4 Best Nikon Cameras for Sports Photography

Nikon’s cameras are great for all sorts of things, including sports photography. But if you’re just getting into shooting sports, or if you haven’t even started yet, it’s probably not obvious which model you should buy.

I’m Caleb, and I have five years of experience with sports photography. As someone who has shot plenty of sports and many different events over the years, I know a bit about what to look for in a camera for shooting sports.

In this article, I’ll go over Nikon’s cameras and which ones are the best for sports. I’ll talk about which performs the best overall, and also about the ones you can get on a budget. If you’re not sure which Nikon to buy, just keep reading for a comprehensive overview.

Key Takeaways

  • When buying a camera for sports, you should consider the continuous shooting speed as a main factor. Overall resolution, as well as low-light performance, is also important.
  • You’ll get the best performance with full-frame cameras like the Nikon D6 or Z 6II. However, crop sensor cameras are also acceptable for shooting sports.
  • The Nikon D3500 is an entry-level camera, but holds up well for sports photography.
  • The Nikon Z 9 is at the cutting edge of mirrorless camera technology, but comes with a hefty price tag.
Which Nikon Is Best for Motorsports?

Because motorsports often require shooting far away from the action, your lens may play a bigger role in your results than your camera. In terms of camera specs, faster shooting Nikon models like the D5 and D6 will perform better than slower cameras.

There’s no real winner between these two. Both Canon and Nikon are widely used by sports photographers, including at the professional level. Both companies make professional-grade products, so the Canon versus Nikon debate is an argument of personal preference.

Due to its very high resolution, the Nikon D850 could be a great camera choice for some sports photographers. However, its relatively slow continuous shooting speed compared to newer Nikon full-frame cameras gives those competitors an advantage over it.

Yes, Nikon cameras are used by many professional photographers, both in the sports niche and just about every other field of photography.

What Makes The Best Camera for Sports Photography

When you’re shopping for a sports photography camera, there are some factors to look for that are universally important across brands.

  • Continuous Shooting Speed: Many sports feature fast-moving action, and having a fast continuous shooting speed gives you the best chance of catching a good shot of it.
  • Low-Light Performance: Plenty of sports venues don’t have the best lighting. You’ll probably end up shooting at venues like this at some point, and it helps if your camera is up to the task.
  • Resolution: While resolution is more important if you’re shooting to create prints, it always helps to have a high resolution. Especially in sports photography, where photos are usually cropped in the editing stage.
  • Processor: Having a newer processor can increase the overall speed of a camera, helping you avoid missing shots due to buffering time.

Best Nikon Cameras for Sports Photography Reviewed

In my opinion, these are the four best Nikon cameras for sports photography. Each one of these models is capable in its own right, and the best one for you depends on your specific needs.

1. Nikon D6 (Best Overall)

  • Resolution: 20.8MP
  • Continuous Shooting: 14fps
  • ISO Range: 100-102,400
  • Sensor: Full-frame

Unsurprisingly, the Nikon D6 comes in as the top option here. While it’s not the highest resolution camera Nikon has ever released, it has enough all-around good performance to beat out Nikon’s other offerings.

The camera was released to succeed the D5 as Nikon’s flagship DSLR for “serious” photographers in fields like sports and journalism, and the 14fps continuous shooting speed fits that niche well. 

Also, the 20.8 megapixel resolution isn’t lacking either. While there are Nikon cameras with higher resolutions, that isn’t really the most important spec for most sports photographers. 

As Nikon’s flagship DSLR, the D6 has a number of other quality-of-life features that aren’t necessary, but add to its value. It’s environment sealed, has face detection technology, and the 105 autofocus points help with keeping track of a quickly moving subject.

The biggest con here is the price. The D6 came out pretty recently, and as such, there hasn’t been much time for the price to drop. The price makes the D6 relatively inaccessible, and it is just a capable camera you can get for less money.

My Verdict: The Nikon D6 is a great all-around DSLR, and fit for the professional market. However, because of the price tag, it’s only really suited for that demographic and not casual or intermediate photographers.

2. Nikon Z 6II (Best Mirrorless)

  • Resolution: 24.5MP
  • Continuous Shooting: 14fps
  • ISO Range: 100-51,200 (expandable to 204,800)
  • Sensor: Full-frame

A lot has been said about mirrorless cameras replacing a DSLR. If you want a mirrorless one for yourself, the Nikon Z 6II is a good option, presenting similar performance to the D6 DSLR. Notably, both cameras have the same continuous shooting speed.

