Photographer Touch is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Learn more

The 7 Best Canon Lenses for Sports Photography in 2021

best canon lens for sports photography

Great photography entails having a perfect pair of camera lenses…ESPECIALLY when shooting sports.

Professional sports photographers need both a fast lens and distance when capturing moving subjects at full speed. This is where a sports lens comes in handy.

Check out our list of the best Canon lens for sports photography! Without further ado, let’s roll!

The gears you’ll choose play a huge role in getting that “in-the-moment” perfect image, which is why a special lens for sports photography is offered by Canon, one of the top camera manufacturers of 2021.

Because seven is a lucky number, here are the 7 best Canon sports lens of the year.

1. Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens: Best Overall

Specs

Focal Length – 100-400mm
Dimensions – 7.60 x 3.70 x 3.70 inches
Weight – 1570 g (3.46 lb)
Lens – Telephoto Zoom lens
Compatible Mountings – EF
Aperture – f/4.5–5.6

Canon updated its professional telephoto zoom lens offering with the EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS II USM. This lens is the successor to the classic Canon 100-400mm L IS, which is a well-loved lens among sports, wildlife, and nature photographers.

This new version equipt with all the elements to produce great images.

It has one fluorite and one super UD element to achieve the right balance of contrast and resolution with reduced chromatic aberration across the zoom range.

This lens includes image stabilization, fast and silent autofocus performance, and a focal length that is great for sports, wildlife, nature, and landscape photography.

It also comes with Canon’s new inner focusing AF system. This new technology allows for a fast and accurate focus down to 3.2 ft. with a .31x maximum magnification.

Pros
  • Best for sports photography due to its wide focal range
  • Best in class in terms of sharpness
  • Great autofocus performance
  • Premium build quality
  • Image stabilization
Cons
  • Pricey

2. Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8l II USM Lens: Best Value

Specs

  • Focal Length: 24 to 70 mm
  • Size: 3.48 x 4.45″ / 88.5 x 113 mm
  • Weight: 1.77 lb / 805 g
  • Sensor Type: Full-Frame
  • Maximum Magnification: 0.21x
  • Image Stabilization: No
  • Minimum Aperture: f/22
  • Maximum Aperture: f/2.8
  • Autofocus: Yes
  • Best for: Indoor; Outdoor Sports

A solid performer and consistent aperture of f/2.8 make the Canon 24-70mm an incredible lens for sports all around.

How so? Buckle up for its features and superpowers!

The Powerhouse of Sports Photographers

These lenses for sports photography are known as the workhorse of sports photographers for their superb performance.

The 24 mm focal length is wide enough to give photographers a wide field of view while still being long enough to reduce distortion and snap athletes from a distance.

Its performance is very wide-ranged, which is great paired with its neat bonus specs:

  • Ring-type focusing with a full-time manual focus override (keep photographers in control of the final image)
  • Super Spectra coating to reduce chromatic aberrations, lens flaring, and ghosting

Despite image stabilization not available for the lens, the Canon 24-70 mm is considered an all-around performer.

They come in perfect for hobbyists who want an upgrade on their sports photography skills. And because the lenses are high-end, they also suit professionals.

Pros
  • Fastest shutter speed
  • Super Spectra Coating
  • Weather-Sealed Body
  • All-around performance
  • For both professionals and serious enthusiasts
Cons
  • No image stabilization
  • Mid-Price Point to High End

3. Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens: Best Budget Pick

Specs

  • Focal Length: 70 to 300 mm
  • Size: 3.5 x 5.63″ / 89 x 143 mm
  • Weight: 2.31 lb / 1050 g
  • Sensor Type: Full-frame
  • Maximum Magnification: 0.21x
  • Image Stabilization: Yes
  • Minimum Aperture: f/32 to 45
  • Maximum Aperture: f/4 to 5.6
  • Autofocus: Yes
  • Best for: Indoor; Outdoor Sports

Whether it’s the Super Bowl, the NBA, or any other professional sporting event, photographers would have at least 3 DSLR cameras and multiple lenses ready.

And part of their kit includes a pair of powerful zoom lenses such as the Canon 70-300 mm.

