9 Best Nikon Lenses For Sports Photography (…and 3 to avoid)

With constant rapid movements and adrenaline-filled expressions, sports events present unbeatable opportunities for amazing shots to show off your photography skills. But those opportunities unique challenges and the need for the right equipment.

Trying to capture all-star moments can quickly become an exercise in frustration if you don’t have the right equipment. Instead of poster-worthy prints, you can easily end up turning out one blurry picture after another of ant-sized players that no one can identify.

I took a close look at the Nikon lens lineup and came up with 9 of the best Nikon lenses for sports photography.

My top picks were the Tamron 70-200 f/2.8 G2 for DSLRs and the Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 S for Mirrorless Nikons.

Keep reading if you want to see my full breakdown and more options based on your specific needs:

Mirrorless (Z-Mount) Lenses

All of the exciting new lenses being released by Nikon are in the Z Mount lineup. Starting with a lens that may be one of the best on the market by any manufacturer.

Top Pick
Nikon Z 70-200mm f28 VR S

1. Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 S

This lens is a staple in any Nikon sports photographer’s bag and may be among the best 70-200 lenses on the market in terms of sharpness and image quality.

For shooters with a Z mount body ready to make a big investment for sports photography, the obvious choice is the Nikon S 70-200 f/2.8. Without a doubt, this stunning piece of glass is a gem that both promises and delivers excellent results.

Part of Nikon’s S-line lenses designed exclusively for Z mount bodies, the painstaking focus on optical quality and performance make this lens possibly the best 70-200 lens currently on the market. In features, it really leaves nothing to be desired.

This lens pairs very well with the Nikon Z8 which made the top of our list of best Nikon cameras for sports photography.

The consistent f/2.8 aperture guarantees broad low-light shooting capabilities even when extended to 200 mm. This coupled with not one but two autofocus motors makes rapid-fire autofocusing a reality, meaning that shooting in almost any sports situation is now not only possible but easier than ever. As a bonus, the performance is near silent adding to the finesse of your shooting experience.

Additional notable characteristics of this lens include coatings like Nikon’s Nano Crystal Coat and Fluorine Coat to fight both reflections and dirt that can ruin an otherwise award-winning shot. On top of that, the lens body itself is ruggedly designed against dust and moisture to make sure this lens can withstand field conditions.

One look at all this lens offers and there is absolutely no doubt that it has been meticulously designed to be fast, reliable and optically superior to all its competitors. Unfortunately, that incredible attention to detail and the stunning results it helps produce do come at a steep price, to the tune of $2,600 MSRP.

If you’re looking for something more affordable, then this next pick may be right for you…

Budget Pick

2. Tamron 70-300mm Z f/4.5-6.3 Di III RXD

One of the first Nikon Z Mount lenses developed by Tamron, this lens delivers great image quality at an affordable price.

I was excited when I learned that Nikon had opened up the Z Mount for other manufacturers to develop lenses for it. Tamron has long been a favorite of mine for great quality lenses that are more affordable than their Nikon counterparts.

The 70-300mm focal range is one that Nikon has done before with its DSLR lineup and those lenses were always kind of mediocre. Good focal range and affordable but soft and lackluster autofocus performance.

While this lens certainly falls short of the optical performance of the 70-200mm f/2.8 above, its far better than any of the affordable 70-300mm lenses that Nikon used to make.

It actually delivers impressive clarity across the focal range. You’ll see some softness around the edges but that’s to be expected with a lens of this focal range and price.

The biggest drawback to this lens is the aperture range. It won’t affect you if you’re just looking foe a lens to shoot your kid’s sports in daylight, but if you’re shooting in lower light situations then you’ll need to really crank up the ISO to get a good exposure.

Alternative: If you want to spend a little more but aren’t ready to make the jump to the pro-level 70-200mm above, then check out the Nikon 70-180mm f/2.8. That lens will give you the f/2.8 aperture you need to shoot in lower light and still save you over $1000 off the top pick above.

