7 Best Cameras For Sports Photography (…and 7 to avoid)

One of the most fun and exciting genres of photography is shooting sports. But the fast paced action absolutely necessitates having a camera that won’t miss the shot. So you need to choose wisely.

My pick for the overall best camera for sports photography is the Nikon Z8. It’s combination of fast shooting, excellent autofocus, and a blackout free viewfinder make it the perfect tool for shooting sports.

But keep reading to see my full breakdown and other options that may work better for your specific needs.

Why You Should Trust Me

I’ve been a professional photographer for about a decade and have had the opportunity to try a wide variety of cameras and lenses and shoot a lot of different genres of photography. I also speak to experts that shoot sports all the time to help determine what to look for in these cameras.

Photography Goals uses affiliate links. When you buy products through the links on our site, we may earn a commission.

Top Pick

1. Nikon Z8

The Nikon Z8 is arguably one of the best mirrorless cameras on the market today. It combines a 45.7 megapixel sensor with fast shooting frame rates and an exceptional best autofocus system.

This was one of the most anticipated cameras in the Nikon lineup in years and it didn’t disappoint. It takes all of the features from the flagship Z9 and puts them into a smaller body without giving up anything except a bit of battery performance.

…and it does that for $1500 less.

There’s a lot to like about this camera, so let’s get into the specs…

Z8 Tech Specifications

  • Lens Mount: Nikon Z
  • Megapixels: 45.7
  • Sensor Size: Full-Frame (35.9 x 23.9mm) stacked CMOS
  • Sensitivity Range: ISO 64 to 25,600 (expands to 32 to 102,400)
  • Monitor: 3.2-inch vertical and horizontal tilting, 2.088m dots
  • Max Shutter Speed: 1/32,000 sec.
  • Continuous shooting speed: 30fps (with single point AF)
  • Buffer: 1000+ frames (when shooting only to XQD/CF Express)
  • Stabilization: 5-axis in body
  • Viewfinder: EVF 3.69m dots, 100% coverage, .8x magnification
  • Max video resolution: 8K up to 30p, 4K up to 120p (no crop)
  • Memory Card: 2 slots (1 XQD/CFexpress and 1 SD/SDHC/SDXC UHS-II)
  • Dimensions: (W x H x D): 144 x 118.5 x 83 mm / 5.7 x 4.7 x 3.3″ inches
  • Weight (battery incl.): 910g / 32.1oz

The first thing we’ll talk about is the sensor. The Z8 has the same 45.7 MP “stacked” BSI CMOS type sensor and has a native sensitivity of ISO 64-256,000, with expansion to ISO 32-102,400.

The stacked sensor means there’s no blackout in the electronic viewfinder while shooting. So you can track the athlete without interruption and hold focus the entire time you’re shooting.

I like shooting sports with a higher resolution sensor like this. It means that even if you don’t have quite the reach you need with your lens, you can crop in later to get the athlete to fill the frame.

This also makes it easier to track the action as you don’t have to be fully zoomed in on the athlete to end up with a nice tight shot that maintains a high resolution.

There are cameras out there that give you over 60 megapixels and similar specs, but there’s not much noticeable gain when you go from 45 to 60 other than bigger files.

One of my favorite features in the Z8 is the ‘Pre-release Capture.’ All you need to do is hold the shutter-release button halfway to activate, and the Z8 will start saving images up to one second before and up to four seconds after the shutter button is fully pressed.

The Z8 has excellent color fidelity that is comparable to the top full frame cameras at this price range such as the Sony A7RV.

When it comes to dynamic range, the Z8 similarly compares well with other cameras in this class. You’ll get about 14 stops of dynamic range at the base ISO of 64. It also has excellent performance at higher ISO settings which can be critical when shooting sports in low light venues line indoor arenas and gyms.

What really makes the Z8 stand out above all of the other competition is that it really doesn’t have any weaknesses.

Upgrade Option: Probably the only downsides of the Z8 when compared to the Z9 is that the battery life isn’t as long as the larger Z9 and the Z9 dissipates heat better. So if you don’t mind using a larger, heavier, and more expensive body then check out the Z9 instead.

