As a budding sport photography enthusiast, you can’t be sitting on the bleachers fiddling with your shutter speed or manual focus, or you’d risk losing out on a photo-perfect moment. Sports happen fast, and professional sports photographers have to be just as quick – this is why you need specialized sports lenses to help you capture every moment with impressive image quality.
However, every situation is a little different, and lenses used for indoor sporting events may not be as effective for outdoor sport photography. Luckily, many options on the market cover all the bases. But how do you know which is the best choice for you?
Keep reading to find the best Canon lens for sports photography based on your specific use case, whether you’re looking for great image quality, a wide aperture, or a smooth focusing system.
Every lens offers a different combination of features to cater to a wide range of lighting conditions, subjects, and use cases. However, not all lenses are suited for sports photography, and understanding the difference can save you hundreds of dollars.
Here are a few critical lens elements to consider when purchasing a new piece of gear for sports photography.
The term “aperture” refers to the opening inside your lens that lets light into the sensor. Its size is measured in f-stops such as f/16, f/5.6, and f/1.8. Larger f-stops like f/16 refer to smaller aperture openings, while lower numbers (like a max aperture of f/1.8) are actually quite wide.
A wide aperture is essential for capturing fast-moving subjects in both outdoor and indoor sports events. When snapping photos of players, you’ll need faster shutter speeds to capture the action. Otherwise, all you’ll get is vaguely human-shaped blurs in your photos. To achieve the ideal image quality, you’ll need a wide max aperture for bright photos without any blur.
In short, a wide aperture results in brighter photos. It also allows you to use faster shutter speeds to capture quick movements.
Whether you’re dabbling in indoor or outdoor sports photography, you’ll want a great lens that can stay focused on the action. That’s where the inner focusing system comes into play.
Autofocus(AF) allows sports photographers to quickly shoot all the necessary pictures without manually adjusting the focus dial. This makes it arguably one of the most critical lens elements when choosing lenses for sports photography because some lack accurate AF capabilities, while others have no autofocus at all.
This next lens element is a little more situational than the others on this list, but it’s still worth mentioning to cover all the bases.
Image stabilization keeps your image steady and clear despite camera shake, which can be a tremendous boon when shooting in low light conditions. However, its benefits may not be as pronounced for sports photographers because image stabilization is at its best when the camera is moving, which usually isn’t the case for sport photography.
Does this mean sports-oriented shooters should never use their lens’ image stabilization? Of course not. For example, video footage of sports events and photos taken in extremely low-light conditions – like nighttime matches and games – will greatly benefit from built-in image stabilization.
Focal length is one of the first things most new photographers consider when purchasing their first lens, mainly because it determines how close you’ll be able to get to a subject without physically moving. Some sports lenses have fixed focal lengths, while others can zoom up to 2x closer.
If you’re a newer photographer, you’ll probably want to keep things simple and stick to one lens – this will keep your camera’s insides weather-sealed and protected from the elements. Canon sports lenses with a focal range similar to 70-200mm f/2.8L are the best fit for most photographers.
However, if you’re more experienced or already have a few lenses in stock, consider a telephoto zoom lens instead.
Anyone who’s ever browsed for Canon sports lenses knows that choosing the right one can be challenging. Each lens performs differently, so it’s important to know which features are most important for sports photography.
One main consideration is the type of lens. Here are the three types of lenses you should consider.
A telephoto lens is one of the best choices for sports lenses because of its compact body and wide range of focal lengths. After all, you don’t want to be carrying a giant lens when you’re sitting with a rambunctious crowd at outdoor sports events.
However, this type of sports lens is only worth the money if your desired focal length is past the 100mm mark. Let us explain.
Generally speaking, lenses with shorter maximum focal lengths tend to be smaller overall, which means you won’t really feel the difference compared to the slightly more compact form factor of telephoto lenses. On the other hand, regular lenses with focal ranges surpassing 100mm are quite large, so their telephoto counterparts are usually significantly smaller.
When buying a Canon sports lens, most people consider zoom lenses first because they’re considered more flexible, covering much more ground than prime lenses while providing great image quality and a robust zoom feature.
One of the main reasons people purchase zoom lenses over telephoto lenses is their flexibility. Most zoom units range from wide to extremely narrow angles, making it an effective one-lens solution for most indoor events.
A prime lens is a unique choice when purchasing a sports lens because its focal length is completely static – the only way to “zoom” with a prime lens is by physically getting up and moving closer to your subject.
With that said, prime lenses are still excellent solutions for low-light options. Unlike telephoto lenses, they can have shockingly wide apertures (as low as f/0.95) at relatively low prices.
The Canon EF 200mm f/2.0L telephoto lens takes professional features and makes them more accessible for newer photographers. Specifically, this sports lens combines a long fixed focal length with a wide aperture, making it one of the best Canon lenses for sports photography.
More than just delivering consistently high-quality images, this telephoto zoom lens also shines extremely well in low-light conditions.
Another great option when purchasing Canon lenses for sports is the Canon EF 70–200 mm f/2.8L. If you’re serious about outdoor sports photography, this lens’ focal range of 70-200mm is perfect for most outdoor sports meets while also being useful in daily life. This makes it one of the more flexible options for zoom lenses.
However, buyers must note that this specific unit can cost thousands of dollars brand new.
The Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens is one of the more expensive options for sports photography, but its premium build quality and the long list of features make it a keeper. Specifically, its unbeatable image quality and image stabilization are the main reasons we’ve chosen it as the best canon lens for sports photography.
Still, there is one major factor when considering this unit over other, more flexible ones. Namely, the Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens has a fixed focal length, which can be daunting for photographers who often change their zoom levels.
If you’re shooting with a full-frame camera like a Canon 5D, you’ll want to check out this incredibly flexible lens. At a focal length of 24-70mm, it can shoot vast contextual shots while still getting reasonably close to the game.
However, potential buyers beware: this lens is one of the more expensive options at over $2000, and some may find that it’s not the best fit for commercial work because of its tendency to blur finer details when zoomed in. That said, you probably won’t notice the difference if you’re not blowing your images up and printing them out.
The Canon 50mm f/1.8 has been lovingly called the “nifty fifty” by new and seasoned photographers alike. Despite its relatively low price tag, it delivers crystal clear images in even the most inconsistent lighting situations. Furthermore, when used for sports photography, its wide aperture makes your central subject stand out against the background while also letting in some much-needed light.
Yes, natural light affects sports photography, but that’s true about every light source (natural or not). The “photo” in photography means light, which suggests that it’s one of the biggest factors that need to be considered before taking a picture.
For example, ambient lighting during a sports event will determine how large your aperture needs to be, how fast your shutter speed can go, and what ISO you should be choosing on your camera body.
When taking photos for sports meets and tournaments, relatively fast shutter speeds are generally better. 1/1000 is ideal, and you shouldn’t go slower than 1/500.
When choosing the best Canon lenses for your sports photography, there are a few things you need to consider: image quality, focal length, image stabilization, and maximum aperture. That said, there isn’t one single lens that will solve everyone’s problems.
Instead, we recommend using our list as a jump-off point to look deeper into the current market for outdoor and indoor sports lenses.
For more photography-related content, keep reading our blog!