Best camera for sports photography in 2024: get in on the action! – Digital Camera World

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These are the best cameras for sports photography I’ve ever used, from ball sports to brawl sports

Quick list
Best for photo – Nikon Z9
Best for video – Nikon Z8
Best beginner – Canon EOS R10 
Best Sony – Sony A9 III
Best Canon – Canon EOS R3
Best DSLR – Canon EOS-1D X III
How to choose
How we test
FAQs

As with many athletes, the best cameras for sports photography need one thing above all: speed. I’ve shot everything from ball sports to brawl sports, and trust me – you’re going to need fast frame rates, fast autofocus and fast memory!

This makes them some of the most advanced models on the market – which, as a result, means that the best cameras for sports photography are also some of the most expensive. Sadly there’s not much getting around that fact, as these are performance cameras through and through.

Personally I don’t think you can beat the Nikon Z8 / Z9 (which are largely identical, apart from their form factors) for all-around performance, but if you want pure speed then look to the Sony A9 III with its ridiculous 120fps – and if you want the most reliable autofocus, my pick is the Canon EOS R3. You can’t really go wrong with anything on this list, though, so choose the one that’s the best fit for you!

I’ve been photographing all kinds of sport since 2014, from motorsport to combat sports, from the rec center to Olympic level. That covers ball games like basketball and soccer, to choreographed events like floor gymnastics and professional wrestling!

Best overall for photo
For pure sports photography, my pick is the Nikon Z9 with its chunky 45.7MP stills, fast frames-per-second, superb autofocus, integrated vertical grip and extra-long battery life.
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Best overall for video
For sports videography, the Z8 offers all the power of its big brother in a smaller, more rig-friendly form factor. Get epic 8K, 4K and 1080p video with all the codecs you could ask for.
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At under a grand in the US and UK, this is both the cheapest camera and the best for beginners. With 24.2MP stills at up to 23fps and 4K 60p video, it’s amazing bang for your buck!
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Best Sony
I’ve never used a camera like this before! Its global shutter sensor redefines the game, with unbelievable 120fps full-res shooting, flash sync at any speed and AI-powered autofocus.
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I’m choosing the R3 for its unbeatable autofocus – which is so advanced that it follows your eyeball, so you can move focus points just by looking! Add in 30fps RAW bursts, it’s a winner.
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Want a DSLR? The 1D X Mark III is still a heck of a camera in my book, with its incredible AF system, rapid-fire bursts, optical finder – and battery life that makes mincement of mirrorless!
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✅ You want a pro body: The Z9 has an integrated vertical grip, for better balancing, and a supersized battery.

✅ You want high-res imaging: With 45.7MP stills and 8K 60p video, the Z9 boasts muscle as well as speed.

❌ You want an articulating screen: The bidirectional screen doesn’t have the range of motion I’d like.

❌ You want full-fat bursts: Bursts are limited to 20fps RAW, 30fps hi-res JPEG, 120fps lo-res JPEG.

🔎 Nikon Z9 The best all-round features combine with a big pro body, which handles big pro lenses and has a big pro battery to last all the way till overtime. ★★★★½

As an all-round professional tool, the Nikon Z9 is the best sports camera I’ve ever used. It’s stronger in some areas than others, but as a total package it can’t be beat.

Crucially, it offers a 45.7MP sensor – so you’re getting gorgeous high-resolution stills, whether you make the most of all the detail or you crop into your images to compensate for a lack of focal length.

It’s a speed demon, too, offering a top speed of 120fps burst shooting – though unlike the Sony A9 III, this is only with 11MP low-res JPEGs. If you want full-res images, the Z9 can rattle off JPEGs at 30fps or RAWs at 20fps.

It’s an 8K 60p marvel as well, with high-res video in-camera that eclipses the competition – though the smaller form factor of the Z8 makes that my preferred model for filming.

Both stills and video are powered by what I think is Nikon’s best autofocus ever (which is edging ever closer to Canon’s market-leading AF tech) and it comes with the “pro DSLR” style integrated vertical grip for seamless shooting – not to mention better balancing with big pro lenses, along with better battery life.

✅ You want to be future-proof: With video capture up to 8K 60p, in all the high-end codecs, you’re good to go!

✅ You want value: Literally thousands cheaper than its rivals, the Z8 offers truly incredible value for money.

❌ You need a versatile screen: The four-way tilt screen is okay, but full articulation is preferable for video.