The 70-300 mm is a handy, versatile, and compact long-range telephoto lens that’s packed with a load of neat features that make it the BEST ZOOM LENS Canon offers on a budget:

  • Magnify a landscape or subject up to 21 times―without sacrificing high-quality images.
  • Easily adjust the max aperture from f/32 to f/45 for quick capture and AF speeds.

It has a great focal length and excellent zoom range suitable for snapping indoor and outdoor shots on the camera. Plus, it uses:

  • Ultra-Low Dispersion (UD) technology
  • Optical image stabilization

These bonus features reduce camera shake and chromatic aberrations and also enhances and sharpens images.

APS-C and Full-Frame Compatibility

Another thing that sets the 70-300 mm apart from other lenses is its compatibility with BOTH APS-C and full-frame sensors. What does this mean?

Unlike the Canon 400 mm, you can have different focal length lenses mounted on your digital camera! If you decide to use the lens on an APS-C, you can extend the zoom range up to 112-480 mm.

Now, you rarely find camera lenses like these nowadays!

It’s not a wonder why this mid-priced lens is a crowd-favorite among hobbyists and professionals alike.

Our only complaint is that it doesn’t come with weather-sealing. If it starts raining outside, your only choice is to stash the lenses away and look for cover!

That said, if you want something that’s a notch down the 400 mm and less pricey, then Canon’s EF 70-300 mm is a GREAT alternative to cover for many outdoor sports participants. 

It’s fast, silent, and easy to use.

Pros
  • Compact
  • Fast & precise AF
  • Reduced blurriness
  • Low flare
  • Discrete shutter
  • Optical image stabilizer & UID lens elements
  • Inner focusing system
  • Well-priced
  • Ease of Use
Cons
  • Vignetting appear at its edges at an f/5.6
  • Moderate wide-angle lens
  • No weather-sealing
  • Lens hood purchased separately

4. Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM

Specs

  • Focal Length: 55 to 250mm
  • Size: 2.76 x 4.38″ / 70 x 111.2 mm
  • Weight: 13.23 oz / 375 g
  • Sensor Type: APS-C
  • Maximum Magnification: 0.29x
  • Image Stabilization: Yes
  • Minimum Aperture: f/22 to 32
  • Maximum Aperture: f/4 to 5.6
  • Autofocus: Yes
  • Best for: Indoor Sports

Not a professional? No worries! We got you covered.

If you’re looking for a place to start, then your search is over. The EF-S 55-250 mm is the BEST option for an entry-level lens for sports photography.

The EFS 55-250 mm lens design is user-friendly as you learn the basics of sports photography.

The lens itself includes an optical image stabilization feature that lets you reduce background blurs and focus on the moving subject at hand―a big advantage over the Canon 50 mm.

When the Price Is Right

In terms of image quality, you’d never expect this particular lens model to produce high-image quality and sharpness like that of Canon’s elite zoom lenses.

BUT it does.

It has an overall sharpness to the captured image and a good focal length reach because the lenses come with a better optical design than the Canon 50 mm.

HOWEVER, its absolute minimum aperture opening of f/4 to f/5.6 needs improvements for better low light capture.

Typically sports photographers use f/2.8 zooms for fast telephoto actions in dimly-lit situations, and EF-S 55-250 mm’s max aperture just falls slightly behind.

Again, this is ONLY if you’re a pro-shooter. Otherwise, you don’t need to worry about it. The best sports lens is always the one that matches your skill level.

For beginners who want a telephoto lens with an impressive focal length, Canon’s EFS 55-250 mm is the best choice.

Pros
  • Affordable telephoto lens
  • Easy to use
  • Compact and lightweight
  • Impressive image quality and focal length
  • Reduced camera shake
Cons
  • Modest aperture
  • Only compatible with APS-C format for camera body
  • Not suitable for low-light situations

5. Canon 70-200mm  f/4L IS II USM Lens

Specs

  • Focal Length: 70 to 200 mm
  • Size: 3.15 x 6.93″ / 80 x 176 mm
  • Weight: 1.72 lb / 780 g
  • Sensor Type: Full-Frame
  • Maximum Magnification: 0.27x
  • Image Stabilization: Yes
  • Minimum Aperture: f/32
  • Maximum Aperture: f/4
  • Autofocus: Yes
  • Best for: Indoor; Outdoor Sports

To capture powerful images of athletes, you’ll need the Canon 70-200 mm, the best available telephoto zoom lens for fast action shots.

