best beginner camera for sports photography



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Whether you’re shooting a basketball game from the sidelines or the great wildebeest migration in the Masai Mara, you’re going to want a camera with a lens that’s fast enough to catch all the action. While some prefer the flexibility of an interchangeable-lens system with a large sensor, others dislike the bulk and weight of the gear involved. Fortunately for us all, technology has caught up to those of us who want a small camera with a large sensor and the ability to change lenses. Whatever your preference may be—below is a list of ten cameras recommended for sports, wildlife, and action photography for your adventures in 2021.

1. Canon EOS-1D X Mark III DSLR

Continuing its tradition of flagship DSLRs for action and sports, the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III features a 20.1MP full-frame CMOS sensor and a DIGIC X processor to enable continuous shooting up to 20 fps in live view, and 16 fps when working with the viewfinder, plus a buffer that allows raw+JPEG bursts of up to 1,000-frame sequences. The refined EOS iTR AF X autofocus system uses 191 points to acquire focus on subjects quickly and accurately, including 155 cross-type points that excel in varied lighting conditions. When working in live view, Dual Pixel CMOS AF uses 3,869 manually selectable points to provide a smooth, natural focusing quality. Face tracking and head detection AF functions use Deep Learning Technology to maintain critical focus on moving subjects, while an expanded sensitivity range of ISO 50-819200 allows for greater low-light performance. The EOS-1D X Mark III has been designed for the pro shooter, with a durable magnesium alloy body that is weather- and dust-proof. For motion footage, the camera supports DCI 4K-resolution video recording at up to 60 fps, with 10-bit 4:2:2 color as well as raw 5.5K video, plus Full HD 1080p recording up to 120 fps to allow for slow-motion playback. Built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS permit seamless wireless connectivity, and a built-in Ethernet port allows for faster wired LAN file transferring.

Canon EOS-1D X Mark III DSLR Camera

2. Nikon D6 DSLR

Another flagship DSLR, the Nikon D6 houses a 20.8MP FX-format CMOS sensor, an EXPEED 6 processor, and the high-density Multi-CAM 37K autofocus system featuring 105 cross-type points and 1.6x greater frame coverage than previous models. When working with moving subjects, 17 custom Group Area AF settings can be used to set and maintain focus on subjects featuring busy backgrounds or fast movement. Photographers wanting to capture sports action or animals running at top speeds will benefit from the 14 fps maximum continuous frame rate for up to 200 consecutive frames. Midnight wildlife feed times and night games won’t be as challenging to shoot with the native sensitivity range of ISO 100-102400 and the expanded range of ISO 50-3280000. Photographers who work in video will be pleased with the D6’s 4K UHD video-recording capabilities at 30, 25, and 24 fps frame rates, as well as Full HD and HD recording support. Built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth work in conjunction with Snapbridge for seamless wireless file transferring and remote camera control from a mobile device, while a built-in wired LAN function enables a seamless transfer of stills and movie files for expediting an entire post-production workflow. For more robust wireless file transferring, the D6 is also compatible with the optional WT-6A Wireless Transmitter.

Nikon D6 DSLR Camera

3. Nikon D500 DSLR

For flagship performance in a compact DX-format body, the Nikon D500 DSLR Camera remains a proven winner for sports and wildlife shooters on a budget. Featuring a 20.9MP DX-Format CMOS sensor and an EXPEED 5 processor, this camera provides a top continuous shooting rate of 10 fps for up to 200 frames in a single burst, with full-time autofocus and exposure metering. Slower continuous shooting rates, as well as a Quiet Continuous Mode for noise-sensitive areas, are also available. The native sensitivity range of ISO 100-51200, with an expanded ISO 50-1640000, is able to handle tough lighting situations, while the Multi-CAM 20K AF system offers quick response times to benefit tracking fast and randomly moving subjects. The AF engine features 153 total phase-detection points, including 99 cross-type sensors for improved subject recognition, and 55 selectable points for greater compositional freedom. The D500 also offers up to 4K UHD video recording at 30 fps. Multiple sharing options like the built-in SnapBridge Wi-Fi connectivity, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology, and Near Field Communication (NFC) are all supported to provide quick methods for connecting to your mobile device.