❌ You want full memory card flexiblity: With one SD and one CFexpress, capture is limited by the card you use.

🔎 Nikon Z8 Essentially the same camera as the Z9, but in a smaller more manageable form factor. Its video capabilities are simply unmatched in this category. ★★★★★

Am I cheating by choosing the Nikon Z8 for sports videography? I don’t think so.

While it’s almost identical to the Z9, its biggest difference – the conventional mirrorless camera form factor – is a crucial one, as its big brother is more of a big bother for handheld or gimbal-based video shooting.

With the Z8, you get all the same video horsepower in a more rig-friendly body. That means up to 8K 60p and 4K 120p internally, in 12-bit RAW and 4:2:2 ProRes RAW HQ. It also means 8- or 10-bit H.265 and Apple ProRes RAW.

Due to the Z9’s larger design and better heat dispersion it does have slightly longer recording times, but the Z8 still delivers around 120 minutes of 4K 60p or 90 minutes of 8K 30p – both of which are still very impressive.

The only other downside, common to the Z9, is the lack of fully articulating screen – something that I really, really prefer for video (and for stills, too, for that matter).

However, the double-axis swing system does enable you to adjust the screen more than a regular tilt-only affair, and given all the Z8’s other upsides I can forgive this relatively minor irritation.

✅ You want bang for buck: You simply won’t find a better specced, sports-suitable camera at this price!

✅ You need speed: With 23fps electronically and 15fps mechanically, the R10 offers super-fast stills shooting.

❌ You need stabilization: As an enthusiast body, there’s no image stabilization – so you’ll need to rely on lenses.

❌ You want peace of mind: There’s only a single memory card slot, so there’s no backup in case of card failure.

🔎 Canon EOS R10 For awesome autofocus and big bursts on a budget, this is a fantastic option – and the APS-C crop works in your focal length favor, too. ★★★★½

Of all the cameras in Canon’s mirrorless lineup, I think the R10 is the most overlooked.

For less than a thousand bucks in the US and UK it gives you the same flagship autofocus system found in the EOS R3 – and using the mechanical shutter, it’s actually faster than the R3 (and the Sony A1, for that matter) as well. Heck, the electronic shutter is faster than the Canon EOS R5 and R6!

Some people feel that an APS-C sensor is a strike against sports camera, but on the contrary – I think it can be an advantage, because that 1.6x crop factor effectively increases the focal length of your lenses. Stick a 300mm lens on this camera and it gives you an amazing reach of 480mm – how can you not love that!

Since this is an enthusiast-level camera there are, of course, some compromises – the biggest one being the lack of in-body image stabilization (though lots of Canon RF lenses have optical stabilization, so you won’t be completely unsupported).

While 4K video goes all the way up to 60p, this does invoke a crop (though the oversampled 4K 30p and FullHD 120p are uncropped), and there’s only a single memory card slot.

Still, given everything else it offers for such a low price, this is both the best cheap sports camera and the best beginner sports camera you can get right now. It’s time to give this camera the respect it deserves!

✅ You need maximum speed: Firing 120 full-resolution frames every second, nothing can match the A9 III!

✅ You want to sync flash at any speed: The global shutter has many benefits, not least the total liberation of flash.

❌ You need maximum sensitivity: The global shutter limits ISO to 250-25600 (expandable to 125-51200 for stills).

❌ You don’t like correcting color: Sony’s color science often requires fixing in post to achieve accurate tones.

🔎 Sony A9 III There has never been a camera like this. For sheer speed, it leaves every other camera in the dust – you’ll never miss a moment with the A9 III. ★★★★★

The Sony A9 III is an absolute monster. If raw speed is what you need, then look no further – because this camera is an absolute Gatling gun, rattling off 120 frames every second. And unlike the Nikon Z8 / Z9, that’s 120 full-size frames in both RAW and JPEG.

This is thanks to the game-changing global shutter sensor, with instant full-sensor readout that eliminates rolling shutter and banding – something that’s increasingly relevant, in a sporting world that uses so much LED illumination – and also enables you to sync with flash at any speed.

The A9 III boasts a dedicated AI processor to power its predictive autofocus system, which 90% of the time is incredibly effective – though it’s not quite as reliable as Canon’s AF, occasionally losing subjects that “zig” when it expects them to “zag”.

