But first, let’s take a look at some of the commonly asked questions about sports photography lenses.
Is 200mm a Good Focal Length for Shooting Sports?
There is a popular belief that the 70-200mm f/2.8 lens is a great choice for shooting sports photography. Unfortunately, you may find that the 200mm does not have enough reach to get you close to the action. That said, the 70-200mm is good enough if you’re shooting a school sports event or if the sport requires a smaller playing field.
What is the Best Focal Length for Shooting Sports Photography?
The sports you shoot determine the focal length you need. If it’s soccer or cricket, you’ll need at least 300mm or longer. Also, as these sports are played in open arenas and often with either natural light or lots of artificial light, you can likely work with a lens that has a reasonably open aperture.
Can You Shoot Sports Photos with Budget Lenses?
Budget lenses are typically slower, not built to professional standards, and don’t have adequate optical zoom – or a combination of all three. You can still shoot sports photos with a lens like Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS, but you need a lot of light. If the event makes use of daylight, a lens that opens up to f/6.3 can get you decent shots. A decent optical zoom, however, is non-negotiable.
What Aperture Do You Need for Sports Photography?
Poor lighting is the bane of sports photography. Most lenses slower than f/4 struggle in indoor lighting conditions. So, you need the fastest lens that you can get your hands on. A fast lens will allow you to use a fast shutter speed to freeze the action. Sure, you can push the ISO and still get a lot of detail and dynamic range in your shots, especially with modern cameras. But with every stop of ISO, you initiate more and more digital noise. As long as you can shoot sharp photos without having to resort to a higher ISO number, you have a higher chance of getting cleaner images.
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Best Sony Prime Lens for Shooting Sports
1. Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS
The stunning and painfully expensive Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS is by far the best lens for shooting sports photography if you’re using a full-frame E-mount Sony camera. From the superb design, fantastic optical quality, and long optical reach, to the fast f/4 aperture of the lens, there is very little not to like about this lens. Except for the price, of course.
For many photographers, this lens is beyond their reach. For the select few who can find a sponsor or afford to buy this on their own, it’s a lens you can’t go wrong with. It’s perfect for both sports and wildlife photographers.
The 600mm focal length puts you right in the action. The angle of view, however, is 4° 10′. With a small angle of view like this, once the subject goes out of the frame, it can get very difficult to track down the subject and bring it back into the frame, especially if that subject is moving in a zigzag manner.
For example, if a center forward in a soccer game is making a breathtaking move through the opposition defense, it can be difficult to track the subject if you’re directly behind the goal. It will be much easier if you’re positioned on the side of the pitch. This is precisely why I will not recommend you use the 600mm f/4 on a smaller crop body. The 900mm focal length sounds too good, but its practicality is less for fast-moving subjects like sports (and wildlife) photography.
The Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS is constructed of 24 elements arranged in 18 groups. There are three fluorite elements in the construction. Along with that, there are two extra-low dispersion elements. Both these elements ensure that the lens can suppress the effects of chromatic aberrations and color fringing. This improves the color accuracy and sharpness of the images.
The lens also features a one large-diameter XA (Extreme Aspherical) element that ensures it can withstand the effects of spherical aberrations. Additionally, the lens comes with a Nano AR coating that suppresses flares and ghosting.
The lens is weather sealed, meaning you can shoot outdoors without worrying about the weather turning bad. A little bit of drizzle or snow wouldn’t hamper the performance of the lens. And in the event that the front element of the lens gets any dirt or fingerprints on it, the presence of a fluorine coating ensures that it’s very easy to clean.
I feel the biggest issue with this lens is that it can comfortably be hand-held. At a shade above 3 kilos, this is one monster of a lens. You need a tripod to work with this lens, period.
But at the end of the day, the lens’s performance is what matters, and this is where the Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS will simply blow your mind. The images are razor-sharp, even wide open. Because of the subject-to-lens distance that you need to maintain, the background is simply vaporized! If background blur is your top priority, you won’t have to look any further than the 600mm f/4.
Best Sony Zoom for Shooting Sports Photography
2. Sony FE 200-600mm F5.6-6.3 G OSS
The Sony FE 200-600mm F5.6-6.3 features 24 elements arranged in 17 groups. It is exceptional at suppressing the effects of chromatic aberrations and color fringing due to the five extra-low dispersion elements in the lens.
An aspherical element is also used in the lens that takes care of spherical aberrations. Together these elements ensure that the lens can produce sharper results with better color accuracy.
The lens also features a Nano AR coating. This coating takes care of the issues of flares, ghosting, and internal reflections.
The weather-sealed design ensures that you can shoot in inclement weather without issues, while the fluorine coating ensures that the lens is easy to clean in the case of dust or fingerprint spots.
