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6 of the Best Nikon Lenses for Sports Photography in 2021

Best Nikon Lenses for Sports Photography

Sports fans understand how a single photograph can encapsulate a moment. Iconic photos that captured epic moments in sports history last for decades. That is why the equipment that you use to capture these moments is vital. If you photograph with a Nikon, here is a rundown of some of the best Nikon lenses for sports. 

1. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8E Fl ED VR Lens

Best All-Around Sports Lens

    Specs

  •      Focal Length: 70-200 mm
  •      Size: 88.5 x 202.5
  •      Weight: 1,430 grams
  •      Sensor-Type: Full-Frame
  •      Maximum Magnification: .21x
  •      Image Stabilization: Yes
  •      Aperture: f/2.8
  •      Autofocus: Yes

The versatility and solid performance of this lens put it at the top of this list. With built-in image stabilization and the ability to take blurred images, this lens is perfect for sports photography.

This lens provides versatility whether you are close to the action or at the top of the bleachers. The lens offers enough zoom power to get quality shots from most distances.

If you are called on to photograph a wide range of sports, this lens is ideal for indoor and outdoor photography.

The quality and built-in image stabilization make this an excellent option for serious enthusiasts or professionals.

This lens is an investment. However, its value is definitely worth the cost for those needing an adaptable sports lens for their work or hobby.

Pros

  • Excellent Sharpness
  • Image Stabilization
  • Fantastic blurred-background images.
  • Versatile for both close-range and long-distance photography.

Cons

  • Some mild distortion issues.
  • The price leans toward the expensive end.

2. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8 ED VR Lens

The Best Option for Indoor Sports

     Specs

  •      Focal Length: 24 – 70 mm
  •      Size: 88 x 154.5 mm
  •      Weight: 1,070 grams
  •      Sensor-Type: Full-frame
  •      Maximum Magnification: .27x
  •      Image Stabilization: Yes
  •      Aperture: f/2.8
  •      Autofocus: Yes

This lens is ideal for photographers looking for those wide-angle shots of entire courts or fields yet would need to get close to zoom in on the players for the action shots. It provides excellent capabilities for wide-angle and action shots, but it is limited in how far away it can shoot.

With only the 24 – 70 mm zoom capabilities, this lens is not built for far-off shots of runners, track meets or golf tournaments.

However, this lens is perfect for wide-angle fields, courts, team huddles, or team pictures.

With excellent aperture abilities, this lens is ideal for dimly lit basketball or volleyball games.

Pros

  • Good Sharpness
  • Excellent Wide Angle Capabilities
  • Bright enough aperture for dim indoor sports or night-time stadium lights.

Cons

  • On the midlevel to the expensive side of the pricing scale.
  • It is limited in its zoom capabilities.

3. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-400mm f/4G ED VR II

Best Option for Taking those Long Shots

     Specs

  •      Focal Length: 200 – 400 mm
  •      Size: 124 x 365 mm
  •      Weight: 3,360 grams
  •      Sensor-Type: Full-frame
  •      Maximum Magnification: .27x
  •      Image Stabilization: Yes
  •      Aperture: f/4
  •      Autofocus: Yes

This is the type of lens needed for those cross country runs, golf tournaments, football, and soccer games. This lens provides the capabilities to take sharp action shots from a long distance. With vibration reduction and excellent aperture through all the zoom levels, this lens is for seriously dedicated sports photographers.

This lens is for the most serious professionals and enthusiasts, and it sits firmly on the expensive end of the price scale.

But, you get a lot of bang for your buck because the capabilities and quality of this lens are astounding. Photographers will be thrilled with the sharpness of the images they shoot while zoomed to the maximum with this lens.

It may not be the most versatile or comfortable piece of equipment, but there are no better options for those needing a lens with lots of reach.

Pros

  • It takes Extremely Sharp pictures
  • Has Excellent Telephoto Reach
  • Vibration reduction system
  • Maintains f/4 aperture through maximum zoom capabilities.

