I've heard that sports and wildlife photographers need cameras that can take lots of photos in a second in the burst mode.

But why? Yes, simple question — but why?

  • @JPhi1618 first come first served! Free Market ! If you can complain I guess you can write an answer too. Feb 28, 2019 at 5:31
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    I don’t know what any of that means. Just thought it was odd that you accepted a brand new answer 10 minutes after it was posted rather than a good, hours old post with 20+ votes.
    – JPhi1618
    Feb 28, 2019 at 5:34
  • @JPhi1618 let's continue I chat. chat.stackexchange.com/transcript/message/49243125#49243125 Feb 28, 2019 at 5:48
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    Accepting an answer too quickly is indeed an antipattern. Please give a day or two for answers to accumulate before accepting.
    – Reid
    Feb 28, 2019 at 23:18
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    The purpose of accepting answers is to mark that you are satisfied; accept based on answer quality, not seniority. Further, once an answer is accepted, it discourages others from answering, lowering the total quality of the question.
    – Reid
    Mar 1, 2019 at 15:45

8 Answers 8


Strictly speaking, one does not need high FPS burst modes for sports or wildlife, but rather they are useful tools that open up more options.

I've shot sports in the last few years with a Canon 7D, typically using 5-8 frame bursts (at I think 8fps) at a time, and I've also used a medium format manual focus camera.

Both methods have produced great images, but with a burst of photos I walk away with a number of images I can choose from that best represent the moment. (ie, picking between two nearly identical photos, one where a player is halfway through blinking, or one where they're not...)

When I have only a single frame to pick from, that's it. That's the one frame, and either it worked well, or it gets tossed to the bin, because there were no other options to pick from.

Burst mode, with a large frame buffer, can also help settle some minor motion blur - It isn't unusual for the first image or two of a burst to have a hint more blur than the rest from pressing the shutter button (and parts in the camera starting to move in an SLR) but the following images are balanced out.

For me I find this especially useful during panning shots - Begin following the target, anticipate the action you want to capture that is about to happen, begin a burst, and follow through across your goal image.

When shooting sports and wildlife you don't really have the luxury to stop and say "Lets try that one again" if you don't feel you nailed the image you were after.

Options then to be good.

You can always take a single frame on a modern camera that can do 10+ fps. It is 'kind of hard' to take 10fps if you have a camera that only does less than 1.

(As a side note, also remember to consider buffer size and clear times. A camera that can take 10fps won't do you much good if you frequently find yourself tapping the shutter button and hearing it beep at you that it is still clearing its buffer and can't take a photo right then.)

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    It's also useful for confetti shots at weddings, and any kind of action show (e.g. subject jumping, dog running towards you). You can also use it with a fixed focus and the subject moving into focus, e.g. a dog running towards you, set focus in front of the dog, and let it run into focus. This can in some situations work better than AI focus.
    – Dan W
    Mar 1, 2019 at 20:03


  • there is a lot happening in a short timeframe (movement phases of a fast animal or athlete), and you want to photograph it all


  • the exact timing of the relevant event cannot be predicted, so covering as many possible times where that event could happen (and discarding the rest later) is necessary


  • redundant pictures are needed because there are factors at play that could jeopardize a single shot (eg the other guys speedlites, shooting at unsafe shutter speeds due to insufficient lighting, unwanted highly mobile composition hazards (birds, insects, flying trash), banding-prone image displays that you need in the picture, light dimming schemes that can occasionally set you up for a surprise black frame).
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    TL;DR: sports/wildlife photographers do not have fast enough reaction time to really shoot the image as needed. Instead they start shooting in burst mode when they think something worth shooting happens in the near future and hope for the best. Feb 27, 2019 at 17:02
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    @MikkoRantalainen I don't know if I'd agree with that. Consider American football...you see the throw, you frame the receiver, and right when the ball is about to be caught, you shoot going for that money shot. You continue to shoot because you know that the receiver may get slammed and you don't have time to spare. You got the whole thing because of instinct. IMO, spray and pray is hardly a strategy.
    – OnBreak.
    Feb 27, 2019 at 17:06
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    @Hueco: I agree that pro photographer shooting the moment the ball touches the receiver's hand is about skill. However, the burst mode is still needed because reaction time is not enough for the remaining part (e.g. receiver gets slammed) and then you just keep shooting in the burst mode and hope to capture the moment if that happens... Feb 27, 2019 at 17:34
  • @MikkoRantalainen That's pretty much what I said. Your initial comment felt a bit too spray and pray to me - but, I think we're on the same page.
    – OnBreak.
    Feb 27, 2019 at 19:41
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    If it is about uncontrollable image-foulers (foreign flash) or unsafe shutter speeds needed, spray and pray hard is indeed better .... Feb 27, 2019 at 21:11

In addition to all the correct answers about how fast action occurs, I'd like to point out two fundamental biological reasons for why you need burst:

  • 100ms. This is the fastest we can react to a stimulus. Olympic sprinters start to contract their muscles 100ms after the starter's gun goes off. Any event which occurs faster than this cannot be captured by simply waiting for the event to occur and pressing the shutter. In user interfaces, this is sometimes also called a "moment." If a user acts on a UI (such as clicking) and the response is created in less than 100ms, we perceive the response as "instantaneous."
  • 300ms. If a "novel stimulus" occurs (such as the event you were looking for), it takes 300ms to reach conscious thought. There's a related brain wave called P300 which researchers use to determine if a test subject has actually consciously registered an event. If you aren't an Olympic level photographer, and you have to think about whether you want to take a picture or not, 300ms is as fast as you can do it. Any faster response must be subconscious, which typically calls for training the response you want to see.

