best dslr for sports photography

If you look at the sidelines of any major sport event, the photographers’ booths will be packed with DSLR cameras. Why? Because, despite most types of casual photography being definitely better off with a mirrorless camera that uses an electronic viewfinder, DSLRs have the advantage of tried-and-true autofocus systems, using optical phase-detect technology that has been fine-tuned for decades. This, combined with the instantaneous nature of seeing your subject through an optical viewfinder, provides a distinct advantage for anyone who is photographing extremely fast-paced action. So what is the Best Dslr For Sports Photography?

Canon 1dx mkiii - 2

Currently, only two camera companies make “flagship” DSLRs that have cutting-edge optical phase-detect autofocus systems powerful enough to lock focus on, and track, subjects that are moving extremely fast. Canon’s 1DX sereis has been around for many years now, with the latest Canon 1DX III being recently released and the company’s flagship of 2020. However, the Canon 1DX II and 1DX are still certainly venerable performers if you are able to locate one for a good price.

Nikon D6 action sports camera flagship rear

Nikon’s D6 is their latest flagship action sports camera, also officially released in 2020. Like the Canon, its predecessors are also still incredible performers, and the Nikon D5, D4, and even D3 are capable workhorses that any action sports photographer would be glad to own.

Which camera is better for action sports, Nikon or Canon?

Honestly, any photographer who asks this question is largely missing the point. Both camera sytems are extremely capable, and both of them will periodically leap-frog each other in small ways. Sometimes Canon or Nikon flagship sports cameras will have slightly better image quality, and sometimes one or the other will have a slightly more “uncanny” autofocus system that excels at continuous AF tracking.

However, it is the photographer themself that makes the biggest difference in whether or not a fast-action moment is captured correctly or not. Sheer experience behind the camera, knowing how to anticipate action, how to track it through the viewfinder, and which focus point selection or tracking mode to use for various conditions, that is the biggest deciding factor.

That, and of course having the right lens for the shooting condition, which again Canon and Nikon both deliver plenty of high-performance options.

best dslr for sports photography

Whether you’re an aspiring or seasoned sports photographer, these premium models from the most popular camera manufacturers will allow you to freeze and get in on the action.

Canon EOS 1DX Mark II Best Cameras for Sports Photography

Canon EOS 1DX Mark II ()

Buy Now

The Canon EOS 1DX Mark II is a powerful imaging workhorse that works great for different kinds of photography. It may not be the best in terms of image resolution, but only because it prioritizes speed — a whopping 14 frames per second or 16 when shooting in Live View mode.  

Backing up the incredibly fast drive rate (the fastest on this list, no less) is a 61-point AF system with improved subject tracking, as well as an impressive low-light performance even at very high ISO settings. It’s definitely one of the best pro-level DSLRs that you can find on the market, whether you’re shooting sports or wildlife.

Key Specifications:
  • 20.2MP Full-Frame CMOS Sensor
  • DIGIC 6+ Image Processing Engine
  • 20MP Photos / DCI 4K Videos at 60fps
  • ISO Sensitivity Range of 100 – 51200 (50 – 409600)
  • 61-Point (41 Cross-Type) AF System
  • Continuous Shooting Rate of up to 16fps
  • 3.2” 1.62m-dot TFT Color LCD Monitor
  • Weighs 15.3kg (53.97 oz)
Sony a7R II Best Cameras for Sports Photography

Sony a7R II ($1398)

Buy Now

The Sony Alpha a7R II is a very popular mirrorless camera that proudly features some of today’s most advanced imaging technologies. It boasts a 42.4-megapixel full-frame (35mm) Exmor R CMOS sensor and the brand’s powerful BIONZ X image processor to produce high-resolution photos and ultra HD 4K videos at 30p. It even has 399 phase detection AF points to ensure lightning-fast autofocus performance.