On top of that, the Z 6II has a slightly higher resolution, coming in at 24.5 megapixels instead of 20.8. This is definitely good enough for sports photography, especially when paired with the image quality that comes with the full-frame sensor.

Also, another major advantage of the Z 6II is the price. Mirrorless cameras tend to be smaller, and as a result, they’re usually lower priced than DSLRs. This one is no exception, and it’s a lot cheaper than the D6 despite the same shooting seed and a higher resolution.

Finally, if you’re looking towards the future, this one is a good model to buy with that in mind. It uses the Z mount lens system, which already has some good sports photography lenses. In the future, Nikon will continue to put out new releases for that mount.

If there’s a con, it’s that the battery life isn’t the best and, while the autofocus is good enough, there are other cameras that can find the subject quicker. Because of the speed of sports photography, this may have a noticeable effect.

My Verdict: The Nikon Z 6II is one of Nikon’s best mirrorless cameras. I recommend it for sports photographers who want to go mirrorless, or who want a cheaper alternative to the D6.

3. Nikon D3500 (Best For Beginners)

  • Resolution: 24.2MP
  • Continuous Shooting: 5fps
  • ISO Range: 100-25,600
  • Sensor: DX format, 1.5x FOV crop

The Nikon D3500 was released in 2018 as an entry-level camera, but still holds up today if you’re just starting out. The most obvious advantage of the D3500 is its price. It’s significantly cheaper than the other cameras on this list, and often comes bundled with lenses or accessories.

Obviously, the image quality isn’t the same as what you’d get with a full-frame camera like the aforementioned D6 or Z 6II. But it doesn’t have to be. The D3500’s 24.2-megapixel resolution and DX-format sensor are perfectly good enough for the beginner crowd it’s targeting.

And if you are just starting out, and you’re on a budget, the D3500 might be the only camera on this list that makes sense for you. Because of the beginner bundles, you can get the D3500, multiple lenses, and other accessories for less than you’d spend on the Z 6II.

The low-light performance of the D3500 isn’t the best, but it’s passable. The main con is that, well, it’s a beginner camera. The 5fps continuous shooting speed isn’t ideal for sports, but everyone has to start somewhere.

My Verdict: The Nikon D3500 is a cheaply available camera that gives prospective sports photographers a good place to start.

4. Nikon Z 9 (Best High-End)

  • Resolution: 45.7MP
  • Continuous Shooting: 30fps JPEG, 20fps RAW
  • ISO Range: 64,25,600 (expandable to 102,400)
  • Sensor: Full-frame

The Z 9 is Nikon’s flagship mirrorless camera, and it’s not hard to see why. The first thing that jumps out from the specs is the very high resolution. With 45.7 megapixels of resolution, you won’t have any problems cropping your photos while keeping a very high quality.

Also, the Z 9 stands out even above the D6 in the shooting speed area. It can shoot at up to 30fps in JPEG mode, or 20fps in RAW mode. Whichever mode you use, those numbers are lightning-fast and great for shooting sports.

As a 2021 release, the Z 9 is very modern and has many useful features outside just its sports photography skill set. For example, it’s the first Nikon camera to have 8K video capability, making it a cutting-edge camera in both videography and still photography.

The Z 9, like the Z 6II, benefits from the Z mount. In the future, you can expect to squeeze even more quality from this camera body by pairing it with the newer lenses Nikon will release for this mount in the coming years.

Like with the D6, the main con here is the price. Mirrorless cameras do trend cheaper, but the Z 9’s advanced features make it a very expensive model regardless.

My Verdict: The Nikon Z 9 is a cutting-edge camera, suitable for sports photographers who want the latest and greatest in the mirrorless world.

Final Thoughts

Between Nikon’s full-frame DSLRs like the D6, their newer mirrorless models like the Z 6II and the Z9, and their entry-level and intermediate crop-sensor cameras like the D3500, there’s a Nikon camera for every type of sports photographer.

I’ve gone over the top Nikon options for sports photography, although I couldn’t fit every single option. If you’re not convinced yet, there are still other models to check out such as the D4s, D780, and D850.

What do you think about Nikon? Do you prefer their DSLRs, or their newer Z mount models? Do you think any cameras were missed on this list? Let me know what you think in the comments!

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