If you want to see more Nikon options, check out my list of the Best Nikon Cameras For Sports Photography.

Runner Up

2. Canon R5

The Canon R5 does everything you need a sports camera to do.

This might be a bit of a surprise for some of you that I didn’t choose the flagship R3, but hear me out.

The R3 costs about $2000 more and you’re not gaining much in terms of features that are helpful for shooting sports AND you’re losing 20 megapixels in resolution which limits your ability to crop in on the action after you take the photo.

So let’s get to why I like the R5 better. First let’s take a look at the specs…

Canon EOS R5 Tech Specifications

  • Lens Mount: Canon RF
  • Megapixels: 45
  • Sensor Size: Full-Frame Dual Pixel CMOS
  • ISO Range: 100-51,200 (expandable to 102,400)
  • AF Points: Dual Pixel CMOS AF II covering Approx. 100% Area with 1,053 point AF Area (w/ Subject tracking of People and Animals)
  • Continuous shooting speed: 12 fps with Mechanical Shutter (up to 20 fps Electronic (Silent) Shutter)
  • Stabilization: 5 axis in body image stabilization (IBIS)
  • Viewfinder: EVF, 5.76m dots, 120fps refresh rate, 0.7x magnification
  • LCD: Fully Articulated 3.2-inch touch screen, 2.1m dots
  • Max video resolution: 8192 x 4320 @ 30p / 4096 x 2160 @ 120p
  • Memory Card: 1x SD/SDHC/SDXC UHS-II and 1x CFexpress
  • Dimensions: (W x H x D): 138 x 97.5 x 88.0mm (5.45 x 3.84 x 3.46 in.)
  • Weight: 738g

Those are pretty impressive overall and when it comes to the ones that count for shooting sports, the R5 has everything you need.

In terms of fast shooting, you’re getting 12 fps with the mechanical shutter and up to 20 fps with the electronic. In my experience, anything 12 or higher is plenty for shooting even the fastest moving sports and 20 fps is incredible.

But the important feature here isn’t ONLY the frame per second, it’s that you can get that fast shutter speed while using the full features of the R5 autofocus system, which up there among the industry leaders.

Note: The actual frames per second can vary based on the lens you’re using (especially when adapting older DSLR lenses) as well as the speed of the cards you’re using. For fastest rates and minimal buffer, use a fast CFexpress card and set it to write only to that card.

The R5 autofocus system has Canon’s Dual Pixel CMOS AF II system with 1053 available AF zones. The subject tracking works exceptionally well.

Even when shooting sports where the players wear helmets, the camera finds the heads and even detects the eyes under the helmet if the player is large enough in the frame. This is a massive upgrade from even the best Canon DSLRs, where is can be difficult to get eyes in sharp focus in similar conditions.

This is a major reason why I recommend mirrorless cameras for any kind of action shooting. The average person will get better results from a mid-range mirrorless camera than even a high end DSLR when it comes to shooting in tricky focusing situations like sports.

Ok, let’s talk a little about the downsides because no camera is perfect.

The electronic viewfinder (EVF) does have a blackout for a fraction of a second when shooting. For some, this can make it tricky to follow fast moving action. There is a “High Speed Display” mode that is available when shooting in High Speed (H) mode, but this replaces the blackout with the shot you just took so you’re still not getting a live feed from the sensor.

Upgrade Option: If you have the budget then the stacked sensor of the R3 does outperform the R5 in terms of the EVF but you are giving up 20 Megapixels.

Budget Pick

3. Canon R50

The R50 is a crop sensor camera with a number of high end features that makes it a lighter and more affordable option.

R50 is a great option. Especially since you can get it for well under $1000.

A crop sensor camera gives you more reach with the same focal length lens compared to a full frame camera. The crop factor for Canon is 1.6x which means that a 100mm lens on a crop sensor camera will have the same field of view as a 160mm lens.

Additionally, crop sensor cameras are typically smaller and lighter which can be a big benefit if you want to make it a little easier to get through an entire game without more arm fatigue or back pain.