Nikon D500 DSLR Camera

4. Canon EOS 90D DSLR

Another APS-C offering, this time from Canon, is the Canon EOS 90D DSLR, which features a 32.5MP APS-C CMOS sensor with a DIGIC 8 image processor and a continuous shooting rate of 10 fps. This fast action capture relies heavily upon the 45-point all cross-type phase-detection AF system to provide quick and precise focusing in difficult lighting conditions down to -3 EV, making it a great choice for sports and wildlife photographers. The combination of processor and sensor achieves enhanced image clarity, resolution, and dynamic range, along with adept sensitivity up to ISO 25600 and low noise to support shooting in a variety of situations. For those working across platforms, UHD 4K30p and high-speed Full HD 1080p video is supported at 120 fps, while the 5,481-point Dual Pixel CMOS AF system benefits live-view shooting and movie recording by providing smooth, natural focusing quality. Additionally, built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity allow you to pair mobile devices with the camera to transfer files wirelessly for sharing your photos and movies online.

Canon EOS 90D DSLR Camera

5. Nikon Z7 II Mirrorless Digital Camera

For a lot of speed in a compact mirrorless body, the Nikon Z7 II combines a high-resolution 45.7MP FX-format BSI CMOS sensor and dual EXPEED 6 image processors for the ability to shoot continuously at 10 fps for up to 50 frames, and a deeper buffer for working with moving subjects. To achieve the greatest sharpness and resolution, the sensor’s design omits the conventional optical low-pass filter, and supports a native sensitivity range from ISO 64 to 25600 for lush image capture and reduced noise at high ISOs. The camera’s AF system features an array of 493 phase-detect autofocus points for accurate focusing, while Hybrid AF will further benefit video shooters by automatically switching between phase- and contrast-detect systems to capture all the action with extreme precision. UHD 4K video recording is possible up to 60p and Full HD 1080p video recording is also supported at up to 120p for slow-motion playback. The camera’s in-body 5-axis sensor-shift Vibration Reduction compensates for up to 5 stops of camera shake when using Nikon Z-type lenses. And for existing Nikon shooters, this system also enables 3-axis stabilization when using the optional FTZ Adapter with adapted F-mount lenses.

Nikon Z 7II Mirrorless Digital Camera

6. Pentax K-3 Mark III DSLR

Featuring a 25.7MP APS-C BSI CMOS sensor, the Pentax K-3 Mark III has a PRIME V image processor, optimized for full-resolution continuous shooting at up to 12 fps, along with UHD 4K video recording at 30p, and a competitive ISO range of 100-1600000. An updated SAFOX 13 AF system features 101 phase-detection points, including 25 cross-type sensors in the middle of the frame, for quick and accurate focusing performance with apt subject tracking capabilities. An advanced 5-axis SR II Shake Reduction system provides 5.5 stops of image stabilization with select lenses to aid even the most experienced fast-action shooter, especially with longer focal lengths. The SR II mechanism also benefits stills applications by enabling a Pixel Shift Resolution feature for richer image detail and resolution, and an AA Filter Simulator function to help mitigate moiré when rendering fabrics and other high-frequency materials.

Pentax K-3 Mark III DSLR Camera

7. FUJIFILM X-T4 Mirrorless Digital Camera

For those wanting to take advantage of FUJIFILM’s history in traditional film-based photography, several Film Simulation modes mimic some of the classic film types in the compact FUJIFILM X-T4, which offers a 26.1MP APS-C X-Trans BSI CMOS 4 sensor and an X-Processor 4 image processor, both contributing to its full-resolution shooting rate of 15 fps with a mechanical shutter, 20 fps with an electronic shutter, or 30 fps with an electronic shutter and a 1.25x crop. The expandable ISO range of ISO 160-12800 is equally competitive, as is its proprietary X-Trans sensor, which takes advantage of a randomized pixel array instead of the more commonly used resolution-reducing optical low-pass filter. When working in difficult lighting conditions or at slower shutter speeds, the X-T4’s built-in 5-axis sensor-shift image stabilization works in conjunction with most X Series lenses to help minimize the appearance of camera shake by up to 6.5 stops. Additionally, 4-axis digital image stabilization can be used during video recording to further aid in steadying footage, especially when recording handheld. Integrated Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity allows for instant sharing of photos and videos to your Android or iOS mobile device, as well as remote camera control and monitoring.

