4 Best Lenses for Indoor Sports Photography

While all the best sports photography lenses have some traits in common, you’ll find that the requirements for an excellent indoor and outdoor sports lens are a bit different. And if you’re mainly planning on shooting indoor sports, buying the right lens is important.

I’m Caleb, and I have five years of experience with sports photography. I’ve shot many sports and events, including indoor ones like basketball, boxing, and wrestling.

In this article, I’ll go over what to look for in an indoor sports lens and which ones are the best on the market. I’ll cover lenses for various uses, so you’ll almost certainly find one that fits your photography style.

Key Takeaways

What Type of Lens Do I Need for Sports Photography?

Whether you’re shooting indoor or outdoor sports, you’ll need a lens with the right range for the sport you’re shooting and a wide maximum aperture.

With indoor sports photography, where the lighting conditions are often not optimal, it’s important to have your aperture as wide as possible. You might also want to avoid pushing the shutter speed higher than you need to, as this will help prevent underexposure.

Yes. In fact, 300mm is more than enough for shooting most indoor sports, and depending on your position in the venue, it might give you too much range.

What Makes The Best Lens for Indoor Sports Photography

Here are some things to consider when comparing lenses for indoor sports photography.

  • Range: Consider the range of your lens. You’ll shoot from relatively close to the playing area in many indoor sports. In these cases, you don’t want a lens where the minimum focal range is too far out.
  • Max Aperture: Like shooting outdoor sports, it’s essential to have a wide maximum aperture. F/2.8 is ideal. This is even more important for indoor sports because it will help deal with the lower lighting level.
  • Autofocus: If your lens has poor autofocus performance, you won’t be able to take full advantage of your camera’s autofocus capabilities. 
  • Size: You won’t have room to bring a monopod at many indoor venues. Your lens should be small and light enough to hold and carry around without external equipment.

The 4 Best Lenses For Indoor Sports Photography

In my opinion, these are the best four lenses to have if you’re shooting indoor sports photography. I’ve included lenses from both Canon and Nikon here since both brands make some of the best cameras and lenses for this kind of thing.

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

  • Range: 70-200mm
  • Maximum Aperture: f/2.8
  • Mount: Canon EF

Canon’s 70-200mm line has been a staple for a long time, and the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM doesn’t disappoint compared to previous versions. This one is just as sharp as its predecessors, delivering the kind of clarity that sports photographers look for.

Like its predecessors, the build quality is also pretty high. It’s a durable lens without being so large that it’s awkward to carry, and the section of the body between the zoom and focus rings has well-placed switches to toggle options like stabilization.

One of the brand new features here is the fluorine coating of the lens elements, which protects them further and prevents smudging.

Finally, it’s worth pointing out that this lens has image stabilization, which is what the ‘IS’ in the name stands for. Not every sports photographer uses stabilization, but it could be useful depending on your photography style.

There are a couple of noticeable downsides. The first is the vignetting when shooting at f/2.8, an aperture setting on which you’ll probably spend a lot of time. The downside is the similarity to previous models. You can get similar performance from this lens’ predecessor.

My Verdict: Despite being similar to its predecessors, the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM’s versatility, and better protection make it a worthwhile buy for indoor sports photographers.

2. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8E ED VR USM (Best For Nikon)

  • Range: 70-200mm
  • Maximum Aperture: f/2.8
  • Mount: Nikon F

The Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8E ED VR USM is Nikon’s counterpart to the Canon 70-200mm lens, and it brings just as much sharpness when shooting at its max aperture of f/2.8.

The build quality is also high-class. It’s made from a combination of metal and hard plastic, and while environmental sealing isn’t that important for indoor photographers, it does have protection from dust and moisture.

The ‘VR’ in the title stands for vibration reduction, which is Nikon’s equivalent to Canon’s image stabilization. This lens’ stabilization system is noteworthy for having a dedicated sports mode and for reducing camera shake by up to four stops of shutter speed.

Additionally, its autofocus has smooth and fast performance, a major plus when using the lens with Nikon’s high-end full-frame cameras.

The lens doesn’t really have any major negatives. However, its price can make it inaccessible to some photographers. Out of the 70-200mm lenses on the market right now, this one from Nikon is the most expensive offering.

My Verdict: The Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8E ED VR can go toe to toe with any other 70-200mm lens on the market, making it an ideal option for any sports photographer with a Nikon camera.

3. Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR (Best For Short Ranges)

  • Range: 24-70mm
  • Maximum Aperture: f/2.8
  • Mount: Nikon F

Everyone needs a lens for capturing closer action, and the Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR makes a wonderful choice for that role. Like its larger 70-200mm counterpart, it holds in the sharpness area and won’t leave you wanting for image quality.

This one is larger than most of the other similar lenses out there. In fact, it’s one of the largest 24-70mm lenses you can get. Some might consider this a con since it means increased weight, but it does make the lens sturdier and more durable.

Obviously, a 24-70mm lens is a very versatile one that you can use beyond just shooting sports. It’s arguably the most versatile lens on this list, making it good if you like dipping into other fields like wedding or event photography.

It has the same image stabilization technology as Nikon’s 70-200mm lens, meaning you can reduce image shake by up to four stops.

As for cons, the lens is an expensive one for this range. While the build quality is high and the size makes it more durable, its heavier weight compared to a more compact lens could be another downside for some users.

My Verdict: If you’re looking for a lens to shoot closer action, the Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR stands out as a top option right now.

4. Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM II (Best Super-Telephoto)

  • Range: 300mm
  • Maximum Aperture: f/2.8
  • Mount: Canon EF

You don’t usually need a super-telephoto lens to shoot indoor sports, but the Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM II is a good choice if you go in that direction. It brings excellent visual quality to the table and is not so large that you can’t use it comfortably without a monopod.

While many super-telephoto lenses have narrower maximum apertures, like f/4 or f/5, this one is well-suited to sports photography because of its max aperture of f/2.8.

Its autofocus performance is also worth praising, making this lens an excellent compliment to Canon’s newer full-frame bodies and their array of focus modes.

Like the other lenses on this list, this one has image stabilization. It has multiple modes for shooting in different situations, which is always a plus for stabilization.

There is a downside to using this one for sports, however. Given that it’s a fixed range lens, you might have a more challenging time tracking moving subjects and getting more varied shots.

My Verdict: The Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM II is the best option for a long-range lens at indoor sporting events.

Final Thoughts

Shooting sports indoors isn’t that different from shooting outdoors. Many requirements, like a wide maximum aperture and good autofocus, are still the same. Hopefully, you’ve figured out which indoor sports lens is best for you.

Do you have a go-to lens for shooting indoor sports? Do you think a different lens should be here? Tell us what you think in the comments.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *