Sports photography is a true test for cameras. Perhaps more than any photo discipline, shooting sports photography leaves you little opportunity for a second chance and demands that your camera works at peak efficiency. I’ll save the classic caveat that you can shoot any subject with any camera for another article, and while I encourage all photographers to start with the camera they have, there should be little argument that cameras with a fast burst rate, good buffer depth, fast and accurate autofocus, a compatible lineup of telephoto lenses, and a durable build are the best cameras for sports photography and normally those features come at a cost. Let’s have a brief look at five cameras from five manufacturers that are best suited for sports photography.
The Sony Alpha a9 II Mirrorless Digital Camera has been a recent favorite for sports photographers, but the release of the Sony Alpha 1 Mirrorless Digital Camera changed all that. Sony is willing to call this camera its flagship “do it all” camera, and its specs bear that out. A 50MP full-frame sensor, expansive ISO range, and up to 30 fps continuous shooting with the electronic shutter are instant draws, but speeds of 10 fps with an improved mechanical shutter and a large buffer memory permit recording up to 155 compressed raw frames, or 165 JPEGs in one single burst, thanks to the BIONX XR processor. It also offers a “blackout-free viewfinder experience” and an impressive Fast Hybrid AF system that incorporates 759 phase-detection points along with 425 contrast-detection areas and Eye-AF for quick and precise focusing. Five-axis image stabilization, top-notch video specs, dual card slot with SD and CFexpress Type A, and a robust, weather-sealed build are just a few other important features, and while not yet the equal to Nikon or Canon, Sony’s lens system provides a range of stellar telephotos and pro zooms.
Canon sports photographers may have a dilemma if they are interested in the still-new EOS R system cameras and lenses, which have been lauded by the action and wildlife photography community; the go-to for sports should still be considered the Canon EOS 1D X Mark III DSLR Camera. Built for speed, accuracy, and rugged performance, this latest EOS 1D X features a 20.1MP full-frame CMOS sensor and updated DIGIC X image processor. The camera is capable of continuous shooting rates up to 16 fps with the optical viewfinder or 20 fps in live view, with a 1,000-shot buffer when shooting raw+JPEG. Its EOS iTR AF X autofocus system uses 191 points (155 cross-type points) to acquire focus quickly and accurately and also utilizes Deep Learning Technology to enable tracking capabilities, such as Head and Face Detection. Dual CFexpress memory slots and a range of connectivity options, from Wi-Fi to an Ethernet port, will get images from camera to editor quickly. Durability and lens options are no concern with Canon.
Having introduced full-frame cameras with its L-mount in 2018, Panasonic now offers three full-frame models. The 47MP Panasonic Lumix DC-S1R might seem like the natural first choice, but in this case, consider the more affordable 24MP Lumix DC-S1 Mirrorless Digital Camera. Not only are you saving a little money, but (as with the Sony Alpha 1) do you really need 47MP for sports photography? Especially when considering that the S1 offers up to 9 fps with a much deeper buffering capability. In other words, you can shoot more images faster with the S1. It also offers burst modes in video mode, enabling electronic shutter speeds up to 30 fps at 18MP and even a “pre-burst” capture mode. Dual memory card slots—one CFexpress Type B/XQD slot and one SD UHS-II compatible slot—offer improved flexibility for image storage. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are featured and a magnesium chassis and weather sealing provide confidence in rough conditions, and because this camera is part of the L-Mount Alliance, a range of lenses from Sigma, Leica, Panasonic, and others are compatible.
The Olympus OM-D E-M1X Mirrorless Digital Camera brings with it a 20.4MP Micro Four Thirds sensor, and the sensor and processor combination enables full-resolution continuous shooting of 15 fps for up to 103 consecutive RAW files when working with the mechanical shutter. When shooting with the silent electronic shutter, this shooting rate can be boosted up to 60 fps with single-shot AF for up to 49 consecutive raw frames or 18 fps shooting with continuous AF for up to 74 consecutive raw frames. Speed is not a problem for the E-M1X, and it has one of the best protective sealing systems available. Its advanced autofocus system combines both 121 on-chip phase-detection points and 121 contrast-detection areas for focusing performance that is both quick and accurate. All 121 phase-detection points are cross-type, too, for improved precision in mixed lighting conditions, as well as enhanced subject tracking capabilities. Dual SD card slots, an integrated vertical grip with dual battery compartment, 5-axis image stabilization, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and the Built-in Field Sensor System round out its sports-friendly features.
If you are a Nikon shooter, you are in a similar situation as a Canon sports photographer: Do you make the switch to its mirrorless Z system or work with what is still the company’s flagship camera and still the strongest option for sports photography, the Nikon D6 DSLR Camera? The D6 is really everything you want in a sports photography camera and, of course, Nikon has all the lenses to go with it. The camera is built around a 20.8MP FX-format sensor and an EXPEED 6 image processor that enables an impressive 14 fps continuous shooting rate with a native sensitivity range of ISO 100-102400. Its revised high-density Multi-CAM 37K autofocus system features 105 cross-type points for precise and fast focus, and 17 custom Group Area AF settings can be used to set and maintain focus on subjects that move fast. Configured with two CFexpress Type B/XQD memory card slots, its body design also incorporates a vertical grip, a very durable magnesium-alloy chassis, and weather sealing. Wi-Fi is incorporated and the built-in wired LAN function of 1000 Base-T (Gigabit) standard enables high-speed, seamless transferring of images.
Do you have a favorite among these cameras? Tell us which one, and why, in the Comments section, below.
For more sports-related news, tips, and reviews, be sure to check out the Sports Photography section of B&H Explora.