I wouldn’t recommend this lens on a high resolution camera like the Z7, Z8 or Z9 because you won’t get the full performance out of those cameras with this lens. But any of the other Z cameras around that 24MP or lower range will work great with this lens, especially one of the crop sensor mirrorless cameras like the Z50, Zfc, or Z30.

Crop Sensor Pick

3. Nikon Z DX 50-250mm f/4.5-6.3 VR

A compact, lightweight, and affordable option with 250mm of reach (375mm equivalent on a crop sensor camera) is perfect for shooting your kid’s sporting events.

If you are shooting with a Nikon Z crop sensor camera like the Z50, Z30, or Zfc then this lens gives you a compact and affordable option to shoot sports with.

I think it falls short of the Tamron 70-300 above in terms of optical performance, but there are some advantages in terms of price, size, and weight.

The Tamron above comes in with an MSRP of $699 (although I have seen it for less) and this Nikon has an MSRP of only $379.95. It’s also smaller and lighter than the Tamron.

But be aware that this lens is designed specifically for crop-sensor (DX) Nikon Z cameras. That means if you try to put it on a full frame Z camera, you won’t be projecting an image on the entire sensor. The Tamron is a full-frame lens that works equally well on either full-frame or crop sensor Nikon Z cameras.

In terms of the focal length, having the slightly wider 50mm focal length at the wide end can be useful with a crop sensor camera.

The crop factor means that this has an full-frame equivalent focal range of 75-375mm and the Tamron above has a full-frame equivalent of 105-450mm. So you’ll have to decide if having a wider focal length at the wide range or having more reach is important (and factor in the price).

Either way, you’ll end up with a good quality lens that will work well with your crop-sensor Z camera.

For Extra Reach

4. Nikon Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S

When 200mm isn’t enough, this lens gives you the extra reach you need to get close to the action in almost any sport.

If you’re shooting sports with a larger field like soccer or football, then you may need more reach than a 70-200mm lens if going to give you and this is the perfect lens.

This lens will give you almost instant autofocus performance and quick zooming from 100mm to 400mm.

The autofocus system uses two high-speed STM stepping motors moving in sync with each other in near silence. This means that more of your shots end up in perfect focus even with the fastest moving sports.

As an added bonus, it has a close focusing distance as close as 2.46 feet away at 100mm or 3.22 feet away at 400mm. This means you can even use it as a macro lens and get some incredible close up shots.

Pro Upgrade Options: If you’re looking for the very best at this focal range then check out the Nikon Z 400mm f/4.5 VR S or even the very expensive lens that you’ll probably see on NFL sidelines, the Nikon 400mm f/2.8 TC VR S.

DSLR (F-Mount) Lenses

The Nikon F-Mount lens lineup is still one of the most impressive collection of lenses on the market and many have been used by professional sports photographers for decades, so if you have a Nikon DSLR, here’s where I would start…

Top Pick

5. Tamron 70-200 f/2.8 G2

The 70-200mm f/2.8 is the most used lens for sports and Tamron’s G2 version is every bit as good as the Nikon at half the price.

Although there are undoubtedly some excellent Nikkor lenses available to meet your sports photography needs (we’ll talk about those later in this article), this time, in our opinion, the best bet for most aspiring sports photographers is the Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 G2. Designed for FX bodies, it also works with DX bodies where its zoom range changes to 140-300mm.

The expansive focal length offered by this piece of glass maintains its maximum 2.8 aperture even when extended to 200mm, assuring that you don’t have to make compromises when shooting. You can get even closer to your target and still be able to capture lots of light with the aperture wide open.

Due to the particular challenges of sports photography that often combine the need to freeze action with less than optimal lighting conditions, it’s common to battle dark, blurry photos. With this Tamron lens that becomes less of a problem as you’re able to rely more heavily on aperture than on a slow shutter speed to grab the most available light possible.

This is a big advantage because it allows you the freedom to make the most of the Tamron’s USD (Ultrasonic Silent Drive) motor that gives you lightning-fast focusing and shutter speed to freeze your subjects in action.

These factors coupled with Tamron’s innovative VC image stabilization system, which can compensate for up to 5 full stops, give you lots of rapid-fire hand-held freedom for almost every sports shooting situation.

