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11 Best Nikon Lenses for Sports Photography in 2024

Last updated: March 13, 2024 - 15 min read
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To capture every thrilling moment with clarity and precision, you need the best Nikon lenses for sports photography. Whether you’re shooting a fast-paced soccer game or an intense track meet, having the best lens for the job is crucial.

Our guide highlights the 11 best Nikon lenses for sports photography, including both Z-mount and F-mount lenses. 

Our top picks include the Nikon Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S for its quick autofocus and the Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR for its sharp, clear images. These lenses stand out for their ability to capture fast action and perform well in low light.

Want more options? Keep reading to see more Nikon Z and F-mount lenses for sports photography.

Our Top 2 Nikon Lenses for Sports Photography
Nikon NIKKOR Z 70-200mm F/2.8 VR S
Nikon NIKKOR Z 70-200mm F/2.8 VR S
Nikon NIKKOR Z 70-200mm F/2.8 VR S
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm F/2.8E FL ED VR
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm F/2.8E FL ED VR
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm F/2.8E FL ED VR

What Is the Best Nikon Z Lens for Sports Photography?

When selecting the best Nikon Z lens for sports photography, you need to prioritize quick autofocus, a versatile zoom range, and effective image stabilization. Each lens offers unique advantages, from wide apertures for low light to extensive zoom for distant subjects, ensuring photographers can capture every thrilling moment.

Our Top Pick
Nikon NIKKOR Z 70-200mm F/2.8 VR S
Nikon NIKKOR Z 70-200mm F/2.8 VR S
Nikon NIKKOR Z 70-200mm F/2.8 VR S
  • Exceptional sharpness across all focal lengths
  • Fast, consistent f/2.8 aperture for low light
  • Robust, weather-sealed professional build quality
  • Effective 5.5-stop image stabilization system
  • Quick, accurate autofocus with silent operation
Best Versatile Telephoto Zoom
Nikon NIKKOR Z 100-400mm F/4.5-5.6 VR S
Nikon NIKKOR Z 100-400mm F/4.5-5.6 VR S
Nikon NIKKOR Z 100-400mm F/4.5-5.6 VR S
  • Versatile 100-400mm zoom for dynamic framing
  • Balanced for portability and image quality
  • Quick, precise autofocus with dual motor design
  • Effective Vibration Reduction for sharp handheld shots
  • Weather-sealed construction for outdoor reliability
Best Super-Telephoto Zoom
Nikon NIKKOR Z 180-600mm F/5.6-6.3 VR
Nikon NIKKOR Z 180-600mm F/5.6-6.3 VR
Nikon NIKKOR Z 180-600mm F/5.6-6.3 VR
  • Expansive 180-600mm range for distant subjects
  • Effective VR for stable, sharp handheld shots
  • Robust build with weather sealing for reliability
  • Quick, accurate autofocus suitable for moving targets
  • Pleasing bokeh with minimal chromatic aberration
Best Prime Lens
Nikon NIKKOR Z 400mm F/4.5 VR S
Nikon NIKKOR Z 400mm F/4.5 VR S
Nikon NIKKOR Z 400mm F/4.5 VR S
  • Prime lens sharpness with 400mm focal length
  • Lightweight design enhances portability and handling
  • Advanced image stabilization for crisp, clear shots
  • Fast f/4.5 aperture for beautiful bokeh effects
  • Durable, weather-sealed construction for outdoor use
 

Our Favorite Nikon Z Lenses for Sports Photography

Let’s take a closer look at our favorite Nikon Z lenses. From capturing fast-paced action up close to zooming in on distant subjects, there’s a lens here for every sporting scenario. Explore these options to find the perfect fit for your photography bag.

1. Nikon Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S

Our Top Pick
Nikon NIKKOR Z 70-200mm F/2.8 VR S
Brand
Brand
Nikon
Lens Weight
Lens Weight
1360 g
Maximum Aperture
Maximum Aperture
f/ 2.8
Focal Length Range
Focal Length Range
70-200 mm
Image Stabilization
Image Stabilization
Yes

The Nikon Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S is the best sports photography lens for Nikon mirrorless cameras. Its 70-200mm zoom range lets photographers shoot close action and distant plays without changing lenses, giving you excellent flexibility. 

The constant f/2.8 aperture is great for freezing motion in low light. It’s also constant throughout the zoom range, so you don’t lose any stops when you zoom in. 

This lens is on the heavy side, making it a bit hard to handle during long events. However, its image stabilization helps reduce camera shake.

