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Best camera for sports photography in 2020

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

When picking the best cameras for sports photography, you’re going to be looking for certain specs and features. This holds true whether you want to casually snap a few shots of a local five-a-side or you’re on the sidelines at Wembley Stadium – the basic principles are the same.

It's not a matter of picking the best camera for professionals, or even just the best DSLR or best mirrorless camera. For sports photography, some features are much more important than others:

• A good burst mode. Sports tend to happen quickly (we’re making the assumption here that you haven’t just landed a job shooting a snooker tournament – if you have then feel free to disregard a lot of this advice) and being able to capture split-second moments can mean the difference between success and failure.

• Good buffer depth. If you’ve not encountered this term before – the buffer refers to the number of continuous shots a camera can fire off consecutively before needing to pause. Most cameras have a larger buffer for JPEGs than they do raw files, and it's usually only the pro cameras that can shoot a large number of raw files in a burst.

• Fast and efficient autofocus. This is a must when it comes to sports photography. A good coverage of autofocus points is a real plus, and any camera that has a sophisticated AF tracking system is going to be a hit when it comes to sports photography.

• Telephoto lenses. Most sports photography requires you to be a good distance from your subjects, and this means you need some telephoto reach to get dynamic shots. This means either picking an interchangeable-lens camera with decent telephoto options, or if you plump for a compact, getting something with a generous zoom like a bridge camera.

We’ve split our selection of sports cameras into three categories for different types of users. You can use our navigation links to jump straight to the section you're interested in.

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 FZ330

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

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

Impressive zoom lens
Well-priced package
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 FZ330, 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 utilise 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

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

Array of burst options
Cut-down price
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)

3. Nikon CoolPix P950

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

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

Enormous zoom range
Useful stabilisation
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)

4. Canon EOS 90D

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

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

Great Live View autofocus
216-zone metering system
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)

5. Fujifilm X-T4

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

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

Images look fantastic
Big JPEG buffer
Sensor-shift stabilisation
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)

6. Nikon Z 50

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

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 20.8MP | Lens mount: Nikon Z | AF points: 209 | Burst rate: 11fps | Buffer: Not specified | Weight: 395g

Excellent dynamic range
Lightweight and fast
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: Olympus)

7. Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III

A real speed demon, with some good pro lenses to go with it

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Micro Four Thirds | Megapixels: 20.4MP | Lens mount: Micro Four Thirds | AF points: 121 | Burst rate: 60fps (RAW +JPEG, fixed autofocus), 18fps (RAW +JPEG with autofocus) | Buffer: 286 shots (RAW) | Weight: 580g

Amazing burst and buffer
Full weather-proofing
Small sensor
Uncertain future

A long-awaited update to the much-loved E-M1 Mark II, the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III is an exceptional mirrorless camera for sports shooting, and, well, for pretty much everything else as well. Its many standout features synergise beautifully – amazing 60fps burst RAW shooting meets a generous RAW buffer of 286 shots; incredibly effective in-body 7.5-stop image stabilisation meets well-engineered, ergonomic handling. Access to the massive stable of Micro Four Thirds lenses is no bad thing either – though that does mean the trade-off of the small MFT sensor. Also, recent news that Olympus is selling off its camera division does mean the future of support for the camera is currently a little uncertain. Still, this is undeniably a superb machine for sports shooting.

Read more: Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III review

(Image credit: Panasonic)

8. Panasonic Lumix G9

Steady price drops make this speedy MFT camera look better than ever

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Micro Four Thirds | Megapixels: 20.3MP | Lens mount: Micro Four Thirds | AF points: 225 | Burst rate: 20fps (with electronic shutter/continuous AF), 60fps (with single AF), 60fps (4K Photo mode) | Buffer: 50 shots (RAW) | Weight: 658g

Up to 60fps burst
6K Photo mode
Small sensor
Middling battery life

Mirrorless cameras have a reputation, somewhat unfounded, for being little fiddly things, lacking the grip and heft of DSLRs. The Panasonic Lumix G9 will be a pleasant surprise to anyone who thinks this way, with its prominent front grip and rugged build – what’s more, it’s got the imaging tech inside to back up its looks. Being able to shoot up to 60fps with the electronic shutter is a boon for sports photographers, and the 20fps rate with continuous focus is no slouch either. Also, it’s possible to use the camera’s 6K video capabilities to extract stills in the exact same way other Panasonic cameras use 4K, only this time the resolution is 18MP rather than 8. This camera gives the sports photographer a ton of tools to play with – it’s a seriously impressive piece of kit.

Read more: Panasonic Lumix G9 review

(Image credit: Sony)

9. Sony A6600

Stunning autofocus and good burst performance in a compact body

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

Good battery life
Real-time Eye AF tracking
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: Canon)

10. Canon EOS-1D X Mark III

Possibly the most advanced pro sports camera in the world

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

Near-infinite buffer
Revolutionary smart controller
Deep-learning AF
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. If you’re the type of person who needs it, you probably already own it. Unless, of course, you own the...

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

(Image credit: Sony)

11. Sony A9 Mark II

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

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

Superior autofocus system
Burst shooting demon
Superfast Wi-Fi
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)

12. Nikon D6

If you’re already a Nikon user, this is the pro-grade buy to make

Type: DSLR | Sensor: Full-frame | Megapixels: 20.8MP | Lens mount: Nikon F | AF points: 105 | Burst rate: 14fps | Buffer: 200+ shots | Weight: 1,450g

Excellent high-ISO performance
Dual card slots (with CFexpress)
Extremely reliable AF
Outgunned by rivals

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.

Read more: Nikon D6 review

Read more:

The best professional cameras right now
The best mirrorless cameras today
The best DSLRs to buy
DSLR vs mirrorless: which is best?
The best telephoto lenses