In sports photography, the choice of lens is crucial. For cameras, compromises are possible and there are many features that are optimal, but not a must. A good lens for sports photography has significantly fewer criteria, but these must be fulfilled for good shots.
Good lens for sports photography: What to look out for?
The autofocus must be able to focus on the subject quickly enough. In addition to the motor and the autofocus module in the camera, lenses also have their own autofocus motor. Cheap lenses from third-party manufacturers cannot match the engine performance of the Nikon and Canon originals. The lens otherwise creates a bottleneck that turns some promising shots into rejects.
The aperture and focal length requirements should be based on the sport, which doesn’t mean you need an arsenal of lenses. For owners of a Nikon camera, the AS-F lens is a real all-rounder. If a Canon or another model is used, a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens is the right choice. In principle, an aperture of f/4.0 only makes sense in bright daylight. For almost all other sports and applications, an aperture of f/2.8 should be selected. As a rule of thumb, the further away you are from the action, the higher the focal length should be.
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Some lenses offer additional image stabilizers. These are not harmful, but are also not necessary. This feature is especially interesting if you want to drag the camera during car races to free the car from a blurred background. It is then particularly noticeable and conveys a moving motif. The image stabilizers support such ambitions and provide a concentrated view through a tilted viewfinder.
Settings for sports photography: Aperture, ISO & Co
Field and indoor sports in particular have different requirements. On the sports field, telephoto lenses are the right choice in good daylight. Usually you will sit far away from the action and still be able to get everything close. The aperture can be set to f/4.0, so no wide opening is required when shooting. This saves you a high ISO setting and gives you a sharper image. If you want to shoot very close scenes, you can start with a focal length of 24 mm. Normally you are well equipped from 70 mm on. With 400-500 mm you can overlook the playing field even behind the goal line up.
From 600 mm focal length it is difficult to achieve a good result. The situation is different when the super telephoto lens is used. If you record a scene from the edge of the field in the penalty area, 600 mm focal length is a good choice. However, this is more of an option for professional photographers who carry multiple cameras. For racing sports even 700 mm focal length can be necessary, if the own location is very far away from the events.
Phases in low light
In indoor sports, challenging lighting conditions prevail away from the professional leagues. Even a match under floodlight on the football field can deliver valuable results in the recording quality with f/4.0 aperture. In poorly lit sports halls, you can’t get around aperture f/2.8. The shutter opens further and more light penetrates the sensor in a short time. This is where autofocus comes in again.
In addition, an image sensor (in the camera) that delivers good images at high ISO values helps. The image noise should not be processed in the camera, because the quality suffers from it. The camera only calculates internally which color pixels would be suitable at this point. If there’s such a powerful image sensor behind the lens, you don’t need to worry about f/2.8 apertures. If this is not the case or if you want to achieve absolutely high-quality results, a lens with an aperture of f/2.0 and a focal length of 200 mm is a good alternative. Generally, focal lengths in indoor sports start at 24 mm. For shots of the opponent’s half of the game, a focal length of up to 400 mm is helpful.