And as if all that weren’t enough, Tamron offers two teleconverters (purchased separately) that allow you to reach a maximum zoom of 400mm.

With so much to offer and user-confirmed great performance, the Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 G2 just makes sense. At $1300, it’s still an investment piece but also basically half the price of an equivalent Nikkor glass—and offers at least 95% of the performance. Those odds practically guarantee you’ll be more than satisfied if you opt for this lens as you delve into the world of sports photography.

Runner Up

6. Tamron 100-400 f/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. 

This is a lens that I used for many years to shoot local sporting events. It’s inexpensive, fast focusing, durable, and delivers excellent quality images.

This focal range is great for a wide variety of sports, especially outdoor sports on larger fields like baseball, football, or soccer. For sports like that, the 70-200mm options just don’t cut it.

One of my favorite parts about this lens is that it is easy to shoot handheld and lightweight enough to walk around with. At only 2.45 lbs., the Tamron 100-400mm is the lightest zoom lens in the ultra-telephoto category.

This lens also delivers image stabilization up to 4 stops. This is helpful when shooting still subjects, but if you’re using this for sports then you probably want to use a fast enough shutter speed that makes the stabilization unnecessary.

Overall, I think this is a great easy to use option for sports where you need a longer focal length telephoto lens.

Budget Pick

7. Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 ED IF AF-S VR

If you’re just looking for better shots of your kid’s soccer game and don’t shoot in low light, then this is a great option and can be found used for even less.

If you’re in the market for a full-frame lens that won’t require a $1000+ investment, this is an excellent budget option.

At roughly $500, you can expect that this lens does make some sacrifices. However, it remains a solid piece that will up your sports photography game considerably.

One of this lens’s most attractive features undoubtedly is its wide zoom range extending all the way out to 300mm, bringing you closer than ever to your rapidly moving target to capture those unforgettable sports moments.

Designed to be a compact lens that offers more hand-held shooting possibilities, this lens includes Nikon’s upgraded Vibration Reduction II technology to compensate for up to 2.5 stops of camera shake. This means that you can have more freedom to shoot in less than ideal lighting conditions that some other telephoto lenses can’t handle.

NOTE: There is a much less expensive model of this lens without VR that I don’t recommend. So be careful and use the links above to make sure you get the right one.

Unfortunately, in order to achieve being friendlier on the wallet and less bulky, the Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED IF AF-S VR sacrifices aperture. With a maximum aperture of f/4.5 at 70 mm and f/5.6mm at 300mm, this is not a prime lens and you will likely note its limitations if you frequently shoot sports events at night or in very dimly lit spaces. It may not be impossible to still get great shots but be prepared to work for them and to potentially sacrifice handholding.

Obviously, if your sports photography focuses mainly on daytime and outdoor events, this lens is more than able to produce great results.

It, like all of Nikon’s AF-S lenses, has been designed with a Silent Wave Motor to enable quick focusing on the fly. This rapid response is especially important in sports photography where one second extra could mean completely missing an award-winning shot.

Of course, since this is a budget option, temper your expectations for this lens and I would avoid using it if you have a high megapixel camera like the D850.

Crop Sensor Pick

8. Nikon DX 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. 

A similar option to our budget FX pick but designed specifically for DX body cameras, the Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR offers practically the same benefits.

Reaching out to 300mm at the long end, this lens makes getting close to a great sports moment happening further out in the field easier than ever.

Thanks to the sacrifices made with regards to aperture, this lens is rather compact and not too weighty which makes it friendly on the back when you’re out shooting for several hours. Obviously, you can expect to lose the advantages offered by a wider aperture that make for faster shooting with clearer results.

However, at only $400, that may not be a deal-breaker for many shooters. As with the previously discussed lens, this piece of glass also includes the Silent Wave Motor for more accurate and responsive autofocusing. Additionally, Vibration Reduction technology helps control camera shake.

In short, despite its limitations, this lens is quite capable of producing great sports images. Some users do note a degree of aberration in shots taken at 300mm, and those who use it in indoor or low-lighting events note that they typically need to compensate for the restricted aperture by dramatically increasing ISO and/or using a tripod.