Cons

  • Very Heavy
  • Very Expensive

4. Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED IF AF-S VR

Best Budget Option

     Specs

  •      Focal Length: 70 – 300 mm
  •      Size: 80 x 143.5 mm
  •      Weight: 745 grams
  •      Sensor-Type: Full-frame
  •      Maximum Magnification: .25x
  •      Image Stabilization: Yes
  •      Aperture: f/4.5-5.6
  •      Autofocus: Yes

I have showcased some medium-priced and expensive lenses, so let me showcase this Nikon 70 – 300 mm lens. While this lens is not on the same level of quality as others, it is a fantastic lens for sports photographers on a budget.

This lens has a lot of the same perks like the 70 – 200 mm lens. This lens actually can zoom even closer, making it ideal for sports where you are further from the action and still good enough for those indoor shots.

With a price well below $1,000, it is an excellent purchase as your first sports lens.

With the lower price, this lens does not have the same capabilities as others on this list. However, you will be delighted with the powers of this lens.

This lens still takes sharp pictures. However, that sharpness fades after zooming in farther than 150mm. And, there are limits to its light gathering capabilities. But, it does provide an excellent and versatile option for those less willing to make a significant investment in a lens.

Pros

  • Great Sharpness from 70 – 150 mm
  • Price is very affordable
  • Image Stabilization

Cons

  • Some Chromatic Aberration at closer zoom levels
  • Pictures soften after 150 mm.
  • Limited in light-gathering capabilities

5. Nikon AF-S Nikkor 300mm f/2.8G ED VR II

Excellent Option For Professionals

     Specs

  •      Focal Length: 300 mm
  •      Size: 124 x 267.5 mm
  •      Weight: 2,900 grams
  •      Sensor-Type: Full-frame
  •      Maximum Magnification: .16x
  •      Image Stabilization: Yes
  •      Aperture: f/2.8
  •      Autofocus: Yes

This lens covers all the bases for anyone willing to make a significant investment in sports photography. With a wide range of apertures, extremely sharp pictures, and hardly any distortions, this lens stands out for professionals.

The only downside to this lens, in reality, is the weight and the price. However, if you make your living as a sports photographer with a Nikon, you need to take a serious look at this lens.

It is priced high, so that perhaps those only looking for a quality return on their investment would probably buy this lens. It contains all the bells and whistles that Nikon can put together in a sports lens.

It is durable and made of the highest quality materials to provide an excellent user experience. Photographers will enjoy the sharpness of the pictures no matter the zoom levels.

It is an excellent lens for both indoor and outdoor sports due to the high levels of aperture that allow for a sharp image even in dim conditions.

Pros

  • Hardly any Distortion
  • Very Sharp Pictures
  • Wide Range of Aperture
  • Quality and Durability

Cons

  • It is a heavy lens.
  • It is very expensive.

6. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200mm f/2G ED VR II Lens

An All-Around Option for Professionals

     Specs

  •      Focal Length: 200 mm
  •      Size: 124 x 203 mm
  •      Weight: 2,900 grams
  •      Sensor-Type: Full-frame
  •      Maximum Magnification: .12x
  •      Image Stabilization: Yes
  •      Aperture: f/2
  •      Autofocus: Yes

The quality of the images, fast focusing, and excellent quality of this lens makes it a no-brainer for sports photography. This lens is versatile and can be used to capture images of many different sports.

One of the significant advantages of this lens is the fast focusing feature. Being able to focus and snap a shot in the heat of the moment is a must in sports photography. This rapid focusing capability of this lens makes it that much easier.

This lens is somewhat heavier, but it is durable and made of quality materials. However, photographers should be aware of the added weight.

The capabilities of this lens make it a great all-around option for a large variety of sports. And the quality of the images will make any professional gush.

All in all, this is an excellent lens for professionals or extremely serious enthusiasts.

Pros

  • Fast Focusing
  • Exceptional Performance
  • Fantastic quality and durability
  • Hardly any Chromatic Aberrations

Cons

  • This thing is expensive.
  • It is also a heavier lens that can make it uncomfortable to use for long periods.