Now let’s take a look specifically at the R50…

Canon EOS R50 Tech Specifications

  • Lens Mount: Canon RF
  • Megapixels: 24.2
  • Sensor Size: APS-C (1.6x crop) CMOS
  • ISO Range: 100-32,000 (exp to 51,200)
  • AF Points: Dual Pixel CMOS AF II (100% coverage)
  • Continuous shooting speed: 12fps (15fps w/ electronic shutter)
  • Stabilization: None
  • Viewfinder: EVF, 2.36m dots, 60fps refresh rate, 0.95x magnification
  • LCD: Fully Articulated 3-inch touch screen, 1.62m dots
  • Max video resolution: 4K video up to 30p (no crop)
  • Memory Card: 1 slot (SD/SDHC/SDXC UHS-I)
  • Dimensions: (W x H x D): 116 x 86 x 69 mm (4.57 x 3.39 x 2.72″)
  • Weight: 375g

The 24.2 megapixels is on par with the R6 Mk II and with the crop factor you may not have to crop in as much to get closeups of the athletes.

With a shooting speed of 12 fps with a mechanical shutter and 15 fps with the electronic shutter, you’ve got enough speed to capture fast moving action.

The viewfinder is a bit of a step down in both resolution (2.36m dots) and refresh rate (60fps) compared to the full frame options above, but this is something you might not even notice unless you compared both side by side.

Overall, this is a great budget option if you want to save some money and get started shooting sports photography.

Sony Pick

4. Sony A1

With the highest resolution and the fastest shooting speed on this list the A1 is a serious contender.

Look, I know some of you love Sony cameras and since I didn’t think any deserved the top spot or the runner up spot, I’m creating a special category just to prevent anyone from losing their minds.

Sony does make some amazing cameras, and the Sony A1 is one of their best.

It’s got a 50.1 Megapixel full-frame stacked sensor and can shoot at full resolution up to 30 frames per second. The stacked sensor means that you can shoot at 30 fps without any blackout of the electric viewfinder.

Sony A1 Specifications

  • Lens Mount: Sony E
  • Megapixels: 50.1
  • Sensor Size: Full-frame stacked Exmor RS™ CMOS sensor w/ integral memory
  • ISO Range: 100-32,000 (expandable to 50-102,400)
  • AF Points: Fast Hybrid AF (phase-detection AF / contrast-detection AF) covering Approx. 92% Area (w/ Subject tracking of People and Animals)
  • Continuous shooting speed: Up to 30 fps with Electronic (Silent) Shutter)
  • Stabilization: 5 axis in body image stabilization (IBIS)
  • Viewfinder: (update from her) EVF, 9.44m dots, 240fps refresh rate, 0.9x magnification
  • LCD: 2.95-inch vertical and horizontal tilting touch screen, 1.4m dots
  • Max video resolution: 8192 x 4320 @ 30p / 4096 x 2160 @ 120p
  • Memory Card: 1x SD/SDHC/SDXC UHS-II and 1x CFexpress
  • Dimensions: (W x H x D): 128.9 x 96.9 x 80.8mm (5.13 x 3.88 x 3.25 in.)
  • Weight: 737g

Speaking of the viewfinder, it’s an impressive 240 fps refresh rate, 9.44M dot 0.64” QXGA OLED EVF. That makes it the fastest refreshing and highest resolution on this list.

So why isn’t the Sony A1 at the top of the list? Well there’s two reasons.

First, although Sony has gotten better with its ergonomics, this still falls short of Canon and Nikon on that front.

Second, this impressive camera carries with it an equally impressive price tag. So unless you’re getting paid to shoot sports and have an unlimited gear budget, the $6,5000 MSRP might be tough to swallow.

Especially when there are other options like the Nikon Z8 that is $2,700 cheaper and and has equally impressive specs with better ergonomics.

Compact Option

5. Nikon Z50

The first Z mount crop sensor camera packs a lot of great tech in a small body. The autofocus is fast enough to keep up with most sports and the price makes it a great way to enter the Z mount system.

If you want a smaller mirrorless camera that still packs a punch when it comes to shooting sports then the Nikon Z50 is a great option.

The specs and performance of this camera fall somewhere above the D3500 and below the Z6II and it is priced accordingly for that range.

The 1.5x crop factor of this camera will give all your lenses a little more reach. That means that a 200mm lens effectively becomes 300mm and that extra reach helps a lot when shooting sports. You even have access to the massive F mount lineup with the FTZ adapter.

