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Best camera for sports photography in 2021

Included in this guide:

Best camera for sports photography
(Image credit: Digital Camera World)

When picking the best camera for sports photography, it's all about pace. You need a machine that can keep up with the demands of fast-moving sports, whether that's following a rally car as it whips around a corner, keeping focus on a gymnast as they vault over the pommel horse, or just grabbing some memorable shots of your local five-a-side team for the Facebook page. That's why we've compiled a list of all the best sports cameras, from affordable bridge cameras to the cutting-edge bodies used by the pros.

But what makes a camera the best for sports? How does one of these models differ from the best camera for professionals, or even the best mirrorless camera or best DSLR. It's all about certain aspects of the spec, and making sure the camera excels in key areas (possibly compromising in others). Knowing what these are will make it much easier to shop for sports cameras – if you're coming at this new, then click to jump straight to our section on how to choose the best camera for sports photography, where we lay out the essentials. 

There are loads of different models to choose from right now when it comes to shooting sports. Beginners and budget users have the pick of great bridge cameras, which are built like DSLRs but are fixed with big zoom lenses for honing in on the action, and come with much more reasonable price tags. 

In the intermediate and enthusiast space, there are lots of sophisticated mirrorless cameras jostling for your attention, like Sony's A6000 series or the Fujifilm X-T4. In the world of pro sports cameras however, things have really hotted up, with Canon and Nikon both soon to release new mirrorless sports cameras. The Nikon Z9 is a headline stealer with 120fps burst speeds and a maximum shutter speed of just 1/32,000sec. The Canon EOS R3, meanwhile, is a full-frame monster that's pushing camera tech forward, allowing you to control the AF point with movement of your eye! Once these cameras hit store shelves, and are put through their paces by our reviewers, we're sure they'll end up earning a place on this list. 

To help you find the best camera for sports photography for your needs, we've split this guide into three different categories. Simply use the navigation links to jump to the section you're interested in. 

Best camera for sports photography – the full list

Bridge cameras for beginners

If you’re looking for something straightforward, self-contained and affordable that’ll allow you to get some good shots of the kids’ sports days, look no further. These bridge cameras have large zoom lenses that let you get close to the action, are designed to be intuitive to use, and all carry smaller price tags than mirrorless cameras or DSLRs.

(Image credit: Panasonic)

1. Panasonic FZ300

A great long-zoom low cost bridge camera to get you started

Specifications
Type: Compact
Sensor: 1/2.3-inch MOS
Megapixels: 12.1MP
Lens: 25-600mm (equivalent) f/2.8
AF points: 49
Burst rate: 12fps with AF (or up to 30fps using 4K Photo mode)
Buffer: Not specified
Weight: 640g
Reasons to buy
+Impressive zoom lens+Well-priced package
Reasons to avoid
-Small sensor...-... with low megapixel count

Bridge cameras may not offer all of the high-end functionality of professional mirrorless cameras and DSLRs, but for the money you spend, you do get a heck of a lot. Nowhere is this more true than in the case of the Panasonic Lumix FZ300 (known as the FZ330 outside of North America). It's an inexpensive bridge camera with an impressively big 24x optical zoom that’s perfect for sports photography. It’s no slouch in burst shooting either, with a 4K Photo mode that allows you to utilize the 30fps 4K frame rate for the purposes of stills shooting – as long as you don’t mind a resolution cut to 8MP. Although resolution more generally is the camera’s main area of disadvantage – its resolution tops out at 12.1MP, meaning it’s not a great choice if you’re planning to make prints, and the relatively small sensor does affect performance in low light. If neither of these are important factors for you, this is a strong choice for simple sports photography.

(Image credit: Panasonic)

2. Panasonic Lumix FZ1000

A bigger sensor than other bridge cameras, for better image quality

Specifications
Type: Compact
Sensor: 1-inch MOS
Megapixels: 20.1MP
Lens: 25-400mm (equivalent) f/2.8-4
AF points: 49
Burst rate: 50fps (5MP JPEG only), 30fps (using 4K Photo mode), 12fps (single AF), 7fps (continuous AF)
Buffer: 41 shots (JPEG), 12 shots (RAW)
Weight: 831g
Reasons to buy
+Array of burst options+Cut-down price
Reasons to avoid
-Max aperture falls quickly-Middling RAW buffer

While Panasonic has brought out a few new cameras in this particular wheelhouse, namely the FZ2000 and the FZ1000 II, we reckon this is the optimal buy for relatively newbie sports shooters. Still widely available, the Panasonic Lumix FZ1000  offers an amazing level of functionality for its price, with an impressive 16x optical zoom lens that delivers the goods, even if the maximum aperture does fall pretty sharply once you push the zoom beyond 170mm. With multiple different burst modes to play with and satisfying, DSLR-style handling, the FZ1000 offers plenty of functionality for any sports photographer, and its video features are no slouch either, with 4K 30p video that looks great and can also be used to extract high-quality stills.

(Image credit: Nikon)

A huuuuuge zoom range, but it is more expensive than others

Specifications
Type: Compact
Sensor: 1/2.3-inch
Megapixels: 16MP
Lens: 24-2000mm (equivalent) f/2.8
AF points: Not specified
Burst rate: 7fps
Buffer: 10 shots (JPEG)
Weight: 1005g
Reasons to buy
+Enormous zoom range+Useful stabilisation
Reasons to avoid
-Small, unimpressive sensor-Sharpness issues at telephoto

It’s just… an enormous zoom lens, isn’t it? If you’ve ever wanted to stand at the side of a football pitch and zoom in so far that you can see a player’s individual follicles (and really, who hasn’t?) then the Nikon CoolPix P950, with its 83x optical zoom, is the camera for you. A little more affordable than the flagship P1000, this impressive camera can bring even the most distant subjects within easy reach. There are a few sharpness issues at the telephoto end, particularly if you’re working at high ISO settings, but in all honesty it’s much more usable than it has any right to be. 

Read more: Nikon Coolpix P950 review

Sports cameras for enthusiasts

For enthusiasts who know what they’re doing and want a camera that’ll give them options to suit their level of expertise, these are the best DSLRs and mirrorless cameras for sports photography. These models all have the impressive burst-shooting rates needed for shooting fast action, and give the user access to the kinds of excellent lenses that’ll deliver great results every time.

(Image credit: Canon)

Not just a fast burst rate, but a versatile camera all round

Specifications
Type: DSLR
Sensor: APS-C
Megapixels: 32.5MP
Lens mount: Canon EF
AF points: 45
Burst rate: 11fps
Buffer: 58 shots (JPEG), 25 shots (RAW)
Weight: 701g
Reasons to buy
+Great Live View autofocus+216-zone metering system
Reasons to avoid
-Unimpressive buffer-Small jump from 80D

Some have questioned the need for the humble DSLR in the age of the mirrorless camera, but Canon came out fighting with the versatile, well-engineered EOS 90D. It’s a do-it-all DSLR designed to function well in myriad different shooting situations, fast enough for sports photographers while also boasting rugged weatherproofing for outdoor use. Its sophisticated metering system helps nail the exposures in JPEG mode – useful, as the RAW buffer is a little limited compared to the competition. Surprisingly for a DSLR, the EOS 90D really comes into its own in Live View mode using the LCD, with great touchscreen controls and a solid Live View autofocus system.