Frequently Asked Questions

How To Choose the Best Nikon Lens for Sports

One of the most critical factors you need to know when considering a lens is what kind of sports you will be photographing. This will inform you more than anything about the type of lens you need to look into.

Some of the questions you must ask yourself are:

How close or far away to the action will I be?

Is this sport played indoors or outdoors?

Is it played at night or day?

What kind of access to the playing area will I have?

Depending on your answers to these questions, it will significantly inform what type of lens you need to purchase.

Another important aspect of sports photography is your experience. Is this a hobby or a career? How much are you willing to invest in a lens? For those who are career photographers, it may be easier to invest in a lens that costs thousands of dollars.

But for those who are looking in investing in a hobby, it may be better to look for an economical option that will meet your needs. 

Finally, if you know the types of venues you will be photographing and your budget, it is time to look into some of the more technical elements of the lens.

Things to Look for in Your Nikon Sports Lens

Zoom capability is an important feature for your sports lens. If you are going to be close to the playing surface on the sidelines where only a short distance is required to zoom in, then the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR Lens is a good option.

However, if you are going to be far away, yet you still want to zoom in and get a great close-up image of the game, something with a far more powerful zoom capability is necessary.

Another important feature for sports photography is the aperture capabilities. Sometimes the lighting at sports venues is dim. Therefore, depending on the type of venue you want to photograph, you should select a lens that will gather enough light for a quality image.

Often, action shots are desired in sports; features like vibration control and autofocus can help a photographer get a sharp image of someone in motion.

Prerequisites for a Sports Lens

Aperture is one of the crucial factors when selecting a sports lens. In essence, the lens aperture dictates how much light the lens can gather. Thus the lower the aperture the lens has in its specifications, the better.

Ideally, the aperture of f/2.8 is a desirable statistic. However, finding the camera with the lowest aperture is ideal if a lens of that capability is not in your budget.

Autofocus is another vital prerequisite of a solid sports lens. Photographers are trying to capture athletes in motion, and it isn’t easy to get a focused image manually. Ideally, your sports lens will have auto-focus capabilities.

Focusing distance is the last vital statistic to pay attention to. You want to be able to shoot sharp, tight pictures. That requires you to be able to zoom in close to the action of the sport. If you are stuck with a lens that does not allow you to get a close enough shot, you will be disappointed.

The Final Verdict

Ultimately, the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR Lens is the winner in this contest. This lens provides the ability to get tight close shots that are sharp and vivid from anywhere up close or far away. It is the best of both worlds and a fantastic lens for photographers who plan to photograph multiple sports.

Also, the specifications check all of the boxes, it has an autofocus feature, vibration control, a wide range of focusing distances, and excellent aperture statistics. While it may not be a perfect lens, it provides a lot of value and versatility.

While the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm is not the cheapest lens, it provides professional-quality capabilities for a much cheaper price than some of the other pro-rated lenses. This is a lens that can save you thousands of dollars and create comparable images to some of those other lenses. 

Ultimately, the capabilities linked with the much lower cost put this lens over the top in my eyes. But, here are some of the honorable mentions.

Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED IF AF-S VR

There is a lot to like about this lens, first and foremost, the price is excellent. While not on the same level of quality as the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm, this cheaper model does have many of the same capabilities. It can be versatile and provide the ability to photograph many different sports. 

The only downside is that the images will not be on the same level as some of the other lenses on this list. But, for those of you looking for a quality lens on a budget, this is a fantastic option. 

I have one more honorable mention to give some love. 

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8 ED VR Lens

This lens nearly took the cake for me, but the one area that it lacked in was versatility. This is not a one size fits all sports lens. But, for those of you not interested in extreme zoom capabilities, this lens is golden. It is in the middle range regarding price, and it has some awesome abilities for closer indoor sports. 

Also, the wide-angle shots that this lens is capable of sets it apart from many of the other lenses on this list. You may be interested in more team huddle shots, or wide-angle shots of the field or court. If you know you do not need the crazy zoom capabilities of some of those other lenses, then this is the sports lens for you.

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