The lens’s sharpness across the frame means details details are captured clearly, even when shot from distance. The barrel also has custom function buttons and a custom control ring, giving you more hands-on control.

Compared to the Nikon Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S, the 70-200mm f/2.8 offers a wider aperture, which is better for low light. But, the 100-400mm gives more reach for distant subjects. Both are great, but the Nikon Z 70-200mm f/2.8 gives you more versatility and better low-light performance. That’s why it’s our favorite Nikon lens for sports photography.

 

2. Nikon Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S

Best Versatile Telephoto Zoom
Nikon NIKKOR Z 100-400mm F/4.5-5.6 VR S
Brand
Brand
Nikon
Lens Weight
Lens Weight
1355 g
Maximum Aperture
Maximum Aperture
f/ 5.6
Focal Length Range
Focal Length Range
100-400 mm
Image Stabilization
Image Stabilization
1

The Nikon Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S is a brilliant lens for sports photography thanks to its broad zoom range. This lets photographers capture distant action from the sidelines.

Its autofocus is quick, which is crucial for snapping fast-paced sports moments. The lens’s Vibration Reduction (VR) is another big help, helping to reduce blur when shooting from hand or in low light.

This lens is a bit slower in low light due to its f/4.5-5.6 aperture. Unlike the 70-200mm lens, you lose some aperture stop as you zoom in. f/5.6 at 400mm isn’t ideal. 

It makes up for this with versatility and sharp images across its zoom range. The VR system also gives you help in this department, giving you a few more exposure stops to work with.

It’s lighter than many alternatives, making it easier to handle during long events. It fits in any of the larger camera backpacks, so you’ll have no problem taking it to the next track meet. 

Compared to the Nikon Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S, it offers more reach but at the cost of a wider aperture. This makes the Nikon Z 100-400mm good for outdoor sports in daylight. For indoor or evening events, the 70-200mm might be better due to its f/2.8 aperture.

 

3. Nikon Z 180-600mm f/5.6-6.3 VR

Best for Distant Subjects
Nikon NIKKOR Z 180-600mm F/5.6-6.3 VR
Brand
Brand
Nikon
Lens Weight
Lens Weight
1955 g
Maximum Aperture
Maximum Aperture
f/ 6.3
Focal Length Range
Focal Length Range
180-600 mm
Image Stabilization
Image Stabilization
Yes

The Nikon Z 180-600mm f/5.6-6.3 VR lens is a game-changer for sports photography, offering an impressive zoom range that captures distant action with ease.

Its autofocus is reliable, quickly locking onto fast-moving subjects. The built-in image stabilization is very useful, allowing for sharper images even at the longest focal lengths.

Despite its slower aperture, the lens performs well in bright conditions. And you do have the VR system to help you out when you have less light available. 

It’s a bit heavy, which might make handheld shooting challenging over long periods. However, its optical performance, with minimal distortion and good edge-to-edge sharpness, makes it a good option for capturing sports events.

The Nikon Z 180-600mm f/5.6-6.3 VR stands out for its ability to bring distant sports action closer without compromising on image quality. Its versatility and reach make it a solid choice for photographers who need to capture fast-paced moments from afar.

 

4. Nikon Z 400mm f/4.5 VR S

Best Prime for Wildlife Photography
Nikon NIKKOR Z 400mm F/4.5 VR S
Brand
Brand
Nikon
Lens Weight
Lens Weight
1160 g
Maximum Aperture
Maximum Aperture
f/ 4.5
Focal Length Range
Focal Length Range
400 mm
Image Stabilization
Image Stabilization
1

The Nikon Z 400mm f/4.5 VR S is a brilliant prime lens for sports photography. It’s not as versatile as the zoom lenses, ut the 400mm focal length captures distant action with exquisite sharpness.

Its built-in image stabilization is helpful in reducing camera shake, giving you sharper images in low light. It offers up to 5.5 stops of exposure compensation. 

It is one of the larger lenses on the list. But weighing less than many super-telephoto lenses, it’s easier to handle during long sports events. 

Manual control rings and function buttons give you a more personalized experience, helping you change settings without taking your eye away from the viewfinder. 

The Nikon Z 400mm f/4.5 VR S is a good option for sports photographers who prioritize image quality. Its optical performance and stabilization make it the best prime lens for sports photographers with a Nikon mirrorless camera.

 

What is the Best Nikon F Lens for Sports Photography?

