Last Updated on 10/21/2018 by Mark Beckenbach
Sports photographers need to capture game winning plays, and with these lenses your odds of being the MVP of sports photography will improve.
It can happen in the blink of an eye: the game winning pass, the half court shot, the game saving tackle. In these situations you have to be able to rely on your gear to keep up with the action. Lenses for sports photography need to be able to handle the elements well, cover multiple focal lengths, provide great image quality, and be fast to focus. These five lenses offer all of that and more.
It really doesn’t matter what camera platform you use as there are great lenses that are perfect for sports photography on all of them. The options we have picked below are more than up to the task of being on the sidelines to capture crunching tackles, one handed catches, and game winning shots. Take a look below to see the five outstanding lenses that will help you nail the shot every time.
Sigma 150-600 F5.6-6.3 Contemporary
The Sigma 150-600mm may not be the fastest lens in terms of maximum aperture, but thanks to cameras that perform well at high ISO’s this is no longer the problem that it used to be. The focal range of this lens is huge (240-960mm on crop bodies), and it means you will be able to get close up action shots no matter how far away you are from the play.
The 150-600mm offers really good build quality (probably the best in Sigma’s Contemporary line), fast focusing speeds, and a great tripod collar which makes this lens easy to use on a tripod or monopod.
In our review we said:
“Despite this lens being in the Contemporary lineup of the Global Vision of Sigma, it feels incredibly well built. In fact, it’s the best built lens that we’ve played with in the contemporary lineup and we dare say that it’s better than some of the Art lenses.”
The lens features 20 elements in 13 groups and has 9 aperture blades. These optics produce images that are sharp from edge to edge, and they render colors that are nice and saturated. The built-in optical stabilization will help you get the shot when panning and tracking fast moving subjects, and help in low light environments. The Sigma 150-600 f5.6-6.3 is a little on the heavy side at 6lbs, but when used with a monopod for long shooting sessions this should not be a problem.
Due to it’s amazing focal range, top build quality, and outstanding image sharpness, the Sigma 150-600mm should be considered a must-have sports photography lens.
Buy now Canon ($899): Amazon
Buy now Nikon ($899): Amazon
Pro Tip: Using heavy lenses for long periods of time can put quite a bit of strain on your body. Use a high quality monopod to not only take the weight off of your arms, but to offer another level of stabilization as well.
Tamron 70-200mm F2.8
If you are a sports photographer who uses Canon or Nikon, you do not have to pay over the top prices to get a fantastic optically stabilized 70-200mm lens. The Tamron 70-200mm f2.8 Di VC USD G2 offers image quality that rivals both Nikon’s and Canon’s offerings at a much cheaper price. Not only does this lens pack a punch optically, it’s also weather sealed so you can use it no matter what the weather is doing.
In our review we said:
“One of the impressive things to consider about the Tamron SP 70-200mm f2.8 Di VC USD G2 is that it is fully weather sealed. In fact, at the lens mount you’ll find a nice rubber gasket to keep out the extra dust and moisture. During our review period we shot with this lens in a rain shower and it performed just fine.”
The Tamron 70-200 G2 weighs in at 3.3lbs, but thanks to its great ergonomics this lens is easy to hold and use for long periods of time. The maximum aperture of f2.8 means this lens is a solid performer in low light, which means using this inside a indoor sports arena will be no problem at all. 23 elements in 17 groups along with 9 aperture blades produce really great images with colors that look natural and accurate.
When you factor in image stabilization which is good for an extra five stops, incredibly fast autofocus, and Tamron’s amazing six year warranty, you can see why this lens deserves to be ringside.
Buy now Canon ($1,299): Amazon
Buy now Nikon ($1,299): Amazon
Pro Tip: While some of your gear may be weather sealed, it can never hurt to have extra layers of protection, especially if you know you will be out in the elements for a long period of time. Grab a camera and lens rain cover to keep in your bag just in case you need to protect everything from really heavy downpours.
Olympus 40-150mm F2.8 PRO
The Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 Pro is without doubt the best lens to use for sports photography if you use a Micro Four Thirds camera. When paired with a Micro Four Thirds camera, the lens will have an equivalent focal range of 80-300mm which makes it perfect for this genre.