You might have second thoughts because of its burst mode of up to 5 frames per second, but with its exceptional autofocus system, advanced tracking system, 5-axis in-body image stabilization, and tilting touchscreen LCD, there’s a higher chance of you capturing that winning shot within just a few frames.

The lightweight and compact body is also weather sealed, so you don’t have to worry about traveling and shooting in harsh outdoor conditions.

Key Specifications:
  • 42.4MP Full-Frame Exmor R CMOS Sensor
  • BIONZ X Image Processing Engine
  • 42MP Photos / UHD 4K Videos at 30p
  • ISO Sensitivity Range of 100 – 25600 (50 – 102400)
  • 399-Point Fast Hybrid AF System
  • Continuous Shooting Rate of up to 5fps
  • 3” 1.22m-dot TFT LCD Monitor
  • 0.5” 2359k-dot XGA OLED Electronic Viewfinder
  • Weighs 582g (20.5 oz)
Canon EOS 7D Mark II Best Cameras for Sports Photography

Canon EOS 7D Mark II () (with Wi-Fi Adapter)

Buy Now

The Canon EOS 7D Mark II may have been around for a while now, but its features still make it one of the best Canon cameras for sports. First off, it has an APS-C sensor with a crop factor that helps you get closer to the action. Whatever lens you use with it, you can achieve up to 1.6x magnification compared to full-frame cameras.

Moreover, the 7D Mark II can shoot up to 10 full-res frames per second. You’re bound to capture tack sharp images every time with its 65 AF points and Dual Pixel AF system. The battery life is also capable of lasting longer than an entire football or tennis game, so there’s no worry about your momentum getting interrupted.

Key Specifications:
  • 20.2MP APS-C CMOS Sensor
  • Dual DIGIC 6 Image Processing Engines
  • 20MP Photos / Full HD Videos at 60fps
  • ISO Sensitivity Range of 100 – 16000 (51200)
  • 65-Point Cross-Type AF System
  • Continuous Shooting Rate of up to 10fps
  • 3” 1.04m-dot TFT Color LCD Monitor
  • Weighs 910g (32.10 oz)
Nikon D500 Best Cameras for Sports Photography

Nikon D500 ($1496.95)

Buy Now

The Nikon D500 is known as the brand’s most versatile camera, and many of its well-rounded features are suitable for sports photography. You have a 153-Point AF system, a max continuous shooting rate of 10fps, and an expanded ISO sensitivity range that makes shooting in enclosed stadiums easier.

With its superior APS-C sensor, it can produce more “zoomed in” shots with the longest telephoto lenses so you can capture those winning touchdowns without including too many elements in the background. It can even produce ultra HD 4K videos at 30fps, in case you want to capture some live footage, and share your photos directly online with its built-in Wi-Fi capability.

Key Specifications:
  • 20.9MP APS-C CMOS Sensor
  • EXPEED 5 Image Processing Engine
  • 20MP Photos / UHD 4K Videos at 30fps
  • ISO Sensitivity Range of 100 – 51,200 (50 – 1.64M)
  • 153-Point Multi-CAM 20K AF System
  • Continuous Shooting Rate of up to 10fps
  • 3.2” 2359k-dot Tilting Touchscreen LCD Monitor
  • Weighs 760g (26.8 oz)
Sony Alpha a7 III Best Cameras for Sports Photography

Sony Alpha a7 III ($1998)

Buy Now

The a7 III is an entry-level full-frame mirrorless camera by Sony, but it features pro-level DSLR features — minus the bulk. Its 24-megapixel full-frame sensor is even better than many DSLRs, plus it has up to 693 phase detection AF points, a maximum continuous shooting rate of 10 frames per second, and 5-axis in-body stabilization to help make shooting highly detailed action shots easy even in dimly-lit stadiums.

This mirrorless system may not be the best for professionals, especially since its body is not optimized for use with super telephoto lenses, but it’s a premium choice for traveling and aspiring sports photographers who don’t necessarily want to break the bank.