Even a max aperture of only f/4 cannot stop the 70-200 mm from taking ultra-sharp high-quality images.

Sharpness and contrast are EXCELLENT throughout the entire zoom range, just one step behind the elite professional telephoto zoom lens.

Sure, it’s inferior to the f/2.8 professional lenses in terms of great image quality. However, the Canon 70-200 mm has the same great image stabilization ability.

You can forget about bringing tripods! This Canon lens model is more than good enough to combat camera shake when filming.

On top of that, it has a wide aperture for fast shutter speeds, so you’re guaranteed not to miss a shot!

IS II USM vs IS I USM

The Canon 70-200 mm IS II USM was designed as a replacement of the earlier 70-200 mm model, coming with cool new bonus features:

  • Better image quality
  • 5 stops image stabilization
  • Reduced minimum focusing distance of 1 m versus 1.2 m
  • Super Spectra coating for reduced flare and improved contrast

Overall, the Canon 70-200mm IS II USM is the better and more upgraded lens, coming in perfect for quick-moving indoor and outdoor sports photography.

Pros
  • Lightweight
  • Good for low light situations
  • More affordable than the EF 400 mm and EF 70-300 mm
  • No Flare
  • Very low distortion
  • Well-priced
Cons
  • NONE

6. Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens

Specs

  • Focal Length: 400 mm
  • Size: 6.42 x 13.5″ / 163 x 343 mm
  • Weight: 6.25 lb / 2840 g
  • Sensor Type: Full-frame
  • Maximum Magnification: 0.17x
  • Image Stabilization: Yes
  • Minimum Aperture: f/32
  • Maximum Aperture: f/2.8
  • Autofocus: Yes
  • Best for: Indoor; Outdoor Sports

Serious photographers and professionals know this: the EF 400mm is the most advanced and INCREDIBLE sports lens. The 400 mm prime lens features:

  • Superb image quality
  • Wide-angled shots
  • Amazing zoom magnification at 0.17x

Thanks to its large focal length, the lenses always deliver phenomenal images.

What’s more, what makes it the best among Canon’s sports lenses is that it comes with accurate and high-speed autofocus―the perfect match for shooting fast-moving objects.

The 400 mm is one of the brand’s most state-of-the-art prime lens and zoom lens.

For photography dummies, this only means that the lenses can take sharp images at low light settings and from a far distance―great for covering many indoor sporting events and outdoors.

The powerful combination puts the subject and the background at arm’s length and brings immediacy to every shot, so you don’t miss out on anything!

Besides that, it also has a strong background blur feature that lets you focus despite the distracting sports venue backgrounds. Isn’t that cool?

Worth the Price?

Is it worth the hype? Without a doubt.

The Canon 400mm is great if you can get past its hefty price tag.

Because it’s easily one of the best telephoto lenses in the market, it doesn’t come cheap―at $11,000. Those are some serious bucks!

BUT it is the go-to lens of many photographers for professional sports shots.

Pros
  • Precise and fast AF
  • Background blur
  • Longest telephoto focal lengths from Canon
  • Weather-sealed camera body
  • For professional use
Cons
  • Expensive
  • Fixed focal length
  • Heaviest on the list

7. Canon 135mm f/2L USM

Specs

  • Focal Length: 135mm
  • Size: 3.25 x 4.41″ / 82.5 x 112 mm
  • Weight: 1.65 lb / 750 g
  • Sensor Type: Full-Frame
  • Maximum Magnification: 0.2x
  • Image Stabilization: No
  • Minimum Aperture: f/32
  • Maximum Aperture: f/2
  • Autofocus: Yes
  • Best for: Indoor Sports
  • SRP: $999.99

What may work for outdoor sports participants may not exactly apply to indoor sports photography.

Because there’s less space to cover and less light available indoors, you’ll need to use an indoor sports lens that uses lower aperture lenses. Enter the Canon 135mm.

Key Factors for a Successful Indoor Sports Shoot

While it’s not as popular as other Canon lenses lineups, the Canon 135 mm is a highly underrated smooth sharpshooter.