The only real downsides to the camera are the more limited sensitivity of ISO250-25600 (expandable to 125-51200 for stills), which is a compromise of global shutter technology, as well as Sony’s color science that often needs repairing in post-production – especially if artificial light has been used.

Otherwise, this is a camera that literally doesn’t miss a moment of the action. If you’re an elite sports stills shooter, this is the most elite camera that exists.

✅ You want the best AF: Canon’s Dual Pixel II Autofocus is simply the best I’ve ever used, bar none.

✅ You want the best stabilization: At up to 8 stops, the astonishing image stabilization on the R3 can’t be beaten.

❌ You want a clear strength: The A9 III is faster, and the Z8 / Z9 are higher resolution. The R3 is without a strong suit.

❌ You want the best lens selection: Canon licensing means there are no third-party AF lenses for the RF mount.

🔎 Canon EOS R3 The most feature-packed camera on this list, this ultra-compact and capable system is ideal for unlocking your creativity. ★★★★½

Until the R1 materializes, the Canon EOS R3 is the manufacturer’s de facto flagship camera.

It boasts 6K RAW video, 30fps continuous shooting (RAW and JPEG), and remarkable Eye Control AF – which enables you to move focus points simply by looking at your subject (yes, it really does work – even for me, wearing glasses!).

On top of that, I love the benefits of Canon’s best-in-the-business autofocus, best-in-class 8 stops (lens dependent) of in-body image stabilization system, and one of my personal favorite things is that the R3 is the only mirrorless flagship with a fully articulating touchscreen – which is just as important for stills as it is for video.

The R3 also blows away its rivals when it comes to dynamic range as well as noise at higher ISOs – something that can be crucial, as sport is often shot in less-than-ideal lighting conditions.

That’s possible due to the 24.1MP sensor, which eschews the pixel count of the Z8 / Z9 in favor of less but bigger photosites – providing better per-pixel performance. I would also argue that 24MP is the sweet spot for shooting sport, especially at super-fast frame-rates, otherwise you end up with enormous storage strain.

Perhaps the only issue with the R3 is that it lacks a signature feature (aside from the Eye Control AF). If you want resolution, you go for Nikon, if you want speed you go for Sony. Canon does have the best autofocus and weather-sealing, though, and the former would certainly be my reason to pick the R3.

✅ You need ruggedness: Not only is it weather-sealed, this brick-like DSLR is as robust and double-tough as they come!

✅ You want unrestrained capture: With twin CFexpress Type B slots, you won’t be throttled by an SD card.

❌ You need resolution: While 20.1MP is still plenty, it pales next to other sensors on this list.

❌ You want the latest tech: From more advanced AF to image stabilization, this is still old-school DSLR technology.

🔎 Canon EOS-1D X Mark III If you swear by DSLRs, this is flat-out the best one you can buy for sports. Great AF, killer speed, and fantastic ergonomics. ★★★★★

DSLRs have been leapfrogged by mirrorless cameras in virtually every way, but the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III hybridizes the best of both technologies to remain a formidable sports camera. Its battery life is unrivaled and it just shoots and shoots and shoots – I’ve never actually managed to kill a battery in a single session! And the optical viewfinder still preferred by many old-school photographers is present and correct.

Tried and tested tech is complemented by cutting-edge HEIF files and HDR PQ support, dual CFexpress cards, 12-bit internal 4K RAW, not to mention the brilliant Smart Controller (which, to me, makes joysticks feel positively archaic) and the fantastic Deep Learning AF system. Not to mention the EF mount that offers one of the richest lens selections on the market.

One of the most important features of a sports camera is a good burst mode. This refers to how many frames per second your camera can capture; the faster it is, the more likely you are to capture that winning mid-action shot. Mirrorless cameras blow DSLRs out of the water here, offering up to 120fps compared to the 16fps top speed of their mirrored counterparts.

However, a great burst mode means very little without a good buffer depth to accompany it. This refers to the number of continuous photos that a camera can take before it needs to pause (at which point the camera needs to process, preventing you from shooting again until the buffer clears). If you’re shooting in JPEG, you’ll find that there will be a larger buffer than if you’re shooting in RAW. However, professional cameras should be capable of decent buffer depths for RAW files as well.