Read more: Canon EOS 90D review

(Image credit: Fujifilm)

VERY fast burst speed for its class, and brilliant at video too

Specifications
Type: Mirrorless
Sensor: APS-C
Megapixels: 26.1MP
Lens mount: Fujifilm X
AF points: 425
Burst rate: 20fps (mechanical shutter), 30fps (electronic shutter; 1.25x crop)
Buffer: 145 shots (JPEG), 42 shots (lossless compression RAW), 36 shots (uncompressed RAW)
Weight: 607g
Reasons to buy
+Images look fantastic+Big JPEG buffer+Sensor-shift stabilisation
Reasons to avoid
-Pretty expensive for APS-C

More than just an update to the X-T3, more than just another mirrorless APS-C camera – the Fujifilm X-T4 is one of the best cameras ever made. With all-metal construction and dial-led controls, it’s fantastic to handle, and it produces gorgeous, vibrant images straight out of camera. Fast burst shooting, a big buffer (well, big for JPEGS), great high-ISO performance, a terrific stable of X-system lenses – it’s got it all for sports shooters. Any negatives? Well, a lot of attention was paid to the (brilliant) 4K video on the X-T4, and while this is obviously all to the good, it does mean that the asking price is a little high if you’re only planning to shoot stills.

Read more: Fujifilm X-T4 review

(Image credit: Nikon)

Great burst speed and affordable too, but needs a few more lenses

Specifications
Type: Mirrorless
Sensor: APS-C
Megapixels: 20.8MP
Lens mount: Nikon Z
AF points: 209
Burst rate: 11fps
Buffer: Not specified
Weight: 395g
Reasons to buy
+Excellent dynamic range+Lightweight and fast
Reasons to avoid
-No in-body stabilization-Relatively few native lenses

The new baby in Nikon’s Z range of mirrorless cameras, the Nikon Z 50 is an APS-C model aimed squarely at enthusiasts and newbies looking to take their first step into mirrorless shooting. It’s a great choice for sports photography thanks not only to its 11fps burst shooting but also its sophisticated autofocus system and impressive image quality, with dynamic range you’ll be talking about for days. It’s a good system to invest in with one eye on the future – though that does mean the native lens selection is currently a little limited. The most telephoto reach you’ll currently get with a Z-branded lens is 250mm. While an FTZ adapter does help here, using F-mount lenses is a good stopgap solution but not ideal in the long run. Still, with every sign that Nikon plans to make this system a future priority, the Z 50 represents a solid investment.

Read more: Nikon Z 50 review

(Image credit: Sony)

Stunning autofocus and good burst performance in a compact body

Specifications
Type: Mirrorless
Sensor: APS-C
Megapixels: 24MP
Lens mount: Sony E
AF points: 425
Burst rate: 11fps
Buffer: 116 shots (JPEG), 46 shots (RAW)
Weight: 503g
Reasons to buy
+Good battery life+Real-time Eye AF tracking
Reasons to avoid
-Smaller buffer than A6500-Dated/cramped body design

Sony has done a great job of carving out a niche for its APS-C cameras alongside the full-frame flagships – the A6000 series are known for being fast and light, with burst and autofocus speeds to rival those of the pros. This generally makes them great for sports photography, and the A6600, the newest of the bunch, is no exception, with 11fps burst shooting and a sophisticated 425-point autofocus system that boasts features like real-time Eye AF tracking – a great tool for keeping track of a fast-moving player. It’s a little disappointing that the shot buffer has been reduced from the previous (and cheaper) A6500, but this is still an exceptional imaging machine.

Read more: Sony A6600 review

Professional sports cameras

These are best professional sports cameras right now, for those who shot action subjects for a living and need the ultimate in speed, durability and reliability. 