Z50 Tech Specifications

  • Lens Mount: Nikon Z
  • Megapixels: 20.9
  • Sensor Size: APS-C / DX (23.5×15.7mm) CMOS
  • Sensitivity Range: ISO 100-52,200 (expands to 204,800)
  • Monitor: 3.2-inch tilting, 1.04m dots
  • Continuous shooting speed: 11fps
  • Stabilization: None in body
  • Viewfinder: EVF, 2.36m-dot OLED
  • Max video resolution: 4K UHD at up to 30p
  • Memory Card: 1 slot (SD/SDHC/SDXC UHS-I)
  • Dimensions: (W x H x D): 127 x 94 x 60 mm / 5 x 3.7 x 2.36-inches
  • Weight: 450g /14oz (body only)

This camera will offer you a lot of versatility that goes beyond just shooting sports. The smaller size coupled with some of the very compact Z Mount DX lenses means you’ll also have a great walk-around option for any situation.

I highly recommend this camera to beginners because of its versatility and ease of use.

Because Nikon uses the exact same Z mount on its full-frame and crop sensor cameras, you can use this camera as an entry point and slowly build up a nice collection of Z mount lenses before investing in a full-frame body. In fact, you may never even feel the need to jump to full-frame.

This is a camera that I personally use to shoot kids sports when there is plenty of light. It can’t handle low light as well as the Z6II or Z8 but when there is enough light the image quality is excellent.

Under $2000

6. Nikon Z6II

The second version of the Z6 has improved focusing, an exceptional sensor, and 14 frames per second. With the growing collection of Z mount lenses, you can take advantage of cutting-edge technology in lenses.

The Nikon Z6II is Nikon’s improvement first generation mirrorless Z6. It’s my runner up here for shooting sports because of the shooting speed and image quality as well as the ability to use Nikon Z mount lenses which continue to impress with each new lens released.

The 24.5 Megapixel sensor is kind of a sweet spot of resolution for shooting sports. It gives you enough detail to crop in a bit but also isn’t so large that it slows you down. If you want high resolution and fast shooting, you’ll pay a premium for either the top pick Z8 above or the Z9

Z6II Tech Specifications

  • Lens Mount: Nikon Z
  • Megapixels: 24.5
  • Sensor Size: Full-Frame (35.9 x 23.9mm) backside illuminated (BSI) sensor
  • Sensitivity Range: ISO 100-52,200 (expands to 50-204,800)
  • Monitor: 3.2-inch tilting, 1.04m dots
  • Continuous shooting speed: 14fps
  • Stabilization: 5-axis in body
  • Viewfinder: EVF, 3.69m dots
  • Screen: Tilting 3.2 inch 1,040,000-dot touchscreen
  • Max video resolution: 4K UHD at up to 60p
  • Memory Card: 2 slots (1 XQD/CFexpress and 1 SD/SDHC/SDXC UHS-II)
  • Dimensions: (W x H x D): 134 x 100.5 x 69.5 mm / 5.3 x 4 x 2.8-inches
  • Weight (battery incl.): 705g /1lb. 4.9oz

With 14 frames per second, the Z6II is more than fast enough for most sports. If you want to shoot faster than that, you’ll have to spend more than double for the Z9 (more about this one below).

Of equal importance is the increased buffer depth, meaning you can take more shots in continuous mode before the camera needs to stop. For many sports photographers, this is even more critical than frames per second. A large and fast buffer means less time that you’ll have to wait for it to clear before shooting again.

This camera also handles low light exceptionally well which means shooting indoor sports like basketball or ice hockey isn’t a problem, even when the light is less than stellar (such as shooting in a high school gym).

Under $500

7. Canon EOS R100

Canon recently introduced this excellent entry-level mirrorless camera that is perfect for beginners on a budget that want to get into the Canon RF lens system.

The Canon R100 is the newest entry-level APS-C (crop sensor) mirrorless camera from Canon. It is a great entry point into the Canon RF system and an affordable way for a beginner to get started learning photography.

