Best Lens for Sports Photography for Canon

Last Updated on March 16, 2021

Are you looking for the best Canon lens for sports photography?

Sports photography is a fast paced and exciting style. Whether you are shooting soccer, football, hockey, racing, baseball, tennis or any other sport, having a high quality lens will take your shots to the next level.

sports photographer

I love shooting with my Canon and I’ve photographed a lot of sporting events. Some of my favorites have been volleyball, track and field, golf, and even equestrian and snowboarding events. And in that time I have used many different sports lenses. And after reading this article you will know the top Canon sports photography lens picks.

Best Canon Lens for Sports Photography

Professional sports photographers require the top lenses in order to capture epic action shots. One of the most important aspects of a sport lens is the shutter speed. Fast shutter speeds are needed for capturing the action shots found at sporting events.

Often times you will need a shutter speed of at least 1/500 of a second. And depending on how fast your subjects are moving you may need to be able to shoot much faster.

When I am shooting hockey or soccer, for example, I often use a shutter speed of 1/1250. To attain these speeds a lens must have a wide aperture. And because most sporting events occur outdoor in bright conditions a fast and wide aperture is definitely the way to go. A top sports lens will allow your Canon camera to capture fast moving subjects with fast shutter speed and low ISO settings for the best possible image quality.

Here are the top lenses that fit the specific needs of a sports photographer.

Top Professional Canon Sports Lenses

These lenses are truly the best of the best for sports photography. They offer no compromise in performance and come with a higher price tag. If you are searching for the top performing lenses the following recommendations are for you. Remember that these lenses not only perform at the highest level, they also have historically maintained a high resale value. If you are looking for entry level recommendation skip ahead to the budget friendly picks.

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L is USM II Super Telephoto Lens

There are a number of great sports lenses for Canon that you will find in this list but the overall number one pick is the Canon 400 f/2.8L IS II. This lens offers truly amazing image quality and an incredibly fast and accurate autofocus (AF). Your images will have a beautiful background blur that is ideal for professional sports images. This sporting lens is weatherproof which is essential for shooting outdoor sporting events and it boasts an impressive build quality making it a durable and high performing lens. At f/2.8 this is the longest focal length for this aperture on the market. If you want the top performing professional Canon sports lens this is the one for you. It’s performance will not disappoint.

  • Impressive performance and image quality
  • Weatherproof and high build quality
  • Top overall Canon lens for sports photography
  • Premium price point

Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS USM Super Telephoto Lens

If you need more range than the 400mm f2.8L then this lens will get you the shots you are after. If shooting a large stadium or venue this lens is an impressive model. Whether you have to set up further from the action or want a further vantage point to get the shot this lens is up to the task. The build quality on this lens is impressive. It offers a high performing fast and accurate autofocus. You will produce true pro quality images and the APS-C format provides a long focal length.

  • Top sport lens for long distance shots
  • Excellent image quality throughout zoom range
  • Canon’s advanced autofocus is smooth and accurate
  • Long focal length

Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM II Super Telephoto Lens

If you do not need quite as much focal length but still demand top quality images this is the right lens for your Canon. The 300mm f/2.8L IS II offers incredible image quality throughout it’s focal range. It is smaller and more lightweight than the lenses above making it much easier to shoot and travel with. This lens is also compatible with extenders if you end up needing more range in the future. This lens offers exceptional autofocus performance. It is fast and smooth providing accurate focus on the fly. With the highest build quality, this lens turns out to be a serious lens for the professional sports photographer.

  • Exceptional image quality
  • Smaller and more lightweight than the above lenses
  • Autofocus is fast and accurate
  • Best image quality at this focal length

Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM Lens

The 500mm f/4L IS II offers excellent focal range while being lighter and lower cost than the 600mm version. With almost as much range as the 600mm this is a great value lens. This lens is also a great option for those who shoot in hand. With it’s lighter weight it is much easier to shoot without a tripod. The overall performance and image quality is jaw dropping and this lens will not disappoint.

  • Exceptional image quality
  • AF is smooth and accurate
  • Ideal for hand held shooting or tripod use
  • Excellent value considering performance

Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II USM Lens

This is the best sporting lens for those who need a 400mm focal length and an aperture of f/4. This lens offers excellent performance and image quality. I’ve taken some of my favorite shots with this exact lens and it has never let me down. It is relatively lightweight making it a great lens for shooting in hand and pairs perfectly with APS-C Canon bodies. This is one of my all time favorite sport lenses.

  • Best 400mm f/4 Canon sport lens
  • Incredible image quality
  • Autofocus is fast and accurate
  • Excellent value and performance

Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 Sports Lens for Canon

This is a great sports lens for closer action shots. The 120-300mm focal length is great for most medium to small arenas and fields. This lens performs well under most lighting conditions making it a very versatile sports lens. The autofocus on this lens is not as fast as the picks above but it is still fast enough for most sporting events. With a professional build quality this lens is made to last and offer years of high quality images.

  • Top quality sports lens for medium to small sporting venues
  • Excellent image quality
  • Performs well in most lighting conditions
  • Autofocus not as fast as the above picks

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Telephoto Zoom Lens

This is another great lens option for medium and small sporting events. This lens is great for local and amateur sports that allow you closer to the action. This lens produces excellent image quality throughout it’s zoom range. This lens works great in hand or on a monopod. It is very versatile and will make it much easier to capture high quality action shots. This lens is very popular with professional sports photographers and for good reason.

