Best Cameras For Sports Photography – 2019 Buyer’s Guide

As a sports photographer, you should be able to fully capture the energy, movement, and emotions displayed by the athletes during a competition or training.

Fortunately for photographers, technology has given way to quality compact cameras with large sensors and interchangeable lens systems, allowing you to capture the winning shot.

No matter what you prefer, you’ll surely want a camera that best suits your needs. To help you make the right decision, the following is a list of some of the best cameras for sports photography. So, read on and find the right companion for the sidelines!

Comparison of the Best Cameras For Sports Photography

Product

Rating

Price

Sony a7R II

Sony a7R II Full-Frame Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera, Body Only (Black) (ILCE7RM2/B)

Best Overall

Nikon D5

Nikon D5 DSLR 20.8 MP Point & Shoot Digital Camera, Dual XQD Slots - Black

Runner-up

Sony A77II

Sony A77II Digital SLR Camera - Body Only

Best for the Money

Canon EOS Rebel T6i

Canon EOS Rebel T6i Digital SLR (Body Only) - Wi-Fi Enabled

Best Camera For Sports Photography Beginner

Canon EOS 7D Mark II

Canon EOS 7D Mark II Digital SLR Camera (Body Only)

Best Canon Camera For Sports Photography

Nikon D500

Nikon D500 DX-Format Digital SLR (Body Only)

Best Nikon Camera For Sports Photography

Can Any Camera Be Used For Sports Photography?

Any camera can be used to shoot sports, but as with every photography niche, there are some models better suited for capturing that winning, split-second shot. For sports photography, a camera with high maximum shutter speed, for example, those faster than 1/1000th of a second are better if you really want to stop the action.

Similarly, high-frame rates like 10 fps significantly increase your chances of capturing that perfect moment. Lastly, a camera with a fast auto-focus system and phase-detection will further help keep your subject in focus.

How to Choose a Sports Photography Camera

If you want to get the perfect shot, there are some features you should consider before making your purchase. Some of these things include:

Sensor

The sensor is one of the most important factors to consider when choosing a quality sports camera. The smaller sizes of the Micro Four Thirds and APS sensors are crucial points in sports photography.

High Shutter Speed

While the shutter speed of 1/1000 per second is enough to take a photo of a moving subject, it’s not enough to capture a necessary moment. Thus, it’s essential that sports photographers choose cameras with high shutter speeds, so they can freeze the action perfectly.

Focal Length

Make sure that the sports camera you choose has a suitable focal length. While a 70-200 mm lens with an aperture of ƒ/2.8 presents a soft background defocus, a 24-70 mm focal length is the better choice. This is because the 24 mm is wide enough to provide a good field of view and long enough to reduce distortion. However, if you want to capture athletes far away, a 70 mm lens is advisable.

Quick Take - Best Cameras For Sports Photography

Before we dive into our review, here are the best cameras for sports photography:

  1. Sony a7R II
  2. Nikon D5
  3. ​Sony A77II

Review of the Best Cameras For Sports Photography

With the rapid advancement of technology, choosing the best camera is no easy task. To ensure you’re always able to capture that perfect, split-second shot, the following are some of the best cameras for sports photography available today. So, feel free to go through the reviews and find one that best suits your needs.

Best Overall:
Sony a7R II

Sony a7R II Full-Frame Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera, Body Only (Black) (ILCE7RM2/B)

PROS

  • Amazing resolution and impressive performance at high ISO values
  • Reliable, durable, and ergonomically enhanced for professional use
  • Weather-sealed unit allows you to travel and shoot in harsh outdoor conditions
  • Four-lens optical system provides rich tonal gradations and views of cutting-edge clarity and contrast
  • LCD screen tilts up and down, allowing high and low-angle framing, so you can get a different perspective

CONS

  • Not the best battery life
  • Does not have a built-in flash

What Recent Buyers Report

Nearly all buyers agree that the a7R II is well-worth its money. Users were extremely satisfied with the build quality and speed, and found its focusing to be impressive. They also liked the numerous settings and customization offered by the unit. However, some users were disappointed with its battery, while others reported it was difficult to get crisp focus in low-light environments.

Why it Stands Out to Us

The resolution offered by the Sony a7r II is what makes it stand out from the crowd. Featuring a Dynamic Range Optimizer, the model enables you to capture more details from highlighted and shadowed areas without creating any noise or artifacts. The tracking system and auto-focus further allow you to capture the winning shot within just a few frames.   

Who Will Use This Most

Due to the unit’s picture quality, it is the perfect camera for sports action shots. The efficient integrated optical IS system further makes it ideal for snapshots, group portraits, and indoor and outdoor photography.

Bottom Line

The a7r II is an impressive mirrorless camera designed with some of the most advanced imaging technologies. Featuring an advanced tracking system, a tilting touchscreen LCD, an exceptional auto-focus system, and five-axis, in-body image stabilization, the unit certainly deserves the top place on our list. However, the absence of a built-in flash might be troubling to some.