(Image credit: Sony)

The fastest sports camera on the planet

Specifications
Type: Mirrorless
Sensor: Full Frame
Megapixels: 50.1MP
Lens: Sony E mount
LCD: 3in tilting touchscreen, 1.44million dots
Viewfinder: EVF, 9.44million dots
Maximum continuous shooting speed: 50fps electronic shutter, 10fps mechanical
Max video resolution: 8K
User level: Professional
Reasons to buy
+Unprecedented 30fps burst shooting+8K video that doesn't overheat+Hybrid CFexpress A and SD card slots
Reasons to avoid
-Stabilization is still suspect-30fps isn't guaranteed-No articulating screen

This could be the ultimate mirrorless camera. There is literally nothing it can't shoot. Sports? Check, thanks to its unreal 30fps continuous shooting. Fine detail? Check, thanks to its 50.1MP resolution. Video? Check, thanks to its 8K recording capability (even though it's hampered by not having a fully articulating screen). The Sony A1 is far and away the most advanced and most powerful camera on the market… yet this comes at a cost, literally. It's about twice the cost of the Sony A9 II, and it's even more expensive than the 100MP medium format Fujifilm GFX 100S. There are also caveats on the 30fps burst, which isn't always achievable (sometimes topping out at 15-20fps, which is still impressive but less impressive than the spec sheet). Overall, though, if you want a camera that can take on any possible assignment, this is it.

(Image credit: Canon)

Possibly the most advanced pro sports camera in the world

Specifications
Type: DSLR
Sensor: Full-frame
Megapixels: 20.1MP
Lens mount: Canon EF
AF points: 191
Burst rate: 16fps
Buffer: 1,000+ shots (essentially unlimited)
Weight: 1,250g
Reasons to buy
+Near-infinite buffer+Revolutionary smart controller+Deep-learning AF
Reasons to avoid
-No stabilisation

Like including Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours on a best-seventies-album list, we’re not surprising anyone by putting the EOS-1D X Mark III in here, but all the same, the enterprise would feel wrong without it. It’s the third iteration of the best action DSLR in the world, but it takes on advancements from the world of mirrorless to make for one of the best cameras ever made. The 1D X Mark III just shoots and shoots and shoots, and with an amazing smart controller that makes handling a breeze, and deep-learning autofocus that gets better with use, it’s one of the best sports-shooting cameras ever made. 

Pro Canon shooters wanting the firm's best sports camera should also consider the EOS R3, the latest full-frame mirrorless model for professionals. While it's not supposed to be a replacement for the 1D X Mark III, as it's not a "1-series" camera (that'll be the EOS R1, whenever it gets here), it does considerably outstrip the 1DX Mark III in several key areas. Once we've fully tested it, and it's available to buy, it may well find a place in this guide while we're all twiddling our thumbs waiting for the EOS R1. 

Read more: Canon EOS-1D X Mark III review

(Image credit: Sony)

A ferociously fast mirrorless camera that goes toe to toe with DSLRs

Specifications
Type: Mirrorless
Sensor: Full-frame
Megapixels: 24.2MP
Lens mount: Sony FE
AF points: 693
Burst rate: 20fps (electronic shutter), 10fps (mechanical shutter)
Buffer: 361 shots (JPEG), 239 shots (compressed RAW), 226 shots (compressed raw + JPEG)
Weight: 678g
Reasons to buy
+Superior autofocus system+Burst shooting demon+Superfast Wi-Fi
Reasons to avoid
-No CFexpress support

Where to begin? It’s the most advanced mirrorless camera around right now, it’s a superb sports-shooting machine thanks to its 20fps burst shooting with no viewfinder blackout, and its autofocus system puts basically all others to shame, capable as it is of making up to 60 calculations every second. Yep, that about covers the superb Sony A9 II, but the manufacturer really has gone above and beyond with other features useful for sports shooters, like the built-in 5GHz Wi-Fi for super-fast image transfer, like a new mechanical shutter designed with ultra-low vibration, like… well. You get the idea. An outstanding achievement in camera engineering.