Extra Reach

9. Nikon 200-400mm f/4G ED VR II

For pro-level quality and extra reach this f/4 lens is exactly what you need.

For many sporting events, a solid 70-200mm telephoto lens is more than enough to capture the majority of the shots you’re after. However, certain cross-country events may call for a lens with extra reach. If long-range is the type of sports photography that interests you, your best option will undoubtedly be the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-400mm f/4G ED VR II.

This impressive piece of professional-grade glass removes all limits imposed by reach and lets you get up close and personal with the action anywhere on the field. But this lens won’t only get you close to action in the moment. It specializes in creating images that are just as stunning as what you see in the viewfinder.

Designed with multiple features like Nikon’s Silent Wave Motor, Vibration Reduction Technology, Extra Low Dispersion Glass and Nano Crystal Coat, the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-400mm f/4G ED VR II is prepared to meet the challenges of sports photography with ease.

These elements help ensure consistent performance that produces clear images without falling victim to camera shake or sluggish focus issues. The consistent f/4 aperture also gives additional control over lighting conditions making for reliable, fast performance.

As you can expect a piece of glass with this range and these kinds of professional specs, doesn’t come cheap. At $7000 new, this one’s only going to be an option for a very specific type of photographer with well-defined photography goals in mind—and a back healthy enough to lug around nearly 7.5lbs of extra weight when out on assignment.

What to Look for When Choosing a Nikon Lens For Sports

After hours of research, we feel convinced that our top picks for a Nikon sports lens are the best options on the market today. However, we also realize that you might still want to compare other possibilities to make sure you choose the glass best suited to your particular needs.

If that’s your case, try keeping in mind the following specifications when making your final decision.

Long Enough Focal Length for The Sport You Shoot

Perhaps your end goal is to become a dedicated sports photographer who shoots a wide range of sports. But for many sports photographers, especially initially, there are one or two sports that are the focus of their shooting.

Consider the field conditions of your sport. Bigger field sports like football and soccer may need longer lenses to reach the other side of the field, while indoor sports like basketball or volleyball may call for a wider-angle lens.

Over time, you’ll likely find yourself wanting to expand your camera bag to include two bodies with different lens options. But when making your initial lens purchase, think about how much reach you’ll need to get as close as you want to the unforgettable moments your sport offers.

Fast Max Aperture

As you may have noted throughout this article, having a reliable fast aperture is a primary concern for sports photographers. Having a wide-open aperture that lets in lots of light and enables you to use lightning-fast shutter speed is a bonus in practically all sports, but especially important for indoor sports or night games on fields that aren’t well lit.

If your shooting is focused primarily on events that occur outside in broad daylight, you can sacrifice aperture (at least to a certain degree) in favor of other details like zoom range and price. Otherwise, buy the widest max aperture your budget can afford to help ensure you always reliably freeze the action in all lighting conditions.

Fast Autofocus

Speed is essential for a sports photographer. In the literal blink of an eye, big moments happen and if your lens is struggling to focus, you’ll miss most of them.

To avoid the frustration of framing an award-winning image only to miss the shot entirely or get a blurry one because you couldn’t focus, make sure to get a lens with proven fast autofocus capabilities.

Both with the firing of shots and focus, slick, seamless speed can literally make or break your up-and-coming sports photography career.

Good Handling

Also, take time to consider how the lens you choose will feel in your hands. Everything from size to weight and button position can affect the ease of use for you, the photographer.

If a lens feels overly bulky or awkward in your hands, it’s very likely to cause you undue frustration on the field. While there is an expected learning curve with all new equipment, if the first thing you notice when you pick up a lens is the ache in your shoulders or if your fingers can’t easily reach essential buttons, that may be an indication to look for another option more suited to your needs.


Ultimately, the lens you choose to begin or advance your sports photography endeavors will depend a lot upon your budget and your personal goals. Thankfully options abound, and we feel safe in assuring you that any one of our top picks is sure to produce spectacular results.

Item added to cart.
0 items - $0.00