In our review we said:
“The Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 PRO is a lens that exhibits exceptional image quality that is sharp, contrasty, and detailed; enough to give any Micro Four Thirds user exactly what they want. In some events, like shooting portraits, it’s easy to say that it can be too sharp. Of any Olympus lens that we’ve tested, this one has given us the best results–understandably too for the price point!”
Incredibly the Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 weighs just 1.94lbs, which is significantly less than other lenses in this list. The lens is about the size of a Canon 24-70mm so there is no doubt you can use this lens for a very long period of time and still be completely comfortable.
Inside the lens you will find 16 elements in 10 groups and 9 rounded aperture blades. You can expect sharp images from edge to edge, colors that are natural, and bokeh that is nice and creamy. Focusing is very fast even in low light conditions and thanks to the maximum aperture of f2.8. Shooting a basketball game, boxing match, or any other indoor sporting event will be that much easier.
The overall build quality of this lens is excellent. An all-metal construction, with a retractable lens hood and class-leading weather sealing, means this lens can take a beating and it will just keep on going. For the photographer who uses Micro Four Thirds and shoots sports photography, this lens is a must-have.
Buy now ($1,399): Amazon
Pro Tip: Being outside in the elements means you will get all manner of debris and dirt on your camera and lenses. Make sure you carry a cleaning kit with you so that you can ensure your gear is always ready to go.
Fujifilm 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR
Fujifilm shooters rejoice, you have a great sports photography lens available to you too in the Fujifilm 100-400 f4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR. When paired with a Fujifilm body, this lens will have the equivalent focal range of 150-600mm. Much like the Sigma lens listed above, the lens isn’t the fastest when it comes to aperture, but the outstanding high ISO capabilities of Fujifilm cameras negates this problem.
In our review we said:
“When you consider the fact that there really is nothing quite like the Fujifilm 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 lens on the market, you get a greater reason to want to give it an Editor’s Choice award. But then you look at the image quality it can deliver and add in weather sealing, and you’ve got a serious winner. With great autofocus, a compact size, and image stabilization, you’re getting quite the package overall.”
This lens should be the first one on your team sheet when it comes to sports photography on the Fujifilm platform. As Fuji users have come to expect, image quality from this lens is outstanding. Inside you’ll find 21 elements in 14 groups, 5 extra-low dispersion elements and 1 super extra low dispersion element along with 9 rounded aperture blades. Images produced are razor sharp, colors are beautiful and rich, and there is no distortion at all.
The 13 points of weather sealing means this lens will shoot in the heaviest of downpours, and the fast focusing speeds will allow you to get the shot you want, even in low light situations. Add in optical image stabilization and you can see why this lens should start every game on your Fujifilm camera.
Buy now ($1,599): Amazon
Pro Tip: SD cards are amazing but they can and do fail, and often at the worst possible times. Make sure you have plenty of spare cards in your camera bag at all times. Prices are low right now so stock up while you can.
Sony 70-200mm F4 OSS
Sony users are spoiled for choice when it comes to cameras that are excellent for sports photography, and they have a lens that is a perfect match for this genre; the 70-200mm f4 OS. This lens is hard to miss thanks to it’s bright white finish, but it’s an all-star performer across the board.
In our review we said:
“When it comes to image quality, the Sony 70-200mm f4 OSS lives up to the Sony name and reputation of delivering incredible results. All across the board, you won’t have a major issue with the image quality. This lens renders images to be super sharp.”
The overall build quality of this lens is quite fantastic, and like the lenses above, it features excellent weather sealing so you can keep on shooting in harsh conditions. The Sony 70-200mm produces very sharp images even when shot wide open at f4, and stopping down makes it even better. The focusing capabilities of this lens really put some others in this class to shame; even in really low light situations it won’t miss a beat.
When this lens is combined with a camera like the a6500 (or any crop body) it will have a equivalent focal range of 105-300mm. The lens weighs 3.1lbs which is about average for a lens of this size, but it still feels great in the hand, even after long periods. Like the Fujifilm cameras mentioned above, newer Sony bodies are excellent performers at high ISO’s, so this lens paired with a A7r II, III, or the A9 will have no problems at all when it comes to shooting in low light.
If you practice sports photography and you are a Sony user, this lens should definitely make it into your camera bag for the journey to the stadium.
Buy now ($1,498): Amazon
Are you are sports photographer? What lenses did you start out with? What lenses do you use now? Let us know in the comment section below.