Read more: Sony A9 Mark II review

(Image credit: Nikon)

The best Nikon camera for sports, but that's changing very, very soon

Specifications
Type: DSLR
Sensor: Full-frame
Megapixels: 20.8MP
Lens mount: Nikon F
AF points: 105
Burst rate: 14fps
Buffer: 200+ shots
Weight: 1,450g
Reasons to buy
+Excellent high-ISO performance+Dual card slots (with CFexpress)+Extremely reliable AF
Reasons to avoid
-Outgunned by rivals-Soon to be usurped by Z9

We should say this up front – the Nikon D6 is an excellent camera. If you’ve already got a cupboard full of Nikon lenses, and you’ve used Nikon DSLRs so much that their handling is second-nature, buying one is a no-brainer. But why have we qualified the statement? Well, in truth it’s just outgunned and outclassed by its two big professional rivals – the two previous cameras on this list. In pretty much every relevant category, from autofocus systems to burst shooting and buffer depth, the Sony A9 II and Canon EOS-1D X Mark III outclass it, so if you’re making your way into a new system, either of these cameras would be a much better buy.

What's more, Nikon has already unveiled the replacement for the D6 – and it isn't a DSLR. Like the majority of camera manufacturers, Nikon is recognising that the future is mirrorless, and its next flagship sports model will be the Nikon Z9. It gets rid of the mechanical shutter altogether and relies solely on an electronic version, meaning it's capable of 120fps burst shooting and a 1/32,000 sec maximum shutter speed. With two CFExpress card slots to handle all this data, the Nikon Z9 is a beast of a camera – and it will no doubt make its way here once we've fully tested it, and it's available to buy.

Don't worry if you're already a Nikon DSLR user – you can use your F-mount lenses on Z cameras with full functionality thanks to the Nikon FTZ adapter. 

Read more: Nikon D6 review

How to choose the best camera for sports photography

One of the most important features in a sports camera is a good burst mode. This refers to how many frames per second your camera can capture. The faster it is, the more likely you are to capture that winning mid-action shot. Mirrorless cameras tend to be more impressive in this area, as they don't have a physical shutter to move. However, there are many DSLRs that have perfectly respectable burst modes as well. 

However, a great burst mode means very little without a good buffer depth to accompany it. This refers to the amount of continuous photos a camera can take before it needs to pause. If you're shooting in JPEG, then you'll find that there will be a larger buffer than if you're shooting in RAW. However, professional cameras should be capable of decent buffer depths for RAW files. 

Another super important feature for the best camera for sports photography is fast and efficient autofocus. Without an autofocus system that's able to keep up with the action, you'll likely end up with a lot of mis-focused images that will make you want to tear your hair out! You'll want to look for a good coverage of autofocus points – and if the camera has a sophisticated AF tracking system, then you're definitely on the right lines.

Whether it's photographing a Formula 1 car racing around the track or a sprinter reaching the finish line, almost all sports photography requires an absolutely essential ingredient: a telephoto lens. If you have a bit more cash to splash, then you'll want to plump for an interchangeable-lens camera that has great telephoto options. Alternatively, if you're on a budget, then you'd do well to consider a compact camera with a generous zoom – such as the bridge cameras we've listed at the top of this article. 

Read more:

The best professional cameras right now
Best camera for car photography
The best mirrorless cameras today
The best DSLRs to buy
DSLR vs mirrorless: which is best?
The best telephoto lenses

James Artaius

The editor of Digital Camera World, James has 21 years experience as a magazine and web journalist and started working in the photographic industry in 2014 (as an assistant to Damian McGillicuddy, who succeeded David Bailey as Principal Photographer for Olympus). In this time he shot for clients as diverse as Aston Martin Racing, Elinchrom and L'Oréal, in addition to shooting campaigns and product testing for Olympus, and providing training for professionals. This has led him to being a go-to expert for camera and lens reviews, photographic and lighting tutorials, as well as industry analysis, news and rumors for publications such as Digital Camera MagazinePhotoPlus: The Canon MagazineN-Phot0: The Nikon MagazineDigital Photographer and Professional Imagemaker, as well as hosting workshops and demonstrations at The Photography Show. An Olympus and Canon shooter, he has a wealth of knowledge on cameras of all makes – and a fondness for vintage lenses and instant cameras.