Looking for the best Nikon lenses for sports and action photography? Here is the buying guide for you.
For indoor sports photography, the biggest challenge we have to face is: the lighting at these events is usually dim. So an indoor sports lens needs to have a very wide aperture to enable a shutter speed fast enough to adequately stop the action, and sometimes we have to raise the ISO speed when using a f/2.8 zoom in the dimly lit arenas. So, fast f/1.4 primes and high-speed f/2.8 zooms are popular options among top pros that specialize in shooting sports indoors and at closer distances.
For outdoor sports photography, light is usually not the problem and even the f/5.6 max aperture lenses will work fine. And there is a wide range of lenses that can be used for outdoor sports and action photography.
Here we’ve compiled a list of lenses that can help you take amazing sports and action photos. Whatever camera you may have and whatever your skill level may be, you’re sure to find something here that fits your needs.
Reminder: If you are a beginer for shooting sports, a lower-cost lens may be sufficient or you can choose one that could satisfy other types of photography; If you want to shoot sharp, high-contrast or publishable sports images, the high-end lenses will meet your needs. In addition, some of these lenses below are too heavy to handhold, so you’ll also need to invest in a monopod.
Best Nikon Lenses for Sports Photography
1. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR Lens
The Ultimate Indoor Action Sports Zoom Lens
The Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR lens is an extremely impressive and one of the best zoom lenses – the 70-200mm range works well for many indoor sports purposes. This lens has very fast/accurate autofocus, superior sharpness and color correction, and it takes that legendary performance to the next level with the same jaw-dropping image quality that has made it a prized lens of pros and serious hobbyists alike. The Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E is very popular because it has the speed, reach and flexibility that many top pro sports shooters demand. This is my first choice for an indoor action zoom lens. Besides the sports photography, it is excellent for low-light, wildlife, concerts, weddings, portraits and everyday shooting!
If you can’t afford the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR, you can choose the Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 G2 or Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 instead. Both of them have 70-200mm focal length range, wide f/2.8 aperture, fast and accurate AF, excellent image quality and of course works well for many indoor sports. In addition, the price is especially attractive.
2. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR Lens
The Best Sports Lens Covering 24-70mm, Ideal Indoor Sports Lens, Wide f/2.8 Aperture, Fast and Accurate AF, Excellent Image Quality, Nicely Built
For indoor sports shooting and the closer action, the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR is an awesome choice – it is the best sports lens covering 24-70mm. The Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR improves upon nearly every aspect of its acclaimed predecessor sharpness, speed, consistency, control and durability plus Vibration Reduction image stabilization technology and the results are stunning. The f/2.8 maximum aperture is effective in low light and creates a shallow depth of field with pleasing out-of-focus highlights. It is a great choice for indoor sports photography.
If you can’t afford the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E, you can choose the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G or Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 G2 instead. Both of them are excellent lens with high action-capture performance and are popular options among top pros that specialize in shooting sports indoors and at closer distances.
3. Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Lens
High action-capture performance, Wide f/2.8 Aperture, Excellent Focal Length Range, Fast and Accurate AF, Excellent Image Quality
This lens is the first lens designed under Sigma’s new Sports line of lenses, making it well-suited for fast-moving subjects such as wildlife, nature, aviation, racing, and other similar situations. Featuring a dust- and splash-proof construction, this lens is ideally-suited for use in outdoor and adverse conditions. The Hyper Sonic AF Motor provides fast, smooth, and quiet auto focusing for faster performance that also benefits video recording. Besides sports photography, Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM sports lens is also perfect for nature shots featuring birds, wild animals and other wildlife, and for capture of aircraft, trains, racing cars and more.
4. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-400mm f/4G ED VR II Lens
Ultimate Outdoor Action Sports Zoom Lens, Versatile, Incredible Image Quality, Extremely Useful Focal Length Range, Fast / accurate AF, VR, Overall Impressive Lens
Best “Slow” Telephoto Zoom Lens! This AF-S NIKKOR 200-400mm f/4G ED VR II lens is a versatile, powerful super-telephoto zoom that’s perfect for sports and wildlife shooting, while offering a constant maximum aperture throughout the entire zoom range and VR II Image Stabilization which enables handheld shooting at up to 4 shutter speeds slower than would otherwise be possible. It can offer superior sharpness and color correction by effectively minimizing chromatic aberration, even at the widest aperture settings. The Nikon 200-400mm lens is commonly used for Sports/action, Wildlife photos and more – it is the Ultimate Outdoor Action Sports Zoom Lens.
5. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR Lens
Remarkable versatility and performance, Excellent Focal Length Range, Fast and Accurate AF, Sharp and beautiful images, VR
The ultimate medium to super-telephoto zoom lens! If you’re looking for a compact, versatile telephoto zoom lens that handles portraiture as well as it handles long-distance wildlife and action photography, look no further than the AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR. With the broadest focal length range in our super-telephoto zoom line-up, it reduces the number of lenses you need to carry into the field; and expands your handheld shooting capabilities. While the NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G is not an inexpensive lens, it is far less expensive than the f/2.8 super telephoto lens options. Remarkable versatility and performance.
6. Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports Lens
High action-capture performance, Excellent Focal Length Range, Fast and Accurate AF, Sharp Images, Nice Building Quality, OS
High action-capture performance and Dust and splash-proof construction. Boasting 2 FLD glass elements (performance equal to fluorite) and 3 SLD glass elements, the new Sigma 150-600mm Sport produces incredibly sharp images through the entire zoom range. An updated optical stabilizer (OS) features an accelerometer for improved panning photography both horizontally and vertically, essential for birding, wildlife and motorsports photography. The overall build quality and performance of this lens, including image quality and autofocus accuracy, is impressive. Ideal for Sports Typical Photography: Travel, Nature & Wildlife, Sports & Action.
7. Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 Lens
Excellent Focal Length Range, Great Image Quality, Nice Build Quality, Fast and Accurate AF
The SP 150-600mm G2 (Generation 2) ultra-telephoto lens with upgraded optical performance enables handheld shooting with remarkable definition: better overall optical performance and faster AF speed, VC enhancements, plus Euori1e Coal, FLEX ZOOM LOCK and tele converter. AF speed is significantly improved from current model, and it enables accurate high-speed focus even when capturing moving subjects. It’s perfect for both indoor and outdoor use, thanks to its moisture-resistant and durable built, leak-proof seals, and protective coating on lens surfaces.
8. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR Lens
Excellent Focal Length Range, Lightweight & Compact, Great Image Quality, Great-Value Price, Fast AF, Great Build Quality
Lightweight, compact super telephoto zoom! The Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR is an exhilarating lens option, giving enthusiast FX and DX-format photographers the ability to go further with amazing zoom power and tack-sharp clarity. This compact super-telephoto zoom is ideal for bringing distant subjects closer, including birds, sports, wildlife and motorsports. The shortcoming is the f/5.6 max aperture becomes an issue when the light gets dim and this lens will not blur the background as strongly as the f/2.8 options.
9. Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR Lens
Sports Lens for Beginners, Affordable Price, Great Focal Length Range
If you are a beginner for shooting sports and don’t want to spend too much, this DX NIKKOR 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G will be a great choice for you. It is a compact 5.5x zoom for DX-format DSLR cameras. Angle of view equivalent to a focal length of 82.5-450mm in the FX/35mm format. Ideal for capturing distant subjects at athletic events, family pictures, dramatic sunsets, travel and more.
10. Sigma 300-800mm f/5.6 EX DG APO IF HSM Autofocus Lens
The Big Bazookas, Sigmonster
Affectionately known as the “Sigmonster”, this amazing lens is ideal for nature/outdoor or sports photography. Covering the telephoto range from 300mm to the ultra-telephoto range up to 800mm, the Sigma 300-800mm f/5.6 lens employs 2 ELD glass elements to minimize chromatic aberrations and ensure sharp, hi-res images, and features am HSM motor, for fast, precise AF with full-time manual override, and has internal focusing and zooming to enhance handling. It is also possible to use this lens with Sigma 1.4x EX and 2x EX Apo Tele Converters to convert this lens into an ultra tele-zoom lens, effectively converting it into a 420-1120mm f/8 or 600-1600mm f/11 lens respectively! It weighs nearly 13 pounds, so you’ll need a tripod.
1. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR Lens
The Ultimate Sports Lens
If I was responsible for capturing an amazing image at a sporting event and had to pick one lens to do this with, the Nikon 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR would be my easy choice. This lens delivers phenomenal image quality, very fast and accurate AF, Pro-grade dust- and moisture-sealing, impressive build quality and more. Lighter and more rugged than its acclaimed predecessor, the AF-S NIKKOR 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR frees professionals and passionate shooters to capture the thrill of sports, action and wildlife with staggering clarity and precision, even when shooting handheld in challenging lighting conditions. A fast f/2.8 maximum aperture paired with Nikon VR technology delivers exciting new low-light capabilities and beautiful bokeh, while a specialized diaphragm maintains consistent exposure during high-speed shooting. The 400mm focal length works on the big field (in many situations) and its reach can be increased with extenders. This is the longest f/2.8 focal length lens available – except for Sigma’s enormous and incredibly-high-priced Sigma 200-500mm f/2.8 EX DG APO IF Autofocus Ultra-Telephoto Zoom Lens.
2. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200mm f/2G ED VR II Lens
Ultimate Low Light Sports Lens, Ideal Indoor Sports Action Prime Lens
With the longest focal length (200mm) available in an f/2 aperture, the Nikon 200mm f/2G ED VR II lens rocks indoor sports action. The upgraded AF-S NIKKOR 200mm f/2G ED VR II produces razor-sharp images under the most demanding conditions including indoor sports, concerts, theater, wildlife, portraiture and more. Its ultra-fast f/2 maximum aperture renders shallow depth-of-field with beautiful background blur (bokeh) and is ideal for photographers seeking to freeze movement with fast shutter speeds in low lighting conditions.
3. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 300mm f/2.8G ED VR II Lens
An Incredible Sports Lens
Although it is not as long in focal length as the 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR, the Nikon 300mm f/2.8G ED VR II is an incredible sports lens which is smaller, lighter and less expensive. In addition, this lens performs exceptionally well with converters – you can add a 1.4x or 2x converter if you really need the extra reach. The AF-S NIKKOR 300mm f/2.8G ED VR II super telephoto lens is built to perform even in the most difficult and demanding conditions, making it perfect for pro photographers who shoot fast-paced scenes and subjects—sports, nature and wildlife, live entertainment, and more. Professional photographers will appreciate this lens for its consistent, high-quality output, fast and accurate autofocus, and durable construction.
4. Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens
Ideal Indoor Sports lens, Great f/1.4 Aperture, Great Build Quality, Excellent Image Quality
With a maximum aperture of f/1.4, this versatile Sigma lens is an ideal indoor sports lens that definitely will help stop the action and lets you focus on a very small and shallow area while blurring the background and foreground to create that pleasing bokeh that every photographer dreams of. This Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art lens delivers excellent image quality, fast and accurate af, attractive booked effect, great build quality and it achieves an impressive 93% overall score and Gold Award from the experts at DPReview. Ideal for professional photographers and discerning photography enthusiasts for portrait photography, low-light photography, night photography, close sports photography, landscape photography, photojournalism, events, and wedding photography.
5. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G Lens
Very Good Value, Fast AF, Wide Aperture
We recommend this Nikon 85mm f/1.8G because of its great action-capture performance, f/1.8 aperture, fast and quiet autofocus, and of course its very affordable price – it is much cheaper than Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art and Nikon 85mm f/1.4G. The fast f/1.8 aperture also offers the perfect balance of subject sharpness and bokeh, that dreamy blur which separates your portrait subject from the background. Ideal for close sports, as well as portraits and everyday/casual shots.
6. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G Lens
Very Good Value, Fast AF, Wide Aperture
Another great value option just like the Nikon 85mm f/1.8G. The Nikon 50mm f/1.8G is a great sports lens for beginners and an ideal lens for close sports, as well as portraits and everyday shooting.
7. Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens
Impressive Image Quality, Great f/1.4 Aperture, Super Sharp, Beautiful Design
The Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens delivers excellent image quality at an ultra-wide aperture that will allow you to stop your low light action. With a large 1.4 aperture, the Sigma 50mm 1.4 prime lens is a pro level performer for shooting everything including portrait photography, indoor sports photography, landscape photography, studio photography and street photography. Super sharp!
Read more: Best Nikon Lenses for Wildlife Photography.