  • Popular Canon sports lens
  • Perfect for shooting close to the action
  • Works well in hand or on a monopod
  • Excellent image quality and value

Top Budget Friendly Canon Sports Lenses

If you are just starting out or are looking for a top performing lens at a lower price point then the following sport lenses are exactly what you are looking for.

Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary Lens for Canon

This lens from Sigma is an exceptional budget friendly sports lens. The 100-400mm focal length is perfect for a range of distances making this a versatile lens. It provides great image quality throughout it’s focal range. The aperture on this lens is not as wide as the pro models and it does not have a tripod foot but those are the only areas of compromise.

  • Excellent image quality and performance
  • Top budget friendly sporting lens
  • No tripod foot
  • Excellent value

Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM Super Telephoto Lens

This is a great lower price point lens with a long 400mm focal length. This lens offers a fast and accurate autofocus to help you take awesome shots. And speaking of shots, this lens provides excellent image quality. This lens is best suited for daylight shooting as the f/5.6 aperture is not ideal for low light shooting. It does not come equipped with image stabilization but it can be added if you want.

  • Long focal length
  • Excellent image quality
  • Ideal for daytime sporting events
  • Does not come with image stabilization

Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS USM Telephoto Fixed Lens

This is an excellent lens ready for shooting most arena sizes. It is relatively lightweight and easy to shoot in hand. The f/4 aperture can handle most lighting conditions, but it is not suited for night time shooting. This lens offers decent image stabilization technology to help you maintain crisp images. And the overall image quality is quite good for this price point. The lens offers smooth and accurate autofocus as well. This is a great low cost sports lens for EOS Canon cameras.

  • Top low cost sports lens for Canon EOS
  • Good for most lighting conditions
  • Not ideal for night shooting
  • Excellent value

Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 is II USM Lens

This is a very versatile sports lens. You will be able to get close to the action with this 70-300mm telephoto zoom lens. It offers an excellent zoom range with a fast and nearly silent autofocus. As a matter of fact, this is the fastest autofocus in the budget friendly lens list. This allows you to capture more great shots without missing any of the action waiting for your AF to catch up. Featuring a lens information display screen, this lens allows you to check your focal length, focus distance, and depth of field on the fly. It also offers excellent image stabilization performance for when shooting without a tripod. Overall this is a top performing sports lens at a very reasonable price point.

  • Top sports lens for Canon APS-C and full frame cameras
  • Fast and smooth autofocus
  • Excellent image quality
  • Image stabilization

Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L is II USM Lens

This is a great lower cost alternative to the Canon 70-200 f/2.8L IS II. This lens is lightweight and easy to shoot with in hand. It comes in at a very reasonable price for the performance you get. This lens is a great daytime sports option but not ideal for low light settings. When used in the right lighting this lens offers truly professional image quality. With it’s lightweight build and excellent performance this is a great sporting lens for beginner and intermediate photographers.

  • Excellent image quality
  • Ideal for shooting daytime sporting events
  • Great build quality
  • Excellent value

For more photography guides and tips read these articles

Sport Lens Features to Look For

man photographing sporting event

If you are shooting an outside game or event and the sun is obscured by clouds or drops below the horizon you will want an aperture no smaller than f/2.8. If you are shooting at night with the stadium lights on you will want an aperture wider than f/2.8.

You will also need to make sure that your lens’s focal length is adequate for the distance you are shooting from. When photographing sporting events you will have to be prepared for a wide range of shooting distances.

If you have ever watched pro sports photographers you probably noticed that they carry multiple lenses all setup and ready to go. This is because for large venues multiple lenses are needed to capture all the action on the field. This allows the photographer to have a wide range of views and perspectives on the action. Because of aperture limitations, most lenses with focal lengths beyonnd 200mm come with a fixed focal length meaning that often times more than one lens is needed to cover all potential shooting distances.

Sports lens Focal Length Suggestions

When shooting large arenas, such as professional soccer, footbal and baseball, you will likely need a 400-600mm focal length lens.

If you are shooting medium sized fields like a track and field venue, then a 24-400mm lens is likely to cover your needs. The specific focal range depends on how close to the action you shoot from. If you can be right next to the action a shorter focal length is sufficient but if you are shooting from the stands a longer focal length is required.

Using an Autofocus lens in Sports Photography

You will find that the quality of the autofocus of a lens plays a huge role in how much it costs. Only the best performing lenses can focus in on a fast moving subject that is moving directly toward or away from you, while most autofocus systems can handle moving subjects that are traveling perpendicular to your shooting vantage. If you are planning to get the former type of shots a professional quality lens will be required.

Other Sports Lens Features

Image stabilization can help when shooting sports photography, but it is not always a requirement. It comes in handy when shooting in hand pictures but shutter speed is usually fast enough in sports photography to eliminate image shake without image stabilization being needed.

IS lenses are great for sports photography as they have a panning stabilization mode that is great for shooting action packed sporting events. IS is a very popular feature for photographers who shoot motorsports as it helps capture the motion and speed of a race. These lenses can keep the subject clear while producing an awesome blurred background.

If your lens has IS and you are not shooting motorsports it is generally advised to turn the IS mode off as it is not beneficial for most field sports. The one exception is if you have a lens with mode 3 IS. This mode only initiates the IS when the shutter release is half pressed and it does not stabilize the image until the shutter is fully released.