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Best lens for sports photography reviewed and compared

Updated on March 7, 2013

The best lens for sports photography to improve your sports and action shots

When photographing sports you are going to be a fair way from the action and whilst you may prefer to use a prime lens with a medium focal length, this sort of lens is not going to be suitable for sports photography. Instead, you need a long range telephoto lens that is going to get you close to the action. The closer you are to the action the shorter the focal length you can get away with, but in the real world anything shorter than a 70mm - 200mm zoom is not long enough to get up close and personal to the action.

Sports photography is often action packed and fast paced, therefore you are going to need to keep shutter speeds up to freeze the action. Keeping fast shutter speeds needs a "fast" lens, i.e. one with a wide maximum aperture, so you want the fastest lens you can afford. As you'd expect indoor sports, where light levels are low, need a faster lens than outdoor sports where there is a lot of ambient light.

In the ideal world the best lens for sports photography is a long and fast prime lens, such as the Canon EF500mm f4L IS USM or the Nikon 500mm f4 VR, however these lenses cost several thousand pounds and are too expensive for casual photographers. Fortunately, there are some affordable alternatives that are capable of capturing some stunning images, and whilst these lenses may be cheaper than the professional grade lenses, they are still fairly expensive and you are going to have to dig deep to buy one. That said, these affordable lenses are worth every cent and they will provide years of trouble free service so you should view these lenses as an investment.

So, what is the best lens for sports photography? Please carry on reading and all will be revealed.

If you shoot a Canon digital slr camera the best lens for sports photography will be a Canon branded telephoto lens. As we have already discovered, the top end long reach prime lenses cost thousands of dollars, however there are cheaper alternatives that are great for sports photography.

Canon 100mm - 400mm L IS USM Lens

The Canon 100 - 400L IS USM lens is the best value Canon lens for sports photography. This lens has varies in focal length from 100mm to an impressive 400mm (effective 160mm - 640mm on a cropped sensor dslr) which will help you get right close to the action.

The Canon 100 - 400 lens has a variable maximum aperture of f4.5 at the short end to

f5.6 at the long end. This lens may not be super fast but it is fast enough for outdoor sports in natural light. The four stop image stabilisation technology helps to ensure tack sharp shots time and time again. If you want to shoot indoor sports you are going to struggle to get the shutter speed fast enough to freeze the action, although you could overcome this using a flash gun if permitted in the venue.

One of the best things about the Canon 100 - 400 lens is its push/pull zoom feature which means you can zoom in and out exceptionally quickly. I use the Canon 100 - 400 for motorsports and I love the fact I can zoom right in, get right back and then zoom right in once more in a very short space of time. The push/pull action may take a bit of getting used to but once you get the hang of it you will wonder why other zoom lenses don't have this action.

The Canon 100 - 400 is an L grade lens which means it is made out of the best materials and components, has superior optics, is built to last and is capable of capturing some stunning images. This lens is fully sealed which means you can use it in all weathers and all environments, regardless of how wet or dirty. I have used my 100 - 400 in torrential rain, I have used my 100 - 400 at dusty race circuits and I have used my 100 - 400 out at sea and have had no problems at all. Some people comment the push/pull action sucks in the dust, however I have never experienced this and I have used my 100 - 400 is some very dusty places.

If you want the most bang for your buck the Canon 100 - 400 is the lens to buy. It has a long reach, it is fully sealed, it is bullet proof and it is possible to capture some awesome images with it. The only criticism is the speed of the lens, but you can overcome this by adjusting the ISO accordingly. So, if you want a great sports lens for your Canon camera the 100 - 400 won't disappoint.

Best lens for sports photography - 70mm - 200mm L Series Canon lens review

There are some sports where a lens with a focal range of 70mm - 200mm is sufficient to get up close to the action and in these circumstances the best lens for sports photography is a 70mm - 200mm zoom lens.

Canon makes four 70mm - 200mm telephoto lenses and whilst the Canon 70 - 200 f4L IS USM may not be the best one, it is the model that gives the most bang for your buck and is the best value.

The Canon 70 - 200 f4L IS USM lens is an L grade lens, which means it is made with the best materials and components, it has superior optics and it is fully sealed. This lens is tough, durable and built to last, and can only be described as bullet proof.

The Canon 70 - 200 f4L IS USM's maximum aperture is f4, which may not seem that wide but it is more than wide enough for outdoor photography in ambient light. This lens also has image stabilisation technology which helps you keep the shutter speeds up, even in low light conditions.

If a 70mm - 200mm lens is long enough to photograph your chosen sport the Canon 70 - 200 f4 L IS USM lens is one you should definitely take a look at, especially if you have a limited budget. This really is an excellent lens and you won't be disappointed with it.