The autofocus of this lens is both quick and accuratesmooth like butter, as BTS would say.

Although the 135mm focal length is a few millimeters smaller than the standard 200 mm telephoto lens, it’s long enough for you to take impressive snaps from the farthest bleachers of the court.

Another thing is that it comes with a Focus Limiter Switch, preventing the camera from accidentally switching AF/MF modes. A pretty handy feature that allows for even faster-focusing speed.

The only letdown the 135 mm has is its lack of image stabilization and weather-sealing. BUT, enough of that.

For many photographers, the 135 mm is only the best Canon indoor sports lenses available at such a sweet deal!

Pros
  • Affordable
  • Focus Limiter Switch
  • Fast & Accurate Autofocus
  • Great Image Quality
  • Budget-Friendly
  • Best for indoor sports photography
Cons
  • No image stabilization
  • No weather-sealing
  • Minor purple and green fringing in wide lens settings

A Buying Guide to Sports Lenses: A Complete Checklist of What to Look For

Wide-angle lens, zoom lens, telephoto lens, tilt-shift lens, macro lens… You name it, and Canon has it!

Having too many options can be confusing, which is why we, your camera experts, compiled a checklist. Here are all the tips and tricks to know what kind of lens you’ll need for sports photography.

Fast Lens

Since shooting sports is an action-packed adventure, you’ll need fast lenses to freeze the moment.

The rule of thumb is the lower the aperture, the faster the lens is and the better the shutter speed is. Today, the lowest and the best aperture is the f/2.5.

Autofocus

Having fast autofocus is a must. One of the things you should look for in Canon lenses is the Ultra Sonic Motor (USM) indicator.

USM lenses have a huge advantage over standard lenses because it allows faster and more accurate autofocus function.

Focal Length

Every lens has its own focal length or magnification number indicated. The HIGHER the focal length, the HIGHER the magnification, bringing you CLOSER to your subject.

However, it’s also important to check if your camera has a crop factor. It trims out the frame’s edges and increases your focal length.

A  camera with a 1.6 crop factor and a fixed focal length lens of 300mm results in a BETTER field view than a 400mm would.

Image Stabilization

You need lenses that come with image stabilization to help prevent camera shake, especially when taking fast-moving objects in low-light situations.

If the lenses do not come with image stabilization, you can always bring a tripod with you―a minor inconvenience. 

Zoom Lens vs. Prime Lens: Which Is Best For Sports Photography?

  • Prime lenses are lenses that only have one focal length. They don’t allow you to zoom in closely on your subject.
  • Zoom lenses offer a variety of focal lengths and great versatility.

So is a zoom lens better?

Not necessarily!

The zoom lens offers sharper images, lower apertures, and better background blurs compared to its rival.

Neither lens is better than the other when it comes to sports photography. It all boils down to your budget and the kind of shoot you’ll have.

If you want a lens that’ll 100% work on shooting sports, then your best bet is to look for Canon’s telephoto lenses and telephoto zoom, such as the EF 400mm and the EF 70-200mm.

A Recap of the Top Picks

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens: Best Overall

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens is our BEST OVERALL, and rightfully so!

With its wide focal range, image stablilzation, and a great autofocus performance this Premium lens will get you covered.

It also comes with new technology for inner focusing AF system, that will give you fast and accurate focus down to 3.2 ft. with a .31x maximum magnification.

Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8l II USM Lens: Best Value

If you need a camera lens that offers high value for money, Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8l II USM Lens should be your BEST BET!

A super spectra coating protection and high-performance shutter speeds result in AMAZING SHOTS whether you’re indoors or outdoors.

Low-lighting won’t get in the way of this HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION!

Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens: Best Budget Pick

Looking for a budget-friendly lens that still gets the job done? Look no further by checking out the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens.

The lightweight composition, expandable range, and UID features have this lens in a league of its own.

Conclusion

You’ll need the right lenses by your side whether you’re covering indoor sports events or outdoor sports events.

Sports photography is fast-paced, so you don’t get to have any do-overs. We hope that BOTH our top choices and the complete buying guide shed light on everything you need to know about sports photography.

Please Share The Love!

If you found this post useful, please let others know about it by sharing it.

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on pinterest
Pinterest