Another super important feature of the best camera for sports photography is fast and efficient autofocus. Without an autofocus system that’s able to keep up with the action, you’ll likely end up with a lot of misfocused images. Look for good coverage of autofocus points and especially subject detection offered by the latest cameras; these have been trained by AI algorithms and can automatically detect and track things like the faces, eyes and heads of human subjects, as well as driver helmets and vehicles for motorsports.

When I test a sports camera, I don’t go out and shoot brick walls or landscapes – I take it courtside, ringside and trackside to see how it performs in real-world shooting scenarios. Sometimes I’ll test cameras on pick-up games on the blacktop or at the local rec center, other times I’ll photograph Olympic athletes at the top of their game – the important thing is, I’m stress testing these cameras in actual sporting events.

This enables me to really torture their autofocus systems along with their burst shooting, buffer depth and battery life – and that’s when shooting both stills and video. I push these cameras as hard as I can with outdoor shoots under bright light, as well as indoors with the often miserable light that you find at sports halls – which helps see what the ISO can do, and how well the AF holds up in tough lighting!

After that I pass the cameras to our lab manager, Ben Andrews. He then puts them through a series of thorough resolution, dynamic range and noise tests under scientifically controlled conditions using two key testing tools: Imatest Master and DxO Analyzer. This assesses:

1. Resolution (ISO-12233): We use a resolution chart based on ISO-12233 from Applied Image inc to indicate the limit of the camera’s vertical resolution at the centre of the frame. The higher the value, the better the detail resolution.

2. Dynamic range (DxO Analyzer): This is a measure of a camera’s ability to capture detail in the highlights and shadows. We use DxO’s transmissive chart, which enables us to test a dynamic range of 13.3 stops.

3. Noise (DxO Analyzer): We use the dynamic range transmissive chart to analyze the signal-to-noise ratio for RAW and JPG files at every sensitivity setting using DxO Analyzer. A higher value means the signal is cleaner.

Professional sports photographers tend to shoot in JPEG, as it is faster and more efficient – both in terms of shooting and uploading their files.

In general, many sports photographers shoot in JPEG + RAW, so that a high-quality “negative” is retained for editing purposes.

Professional sports photographers typically use full-frame flagship cameras from the “big three” manufacturers. These include DSLRs like the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III and Nikon D5, and mirrorless cameras such as the Sony A1, Canon EOS R3 and Nikon Z9. These offer large sensors with good ISO performance, high dynamic range, and fast continuous shooting speeds.

Many semi-pro and enthusiast photographers opt for APS-C DSLR or mirrorless cameras. These feature physically smaller image sensors, but their the 1.5x / 1.6x crop factor increases the effective focal length of lenses.

Beginners and casual shooters are advised to opt for bridge cameras. Unlike interchangeable lens cameras, these have fixed lenses with large – sometimes extreme – focal ranges. They are also simple to use and operate, in many ways, like point-and-shoot cameras.

Traditionally DSLRs have been favored for sports photography due to their absence of lag and better battery life, compared to mirrorless cameras that have historically experienced latency in their electronic viewfinders and cannot achieve the same battery performance.

These days, however, mirrorless cameras can achieve lag-free, blackout-free shooting. Combined with their increasingly superior specifications (particularly in terms of autofocus, burst speeds and stabilization), they are becoming more and more popular… even though they still cannot match DSLRs’ battery life.

All things being equal, a full frame camera will yield the highest quality images. However, using a crop sensor camera gives the advantage of increasing the effective focal length of lenses. For APS-C cameras this can turn a 500mm lens into an 800mm lens, while bridge cameras can achieve astonishing focal ranges such as 24-2000mm that are impossible to achieve on a full frame camera.

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The editor of Digital Camera World, James has 21 years experience as a journalist and started working in the photographic industry in 2014 (as an assistant to Damian McGillicuddy, who succeeded David Bailey as Principal Photographer for Olympus). In this time he shot for clients like Aston Martin Racing, Elinchrom and L’Oréal, in addition to shooting campaigns and product testing for Olympus, and providing training for professionals. This has led him to being a go-to expert for camera and lens reviews, photo and lighting tutorials, as well as industry news, rumors and analysis for publications like Digital Camera Magazine, PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine, N-Photo: The Nikon Magazine, Digital Photographer and Professional Imagemaker, as well as hosting workshops and talks at The Photography Show. He also serves as a judge for the Red Bull Illume Photo Contest. An Olympus and Canon shooter, he has a wealth of knowledge on cameras of all makes – and a fondness for vintage lenses and instant cameras.

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