If you primarily shoot indoor sports I suggest you take a look at the Canon 70 - 200 f2.8 models, which is available with or without image stabilisation technology. The 70 - 200 with image stabilisation is, as you would expect, better but it is also larger, heavier and more expensive. If you have the cash available I would recommend the 70 - 200 with image stabilisation but if you can only afford the version without you won't be disappointed with it.

Canon 70 - 200 f2.8L IS USM lens for Canon digital slr cameras

The top end that is the most expensive but the also the most useful.



Canon 70 - 200 f2.8L USM lens for Canon digital slr cameras

The same maximum aperture but no image stabilisation technology. If you can do without the IS this is the Canon 70 - 200 lens to opt for.

If you shoot a Nikon digital slr camera the best lens for sports photography is Nikon branded. As we already know, the long and fast Nikon prime lenses can cost several thousand bucks, which is too expensive and out of reach for most people.

Fortunately, there are some cheaper alternatives all of which are excellent sports lenses. For the best Nikon lenses for sports photography check out those below.

Nikon 70mm - 200mm f4L VR Lens

If you need a lens with a long reach to get up close to the action the Nikon 200 - 400 is the lens for you. This lens has a constant maximum aperture of f4 throughout the focal range, which is fast for the cost of this lens. Combine the maximum aperture with the vibration reduction "VR" technology and you have a lens that is capable of capturing

super sharp images, even in low light levels. This lens is perfect for outdoor sports, such as football and motorsports, where the action is happening far away.

This is a professional grade lens that is tough, durable and very well made. This lens is bullet proof and will easily withstand the use and abuse of sports photography. This lens is fully sealed which means you can use it is all weather conditions and environments without having to worry about it, meaning you can focus on photographing the subject in hand.

The image quality of this lens is simply awesome and the sharpness is something else. The colours are bright and vivid, but still realistic and distortion, pin cushioning and vignetting are well controlled. One thing I need to point out about this lens is the autofocus system which is super fast and super accurate, which you need when capturing images of fast moving subjects.

This lens gives a lot of bang for the buck and is a lens you should definitely consider if you are looking for a Nikon sports lens.

Nikon 70mm - 200mm f2.8 VR Lens

If you shoot a Nikon digital slr camera and a 70mm - 200mm zoom lens is going to give you enough reach to get close to your subject this is the lens you need to take a look at.

With a maximum aperture of f2.8 throughout the entire focal range this is a fast lens that can be used handheld photographing both outdoor and indoor sports, and in all light conditions. What's more is the vibration reduction will help to keep camera shake at bay and will ensure tack sharp shots at slower shutter speeds.

Many photographers consider the Nikon 70 - 200 f2.8 the sharpest Nikon lens and when you see the types of images that are possible with this lens it is easy to see why. Images are sharp when the lens is used wide open but close it down a little and the sharpness is simply amazing. In addition to this, the image quality is awesome with punchy colours that are realistic and not oversaturated.

The Nikon 70 - 200 f2.8 lens isn't cheap but it is affordable, but you are going to have to dig deep. That doesn't matter though because this lens is worth every cent.

Best lens for sports photography - Other contenders

Canon and Nikon branded lenses aren't cheap but they are worth every cent. If you don't have the funds available to splash out on Canon or Nikon branded lenses there are many cheaper alternatives, some of which are very good and some of which are worth avoiding.

Of all the third party lens manufacturers the most popular, and highly regarded, is Sigma. As we all ready know the best sports photography lenses are the 70 - 200 zoom lens and a long reach lens, and Sigma makes both.



Sigma 150 - 500 f5 - 6.3 AF APO DG OS HSM

The Sigma 150mm - 500mm has a large focal range, which exceeds that of both Canon and Nikon. This lens is huge and a real beast so you do need to consider the dimensions, and the weight, before buying one. Look on any forum thread discussing the Sigma 150mm - 500mm and you will see it is a popular lens that a lot of photographers rate very high.

It doesn't matter whether you shoot with a Canon or a Nikon, you can use the Sigma 150mm - 500mm although you have to make sure you buy the right fit for your digital slr camera.



Sigma 70 - 200 f2.8 APO EX DG HSM OS

The Sigma 70 - 200 lens is a fast lens with a constant maximum aperture of f2.8 throughout the focal range. Given the cost of this lens it is very impressive and is great value for money. The image quality is very good, although it isn't quite as good as that of Canon and Nikon lenses, but the difference is minimal. This lens is available in Canon and Nikon fit, therefore it is a lens you can all use.

Read any forum thread discussing the Sigma 70 - 200 f2.8 and you will see it is another popular lens that many photographers rate very high. If you are looking to buy a 70 - 200 zoom and can't afford, or justify the cost of a Canon or Nikon branded lens the Sigma is the next best option.

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