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Sports Photography Equipment Essentials

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When it comes to shooting sports, putting together a sports photography equipment kit can be a challenge. There are so many different environments that you’ll have to deal with.

Gear is not usually a one-size-fits-all scenario. A lens that may be ideal for one situation, won’t be the best choice for sports. You need a tripod for product photography. But it would be cumbersome for event photography. What about sports photography equipment then?

Here is the basic gear you might need as well as some recommendations for accessories.

Photo of a lot of cyclists

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Cameras

Nikon and Canon have been the top choice in cameras for sports photography. Their flagship full-frame cameras are popular for a reason. They have the fastest auto-tracking and continuous shooting features available on the market.

This might change with some of the current and upcoming mirrorless and micro four-thirds options. For now, the current DSLRs are dominating the worlds of sports.

No matter the brand, when it comes to camera bodies, there are two things you’ll need. These are high-ISO performance and autofocus tracking and continuous shooting.

The big decision here will be whether you’ll go for a cropped sensor or full-frame.

Cameras with a cropped sensor are less expensive. They are cheaper for camera manufacturers to make. If you’re starting out, this will likely be a better choice for your budget.

There’s another advantage of this size of sensor. The crop factor actually makes the lens “longer” than it is on a full-frame camera body. This gives you extra “reach”, or a wider field of view.

But keep in mind that full-frame bodies are more robust and will give you better performance.

Cameras for Sports Photography

Canon 1DX – This is Canon’s top tier DSLR for any genre of photography. With a rugged built, this is a high-performing workhorse. It has excellent ISO performance and body that will withstand the elements and a bump or two.

Nikon D4 – The equivalent to Canon’s 1DX.

Canon 5D Mark IV – Canon’s most popular camera, the latest model in the 5D series is great for sports photography. It’s also great for shooting across all genres, which makes it a versatile body to have.

Nikon D850 – The equivalent to the Canon 5D Mark IV.

Canon 80D – This camera sits at the top of the range of the variety of entry-level cameras that Canon makes. It has live view and a touch screen, as well a Dual Pixel CMOS AF sensor. The dual-pixel AF on the 80D functions in continuous (AI Servo) mode for stills shooting. This is unlike any other Canon camera.

Nikon D7200 – The equivalent to the Canon 80D.

Close-up photo of a boxing match

Lenses

No matter what photography genre you shoot, lenses should be where the bulk of your budget goes. You need high-quality fast glass for shooting sports photography.

The challenge is deciding whether you’ll go with a zoom lens or prime lens.

There is no doubt that a prime lens is your best option for getting tack sharp pictures. This is especially important when shooting sports. You’ll often be at a distance from your subjects, which will be moving. You don’t get a second chance to re-shoot a blurry photo.

You might want to carry both a prime lens and a zoom lens with you to games. Many pro sport photographers shoot with two cameras. There is no time to be switching out lenses.

If you’re getting started, you might only have one camera and one lens. In that case, you’ll have to make a decision on the best one for the sports you’re likely to shoot.

Prime lenses are sharper than zoom lenses. They don’t have the moving parts that contribute to lens diffraction. The aperture is fixed, so you’ll be able to get sharp images in less than ideal lighting conditions.

The drawback is that they’re not as flexible. They can hamper your ability to get the shot if you are too close or too far from the action. Even if you move around, the action might be a lot wide ranging and faster than you manage capture.

Since zoom lenses allow you to zoom closer or wider, they can make your job a lot easier. Know that you will lose sharpness if you go for this feature.

That being said, there are some zoom lenses that are pretty sharp, regardless. For example, I have the Canon f2.8 24-70mm and find it quite sharp. If you have a cropped sensor, this would be a good option for indoor sports where you can get close to the action.

Photo of rugby players during a match

Lenses for Sports Photography

Canon F/2L IS 200mm d/2.8L – This is the lens famous for having a white body, and is one of the most popular lenses for sports. It can be a bit too long if you’re in a small gym, like at a high school. Otherwise, it has good reach while also allowing you to get tight shots. The aperture will allow you to get more light into the lens, which will be vital for indoor sports. But good quality glass comes at a price.

Canon 100mm f/2- If you’re on a tight budget and need to find the best quality lens for the best price, this might be the on. This lens can offer you great performance for relatively cheap.

Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS II – This telephoto lens is one of the best and most versatile lenses out there– just for sports photography. A comparable Nikon lens is the 70-200mm f/4 G, although at f/4, it’s best left for outdoor sports.

Accessories

There are some accessories that are necessary when shooting sports photography. These include several SD cards and lens cleaner.

And then there are those that will make your life easier.

Rain Covers

You can’t avoid being in the rain for outdoor sporting events, so make sure you’re prepared. Cover yourself and your camera well.

Check out the ones from Think Tank such as the Hydrophobia covers. Another great option as are the covers from LensCoat.

Bags

A good quality backpack will be worth its weight in gold.  Check out the Lowepro Flipside line. You can also consider the convenience of roller bags. These include the Think Tank Airport Series, Lowepro Roller,  or the Manfrotto Professional Roller Bag

Monopod

A tripod can be awkward and they are often prohibited in many sporting venues. A monopod can give you a third point of stabilization. It will help you hit those slower shutter speeds without being cumbersome.

Manfrotto is a brand that delivers high quality for a relatively affordable price. Check out the Manfrotto XPRO 4-Section Aluminum monopod. It’s a bargain and hard to beat, and the carbon model is only a touch more expensive.

Photo of a runner at the starting blocks

Conclusion

No matter what your budget is, there are many options in camera bodies and lenses. They can all help you get great images.
It’s more about understanding the sport you’re shooting. And knowing how to get the most out of your sport photography equipment in a wide variety of circumstances.

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