speed of 1/4000 sec. That's good, not great. The focusing system is really fast.

As a popular camera for soccer moms, due to its compact size, you can order one in a kit with the 18-135mm or 70-300mm lenses which are both great for shooting sports. You can click the photo to get its current price.

nikon d3500


The Nikon D3500 can also shoot continuously at max speed of 5.0 fps and has max shutter speed of 1/4000 second. What I like is that it's a lot cheaper than the Canon SL2 and even smaller than the SL2 

It does not have a rotating LCD screen, which to some is no big deal. For me it's improtant to have for shooting videos for my blog. Click the photo to check the price.

Canon Rebel t7i


This camera has a slighter faster frame rate which is good for sports photography. The Canon Rebel t7i shoots at a faster 6.0 fps and has a maximum shutter speed of 1/4000 second. The rotating LCD screen is a big plus. It's so much better for shooting  from high or lose perspectives as well as for shooting videos or photos of yourself.

One bonus that the t7i has is time lapse recording. Although not important in sports photography, it's an added bonus that you would enjoy if you chose the t7i as your sports camera.

sony A6100


The Sony Alpha 6100 can shoot 8 fps with live view and 11 fps without live view. It's the only mirrorless that made into my top 5 cameras for sports photography. It's not as pricey as the other mirrorless sports cameras.

According to DPReview: "one of the best family or travel cameras we've ever used" Click the photo for current pricing.

Canon 90D


The Canon 90D does so many things so well (including sports) that I'm buying one for myself. Max shutter speed is a lightning quick 1/800 second and shoots the fastest in 10.0 fps. The dual pixel focusing is remarkably fast.

This is more of a long term sports camera choice. It's a little higher up the food chain in terms of quality and durability and comes with the higher price tag too.


closing thoughts on the best camera for sports

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 that you'll love shooting with. 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 in choosing. You could get paralysis from overanalysis and could miss that one great sports photo.

Have a blast shooting sports!


Article published by Bruce Lovelace

ABOUT BRUCE LOVELACE

Bruce is the publisher of Better Digital Photo Tips. Read more on the About Page. He's been known as The Traveling Photographer ever since he started his location photography business in 1994.

View some of Bruce's photos on Instagram.   Visit the Facebook Page. Watch him on YouTube.  Bruce runs photo workshops for kids and adults, and provides one on one digital photography coaching.


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