Key Specifications:
  • 24.2MP Full-Frame Exmor R CMOS Sensor
  • BIONZ X Image Processing Engine
  • 24MP Photos / UHD 4K Videos at 30p
  • ISO Sensitivity Range of 100 – 51200 (50 – 204,800)
  • 693 Phase Detection, 425 Contrast Detection AF Points
  • Continuous Shooting Rate of up to 10 fps
  • 2.95” 921k-dot Rear Touchscreen Tilting LCD
  • 0.5″ 2359k-dot Electronic Viewfinder
  • 710 Shots Per Battery Charge
  • Weighs 650g (22.93 oz)
Nikon D5 Best Cameras for Sports Photography

Nikon D5 ()

Buy Now

The Nikon D5 is a high-end DSLR that is optimized for action and sports photography. Nikon’s top-flight professional camera for fast-paced action, it sacrifices megapixels for the ability to focus with lightning speed and shoot up to 14 frames per second.

It features a built-in vertical grip that makes handling and shooting in portrait orientation easier, as well as accommodate a bigger battery that can last up to 3,780 shots per charge. The large, high-pixel LCD monitor provides ease of use, should you decide to shoot video.

Key Specifications:
  • 20.8MP Full-Frame CMOS Sensor
  • EXPEED 5 Image Processing Engine
  • 20MP Photos / UHD 4K Videos at 30fps
  • ISO Sensitivity Range of 100 – 102,400 (50 – 3.28M)
  • 153-Point (99 Cross-Type) AF System
  • Continuous Shooting Rate of up to 14fps
  • 3.2” 2359k-dot TFT Touch Playback LCD Monitor
  • 3,780 Shots Per Battery Charge
  • Weighs 1.4kg (49.3 oz)

How to Buy a Digital Camera

1. Determine what you need

A mistake I see some digital camera buyers making is that they get sucked into buying cameras that are beyond what they really need. Some questions to ask yourself before you go shopping:

  • What do you need the camera for?
  • What type of photography will you be doing? (portraits, landscapes, macro, sports)
  • What conditions will you be largely photographing in? (indoors, outdoors, low light, bright light)
  • Will you largely stay in auto mode or do you want to learn the art of photography?
  • What experience level do you have with cameras?
  • What type of features are you looking for? (long zoom, image stabilization, large LCD display etc)
  • How important is size and portability to you?
  • What is your budget?

Ask yourself these questions before you go to buy a camera and you’ll be in a much better position to make a decision when you see what’s on offer. You’ll probably find the sales person asks you this question anyway – so to have thought about it before hand will help them help you get the right digital camera.

2. Megapixels are NOT everything

One of the features that you’ll see used to sell digital cameras is how many megapixels a digital camera has.

When I first got into digital photography, a few years back, the megapixel rating of cameras was actually quite important as most cameras were at the lower end of today’s modern day range and even a 1 megapixel increase was significant.

These days, with most new cameras coming out with at least 5 megapixels, it isn’t so crucial. In fact at the upper end of the range it can actually be a disadvantage to have images that are so large that they take up enormous amounts of space on memory cards and computers.

One of the main questions to ask when it comes to megapixels is ‘Will you be printing shots’? If so – how large will you be going with them? If you’re only printing images at a normal size then anything over 4 or so megapixels will be fine. If you’re going to start blowing your images up you might want to pay the extra money for something at the upper end of what’s on offer today.

3. Keep in mind the ‘extras’


Keep in mind as you look at cameras that the price quoted may not be the final outlay that you need to make as there are a variety of other extras that you might want (or need) to fork out for including:

  • Camera Case
  • Memory Cards
  • Spare Batteries/Recharger
  • Lenses (if you are getting a DSLR)
  • Filters (and other lens attachments)
  • Tripods/Monopods
  • External Flashes
  • Reflectors

Some retailers will bundle such extras with cameras or will at least give a discount when buying more than one item at once. Keep in mind though that what they offer in bundles might not meet you needs. For example it’s common to get a 16 or 32 megabyte memory card with cameras – however these days you’ll probably want something at least of 500 megabytes (if not a gigabyte or two).