Runner-up:
Nikon D5

Nikon D5 DSLR 20.8 MP Point & Shoot Digital Camera, Dual XQD Slots - Black

PROS

  • High-pixel LCD monitor provides ease of use
  • Speed and large volume allow you to capture the perfect shot
  • Long battery life enables you to shoot for an entire day without stopping
  • Nearly eliminates mirror slap and blackout time for bright, consistent views
  • Easily copes with the lack of light and ensures every shot has optimal exposure

CONS

  • 4K video shooting is only limited to 3 minutes
  • Vertical control arrangement is different from the horizontal one

What Recent Buyers Report

Most buyers were extremely happy with the Nikon D5 and were particularly impressed with its focusing system. One user even stated that they had to try hard to cause the image to become out of focus! Customers also reported that it’s incredibly fast and the high ISO produces great photos. However, some found the lack of the custom button assignment to be disappointing.

Why it Stands Out to Us

A professional camera for fast-paced action, the Nikon D5 focuses with lightning speed and shoots up to 14 frames per second. Equipped with the latest sensor and EXPEED 5 processor, the unit further excels at accurate tone and color reproduction, even in extremely low lighting.

Who Will Use This Most

A high-end DSLR optimized for sports and action photography, the Nikon D5 is ideal for capturing moving subjects such as runners and race cars. The native sensitivity range further makes it easier to shoot night games and nighttime wildlife feed times. It’s also the perfect model for reporting or documentary photography.

Bottom Line

Offering leading-class subject tracking and auto-focus performance, the Nikon D5 certainly deserves a place on our list of top picks. The unit takes extremely sharp JPEGs that may sometimes even be too sharp and might actually need toning down. While it allows you to take the perfect shot, the difference in horizontal and vertical control arrangements might be troubling for some.

Best for the Money:
Sony A77II

Sony A77II Digital SLR Camera - Body Only

PROS

  • Sensor shift technology reduces blur and produces crisp, sharp images
  • Fantastic AF with superior tracking and impressive overall image quality
  • Built-in Wi-Fi and NFC allow instant sharing via smartphones and tablets
  • Weather-resistant magnesium alloy body ensures reliability, durability, and longevity
  • Three-way tilt and swivel LCD screen allows you to take high and low-angle shots easily

CONS

  • Does not have GPS tracking
  • Menu structure is a bit complex and may take some getting used to

What Recent Buyers Report

Most buyers were extremely satisfied with the A77II, with some stating they would not hesitate to purchase it again. Users were particularly impressed with its focus tracking and manual focus peaking feature. One user even said they were able to take crisp outdoor pictures and fantastic indoor pictures, even without the flash. However, customers were disappointed that the model does not support 4K videos.

Why it Stands Out to Us

The A77II primarily stands out to us because of its 79 AF points and 15 cross-type points. Designed with a new phase-detection AF module and a center-weighted algorithm, the model tracks subjects with greater precision and sensitivity. This can also be adjusted by the user according to what the subject requires.

Who Will Use This Most

Sony has designed this camera in a more action-oriented direction. So, if you’re an outdoor photographer who shoots fast subjects such as wildlife and sports, then this unit is certainly the one for you!

Bottom Line

Solidly built and boasting impressive auto-focus, the Sony A77II is a high-end DSLR offered at a price that’s extremely hard to compete with. Featuring a 14.3MP APS-C sensor, 12 fps burst shooting, built-in Wi-Fi, and 79 AF points, the camera allows you to produce vivid and punchy images.

Best Camera for Sports Photography Beginner: 
Canon EOS Rebel T6i

Canon EOS Rebel T6i Digital SLR (Body Only) - Wi-Fi Enabled

PROS

  • Captures up to 60p in HD for crisp, eye-catching results
  • Numerous additional modes including creative filters and HDR
  • Touchscreen and button/dial controls make it easy and convenient to use
  • Integrated Wi-Fi and NFC enable you to share captured moments quickly
  • Advanced scene analysis minimizes the effects of fluorescent lights, allowing you to take gorgeous photos in twilight

CONS

  • Viewfinder coverage is only limited to 95%
  • Small amount of buffer when shooting in RAW
  • Setting an autofocus point can be time-consuming

What Recent Buyers Report

Most users found the Canon Rebel T6i to be considerably better than the T5i and stated that it was a good model for serious amateurs. Buyers also found the touchscreen to be helpful and liked the Wi-Fi and autofocus points. However, some customers reported receiving defective products that had to be frequently restarted.

Why it Stands Out to Us

The Rebel T6i stands out from the crowd because of the accuracy and speed of autofocus it provides during serial shooting. Able to support shooting at an exposure of 1/4000 to 30 seconds, the model can output up to eight frames per second in RAW and up to five in JPEG.

Who Will Use This Most

The Rebel T6i is one of the most budget-friendly DSLRs for beginner photographers. It’s also the perfect option for news report shooting, group photos, and capturing the important moments of sports-related events. It’s also a great travel DSLR camera that can help improve your travel photography skills.