If you get into slow motion, the effect is even more extreme. If you've seen the shark episode of Planet Earth, you've seen some of the extraordinary footage they capture. They don't actually have a shutter button. They turn the camera on and it starts rolling with a 2 second long FIFO buffer, meaning the camera always remembers what happens in the last two seconds. After an event happens, they would press a trigger to latch the buffer, remembering those last 2 seconds until they got the chance to download it on the boat. So I would call that the ultimate spray and pray -- they continuously take pictures until something happens, then tell the camera to bother keeping the last few!

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    @LoganPickup I see where I misinterpreted, and have edited it. It wasn't just any 2 events, it was an action and a response. If you are responsible for the action (first event), a response in 100ms is "instantaneous." And really what I wanted to capture with the whole answer is that, fundamentally, there's biological reasons you can't just snap the picture when you see it.
    – Cort Ammon
    Feb 28, 2019 at 4:09
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    The difference between burst and buffered cameras is really just how much before the event you can start your camera working. In a buffered camera, you start it arbitrarily early. With burst, you're limited by how many pictures you want to take and any camera bandwidth limits that may arise, so you have to start taking pictures closer to the moment that matters.
    – Cort Ammon
    Feb 28, 2019 at 4:11
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    @CortAmmon I agree what you wrote except that if I trigger an event and the response happens within 100ms it won't feel instantaneous. For example, imagine a computer which has lag of 90ms between moving the mouse and the mouse pointer moving on the screen. That would be terrible user experience. However, if you whitness a trigger event (e.g. camera flash) and within 100ms something else happens which you consider as a reaction, the reaction will appear as instantaneous. It's all about whether I know what should happen if I do something. Feb 28, 2019 at 9:12
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    @MikkoRantalainen True. These are actual neurological limits, but the brain is infamous for hiding them from our view (which is why they are so interesting). We feel that we interact with the world in a more continuous way than we really do because our brain processes in a way that hides it. If you know the result of something, you'll get ahead of it and start predicting as-if it occurred. This effect is most easily noted when you are surprised that something doesn't happen. That means you predicted ahead what would happen, and in reality it did something else.
    – Cort Ammon
    Feb 28, 2019 at 14:41
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    @LoganPickup stream/buffered/burst photography is really all part of the same concept, the only difference is the how and when of file writing - Neither method will net you any useful images if you haven't pointed the camera at the right thing or readied it to record at the right times. One assumes the majority of data will be tossed, so tosses it by default and only saves on manual command after the fact, the other assumes all data is to be saved and only deleted by manual action after the fact. Feb 28, 2019 at 17:15

For a specific case where a high FPS is useful, consider cricket photography (the game, not the insect).

When a batter takes a swing at the ball, there are potentially a number of outcomes worth taking a photo of:

  • He hits the ball
  • The ball hits the stumps and sends the bails flying

The optimal time to take the photo is slightly different depending on the above outcomes so by taking a few shots in rapid succession covers both.

I acknowledge the comments about the "spray and pray" approach, so choosing when to do this comes down to judgement.


I've been shooting at Motorsport for a while now and I can give you my vision of why this is like this I believe in any sport.

Usually sports action occurs so fast that any image can change in a fraction of a second. Take again the image of the Motorsport races. Sometimes a car hits another one and they go off track. One image of that is okay. But you always want to have better and more images, so you can get all the details of what happened there, who caused the accident, and so on. It is not professional to get an image of the car parked once damaged. The thing you need to have is to get the crash in an image or more than one, and this is why a high burst rate helps. I got some crash/accident images because of that, and I was able to track the whole (or mostly) action to later capture the best images showing what happened there. (let's also not forget AF in cameras also tend to somehow miss focus sometimes, so if you take 8 images and 3 are blurried you are okay with 5 more, but if it bursts at 4fps and you got 3 blurried images is not that good at all).

Let's put another example: A race and a chicane where not every car jumps there on every lap, but randomly sometimes, some cars do. You do wanna have that image when one car will fly there. You don't know when would that happen, but you know this can happen and this is why you wanna have a nice burst rate, to capture everything that happens there. Maybe you will not get that image. But if it happens you wanna capture that moment.

You can perfectly fine shoot motorsport with a slow burst rate, and you'll get also great images, but most likely you'll loose that image.

I believe in the rest of sports is the same. If you are picturing while a 100m spring race you do wanna get the winner's face perfectly defined when he/she does that gesture with his/her face. Or if two runners fall hitting each other, you do want to capture exactly that moment nor the previous one, nor the one just after. And having a high burst rate help you getting the image.


I'd also say is not only fast burst rate, is also accuracy and fast AF. Quite franckly the most important is the AF. No one needs a wonderful collection of 8 images all out of focus. So I'd say is more a combination of great AF tracking and high burst rate.


They don’t know WHEN the moment they want will happen. WHEN will the birds wings be FULLY extended? WHEN will the ball be ON the racket/bat?

Answer sometime in the next second. If you have 4fps that 4 tries 11 fps 20 fps are more shots. You have more images to find which is closest to that KEY moment. High jumper toe JUST leaving the ground

Its not just the shutter speed to freeze action, (iso and Fast lens (wide aperture)) but Also many images to try get one at key moment


Question: Why exactly do action photographers "need" high fps burst cameras?

Answer: In order to shoot as many photos as possible in a given amount of time and/or to reduce the time between shutter actuation's.

Sometimes in fast action sports or high speed animals the moment you want to capture happens at the same moment the camera is resetting the shutter and you miss it.

This answer was created by a high APS (answer per second) burst Alaska Man.


Most of the other answers are perfectly valid. Another aspect to be considered is that -each- of the frames can be sold individually and exclusively to different buyers. You are selling the image, not the event.

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