FUJIFILM X-T4 Mirrorless Digital Camera

8. Sony a1 Mirrorless Digital Camera

The Sony Alpha 1 mirrorless is a flagship camera in the truest sense of the word. Its newly developed 50.1MP Full-Frame Exmor RS BSI CMOS sensor and revised BIONZ XR image processor enable high-speed shooting up to 30 fps with an electronic shutter and 10 fps with the mechanical shutter, while a large buffer memory permits recording up to 155 compressed raw frames, or 165 JPEGs, in one single burst at 30 fps. The a1’s Fast Hybrid AF system incorporates 759 phase-detection points along with 425 contrast-detection areas for quick and precise focusing in a variety of lighting conditions with sensitivity down to -6 EV. This focusing system can be used in all recording modes, to benefit stills and video applications. UHD 8K 30p XAVC HS 10-bit 4:2:0 video recording is possible using the full width of the sensor, offering 8.6K oversampling for impressive sharpness and realism. For ease in handling, low bit-rate proxy files with HD resolution can be recorded simultaneously with the high-res recording mode. And for critical shooting without motion blur, the camera’s enhanced 5.5-stop effective 5-axis SteadyShot INSIDE image stabilization system compensates for five different types of camera shake, while advanced subject tracking and Real-time Eye AF capabilities are effective for both humans and animals, including a dedicated Bird Mode. Built-in Wi-Fi connectivity and NFC are both available without a complex setup, and support for both 2.4 and 5 GHz bands enables wireless tethered shooting support, as well as remote camera control.

Sony Alpha 1 Mirrorless Digital Camera

9. Sony a9 II Mirrorless Digital Camera

Another top choice for sports and action, yet at a friendlier price point, the full-frame Sony a9 II features a 24.2MP Exmor RS stacked CMOS sensor and an updated BIONZ X image processor that yields impressively quick and responsive performance. Continuous shooting of up to 20 fps is possible using an electronic shutter, or 10 fps shooting with a mechanical shutter, along with a wide sensitivity range up to an expanded ISO 204800. The a9 II’s fast hybrid AF system incorporates 693 phase-detection points along with 425 contrast-detection areas for precise focusing in a variety of lighting conditions with sensitivity down to -3 EV, while High-density Tracking AF allows for increased accuracy when following moving subjects across the image frame. An enhanced 5.5-stop effective 5-axis SteadyShot INSIDE image stabilization system compensates for five different types of camera shake encountered during handheld shooting. In addition to stills, UHD 4K video recording is supported at up to 30 fps, along with Quick and Slow Motion recording options.

Sony a9 II Mirrorless Digital Camera

10. Sony RX10 Mark IV Digital Camera

And finally, for those wanting everything (or as close to everything as technology will allow) in one package, the Sony RX10 Mark IV offers an updated 20.1 MP 1″ Exmor RS BSI CMOS sensor with a 25x Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* f/2.4-4 lens. This all-in-one camera offers a flexible built-in zoom spanning a 24-600mm equivalent focal length, eliminating the need to carry additional lenses, and uses Optical SteadyShot image stabilization to minimize the effects of camera shake by up to 4.5 stops. The BIONZ X processor enables continuous shooting up to 24 fps, as well as UHD 4K/30p or Full HD 1080/120p video recording. Complementing the shooting speed of the sensor and processor combination, this camera also offers a quickened 315-point focal plane phase-detection autofocus system for focus speeds as fast as 0.03 seconds. Built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity round out the RX10 Mark IV for wireless sharing and remote camera control from a linked smartphone or tablet, while the magnesium alloy body is weather-sealed to permit working in trying environments.

Sony RX10 Mark IV Digital Camera

Only the Beginning…

While far from exhaustive, this list is meant to be a springboard into the pool of advanced, fast cameras 2021 has to offer for all of you sports and wildlife enthusiasts. As every photographer knows, cameras are only going to get smaller, faster, and more technologically advanced in the years ahead.


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