The 200-600mm F5.6-6.3 is often compared to the 600mm f/4. The 200-600mm is much lighter than the 600mm f/4. The 600mm f/4, which is more than 3 kilos, whereas the 200-600mm is just over 2.1 kilos. Our choice can thus be handheld in the absence of a tripod and is better for lighter travel.
Additionally, because the lens’s barrel does not extend when it zooms, the balance of the lens stays the same. This is handy if you shoot handheld. Many of the other superzoom lenses extend when you zoom in, which can affect the stability of the setup.
Having said that, if you’re shooting a long event, such as an entire day of track and field or a one-day cricket match, you will require a tripod. So, it all comes down to what your shooting requirements are.
There is a massive difference in pricing between the Sony FE 200-600mm F5.6-6.3 G OSS and the Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS. This makes the 200-600mm F5.6-6.3 an undeniably attractive option for entry-level sports (and wildlife) photographers. And with a smooth zoom ring such as the one on the 200-600mm, getting a tight framing and then going for a wide-angle view is very easy with this lens.
If you’re just starting out in sports photography and looking for a versatile lens that you can take with you, this lens is a good option, provided, however, that you’re shooting in good light.
The only bane of this lens is that, when you’re fully zoomed in at 600mm, the maximum aperture drops down to f/6.3. In low-light situations, this is going to be a problem. You will have to depend on a higher ISO to ensure that you can maintain a high enough shutter speed to freeze the action.
That said, with the 600mm f/4 that I mentioned above, you’re limited in terms of the angle of view and flexibility. With the 200-600mm, you can choose the focal length you need for specific shooting conditions. If the sporting action is too far away, the 600mm focal length can be brought into action. When the action is closer to you, you can choose to use any focal length below 600mm and keep the subject inside the frame.
The autofocusing speed of the 200-600mm F5.6-6.3 is great. Autofocusing is powered by a Direct Drive Super Sonic wave motor. In practical terms, when you pair this lens with some of the premium Sony mirrorless cameras like the a9, the a9 II, or a7 III, you will really enjoy working with this lens.
Best Budget Sports Photography Lens
3. Sony FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G OSS
If you’re just starting out in sports photography, you probably can’t afford something like the 600mm f/4 I recommended above or the Sony FE 400mm f/2.8 I mentioned after this. Luckily, the Sony FE 70-300mm is a practical lens that can get the job done.
In return for the affordable price tag, the lens may not always get you exactly where you need to be. You may feel the urge to grab the zoom ring and give it a twist, only to find that it does not go any further. But you can always find ways to compensate for this. If you shoot with a camera that offers a lot of resolution, you can crop your photo and “zoom in” that way.
But don’t forget that this isn’t the best way to zoom. You lose a lot of resolution. If you’re planning to make large prints, losing resolution isn’t an option.
The second catch is the maximum aperture of the lens. The maximum aperture of the lens does not go beyond f/5.6. And that could be an issue when you’re shooting in less than favorable lighting conditions. The only option is to shoot when you have enough light to play with, i.e., shoot during day time and push the ISO to a higher number so that you can use a faster shutter speed.
Let’s find out more about the lens’s construction. The lens features 16 elements arranged in 13 groups. There are two extra-low dispersion glass elements that take care of the issues of chromatic aberrations and color fringing. Additionally, there are four aspherical elements as well. These elements take care of the issues of astigmatism and coma.
On top of that, the lens also has a Nano AR coating. This ensures that the lens can handle the effects of ghosting, flares, and internal reflection and improves color accuracy and contrast when working in hard lighting conditions.
The overall weight of the lens is 850 grams, making it on the lighter side compared to the other lenses we have covered. There is a lot of plastic used in the construction of the lens, but it still feels solid in the hands.
Sports photographers often work outside without protection against the elements, so weather-sealing is a must. Fortunately, this budget option is safe to use in the elements.
Optical Steady Shot (OSS) has been built into the lens. This is handy when you’re hand-holding the lens (pun intended). OSS helps stabilize the lens and ensures that blur-free images are captured. This comes in handy when you’re shooting in low-light conditions. The OSS works in tandem with cameras that come with a sensor-shift type image stabilization system and offers a much greater correction of image shake.
In terms of performance, the lens is very sharp at 70mm around the center of the frame and when shooting wide open. But that’s not what we’re looking to do here. We’re going to shoot with this lens at 300mm and wide open as much as possible. I would say that the lens sharpness does not look the same as at 70mm f/4.5 when shooting at 300mm f/5.6. But then, I am nitpicking, and for most shooting situations, the sharpness is acceptable.
4. Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS
If the 400mm f/2.8 mentioned below is beyond your reach and you need a super telephoto lens to work with your Sony E-mount camera, there are two Sony lenses that you should consider. The first one is the Sony FE 200-600mm F5.6-6.3 G OSS I mentioned above, and the second is the Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS.
Mind you; the Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS is mostly useful in the range of 300-400mm, which happens to be the entry-level focal length for shooting sports photography. 200mm, and anything less than that’s a very limited focal length, as I have already mentioned above. You need at least a focal length of 300mm to do sports photography.
The price at which Sony has introduced this lens makes it an attractive proposition for many entry-level photographers and especially those who are just starting out in wildlife and sports photography.
The lens is made of magnesium alloy and feels solid in the hands. The construction of the lens includes 22 elements arranged in 16 groups. There are two extra-low dispersion elements and one super ED element that suppresses the effects of chromatic aberrations and color fringing. Additionally, the lens also features a Nano AR coating, which helps suppress the effects of ghosting, flares, and internal reflection.
One of the things that I like about this lens is that it’s notably lightweight. At a shade under 1.4 kilos, this is an easily hand-holdable lens. I have handheld lenses that are more than 2x the weight of this, so I know the feeling. You can use this for a considerable period of time without inducing fatigue in your arms. I feel this is important to be able to shoot on the move. When you’re moving from one spot to another, you want to be carrying lightweight gear.
Speaking of weight and construction, I need to mention one more thing, and that is the balancing of the lens. The lens is balanced very well. So much so that you can feel that the weight of the lens is towards the rear of the lens; this makes it easy for a photographer to hold the lens for prolonged periods of time.
Do keep in mind that this is a Sony G-Master lens, and therefore the lens features many of the refinements that you would have come to expect from a GM lens. Of course, the optical performance of the lens is one of those. In that sense, I can say that the 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 does not disappoint.
Another advantage is that the lens is weather sealed. Additionally, the lens comes with image stabilization or what Sony calls Optical Steady Shot.
My biggest concern with this lens was how it would perform in terms of autofocusing when shooting at a longer focal length and especially when shooting in less than favorable lighting conditions. These are conditions where fast primes are much better compared to zooms with a variable aperture. But the 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 hasn’t disappointed me. Its nails focus very well, even in poor lighting.
Having used the lens at the longest focal length of 400mm at the widest aperture available, which is f/5.6, I must say that the lens is very sharp. I wasn’t expecting the corners to look great – especially at f/5.6 – but even the corners are acceptably sharp. Even with the teleconverters added, the lens is sharp, wide open.
5. Sony FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS
The construction of this lens includes 23 elements arranged in 17 groups. There are three fluorite elements in the construction and one extra-low dispersion element. Nano AR coating has also been used on the lens.
The 400mm f/2.8 can get you close enough, depending on the sports that you’re shooting. You don’t have to have 600mm to shoot a tennis game from the sideline. And if you feel that you’re not close enough, you can break out a 1.4x or a 2.0x teleconverter and extend the focal length.
However, do keep in mind that with the 2.0x and the 1.4x teleconverters, you will lose two stops and one stop of light, respectively. So, your f/2.8 lens will become an 800mm f/5.6 with the 2.0x teleconverter. When mounted on the 1.4x teleconverter, the effective focal length will become 560mm, with the effective aperture dropping to f/4.
One of the neat things about the Sony FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS is the design and how Sony has put a lot of the weight of the lens towards the back where the camera would be mounted. That can only mean a lot of convenience when you’re shooting handheld. It feels a lot easier to hold the lens for a longer duration.
To be fair, the lens, even though it weighs a shade under 2.9 kilos, is still hand-holdable. I am sure many of you would say this is absurd, but I will again point you to the design of the lens. That said, I would also add that if you’re shooting a full day of sports, you cannot do without a tripod or at least a monopod.
Speaking of stabilization, the lens features Sony’s Optical Steady Shot. There are three modes of OSS on the lens. You can flip the switch to Mode 1, which is an all-purpose mode for regular shooting. Then there is Mode 2, which is for panning. This comes in handy when the subject is moving parallel to you. Finally, there is Mode 3, where the subject is moving erratically. Alternatively, you can choose to switch off OSS completely when using a tripod.
The system is designed to work with cameras that come with body-based image stabilization. However, the system can be a little unreliable at times, especially when shooting at a shutter speed that is slower than 1/60 sec.
For all the mumbo-jumbo that’s around this lens, what everything boils down to is the optical capability of the lens. I am happy to say that this lens is mind-blowingly sharp, even wide open. Having said that, there are a ton of things that can affect image sharpness, especially when working with long lenses, such as the 400mm f/2.8. You can have the subject moving too erratically, your hands moving, atmospheric haze, and so on and so forth. So, sometimes it’s not about the optical quality of the lens alone.