Top 5 Lenses for Sports Photography

27 Jun

Camera brands offer dozens of lens choices. How do you know which ones are good for you? In this article, we’ll be talking about sports photography lenses. If you’re shooting sports, you’ll definitely want to have at least one of the lenses on this list.

These lenses can generally be found across all manufacturers. I won’t be manufacturer-specific – chances are, whatever camera brand you use offers these lenses.

The 70-200mm

Nikon 70-200

70-200mm is a classic focal length for telephoto zooms. Most camera manufacturers offer a lens in this range. The 70-200’s are generally high-end lenses, meaning they aren’t the most inexpensive option. If you have a tight budget, you’ll probably want to consider something else. But if you can afford a nice 70-200, they are worth the money.

Since they’re higher end, 70-200s usually offer lots of good sports features, like fast autofocus and excellent image quality.

70-200s usually come in two variations: f/2.8 and f/4. I already covered aperture, so I won’t go over it again. Some manufacturers include image stabilization in their 70-200s; some offer it as an option.

70-200 is an optimal range for sports. 70mm allows for closer shots, while offering longer zoom at 200mm. This zoom range is versatile and makes it easier to capture the action.

Plus, most manufacturers know that many photographers will use their 70-200mm for sports, and they keep that in mind when making them.

In summary, if you can reasonably afford a 70-200mm, I recommend purchasing one.

The 200mm

Canon 200mm f/2.8L

The 200mm lens is an excellent choice for sports photographers. Sometimes built with an f/2.8 aperture, these lenses are similar to 70-200s. The main difference is that with 200mm, you cannot zoom.

That alone is enough to make most photographers choose a 70-200mm over a 200mm prime lens. The convenience of zoom often outweighs the advantages of better aperture and image quality.

Why buy a 200mm instead of a 70-200? Not having to install a zoom mechanism allows manufacturers to focus on other things, like AF and build quality. Image quality is usually very good in telephoto primes. Since there are no zoom mechanics, the lens can be smaller, lighter, and less expensive than a similar zoom lens, while still offering great image quality.

Most 200’s don’t have image stabilization. I’m guessing they do this to keep costs down.

Some manufacturers make their 200mm lens with f/2.8, some with f/4. These lenses are middle- to high-end, so most of them have excellent AF speed, build quality, and image quality.

200mm may prove to be a little short for sports photography. As always, read reviews and look at sample images for each specific lens—they vary greatly. But if 200mm is the focal length you need, a 200 prime could be the perfect lens for you.

The 300mm

Canon 300mm f/4L IS

The 300mm prime lens is also quite common among manufacturers. Like the 70-200mm, the 300mm is a higher-end lens with plenty of nice sports features. 300mm lenses also come primarily in f/2.8 and f/4 and sometimes offer image stabilization features.

300mm prime lenses are an excellent option if you can afford them. The 300mm f/2.8’s are incredibly expensive – and the f/4 versions aren’t cheap either. But they do give you some extra reach beyond that 70-200mm—often very convenient.

The 70-300mm

Nikon

70-300mm lenses are perhaps the most popular sports lenses on the market. As a relatively inexpensive option, they are purchased by numerous photographers who want better sports photos for less money. Normal 70-300s can range from $100-500.

70-300mm zoom lenses are an excellent option for sports, but you must know how to use them to get the best images out of them.

70-300s (or 75-300s) usually come with apertures like f/4-5.6 – normal for this price range.

Regarding image quality, most 70-300mm lenses are at their best optically between 70 and 200mm. When you buy a 70-300, I recommend treating it as a 70-200mm unless you really need that extra length.

70-300mm zoom lenses can be an excellent budget-friendly option for sports photography. If you’re aware of their limitations and play to their strengths, you can use these lenses to take some very good images.

The 50-200mm

Nikon 55-200mm lenses

Lenses in the 50-200mm range, such as 55-200 or 55-250, are an inexpensive lower-end option for telephoto zoom. While not the best option for shooting sports, if you have a tight budget, a 50-200 could be an option for you.

50-200 range lenses are marketed mainly to new DSLR owners as a second lens to add to their 18-55. Consequently, they’re made to be affordable and entry-level quality. These lenses aren’t given very fast apertures.

Surprisingly, image quality is fairly good overall in this category. It varies by manufacturer, and it won’t challenge high-end glass; but the image quality of most lenses in this range is decent for the price.

Most lenses in this range are made specifically for crop-sensor DSLRs and won’t work on film or full frame DSLRs.

Many manufacturers are offering image stabilization in their 50-200 range lenses. You probably won’t find them to have the fastest autofocus though.

Again, this all depends on the manufacturer and varies from brand to brand.

To wrap it up, lenses in the 50-200 range make up the lower line of sports lenses. You should only consider them if you have a very tight budget.

Summary

If you shoot sports, you probably own (or want to own) one of these 5 lenses. They’re just the best that you can get for sports photography.

I recommend starting off with a 70-200mm. This will give you plenty of versatility for close to medium distances. If you find yourself needing a longer lens, consider a 300mm prime if your budget allows, or a 70-300mm zoom lens (less expensive).

If you don’t need the ability to zoom, a 200mm prime can often be a good choice for sports photography. If you have any doubt, I would lean towards the 70-200mm though.

Finally, if you’re on a tight budget and a 50-200mm is in your price range, buy one and learn to use it well. It’s cheaper, but if you learn how to use it, you can get great shots with whatever lens you use.

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