Canon EOS R100 Tech Specifications

  • Lens Mount: Canon RF
  • Megapixels: 24.1
  • Sensor Size: APS-C (1.6x crop) CMOS
  • ISO Range: 100-12,800 (exp to 25,600)
  • AF Points: Dual Pixel CMOS AF (88% coverage)
  • Continuous shooting speed: 6.5fps (3.5fps with AF)
  • Stabilization: None
  • Viewfinder: EVF, 2.36m dots, 60fps refresh rate, 0.95x magnification
  • LCD: Fixed 3-inch (non-touch) screen, 1.04m dots
  • Max video resolution: 4K up to 25p (1.55x crop), 1080p up to 60p (uncropped), 720p up to 120p
  • Memory Card: 1 slot (SD/SDHC/SDXC UHS-I)
  • Dimensions: (W x H x D): 116.3 x 88.1 x 58.7mm
  • Weight: 356g with battery and memory card

The biggest draw for this camera is the price. It’s perfect if you’re looking for the least expensive entry point into a good camera system and spend your budget on quality lenses. It’s easy to upgrade your camera as your skills outpace the functionality of the camera.

An important feature that is missing is a tracking focus mode. That’s when you have a focus point that you put over an object, press a button, and the camera tracks that object.

Although for that last one, you can probably just use the eye AF tracking, which this camera does have, for most sports.

Really, the best part of this camera is the price. It’s one of the lowest-priced mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras on the market. So at that price level, it’s hard to criticize Canon for the feature shortcomings.

But ultimately, if you can afford the extra cash for the R50, I think that is a much better option for beginners.

Upgrade Option: If you can squeeze another $130 or so out of your budget then take a look at the Canon R50. You’ll get a newer camera and sensor as well as double the continuous shooting frame rate.

Cameras You Should Avoid For Shooting Sports

These aren’t necessarily bad cameras, so don’t worry if you have one. I just don’t think someone looking to buy a new camera to shoot sports should pick any of these options.

Canon 1DX Mk II

This is a great camera and a proven professional sports powerhouse. So why did I list it down here are one to avoid? There’s really no good reason to spend over $6000 on a DSLR nowadays.

If you really want the top of the line pro camera and have that much to spend then go for the R3 instead. Although, you can save over $2000 and do quite well with the R5. But however much you want to spend, there are better options out there now for less than the 1DX Mk II.

Canon M-Series (M6, M50, M200

If you can still find these available new online, avoid them. Canon’s experiment with the M line was more or less a failure. The cameras themselves aren’t necessarily terrible, but they aren’t developing the M lens lineup anymore and have gone all in on the RF system.

Canon 5D Mark IV

Another good camera whose day has past. The R6 Mark II can be had for a similar price and the difference in the autofocus systems alone is enough to choose the R6 Mark II over the 5D Mark IV.

Canon 7D Mark II

This was an excellent camera when it was released in 2014. It’s a crop sensor body with pro features at an affordable price point.

So why am I saying to avoid it?

Well, it’s old. Almost 10 years old at the time I’m writing this. Even if you can find it at a great price in some places, you’ll just get better capabilities with something like the R50 above that has a faster shutter speed and better image quality.

So it’s not a bad camera (if you already have one) but just not something I would recommend investing in now.

Nikon D6

For a long time, this would have been the number one pick for shooting sports with Nikon gear. It is still a very capable pro-level sports camera and if you have one already, then I’m sure you’re still getting amazing results.

But at $6,499 MSRP, there’s no reason to buy this camera nowadays when you can get the Z8 or the Z9 cameras on this list (and their superior autofocus and frame rates) for much less.

Nikon isn’t developing new DSLR lenses anymore either. So if you bought this camera today, you’ll be buying into an outdated system.

If you already have lots of Nikon F mount lenses and want a new camera for shooting sports, go with the Z8 at the top of this list and get an F to Z adapter to continue to use that glass. You’ll save money and have one of the best sports cameras on the market.

Nikon D5

I listed the D5 separately in case you were scanning the page to see if it was on here, but the reasons for not recommending it are the exact same as the D6 above.

Nikon D7500

The D7500 is a popular DSLR for photographers looking to upgrade their entry level camera but are still on a budget.