4. Do you already own any potentially compatible gear?

Talking of extra gear – one way to save yourself some cash is if you have accessories from previous digital cameras that are compatible with your new one.

For example memory cards, batteries, lenses (remember that many film camera lenses are actually compatible with digital SLRs from the same manufacturers), flashes, filters etc.

5. DSLR or Point and Shoot?

Dslr-Point-And-ShootWhile digital SLRs are getting more affordable they are not for everyone. Keep in mind that they are usually bigger, heavier, harder to keep clean (if you’re changing lenses) and can be more complicated to operate than point and shoot. Of course there are some upsides also.

If you’re trying to make a decision between a point and shoot and DSLR you might want to read my previous posts titled Should you buy a DSLR or a Point and Shoot Digital Camera? and it’s companion piece How to Choose a DSLR.

6. Optical Zooms are King

Not all ‘zooms’ are created equal.

When you’re looking at different models of digital cameras you’ll often hear their zooms talked about in two ways. Firstly there’s the ‘optical zoom’ and then there’s the ‘digital zoom’.

I would highly recommend that you only take into consideration the ‘optical zoom’ when making a decision about which camera to buy. Digital zooms simply enlarge the pixels in your shot which does make your subject look bigger, but it also makes it look more pixelated and your picture ‘noisier’ (like when you go up close to your TV).

If you’re looking for a zoom lens make sure it’s an optical zoom (most modern cameras have them of at least 3x in length – ie they’ll make your subject three times as big – with an increasing array of ‘super zooms’ coming onto the market at up to 12x Optical Zoom).

7. Read reviews

Before buying a digital camera take the time to do a little research. Don’t JUST rely upon the advice of the helpful sales person (who may or may not know anything about cameras and who may or may not have sales incentives for the camera they are recommending).

Read some reviews in digital camera magazines or online to help you narrow down the field. There are some great websites around that give expert and user reviews on virtually every camera on the market – use this wonderful and free resource.

A little self promotion here – one such site is my Digital Photography Blog which is a site that collates the reviews of many sites from around the web. To use it best enter the camera’s model name that you’re looking for a review on in the search feature in the top right side bar. It’ll give you a link to a central page that has information on the camera as well as links to any reviews published online on that camera from around the web.

8. Hands On Experience

Photo by erinmariepage

Once you’ve narrowed down your search to a handful of cameras head into your local digital camera shop and ask to see and play with them. There’s nothing like having the camera in your hands to work out whether it suits your needs.

When I shop for a camera I generally use the web to find reviews, then I head into a street in my city with 4 camera shops side by side and I go from shop to shop asking for recommendations and seeing the cameras live in the flash. In doing this I generally find the same camera or two are recommended in most shops and I get to see them demonstrated by different people (this gives a more well rounded demo). I also get to play with it and get a feel for which one I could see myself using.

9. Negotiate

After you’ve selected the right digital camera for you it’s time to find the best price.

Once again, I generally start online (on a site like our store) and do some searches to find the most competitive prices on the models I’m interested in. With these in hand I’m in a good position to be able to negotiate in person with local stores and/or with online stores. I generally find that retail stores will negotiate on price and will often throw in freebies. Online stores are more difficult – most bigger ones don’t give you the ability to negotiate but smaller ones often will if you email them.

Don’t forget to ask for free or discounted bonuses including camera cases, memory cards, extra batteries, filters, free prints, cases etc. I even know of a couple of stores that offer camera lessons that you can ask to be included. Some stores will also consider giving you a trade in on older gear.

I generally do negotiating from home on the phone and only go into a store to pick up the camera after a price is agreed upon.

Leave a Comment