We now focus on the best Nikon F lenses for sports photography. Selected for their fast autofocus, wide zoom ranges, and effective image stabilization, these lenses excel in capturing fast-moving action. We have a wide range of f-mount lenses for your Nikon DSLR camera.

Our Top Pick
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm F/2.8E FL ED VR
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm F/2.8E FL ED VR
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm F/2.8E FL ED VR
  • Constant f/2.8 aperture for low light shooting
  • Versatile 70-200mm zoom range for dynamic framing
  • Robust build with weather sealing for durability
  • Fast, accurate autofocus with Silent Wave Motor
  • Superior sharpness and clarity across zoom range
Best Super-Telephoto Zoom
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm F/5.6E ED VR
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm F/5.6E ED VR
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm F/5.6E ED VR
  • Ideal for wildlife and sports photography
  • 200-500mm range captures distant subjects clearly
  • Constant f/5.6 aperture across zoom range
  • Vibration Reduction aids in low-light conditions
  • Durable build with weather-sealing protection
Best Versatile Telephoto Lens
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm F/4.5-5.6G ED VR
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm F/4.5-5.6G ED VR
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm F/4.5-5.6G ED VR
  • Broad 80-400mm zoom for versatile shooting
  • Effective Vibration Reduction for sharp handheld shots
  • Quick, accurate autofocus with Silent Wave Motor
  • Durable, weather-sealed construction for outdoor use
  • Excellent image quality across the zoom range
Best Prime Lens
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm F/4E FL ED VR
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm F/4E FL ED VR
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm F/4E FL ED VR
  • Exceptional sharpness with minimal aberration
  • Fast f/4 aperture for excellent low-light performance
  • Robust, weather-sealed construction for durability
  • Advanced Vibration Reduction for stable shooting
  • Optimized for wildlife and sports photography
Best APS-C Telephoto Lens
Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 55-300mm F/4.5-5.6G ED VR
Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 55-300mm F/4.5-5.6G ED VR
Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 55-300mm F/4.5-5.6G ED VR
  • Versatile 55-300mm range for diverse shooting scenarios
  • Effective Vibration Reduction for sharp, stable images
  • Compact, lightweight design for easy portability
  • Quick, silent autofocus with Silent Wave Motor
  • Excellent value for DX-format DSLR users
Best Sigma Sports Lens
Sigma 70-200mm F/2.8 DG OS HSM | S for Nikon F
Sigma 70-200mm F/2.8 DG OS HSM | S for Nikon F
Sigma 70-200mm F/2.8 DG OS HSM | S for Nikon F
  • Bright f/2.8 aperture for low-light conditions
  • Optical Stabilization for sharp, handheld shots
  • Fast, accurate autofocus with HSM technology
  • Durable build with weather-resistant features
  • Exceptional image quality across the zoom range
Best Super-Telephoto Sigma Lens
Sigma 150-600mm F/5-6.3 DG OS HSM | C for Nikon F
Sigma 150-600mm F/5-6.3 DG OS HSM | C for Nikon F
Sigma 150-600mm F/5-6.3 DG OS HSM | C for Nikon F
  • Extensive 150-600mm zoom for unparalleled reach
  • Optical Stabilization for crisp, clear images
  • Durable construction with weather-resistant features
  • Hyper Sonic Motor ensures fast, silent focusing
  • Compatible with Sigma teleconverters for extended reach
 

Our Favorite Nikon F Lenses for Sports Photography

Let’s take a closer look at our favorite Nikon F lenses for sports photography. From capturing fast-paced action to zooming in on distant subjects, these DSRL lenses provide the versatility and performance essential for high-quality sports photography.

Whether you’re a professional looking for the best image quality or an amateur seeking to improve your sports shots, this selection has you covered.

1. Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR

Our Top Pick
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm F/2.8E FL ED VR
Brand
Brand
Nikon
Lens Weight
Lens Weight
1430 g
Maximum Aperture
Maximum Aperture
f/ 2.8
Focal Length Range
Focal Length Range
70-200 mm
Image Stabilization
Image Stabilization
Yes

The Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR is a top choice for sports photography thanks to its quick and accurate autofocus. This is vital for capturing fast-moving athletes from a distance. 

Its focal length range is perfect for getting close to the action from the sidelines. And the constant f/2.8 max aperture allows for fast shutter speeds, freezing motion effectively.

However, at 3 lb (1,4 kg), this lens is quite heavy. This can make it challenging to use handheld for extended periods, a common scenario in sports photography. Its weight might require the use of a camera monopod or tripod.

The Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR‘s image stabilization is a big advantage, especially in low light. It helps keep shots sharp at slower shutter speeds. This feature, combined with the lens’s excellent sharpness and minimal distortion, makes it an ideal lens for sports photography. 

 

2. Nikon AF-S 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR

Best for Wildlife & Sports
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm F/5.6E ED VR
Brand
Brand
Nikon
Lens Weight
Lens Weight
2300 g
Maximum Aperture
Maximum Aperture
f/ 5.6
Focal Length Range
Focal Length Range
200-500 mm
Image Stabilization
Image Stabilization
Yes

The Nikon AF-S 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR is a good choice for sports photographers who need to capture action from a distance. Its zoom range allows for quick framing adjustments, which is crucial in fast-paced environments.

The f/5.6 aperture, while not the fastest, is balanced by effective image stabilization. This is a lifesaver if you’re shooting indoor or evening sports events. 

Weighing just over 5 lb ( 2.3 kg), this lens is on the heavier side. However, its build quality is robust and offers some protection against dust and moisture. You’ll have no problem shooting outdoor matches. 

Autofocus speed is decent, ensuring photographers won’t miss the action. While it might slow down in very low light, the lens generally keeps up with moving subjects well.

The image quality is sharp, with minimal chromatic aberration throughout the zoom range. 

The Nikon AF-S 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR offers a solid combination of reach, image quality, and stabilization. It’s a practical option for sports photographers who often shoot from the sidelines and need a versatile telephoto zoom lens.

 

3. Nikon AF-S 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR

Best Versatile Telephoto Lens
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm F/4.5-5.6G ED VR
Brand
Brand
Nikon
Lens Weight
Lens Weight
1570 g
Maximum Aperture
Maximum Aperture
f/ 5.6
Focal Length Range
Focal Length Range
80-400 mm
Image Stabilization
Image Stabilization
Yes

The Nikon AF-S 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR offers a wide zoom range that’s perfect for capturing action near or far. The wide focal range gives you incredible versatility, allowing you to shoot wider stadium shots or close-ups of the athletes.

Its autofocus is quick, ensuring that fast-moving subjects stay in sharp focus.  And the lens’s Vibration Reduction (VR) is also a big help, especially in low-light conditions. This helps you work without a tripod when shooting in the day. 

However, the variable aperture of f/4.5-5.6 means it gathers less light at longer focal lengths. This could be a limitation in very dim settings like indoor events or night games.

Despite this, the lens’s optical performance is strong, with minimal chromatic aberration and impressive sharpness across its zoom range.

The Nikon AF-S 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR is perfect for sports photographers looking for a blend of versatility and quality. Its reach and stabilization make it very useful for outdoor events. While it may not be the fastest lens available, its performance in well-lit conditions and its ability to produce clear, detailed images from a distance make it a valuable tool for sports photographers.

 

4. Nikon AF-S 500mm f/4E FL ED VR

Best for Professional Use
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm F/4E FL ED VR
Brand
Brand
Nikon
Lens Weight
Lens Weight
3090 g
Maximum Aperture
Maximum Aperture
f/ 4.0
Focal Length Range
Focal Length Range
500 mm
Image Stabilization
Image Stabilization
Yes

The Nikon AF-S 500mm f/4E FL ED VR is the best F-mount prime lens for sports photography. With its fixed 500mm focal length and f/4 aperture, it’s ideal for capturing distant action with precision.

Its fast autofocus is crucial for tracking fast-moving subjects, ensuring sharp images. The lens’s wide aperture also allows for shooting in low light, providing the flexibility needed in various sports environments. You also have the VR system, which provides another few stops of exposure compensation. 

The build quality is fantastic thanks to its magnesium alloy and carbon fiber construction. But weighing 6.8 lb (3.09 kg), it is heavy by any standards. It does have reliable weather sealing, allowing you to shoot outdoors. But you’ll need a monopod or tripod for long shoots. 

The Nikon AF-S 500mm f/4E FL ED VR delivers exceptional sharpness and minimal chromatic aberration thanks to its advanced glass elements. This lens is a valuable tool for professional sports photographers who demand the best image quality and performance even when shooting from distance. 

 

5. Nikon AF-S DX 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR

Best Budget Telephoto Lens
Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 55-300mm F/4.5-5.6G ED VR
Brand
Brand
Nikon
Lens Weight
Lens Weight
530 g
Maximum Aperture
Maximum Aperture
f/ 5.6
Focal Length Range
Focal Length Range
55-300 mm
Image Stabilization
Image Stabilization
Yes

The Nikon AF-S DX 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR is the best sports photography lens if you have a Nikon APS-C DSLR camera. Its standard-to-telephoto focal length allows photographers to quickly adjust framing to keep up with the fast pace of sports events.