It’s a good camera, but at the same price point, you can get the Z50 that I listed above. You’ll get better performance, better autofocus, and you’ll be able to use the lineup of exceptional Z mount lenses.

So skip the D7500.

Top Factors For Choosing Camera For Sports Photography

After shooting local sports for a few years, here are the top features and specifications I would look for in a camera to shoot sports.

Autofocus System

The most difficult thing about shooting sports at any level is getting the right thing in focus at the right time. The faster and more accurate your autofocus system is, the better your results will be.

The latest mirrorless cameras have really taken a huge leap forward in autofocus technology in recent years. Because they use the sensor itself to acquire focus, mirrorless cameras can have far more coverage across the frame than DSLRs. They also use contrast detection which tends to be more accurate and doesn’t require tuning like DSLRs.

Mirrorless cameras have also begun to employ smart algorithms that let your camera do things like detecting the eyes of your subject with often impressive accuracy and speed. This can be very helpful for shooting sports because the goal is often to get the eyes of the player in focus.

Most of the the Canon mirrorless cameras have excellent AF systems including something called eye autofocus which does a really great job at finding the eyes of a person (even a fast moving athlete) and locking onto them. Even if the sport involves helmets, these cameras will lock onto the helmets and even get the eyes inside the helmet in focus on some angles.

This is one of the main reasons why I recommend the mirrorless cameras above as my top picks for sports.

Continuous Shooting Speed

Continuous shooting speed is important while shooting sports. You still have to time it so that you press the shutter at the peak of action, but the ability to shoot 10 or more frames per second will improve your chances of capturing the perfect moment.

But don’t rely on this too heavily. Developing the skill of capturing the perfect moment is important for shooting sports too.

Another factor that goes hand in hand with continuous shooting is buffer size. This is the number of photos you can shoot continuously before your camera needs a break to write the files to your card.

Cameras with faster processors and those that use faster cards like CFexpress are going to have larger buffers and let you shoot at high speeds longer.

Dynamic Range and Low Light Performance

You might associate dynamic range and low light performance with other types of photography, but once you start shooting sports in varied situations, you’ll realize how important it is to have a good sensor…here’s why.

Dynamic range is the ability to capture bright areas and dark areas in the same shot. Often, sporting events take place outside in direct sunlight, which means very bright spots and harsh shadows. If your camera sensor has a good dynamic range, you can recover these extremes when editing the photos after the game.

Another common situation sports photographers encounter is low light. You might think that your local high school gym is bright, but if you want to shoot at high shutter speeds, those gym lights often are not bright enough.

That means using higher ISO settings in order to use fast enough shutter speeds to freeze the action. The better your camera can handle these high ISO settings, the better your images will turn out.

Ergonomics and Usability

Sports move fast, so you’ll want a camera that handles well and allows you to change settings fast and accurately in order to get the best results.

Canon has a long history of making cameras for professional sports photographers. So even their less expensive models benefit from that history

Even the new, smaller mirrorless cameras are made with ergonomics in mind. So rest assured that every camera on this list is going to be easy to use.

Lens Selection

You have to consider the lens lineup that will work with the camera that you choose. Canon has a massive lineup of EF mount lenses at all focal lengths and price ranges for it’s DSLRs.

But the lens lineup for Canon R mount mirrorless cameras isn’t quite as good as the Nikon Z or Sony lineups. However they’re slowly catching up and you can still use an adapter to use all of the old Canon glass, which means a massive range of options (many of which you can find used at great prices).

Ruggedness and Durability

Sports photographers tend to put their cameras through some tough use. You may find yourself shooting in the rain, snow, wind, heat, and other tough weather. You’ll also be moving around a lot and often be quite rough on your camera.

Canon cameras, especially the ones on this list, are built quite well in terms of ruggedness. They are all weather-sealed to some degree and can survive normal bumps and heavy use.

DSLR or Mirrorless For Sports Photography?

In general, modern mirrorless cameras are going to be better for shooting sports photography. The new and quite impressive autofocus systems in mirrorless cameras are often going to give you better results than DSLRs.

DSLRs will eventually become outdated so it is a smart decision to invest in one of the mirrorless systems if you are buying a camera today.

Item added to cart.
0 items - $0.00