I would like to get into sports photography, and would probably want a better telephoto lens so I can get better close up shots.

What other factors should I keep in mind as I make my choice? Does IS (or VR) matter? What is a good focal length?

I'll probably be shooting mostly little league baseball/softball, church softball leagues, and kids soccer.

  • 8
    Your price range makes an impact on this discussion. Its very tempting to recommend the 1700$ 70-200L IS USM Canon lens, but that might not suit you.
    – reuscam
    Jul 16 '10 at 19:51
  • I'd love to just go with L series glass... but I'm generally working on a smaller budget. I am willing to spend what I need to get good lenses, but a higher price means a longer wait :(
    – chills42
    Jul 17 '10 at 2:10
  • haha did you ask this in retaliation from the other question Feb 24 '12 at 4:54

Sports in general means stopping the action. Kids are slower than pro athletes, but you still need a good range in shutter speed.

With that in mind, IS/VR is no use because both technologies prevent camera shake at slower shutter speeds, and obviously slower shutter speeds does the exact opposite of stopping the action. However, IS/VR is nice for low-light, handheld use for other purposes, so if you plan on using your lenses for more than sports, you may wish to consider getting IS.

So, what do you need in a good sports photography lens? Lenses with wider apertures (aka faster lenses) give you more light to work with, allowing faster shutter speeds. In addition, the faster the lens, the better your camera's AF will perform. On most prosumer bodies, the AF points require at least F2.8 to achieve their best performance.

Focal lengths will depend on how close you can get to your subject, as well as how much cropping you can get with your body. If money is no object, then a 300, 400, or 500mm prime will do you well, but they're really expensive, so a zoom around 300mm might be a good start, or even a good 70-200 with a TC in a pinch (though the latter option does reduce your working f-stop).

  • 2
    A 70-200mm zoom with a 1.4x teleconverter can do pretty well when you need some extra reach. The lens and teleconverter have to be very good quality though, because you're adding extra glass and a potential for sloppier mechanical fit between the body, converter and lens.
    – Greg
    Dec 2 '10 at 3:18

I recently shot a hockey tournament, and picked up the Sigma 70-200 for it - it was perfect - I shot in my end of the rink, for the most part, but the lens was built well, sharp and was significantly cheaper than the Nikon I was looking at.

One thing I'm thankful for, is the fast focus on that lens. That's an important part of sports photography, and sometimes people don't think to recommend thinking about it.


You might want to look into Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L, which has significantly longer reach than the 70-200, but still might be usable if you want to use it outdoors. It's also cheaper, costing around $1250.

  • 1
    Those lenses work OK if you have lots of light to keep the shutter speed up and hand-shake down, but the max aperture of f5.6 can really hurt when indoors. 400mm is susceptible to our various body vibrations which will translate into soft images. You'll need about 1/800+ shutter speed to help control it.
    – Greg
    Dec 2 '10 at 3:22

I've taken some quite good rugby shots with a Sigma 70-300mm f3.5 lens. It was a nice sunny day which helped keep shutter speed up. 300mm isn't quite enough to get full person shots across the whole width and length of a rugby field, so you just need to choose your shots based on the position of the ball. I went for more "scene setting" shots when they were at the far end (line outs, the whole scrum) and close up or single person shots as they got closer.

I've used the same lens for a cricket match, and it was fine at full zoom. A longer lens would have meant slightly less cropping afterwards, but there was plenty of detail there.

Just make sure you get the ball(s) in the shot!

  • Im guessing the rugby is not in the US, because of the cricket reference, is that right? I used a 70-200 for a rugby match last weekend, and at times it was too close. When the play was on the sideline just in front of me, I couldn't possibly compose a decent picture. This is a rare occurrence, of course.
    – reuscam
    Jul 16 '10 at 21:38
  • Sorry, yeah both in the UK. For the rugby match we were right on the touchline, and the 70 was too close. However, the majority of the play was on the far side (as is always the way). I don't think there is a single perfect lens for this. I could have done with two bodies, one with a 18-55 for when the play was close, and one with soemthing like a 200-400 for when the play was at the other side of the pitch
    – MrBennStep
    Jul 19 '10 at 11:01
  • @reuscam Well they actually play Cricket in the US! There are various local teams formed by expats (mainly Indian) and I have heard of Tests between USA and Canada. Also there is a US Rugby league.
    – Peter M
    Sep 29 '11 at 14:59

I use a Sigma 70-200mm with a 1.4 teleconverter for Select and high school soccer and that combination works great. The challenge is shooting at night, but that combination works well also, especially when using a monopod. Of course my Nikon D7000 is part of my success.

  • 1
    Why did you choose this combo and what makes it work so well? Why does the D7000 in particular help?
    – mattdm
    Jan 24 '13 at 15:58

I have just recently got into sports photography. Most of time, I shoot soccer games.

The lens I prefer is the 70mm-300mm f4.0-f5.6 Sigma, which I believe is the most economic choice for a beginner such as me.

I think in shooting outdoor sports, most of time the light should not be a problem. And 300mm has a good reach for soccer.

Here are 2 of the best images which I currently can take, both of them were taken with the Sigma mentioned above.

photo 1:taken at afternoon near drawn around 5:pm

photo 2:taken at afternoon around 3:00pm

  • Can you explain a little bit more about the process of selecting a lens, and why (other than "most economic") one would make that choice? As it is, this seems mostly like a promotion for your own photos.
    – mattdm
    Feb 25 '14 at 3:04

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.