The best camera for sports photography has quite specific requirements. It's not all about the most megapixels – a good sports camera needs to be fast and accurate, able to keep up with subjects that move quickly and unpredictably. For this guide, we've compiled the best sports cameras for all budgets and abilities, from cheap bridge cameras that deliver the goods, to the cutting-edge professional models that are used at the Olympics.
The specs a sports camera needs to excel in are few, but vital. If you're coming at this completely 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. In brief though, a fast burst rate is vital – meaning a good sports camera needs to be able to capture a lot of shots in a shorts space of time, measured in frames per second. But the other half of this picture is what's called the buffer, meaning the number of consecutive shots a camera can take before it needs to stop to cool off. A camera that can shoot at 12fps isn't much cop if it needs to stop every 13 frames.
A decent zoom is also handy, as in sports you're unlikely to be able to get super-close to the action. That's why in our list, we've picked a mix of interchangeable-lens cameras that offer access to big lenses, and bridge-style compact cameras that have a big zoom lens of their own. These latter types tend to be much more affordable, and are great for beginners who are learning the ropes of sports photography.
At the other end of the scale, the world of pro sports cameras tends to be where some of the most exciting developments are happening, especially in the mirrorless camera sector. The upcoming Nikon Z9 is almost here , with 120fps burst speeds and a fastest shutter speed of just 1/32,000sec. Then there's also the Canon EOS R3, a full-frame monster that allows 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. First we deal with beginner cameras, then with the best mid-priced models for enthusiasts, and lastly we list the top sports cameras for professionals.
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.
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.
For a bridge camera with a little more oomph, we'd definitely recommend considering Panasonic's FZ1000 II. Its 1-inch sensor gives you significantly greater dynamic range to work with, making it easier to shoot in challenging light conditions and generally improving versatility. While the FZ1000 II is a pretty minor refresh over the original FZ1000, for sports photographers it does deliver a few improvements where it counts. The buffer depth is greater, for one, and there's also the new Zoom Compose Assist mode. This mode tracks your subject while you're zoomed in and keeps hold of them even if they suddenly leave the frame – useful if a football player unexpectedly changes direction. The 4K Photo mode is also handy, allowing you to shoot 8MP images at 30fps.
It’s just… an enormous zoom lens, isn’t it? If you’ve ever wanted to stand at the side of a rugby 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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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