The variable aperture of f/4.5-5.6 means it’s not the fastest lens available, which could limit its use in very dimly lit environments. But the lens’s Vibration Reduction (VR) helps maintain sharpness when shooting at long focal lengths or in lower light conditions.

The autofocus motor is reasonably quick and accurate, ensuring that moving subjects remain in focus. Weighing only 580 grams, it’s relatively lightweight for a telephoto lens, making it easier to handle during long sporting events.

While the Nikon AF-S DX 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR may not offer the largest aperture or the edge-to-edge sharpness of more expensive lenses, its flexibility, effective image stabilization, and affordability make it a good option for amateur sports photographers. 

 

6. Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM | S for Nikon F

Best Third-Party Telephoto Lens
Sigma 70-200mm F/2.8 DG OS HSM | S for Nikon F
Brand
Brand
Sigma
Lens Weight
Lens Weight
1805 g
Maximum Aperture
Maximum Aperture
f/ 2.8
Focal Length Range
Focal Length Range
70-200 mm
Image Stabilization
Image Stabilization
Yes

The Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM | S is a standout choice for sports photography, offering a versatile zoom range and a fast f/2.8 aperture. This combination is perfect for capturing quick action and isolating subjects from busy backgrounds.

Its Optical Stabilizer (OS) is particularly helpful in low light, ensuring sharp images even at slower shutter speeds. Combined with the constant f/2.8 aperture, you get excellent low-light performance when fully zoomed in.

This lens is robust and built for professional use. Despite its weight, it balances well on most Nikon DSLRs, making it manageable for extended shooting periods. The weather sealing also gives you confidence when shooting in unpredictable conditions.

Thanks to its advanced lens elements, the Sigma 70-200mm impresses with minimal chromatic aberration and excellent sharpness across the zoom range. The autofocus is quick and reliable, crucial for keeping up with fast-moving sports action.

The performance and build quality make the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM | S a valuable tool for serious sports photographers looking for top-tier equipment at a reasonable price.

 

7. Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM | C for Nikon F

Best Super-Telephoto Zoom Lens
Sigma 150-600mm F/5-6.3 DG OS HSM | C for Nikon F
Brand
Brand
Sigma
Lens Weight
Lens Weight
1930 g
Maximum Aperture
Maximum Aperture
f/ 6.3
Focal Length Range
Focal Length Range
150-600 mm
Image Stabilization
Image Stabilization
Yes

The Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM | C is highly valued by sports photographers for its extensive reach. With a focal length range that stretches from 150mm to 600mm, it allows for capturing distant action without needing to be close to the subject. 

Despite its variable aperture of f/5 to f/6.3, which might not be ideal in very low light conditions, the lens performs well in well-lit outdoor sports events.

The lens’s Optical Stabilization (OS) is a key feature, helping to reduce camera shake and ensure sharp images even at the longest focal lengths. Giving you extra compensation exposure, it improves the lens’s low-light performance.

It’s on the heavier side, but its build quality and the inclusion of weather sealing make it durable for outdoor use.

The Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM | C is a good option for sports photographers looking for a balance between reach, image quality, and versatility. While it may require higher ISO settings in dimmer conditions, its performance in daylight and its ability to bring distant action into focus make it a top option for serious sports photographers.

 

Conclusion: The Best Nikon Lenses for Sports Photography

Choosing the best Nikon Lenses for Sports Photography is the key to capturing fast-paced sporting action. The article reviewed 11 lenses, all of which were selected for their ability to capture sports from the sidelines.

We’ve covered lenses suited to close-up action and those better for distant shots. The top picks offer quick autofocus and image stabilization, both important features for capturing sharp, detailed photos.

Out top choices are the Nikon Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S and Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR. The first is praised for its quick autofocus, the second for its super-sharp images. But we’ve also seen super-telephoto lenses with more reach and low-light specialists for flood-lit night games. 

Our Top 2 Nikon Lenses for Sports Photography
Nikon NIKKOR Z 70-200mm F/2.8 VR S
Nikon NIKKOR Z 70-200mm F/2.8 VR S
Nikon NIKKOR Z 70-200mm F/2.8 VR S
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm F/2.8E FL ED VR
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm F/2.8E FL ED VR
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm F/2.8E FL ED VR