4 Best Canon Lenses for Sports Photography

Canon makes a lot of high-quality lenses, including some that are great for sports photography. But thanks to their extensive range, figuring out which is best for your specific needs can be confusing.

My name is Caleb, and I have five years of experience with sports photography. I’ve worked with Canon gear and shot several sports across multiple levels ranging from college to semi-pro.

In this article, I’ll go over the four best Canon lenses for sports photography and what kind of photographer each is best for. If you’re a Canon photographer looking to start shooting sports, or if you’re making the switch to Canon, keep reading for the full explanation.

Key Takeaways

  • In sports photography, the maximum aperture is the most important spec for a lens. A wide maximum aperture allows you to shoot better in low light, blur out distracting background elements, and freeze the action.
  • For many sports, an intermediate-range lens such as the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III will have the most versatility.
  • It’s also a good idea to have a shorter-range lens, like the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II. This is especially true for sports like basketball, which have a smaller playing area.
  • Super-telephoto lenses like the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III are excellent for large field sports like football, as well as sports like racing, where photos are taken from further away.
What Is The Best Canon Lens To Use For Sports Photography?

Largely, that depends on the sport you plan on shooting. Each lens is suited to different situations. However, if you can only buy one lens, the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 lens or any of its variations are probably the most versatile.

Is 200mm Enough For Sports?

Once again, this depends on the sport. 200mm is enough range to cover most sports at a basic level, but you might need more range to get shots when the athletes are further away. For some sports, 200mm is actually too much range.

What Lens Do NFL Photographers Use?

There’s no specific lens that NFL photographers use. There are a lot of lenses that can get the job done, and most NFL photographers use multiple camera bodies and lenses to ensure they can catch the action no matter the situation.

Do Sports Photographers Prefer Canon?

Professional sports photographers use both Canon and Nikon. The question of which company is better mainly comes down to personal preference, and some sports photographers even use cameras from both brands.

What Makes The Best Lens for Sports Photography

Here are some things to consider when looking for a sports photography lens.

  • Maximum Aperture: If you could only consider one spec, it should be this one. A wide max aperture comes with many benefits, such as better low-light performance and stopping the action to get non-blurry shots.
  • Range: Before buying a lens, you should know the best focal range for the sport you’re shooting. For example, you wouldn’t want to bring a 400mm lens to a basketball game where you’re shooting courtside.
  • Mount: You should always consider what mount a lens is designed for. If you buy a lens for the wrong mount, it won’t work with your camera. Some third-party lenses have multiple versions for different mounts, so always double-check.
  • Autofocus: To take advantage of a camera with a good autofocus system, you’ll also need a lens with similar performance in this area. This is particularly important for shooting sports because your focus constantly changes to follow subjects.

The 4 Best Canon Lenses for Sports Photography

In my opinion, these are the best lenses that Canon makes right now for sports photography. Each of these lenses covers a distinct range; if you have all of them, you’ll easily be able to cover any situation in just about any sport.

1. Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM (Best Overall)

  • Max Aperture: f/2.8
  • Focal Length: 70-200mm
  • Mount: EF

The big draw to this lens is its versatility. With the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III lens, you can cover most sports without worrying much about range. The focal length of this lens covers most intermediate shots, not leaving you with too much or too little range.

Just like its predecessors, the build quality of this lens is excellent. It’s sturdy enough to handle getting bumped around and has weather sealing to protect against dust or moisture. If you shoot outdoor sports, that can obviously be a pretty big plus.

With the f/2.8 maximum aperture, you won’t have a problem getting sharp shots out of this lens. Most sports photographers use this lens for the combination of range and sharpness, which holds up well in this area.

The ‘IS’ in the title denotes image stabilization. While some will choose to not use this to avoid slowing down their shots, it does include multiple modes to choose the type of stabilization if you decide to use it.

The main con that stands out for this lens is its similarity to Canon’s previous 70-200mm designs. While this lens is nice, you can get similar performance for a lower price by simply getting its predecessor instead.

My Verdict: The Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III is a great choice for any sports photographer, thanks to its versatility and sharpness. However, it’s pretty similar to previous versions.

2. Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM (Best Close-Range)

  • Max Aperture: f/2.8
  • Focal Length: 24-70mm
  • Mount: EF

Like with the first lens on this list, a major draw to the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II is its range. This is one of Canon’s best-selling ‘general purpose’ lenses because of its high-quality coverage of the 24-70mm range, which is useful to any photographer.

The lens was designed with professional use in mind, and that includes sports photographers. The great autofocus quality is useful when shooting sports, even if this one is more limited in its role compared to a 70-200mm lens.

This one also has good flare resistance, and if you’ve ever shot an outdoor sport while facing the sun in the afternoon, you’ll know why that’s important.

It also has weather sealing, just like its larger 70-200mm counterpart. Basically, this is a good one to bring along if you’re shooting outdoors, especially if you’re shooting a messier ‘niche’ sport.

The lens does have a big con, but that’s a lower image quality towards the shorter end of the focal range. It’s a bit disappointing, considering the high price of this one for a lens that covers an ‘average’ focal range.

My Verdict: The Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II is an excellent lens for shooting sports like boxing or basketball, where you’re close to the action. It’s also an excellent lens for a second camera to catch things that are too close to your primary lens.

3. Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM (Best For Mirrorless)

  • Max Aperture: f/2.8
  • Focal Length: 70-200mm
  • Mount: RF

The Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM is, basically, the mirrorless version of the first lens on this list. As such, the main advantage of that lens, the range, also applies here.

However, the two lenses aren’t exactly the same. As a mirrorless lens, this one is smaller by a decent margin. If you hate lugging around a large and heavy full-frame camera and lens, going mirrorless and picking up this one might be a good choice for you.

The image quality from this lens is also great. While you could say that about any of the lenses on this list, this one stands out more. After all, it looks like Canon wants this to be one of their flagship RF mount lenses.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that even though this one is smaller, it’s still built like a tank and has the same kind of sealing and protection that the EF mount model features.

If you’re considering making the jump to mirrorless and getting this one, you’ll have to pay up. Its biggest downside is arguably its price, as Canon has priced it very high for a lens of this type.

My Verdict: The Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM is the best RF mount lens in Canon’s current range and is a must-have for mirrorless sports photography. However, as of now, the price is a bit high.

4. Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM (Best Super-Telephoto)

  • Max Aperture: f/2.8
  • Focal Length: 400mm
  • Mount: EF

The Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM is by far the most expensive lens on the list, but the high price may be worth considering its inherent advantages. If you have this lens, you’ll be able to get shots other photographers simply can’t because of the distance involved.

One of the selling points of this lens is that for the range you’re getting, it’s relatively lightweight. It comes in at around 6.6 pounds, which isn’t great for small cameras, but it is still light enough to use without a monopod.

The autofocus is on the fast end, which fits the bill for the professional market that this lens is targeting. It also comes with image stabilization, another staple of Canon’s more professional lenses.

The build quality is good, using magnesium alloy in its construction, and this one obviously comes with all the same sealing and protection that you’d expect from a lens of its price. 

The main con here is clear: the price. As high quality as the lens is, it will only ever get used by a small subset of photographers who can afford to pay top-tier prices for the best equipment.

My Verdict: The Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM may be inaccessible due to price, but it grants unique advantages to the few photographers who use it.

Final Thoughts

Canon makes a lot of lenses, but hopefully, you now have an idea of which ones are the best for sports photographers. As you can see, most of these lenses share common traits like a wide maximum aperture.

What do you think about Canon’s products? Do you think there’s another Canon lens that belongs on this list? Let us know in the comments!

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