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Best Lens for Sports Photography

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The key to great sports photography is to give your subject space. You can do this by shooting from a distance so your presence doesn’t become a nuisance. This is where a good sports lens comes in handy.

Here is our list of the best lens for sports photography options available!

a black and brown dog running on a sandy track

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

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS USM III
Sensor: Full Frame

Camera Mount: Canon

Canon’s 70-200mm lenses are likely the most famous of the sport telephotos. With its iconic off-white body paint color and red ring, you will find this lens in the hands of many professional sports photographers.

With the Canon 70-200mm, you can zoom in very close. And there is no actual distortion in the images. The way you see the subject is the way the subject will be captured.

The lens comes with edge-to-edge sharpness. This means that the lens is just as sharp in its corners as it is in the center (where optimal sharpness tends to be). It retains its sharpness despite having moving components due to being a zoom lens!

If your sports subjects take a break, you can snap a close up portrait all the way to the players running far away! The bokeh and depth of field produced by the f/2.8 aperture are creamy and soft, you won’t see any rings or problems with it.

The addition of the tripod collar has its own benefit. You can easily place the lens down on either a monopod or a tripod if you get tired of holding such a weight. However, if this collar is getting in your way when you are shooting handheld, you can easily screw it off. The removable collar is a unique feature, as other versions from other brands don’t have this.

Much like all the lenses in the luxury L line, this lens features weather sealing. The version III shown here even includes temperature control.

Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sport

Sensor: Full Frame

Camera Mount: Sigma, Canon, Nikon

The Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sport is a big contender in the telephoto field. This lens is priced to sell and built to compete.

It’s not a heavy lens at all. Especially if we compare it to other brands like Rokinon or Tamron, or older Canon and Nikon lenses. The lens material is a mixture of plastic, metal, and a new compound that is called Thermally Stable Composite.

What this compound does is keep the lens from overheating or freezing in extreme cold. The lens feels durable. While using it, I also found that it was more shock resistant than other lenses. Its weather sealing is also very useful.

This model includes a nifty tool known as a focus range limiter switch, a really nice addition to a lens like this. The focus range limiter restricts where your lens can focus. It’s used typically to tell the lens to ignore objects that are too close up and only focus on those far away.

This lens also uses HSM (Hyper Sonic AF Motor) for its focusing. You can also disable HSM to use manual controls. There’s a finger switch on the lens that lets you do this.

Sharpness and contrast are excellent throughout the entire zoom range. Even when shooting wide-open. Centre sharpness is excellent at 70mm and fine at all other focal lengths.

Corner sharpness is high at 70mm. At 100mm and beyond, corner sharpness takes a significant downturn at larger apertures. This is something to consider.

The lens also comes with Intelligent OS, software that delivers image stabilisation. It works horizontally, vertically, or diagonally – whatever direction your lens is being held or used.

You can adjust this mode with a switch too. You can find this on the side of the lens and it has two modes from which to choose.

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

Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3G ED VR
Sensor: APS-C (Crop Sensor) 

Camera Mount: Nikon

Our only crop-sensor lens on the list, the Nikon 18-300mm F/3.5-6.3 variable aperture lens is not one to overlook. A great bang-for-your-buck, this lens has the most adaptable range. Easily able to go from a wide-angle to a very tight zoom, it’s a great addition to any sport photography situation.

This especially rings true if you don’t know where you will be positioned for your pictures! Adaptability is a big component in being effective.

The Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-300mm F/3.5-6.3G ED VR features optical stabilization, a very close Macro-esque focusing distance, and as well as being light and compact. This particular lens won’t break your back to use either.

The lens does suffer some distortion due to its ability to go wide and tight when zooming. The distortion is not significant enough to deter you from giving this lens a solid chance.

The variable aperture does make this lens difficult to use in lower light conditions. And the depth of field is not as shallow.

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8 L IS II USM

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8 L IS II USM
Sensor: Full Frame

Camera Mount: Canon

The most expensive lens on our list, the Canon 400mm is a thing of drool-worthy beauty. It has incredible magnification at 400mm and a very wide aperture at f/2.8. The wide aperture allows you to use this lens in well lit and low lit conditions. And the 400mm lets you stand quite far back and still capture everything up close.

This is a fixed lens, which means it cannot zoom and is stuck at 400mm. This may seem counterintuitive for sports photography due to its lack of adaptability. But fixed lenses are actually sometimes a better choice.

Fixed lenses tend to be sharper than lenses that can zoom, as they have fewer moving components. And they can accommodate wider apertures.

The image quality and autofocus are great as well.

This lens is quite heavy, clocking in at 8 lbs, and it is intended for the professional.

Sony FE 135mm f/1.8 G Master

Sony FE 135mm f/1.8 G Master
Sensor: Full Frame

Camera Mount: Sony

The Sony FE 135mm F/1.8 GM lens is the most recently released model. This lens shares a lot of the standard characteristics of the G-Master line such as the XD linear motor, Super ED glass, and Sony Nano AR.

Sony were thinking of the professional photographers when they designed this lens. The entire lens body holds useful buttons and tools every photographer will want. Among them you can find:

  • the aperture ring
  • an aperture ring silencer
  • the focus range limiter switch
  • custom focus hold buttons
  • an AF to MF finger switch

The lens is about 3 5/8th inches long and 5 inches tall. Definitely the smallest on our list. The lens isn’t very heavy either at only 2 pounds.

If paired with a Sony mirrorless camera, you can keep the weight of your equipment down. The lens is made of magnesium alloy, which lets the model be durable while also not being too heavy.

I found the weather sealing to be very good, and the lens itself feels very sturdy.

The very wide f/1.8 aperture can mean that your sports photographs will have a more artistic edge to them. You can blur out the background and isolate each player that you are photographing.

On top of that, the bright aperture allows you to shoot indoor sports that are dimly lit and still illuminate the frame.

Or you might be photographing animal sports in which noise is an issue. This lens has two unique actuators. These are called Extreme Dynamic (XD) Linear motors. These motors have two key benefits. They can keep the lens silent (great for animal photography) and help the focus be lightning fast.

Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary

Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary
Sensor: Full Frame with APS-C (Crop Sensor) Mode

Camera Mount: Sigma, Canon, Nikon, Sony with Converter

This is definitely the most cost-effective lens on our list. It’s also on the narrower side with apertures (at f/5-6.3 depending on how much you are zooming). The image quality is what allows this lens to be a big part of our list.

The biggest perks in choosing this lens are its strong image quality (especially for its price point), the inclusion of an optical stabilization system, its full-frame coverage with a mode that can adjust the lens for crop sensor cameras, and its availability for multiple camera systems.

The 100-400mm lens is small, compact, and lightweight – making travel a breeze.

Unfortunately, this lens does have some vignetting issues at f/5, but for the price, this isn’t a very big deal. Overall, it’s a very solid option for anyone looking to buy an affordable, lightweight telephoto lens.

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