Bottom Line

All in all, the Rebel T6i certainly deserves a place on our list of top picks. Featuring a 24.2 megapixel CMOS sensor and a 19-point, all cross-type AF system, it provides smooth, eye-catching results and excellent value for money. 

Best Canon Camera for Sports Photography: 
Canon EOS 7D Mark II

Canon EOS 7D Mark II Digital SLR Camera (Body Only)

PROS

  • Excellent battery life
  • Provides fast, consistent focus, even in dim lighting
  • Fine-tuning controls and advanced ergonomics make it easy to use
  • Able to withstand up to 200,000 cycles, delivering a reliable, speedy performance
  • Wireless communication with tablets, computers, and smartphones enables remote operation and quick image transfer

CONS

  • Lack of 4K video
  • Screen does not support touch control
  • Expensive compared to other models

What Recent Buyers Report

Almost all the people who invested in the 7D Mark II agree it’s an absolute hit! Users stated the camera took incredibly clear images and were particularly impressed with the high ISO performance. Customers also found the focus to be fast, accurate, and consistent, with one user stating it allowed them to shoot all day long. However, the lack of touch control was disappointing to some.

Why it Stands Out to Us

The 7D2 is equipped with every feature that should be in a camera specifically designed for wildlife and sports photography. Boasting 65 auto-focus points, a Digic 6 image processor, a 20.2 MP CMOS sensor, a 10 fps burst mode, and the famous dual-pixel auto-focus system, it surely stands out from the crowd. The weather sealing further ensures that the camera will keep on going, in even the harshest of elements.

Who Will Use This Most

The Canon EOS 7D Mark II is ideal for professional reportage shooting and is the perfect option for sports and wildlife photographers. It’s also a great working tool for a professional wedding photographer.

Bottom Line

Featuring dual memory card slots, impressive ISO performance, amazing battery life, and the ability to use some of the best lenses available today, the 7D Mark II is a great camera that will follow you to the sidelines. Photos are taken with minimal delays, so you’ll never miss a single second of the competition!

Best Nikon Camera for Sports Photography:
 Nikon D500

Nikon D500 DX-Format Digital SLR (Body Only)

PROS

  • Well-stretched RAW and a wide dynamic range
  • Close to professional audio and video recording capabilities
  • Tilting LCD touchscreen makes it easy to get both high and low-angle shots
  • Water and dust-resistant metal body ensures durability, reliability, and longevity
  • Sensitive, tenacious, and fast auto-focus system creates images that match your vision

CONS

  • Restricted touchscreen functionality
  • Live View auto-focus sometimes lacks speed
  • Wireless communication with SnapBridge is a bit damp

What Recent Buyers Report

Almost all buyers were impressed with the imagery and performance of the D500 and stated that it maintained a clean, sharp image. Users also said that the auto-focus was quick and easy to use, and found that the camera took amazing photos even in low-light situations. However, the high battery consumption and unavailability of the SnapBridge app on iOS were disappointing for some.

Why it Stands Out to Us

Since the D500 is one of the best cameras available, there are several reasons it stands out to us. Its superior APS-C sensor produces more zoomed-in shots, allowing you to capture winning touchdowns without having too many elements in the background. It further produces Ultra HD 4K videos at 30 fps, while its built-in Wi-Fi capability allows you to share photos and videos online directly.

Who Will Use This Most

Due to its speed and accuracy, the Nikon D500 is the ideal option for individuals who work in the reporting arena. It’s also the perfect model for sports photographers, bloggers, travelers, photo-reporters, and street photographers. Individuals working with telephoto lenses, including photography spotters and animal photographers, will also benefit from the D500.

Bottom Line

Arguably the most versatile camera in Nikon’s line-up, the D500 boasts top of the line, pro-grade specs. With highly revamped ergonomics, a sturdy build, fantastic auto-focus, and a touchscreen on the back, this unit is truly the best Nikon camera for sports photography. 

Advantages of Investing in Quality Gear

Some of the benefits of purchasing a quality camera include:

Better Image Quality

A quality sports camera is usually designed with a large sensor that helps produce images with less noise, resulting in much better overall image quality. High-end models also reduce shakiness and vibration when shooting, which further reduces blurriness in low-light conditions.

High Shutter and Focus Speeds

Quality models acquire focus very quickly and are able to take multiple shots per second. Sports cameras usually allow photographers to capture up to ten frames per second.

Full Control Over Depth of Field

High-end units allow you to isolate the foreground from the background, while the aperture control of the lens enables you to bring everything into focus. Furthermore, some telephoto and portrait lenses really isolate the subject, creating a beautiful and creamy blur.

Durability

Quality cameras are reliable and built to last. While some parts are manufactured with tough plastic, high-end models are typically designed with magnesium-alloy and are able to withstand a lot of physical abuse.   

Conclusion

A sports camera is a big investment and one which requires a lot of research and thinking. Every individual knows that cameras are only going to get faster, smaller, and more technologically advanced as time progresses. While the aforementioned list is far from exhaustive, the reviews will surely help sports enthusiasts find a model that suits them best.